Zahlmann: Dallas Cowboys will soon forget the ghost of Dez Bryant

Luke Zahlmann

With the 81st overall pick the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected wide receiver Michael Gallup out of Colorado State, a pick that will prove to be a reminder that Dez Bryant was anything but irreplaceable.

Bryant, the former 24th overall pick by the Cowboys, played his entire career for the team, piling up leaping touchdowns and was even named a First-Team All-Pro in his breakout season in 2014 when he grabbed 16 of them, a mark that topped the league. Prolific in his prime, Bryant gave Tony Romo a reliable target on the outside, capable of turning a 50-50 ball into a 70-30 proposition based on sheer size and leaping ability.

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The problem with Bryant’s career as he aged was a lack of route-running skills, dwindling his options down to a deep threat with average speed and questionable hands (tied for fifth most drops in the NFL in 2017). With the NFL’s fundamental shift towards longer corners with speed to stay in the hip pocket of nearly every receiver, his original game style has become outdated.

Enter Gallup.

Known as a sure-handed wideout with the ability to run nearly every route in the tree, Gallup will give the Cowboys an advantage that they failed to possess during the Bryant days.

In his final season with the Rams, Gallup posted 1,418 yards with seven touchdowns to boot. He was named a Consensus All-American and finished as a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, an accolade given to the nation’s top receiver. Despite the assortment of awards and award considerations, Gallup fell to the third round of the Draft, a gift that fell into the long-awaited arms of the Cowboys’ front office.

Despite a slight height advantage of an inch, as well as a mass that bests Gallup by roughly 20 pounds, Bryant has not possessed superior skills in years. Though injuries held him to a total of 22 games in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, the signs of deterioration have been present for multiple years in Bryant.

Add on the fact that young signal-caller Dak Prescott, also a middle-round steal, has never truly reached a level of trust with Bryant, and the Cowboys cutting the three-time Pro Bowl becomes less of a surprise. The five-year, $70 million contract was merely icing on the proverbial cake.

Prescott will give Gallup an opportunity to only further his growth. A career 65 percent completion rate, Prescott has shown an affinity to throw short to intermediate routes at level that rivals many of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, a trait that will mesh directly with Gallup, with a deep route intertwined from time-to-time as well.

The only hinderance to guaranteed production from Gallup in Arlington will be the depth chart. He will be forced to overcome a trio of experienced wideouts already on the roster in Allen Hurns, Terrence Williams and Cole Beasley. Though not elite, all three possess more NFL experience than Gallup, giving them the upper-hand early on.

Another knock on Gallup has been his presence in a Group of 5 conference. In his matchup against the powerhouse University of Alabama, Gallup posted 81 yards, respectable, but not over-the-top. He will have to become accustomed to facing stiffer competition on the outside in the NFL, a task that will be made easier by his “sudden feet and quick hands (that) are effective in ridding himself of press attempts,” said NFL.com analyst, Lance Zierlein.

The trait of breaking through press coverage will serve as an asset for the former Ram as he enters the confines of the NFL.

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The Cowboys’ questionable decision to wait until right before the draft to cut Bryant left them with few free agent options to seek in hopes of replacing his production. Instead of expanding their wallets once again to sign a wide receiver, they found an NFL-ready receiver at a third-round price tag.

Though cutting Bryant after June 1 would allow his dead money to be less of a burden for the salary cap, the Cowboys chose to cut ties before the draft, signaling a proposed change in culture as well.

On and off the field, Bryant was an enigma, for better or worse. Once relegated to having team-hired body guards to keep an eye on him, the team will have no such problems with Gallup. With a sterling past, Gallup will be anything but a thorn in the side of team owner Jerry Jones.

Jones, known for taking risks on players, chose to get rid of a sore on the face of his franchise, and one less player to worry about outside of the oft-immature running back, Ezekiel Elliot. The franchise will be in good hands given a proper development of Gallup and Prescott, two players that will coast, controversy-free, on and off the field.

In nearly every facet, the Cowboys upgraded at wide receiver, despite the loss of an All-Pro talent. The fans that enter the “House that Jerry built” will quickly forget Bryant, allowing themselves to become attached to an athlete that will not burn them, only opposing defensive backs.

Collegian sports reporter Luke Zahlmann can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @lukezahlmann.