Cowboys WR Jalen Tolbert is improving. What would a successful season look like?

It’s that magical time of year when every question has a rosy answer. 

Optimism soars right alongside the temperature when it’s summer in the NFL. Every player is in the best shape of his career and every team has quiet confidence in the improvements they’re going to see. 

As the Cowboys head into their summer break before training camp, there’s an obvious example in the development of Jalen Tolbert

Tolbert is getting rave reviews at the conclusion of his second offseason program, as he seeks to build on a disappointing rookie season. As Tolbert himself told The Dallas Morning News: “Last year was the bottom for me. I can only go up from there.” 

To be fair to Tolbert, it’s not entirely his fault that the Cowboys tried to thrust a major role onto a third-round rookie out of South Alabama. With Amari Cooper traded to Cleveland and Michael Gallup recovering from an ACL tear, the Cowboys’ lack of action to bolster their receiver corps last spring will remain forever puzzling. 

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Nevertheless, it’s still true that the Mobile, Ala., native struggled in his first pro season, appearing in just eight games and managing a mere two catches for 12 yards. Tolbert’s final tally of 89 offensive snaps is well short of the expectation for the 88th overall pick. 

As Tolbert said, it would be hard not to improve those numbers in Year 2. But what exactly would improvement look like? 

It’d be one thing if the Cowboys were once again asking him to step into a large role in 2023, but they’ve actually taken steps to improve their depth chart. In addition to having CeeDee Lamb and getting Gallup back fully healthy this year, they traded for Brandin Cooks to add another proven veteran. If we imagine a perfect world where everyone can stay relatively healthy, Tolbert’s looking at a role as a high-end fourth receiver. 

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That’s a much better outlook than last year provided. In 2022, with a hodgepodge of options behind Lamb, the Cowboys’ fourth-leading wide receiver wound up being T.Y. Hilton — who played his first game on Christmas Eve.

What exactly Tolbert’s usage looks like will be interesting to see. The Cowboys played roughly 1,300 offensive snaps last season, but they lacked the depth to ask much of their wide receivers. Their primary trio of Lamb, Gallup and Noah Brown all surpassed 800 snaps, but everyone else on the roster fell short of 120. The coaching staff leaned much more heavily on their three tight ends, with rookies Jake Ferguson and Peyton Hendershot surpassing expectations. 

It’s a good bet the Cowboys are still going to ask a lot of their tight ends, but the numbers should shift if Tolbert is truly ready to take another step. It’s not uncommon to see fourth and fifth options tally 200-400 snaps over the course of a season. As recently as 2021, the Cowboys had five receivers hit the 300-snap mark. Six different players topped Hilton’s mark of 112 snaps. 

Last year, 15 teams — almost half the league — had at least four receivers play 300+ snaps. That’s not a complete picture, because each club runs a different scheme and has its own injuries to consider. But it does suggest that players on the back end of the depth chart often have a chance to make an impact over the course of a season. 

If everyone is healthy, it might be a challenge for Tolbert to rack up stats, especially given the Cowboys’ reliance on the run game. But there’s plenty of room for him on the field. If he flirts with 300 snaps and 20-25 catches, it’d be a heck of a step forward.

David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.

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How can a successful season be defined for Jalen Tolbert, the improving Cowboys WR?

Jalen Tolbert, a third-round rookie out of South Alabama, is getting good reviews after his second offseason program with the Dallas Cowboys. His disappointing rookie season saw him appearing in just eight games and managing a mere two catches for 12 yards, but after this year’s offseason program, he seeks to improve his performance and build on his previous year’s experience. The Cowboys have also taken steps to improve their depth chart, having CeeDee Lamb and getting Michael Gallup back fully healthy this year, and trading for Brandin Cooks to add another veteran. Tolbert is looking at a role as a high-end fourth receiver.

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