Cowboys Projected Starting Playmaker Is Surprisingly a Healthy Scratch

Mike McCarthy

Getty Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy faces a decision at running back.

Things are not progressing as quickly as many hoped with Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert as the playmaker was a surprise inactive for the team’s Sunday Night Football matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tolbert had an inconsistent preseason, and the Cowboys opted to activate undrafted rookie Dennis Houston instead of the former South Alabama standout.

“Cowboys made rookie WR Jalen Tolbert a healthy scratch tonight vs. Bucs, not a surprise following some summer inconsistency and undrafted rookie WR Dennis Houston’s strong early impression,” The Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken tweeted on September 11, 2022.

It is early but Tolbert’s status is clearly a bad sign for the start of his NFL career. The Cowboys selected Tolbert in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft with the hope that he would be able to contribute sooner rather than later.

It Is Unclear Who Will Be the Cowboys WR2

CeeDee Lamb has cemented his status as the Cowboys top receiver, a move Dallas signaled by trading Amari Cooper to the Browns over the offseason. As Michael Gallup continues to get back to full strength, it is unclear who will emerge as the Cowboys second and third receivers.

Noah Brown, Simi Fehoko and KaVontae Turpin join Houston as wide receiver candidates to line up alongside Lamb to begin the season. Running back Tony Pollard is also expected to get more snaps at receiver this season, potentially sharing the field with Ezekiel Elliott for various plays.

Tolbert Was Projected to be a Starting WR for Dallas

Heading into training camp, Tolbert was projected to be as high as WR2 on the Cowboys depth chart. Tolbert’s status as a healthy scratch indicates that the wideout has a lot of work to do before being utilized in the offense.

This is especially true with Gallup hoping to return to the field sooner rather than later. Back on July 13, The Athletic’s Jon Machota noted that Tolbert “is expected to start Week 1,” which shows how poorly the rookie’s training camp went to move from probable starter to being a healthy inactive.

“No longer having Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson means Tolbert has to contribute early,” Machota said at the time. “He looked pretty good working with the first team at the end of minicamp. He has the ability to play on the outside and inside. He could also end up being the team’s new punt returner. With Michael Gallup unlikely to be ready for the beginning of the season, Tolbert is expected to start Week 1. It’ll be interesting to see him go against Diggs, Brown and Lewis every day in California.”

Cowboys vice president Stephen Jones believes the team deserves some of the blame for Tolbert’s slow progression. Jones cited the Cowboys’ decision to utilize Tolbert at multiple receiver spots as contributing to some of the complications.

“I think he’s doing well,” Jones stated during a September 9 interview on San Antonio Sports Star’s “The Blitz.” “I think it’s one of those things, we’ve probably asked a lot of him early, in terms of playing all the spots, both outside and in, and probably gave him a bigger challenge than probably we needed to. But he’s going to be just fine.

“Obviously, we’ve got, with him [Tolbert] and Houston and Simi, some young guys there that are all situational type guys depending on the team we’re playing. And I think they all can step in and really do a real nice job.”