The Case For Michael Gallup As The Best WR From 2018 NFL Draft

Photo: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

In the research-riddled doldrums of the NFL offseason, you're often chasing rabbits down holes. 

During the season, you weren't able to follow all 32 teams closely, so as you dive in to the data from the last year, you're trying to find out some stuff. How did the Ravens' defense sign random linebackers off the street and survive? How is Bills quarterback Josh Allen such a bad deep ball passer? How is Titans’ Ryan Tannehill such a good passer?

During these targeted investigations, you stumble across cool stuff you weren't even looking for. This year, I haven't stopped stumbling across cool stuff on Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup.

Gallup was selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, in a receiver class thick with Day 2 talent but lacking a star. The WRs of that group came off the board as such:

  • Round 1, Pick 24: D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
  • Round 1, Pick 26: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
  • Round 2, Pick 40: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
  • Round 2, Pick 44: Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers
  • Round 2, Pick 47: Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
  • Round 2, Pick 51: Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
  • Round 2, Pick 60: James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
  • Round 2, Pick 61: D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • Round 3, Pick 81: Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
  • Round 3, Pick 91: Tre'Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints

At WR9 and a mid-third round selection, Gallup didn't enter the NFL with the expectations of a first-round pick, let alone the hype around a player like Miller in Matt Nagy's Chicago offense or Washington on a team known for developing elite young pass-catchers.

But jump from then to now, and not only has Gallup had a better career than Miller or Washington, a case to be made that he's the best young pro on this list, period.

Who Has A Case

Only 13 wide receivers from the 2018 draft have accumulated over 80 targets across their young careers; on the list above, only Pettis and Smith are immediately disqualified. Many of the remaining players, not listed — Antonio Callaway, Auden Tate and Russell Gage — saw an opportunity but never saw quality production, averaging less than 40 yards per game. That's also where you lose players like Miller and Washington, both of whom have produced about 33 yards per game across the course of their NFL careers.

As such, the list of the productive 2018 receivers, when filtering out low-target players and low-yardage players is:

  • Round 1, Pick 24: D.J. Moore, Carolina
  • Round 1, Pick 26: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta
  • Round 2, Pick 40: Courtland Sutton, Denver
  • Round 2, Pick 47: Christian Kirk, Arizona
  • Round 2, Pick 61: D.J. Chark, Jacksonville
  • Round 3, Pick 81: Michael Gallup, Dallas

Deciding who's best here is extremely difficult. They all fill different molds and have enjoyed different career arcs to this point. Unfortunately, we have to begin winnowing somewhere. I want to start with Kirk.

Kirk is an easy initial target because he has never been extremely productive and became less productive on more volume this past year. Kirk's targets leaped as Arizona's passing attack went from the anemic 2018 Josh Rosen year to the supercharged 2019 Kyler Murray year, but his yards per reception and target both dropped. He's never had more than three touchdowns in a season or broken 750 total receiver yards, and his career yards per receptions (11.7) is a full 1.5 yards lower than the next closest in the group. I feel comfortable saying he doesn't qualify.

The next player on the chopping block is Chark, which is unfair to Chark, as he had easily the worst QB play of anyone else on this list. Chark was not given any starts in his first season, which hurts his career numbers, but boomed to a tremendous start as a 2019 starter before defenses started giving him more attention. While Chark's sophomore season is extremely promising, it was neither as dangerous nor as consistent as players like Sutton and Gallup, who also boomed in Year 2. Chark is an exciting young player, but not among our top options.

Now, we're here. A tremendous group of talented and promising players:

  • Round 1, Pick 24: D.J. Moore, Carolina
  • Round 1, Pick 26: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta
  • Round 2, Pick 40: Courtland Sutton, Denver
  • Round 3, Pick 81: Michael Gallup, Dallas

Turning To Film

The first thing you'll notice on a film review of Gallup is the drops. Last season, Gallup's 16.5% drop rate was one of the worst in the league, with his 13 total drops leading to some devastating drive-enders and overall silly mistakes.

The good news about drops is that they're an extremely volatile stat. Gallup had focus drops coming out of Colorado State and will likely never be considered a sure-handed wideout. But even with those known concerns, players rarely have consecutive seasons with as egregious a drop rate as 16.5%. Last season, Gallup's drop rate was half of what it was this year (8.3%) which was 32nd in the league among 103 qualifying wide receivers. It’s still not great but much less problematic.

The even better news is Gallup continued to produce and receive targets despite his drops, and with a drop rate in 2020 that regresses, you can expect his numbers to naturally bounce. Everything else about his game? It's ready to go.

Gallup is a physical, polished intermediate receiver in the mold of Michael Thomas or JuJu Smith-Schuster. Gallup's releases at the line of scrimmage are urgent and effective, and he's able to immediately generate leverage against press coverage and work a full route tree off of his releases. He doesn't do anything too pretty; no sexy Stefon Diggs or Odell Beckham Jr. foot fire. He just wins off the line, and those wins allow Cooper to rotate into the slot as Gallup remains at the X.

Gallup is tough as nails across the middle of the field, with snappy breaks and good explosiveness out of his cuts to get horizontal, enter a throwing window, and find the football. Gallup runs a full route tree but is at his best on in-breaking routes, where he generates good hidden YAC with his unwillingness to go down, and shows promising contested catch ability for a player with his drop concerns.

Gallup isn't the best vertical receiver in the world, as he doesn't have the burning speed or unique explosiveness, though his second gear can surprise unsuspecting corners at times. With that said, he generates more than enough vertical push in his routes to generate downfield throwing windows, and that threat allows him to snap off comeback routes with a lot of success in isolated situations on the outside.

Gallup is a distinctly better route runner than Moore, who continues to have issues getting off of press coverage. Gallup’s physicality and toughness stand out against a smaller player like Ridley. Gallup has demonstrated higher peaks of on-field play than both players to the point where I am comfortable ranking Gallup above both.

The final hurdle to clear is Sutton, and this is where it just comes down to picking your flavor of ice cream. Sutton is similar to Gallup: a physical specimen who dominates with size, catch point aggression and strength. Sutton is an improving route runner and sneaky good yards-after-catch machine. Gallup and Sutton had extremely equivalent Year 2 seasons with Gallup coming in as slightly more efficient and explosive on slightly fewer targets.

Sutton still does things on film that Gallup doesn't in terms of tracking and addressing the football downfield, which leads to more explosive plays, while Gallup is a better release player against press coverage, which helps him be more consistent underneath and intermediate. It is worth noting that Gallup was as productive as Sutton as the titular WR2 on his team, drawing CB2s in coverage but only getting six fewer targets than Amari Cooper, while Sutton invariably got WR1s and sometimes got doubled.

It's more than a two-horse race for the best receiver to come from the 2018 class, but it's a dead heat between Sutton and Gallup as the favorite of the group. For my money, assuming Gallup's drop numbers naturally go down and he continues to play for a Dak Prescott-led Cowboys team with a hypercharged receiver room, he'll continue to become more efficient than Sutton, tipping the scales as one of the best possession receivers in the league by the time his rookie contract expires.

Written By:

Benjamin Solak

Director of Special Projects

Director of Special Projects and Senior NFL Draft Analyst for The Draft Network. Co-host of the Locked On NFL Draft Podcast. The 3-Wide Raven.

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