Is Tolbert positioned to be Cowboys' WR3 behind Lamb, Cooks?

McAfee weighs in on Dak Prescott's contract saga (1:23)

Pat McAfee and his crew discuss Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott's contract status before he potentially hits free agency. (1:23)

FRISCO, Texas -- Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb have become one of the NFL's best quarterback-wide receiver combinations.

Lamb led the NFL in 2023 with 135 receptions, had a Dallas Cowboys' record of 1,749 yards and added 12 touchdowns.

But as the voluntary offseason has gone along, Lamb has stayed away, waiting for a contract extension that would make one of the NFL's best receivers one of its highest paid as well. Not that Prescott and Lamb haven't gotten some work in away from The Star.

"He's ready to go," Prescott said. "He looks like CeeDee Lamb."

Lamb's absence has opened up opportunities for the Cowboys' young wide receivers, such as Jalen Tolbert, their third-round pick in 2022. After releasing Michael Gallup earlier in the offseason and not addressing the position yet with a known commodity in free agency or early in the draft, Tolbert has the chance to take the No. 3 role behind Lamb and Brandin Cooks.

"That's my goal, to go out and prove to myself; I am who I say I am," Tolbert said. "Obviously, you hear that all the time. But just go out there and chase greatness. I have two guys who ride along with me in CeeDee and B. Cooks, and I'm looking forward to following in their footsteps and doing what I can to create value on this team."

Tolbert had modest numbers last season -- 22 catches for 268 yards and two touchdowns -- though much improved over a rookie season in which he caught two passes for 12 yards and was inactive for nine games.

A hamstring injury in the spring and an overload in what he was asked to do offensively led to a crisis in confidence for Tolbert as a rookie. He spent some of the offseason at the Senior Bowl offices studying his old tape from South Alabama, where he caught 82 passes for 1,474 yards and eight scores in his final season. He also joined Prescott at the hip.

That has continued this offseason. He once found himself at dinner with Prescott, the quarterback's girlfriend, Sarah Jane Ramos, and baby daughter. He has not been asked to babysit Prescott's daughter, MJ, yet.

But he does have Prescott's trust.

"He knows I'll be where I need to be at when I need to be there and do what I need to do when I get there," Tolbert said.

Coach Mike McCarthy likes Tolbert's old-school approach to his studying. Instead of relying on an iPad, Tolbert writes meticulously in a notebook.

In his time with the Green Bay Packers, McCarthy found success with receivers taken after the first round. Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams were all second-round selections. James Jones was a third-round pick.

As Tolbert prepares for his third season, McCarthy said the biggest change has been confidence.

"He's taken leaps and bounds in that area. I think anything that's consistent in this game, the more confident that the individual is, his physicality, his urgency, the understanding of detail, the competitiveness, vastly increases," McCarthy said. "He's always been a very bright young man."

When Cooks arrived last year in an offseason trade from the Houston Texans, Tolbert immediately gravitated toward him. He spent time the past two springs in Cooks' Oregon home, training, looking to take any secrets he can from the 30-year-old wide receiver who's had 1,000-yard seasons with four different franchises (New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, Los Angeles Rams and Texans).

"He's done it for a long time, so having him in my corner is special. I know one thing for sure," Tolbert said. "He's not going to let me fail and I'm not going to let myself fail. That's a good situation to be in."

Cooks has noticed a change in Tolbert this offseason.

"The way that he's able to talk about a route or the way he's able to tell the quarterback the way he sees things, he's not shy anymore," Cooks said. "He's able to go up to Dak and say, 'Hey, I seen it this way,' and it's awesome to see him grow in that respect."

Gallup had just 34 receptions for 418 yards last season, and his departure had as much to do with the salary cap than ability. To match Gallup's stats from 2023, Tolbert needs less than one catch more per game. While it will be difficult to see Lamb's catches increase significantly, Cooks' numbers should rise after a slow start. He had six of his eight touchdowns and 37 of his 54 receptions in the final nine games. The Cowboys will also feature the tight end position more with Jake Ferguson.

But there is a role for Tolbert to grab and another step for him to take.

"He's ready to go," Cooks said. "Whatever the expectation is for him out there, I'm telling you he's going to crush it. He's ready."