With the 17th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys took a wide receiver despite already having two solid starters at the position. With a slew of other offensive weapons in Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, and Blake Jarwin, was that necessary? It was highly debated on Twitter back in April, in print, and on the radio. When the time came, however, the name was called the dissenters disappeared, and the expectations surrounding CeeDee Lamb soared into the stratosphere. Could the rookie possibly meet those expectations?
CeeDee Lamb expected to shine
The camp hype surrounding the first-year receiver is already on the levels of absolute insanity. It’s difficult to scroll the twitter timeline and not find still shots, gifs, and videos of Lamb doing something on the football field. In a time of limited media access and rules about what can and cannot be posted, Lamb seems to be a favorite in the clubhouse. Expectations around Lamb continue to rise to new heights.
The talk of the town is having all three of the top receivers go for 1000 yards in 2021. It’s only happened five times in the past, and the most recent instance was in 2008 with the Cardinals trio of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Bolden, and Steve Breaston. At this point in the process, it seems like most not only are hoping for an outcome like this in Lamb’s rookie season but expecting it.
It’s fine to expect a 1000-yard trio of receivers
Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch. Historically, there have only been 23 1000-yard rookie receivers. As we’ve already established, having a 1000-yard trio is even rarer. So, why should we expect this to happen, and what should our reaction be when it doesn’t happen?
The Cowboys, despite having an Easter basket full of talent at the skill positions, still vacate 166 targets from the 2019 squad with the departures of Randall Cobb to Houston and Hall of Famer Jason Witten to Las Vegas. Now, with the addition of the targets, Blake Jarwin saw as the TE2 in 2019, that adds up to 207 targets.
Why are we adding Jarwin’s targets in there? Well, because with the role change to the top tight end, he should be bundled in with the vacated targets. This is especially true because we shouldn’t expect Dalton Schultz or Blake Bell to get anywhere near 41 targets in an offense geared around 11 personnel.
Elliott and Pollard made up 91 targets in 2019, which should be expected again in 2020. Hopefully, in 2020, the distribution between the two backs will be closer to even. Seventy-one for Elliott to Pollard’s 20, isn’t ideal given Pollard was a literal receiver in college. Hopefully, the Cowboys get some of those targets out wide. Let’s be efficient here Kellen Moore.
McCarthy’s year off should help offensive efficiency
McCarthy spent an entire year revamping the way he approached the game of football. With the help of a few friends and experts in the game, his feelings on analytics and gameplay trends changed drastically. His big vision was an analytics team of 14 people.
“As a play-caller, you’ve got to stress the defense,” McCarthy said, “and one of the things watching all these teams has shown us is how good some teams are at challenging the eye discipline of the defense. Makes ‘em think at the snap of the ball, which is huge. This bullet-motion sweep, this jet motion, at different tempos, different speeds. I just really like what it does to a defense. We call those things ‘nuisances’ for the defense.”
The “Mike McCarthy Project” video that Peter King and NBC Sports did was an outstanding piece of promotion for the new long time coach. These revelations he came to in that time should have a positive impact on the way the Cowboys approach offensive play. He wants to use motions and really emphasize the two-minute offense, something we’ve seen Dak Prescott have success with in the past.
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Lamb’s projection is based on talent and opportunity
Lamb’s opportunities in 2020
Oftentimes, receivers that are taken this high in the draft are immediately expected to be the feature of their offense. Lamb will start as the third passing weapon upon arrival in Dallas, and with the amount of talent in Cooper and Gallup, there is no way to cover them all. They’re all going to produce.
As with everything, there will always be one naysayer that brings up a bad point about there only being one football to go around. Please escort them back to the part of this piece that discussed all the vacated targets for the Dallas Cowboys. Force them to get into the litany of literature that states McCarthy will be modernizing his approach.
If the Cowboys passing attack continues in it’s intermediate and downfield heavy style, the numbers game favors Lamb to nab that thousand yards. For example, Cobb had 828 yards last season, despite surprisingly, catching a case of the drops for the first time in his career, and having multiple big plays called back by penalty. This cannot be stressed enough; Lamb will not drop passes. His hands are exceptional.
What else does Lamb bring to the table?
In addition, Lamb is an excellent candidate for an immediate breakout season due to his ability after the catch, something that the Cowboys were sorely lacking in the 2019 season. We’ve all seen the still shots of his scamper against Texas’s entire defense, and in camp, it seems they’re at least thinking about having the young man return punts. This makes him and Pollard the prime candidates for getting touches around the line-of-scrimmage on either designed runs or screens.
Lamb isn’t a physically imposing runner like Dez Bryant was. He’s not the super-shifty runner that can bounce up, down and all around like Jerry Jeudy. He isn’t a particularly fast runner like a Henry Ruggs, or even like Amari Cooper coming out of college. He’s just tough as nails, slippery upon contact, and sees things as a runner in the open field that makes him as dangerous as they come with the ball in his hands.
He sees the field differently than others, and he has just enough of all the above physical traits to be a menace to defenders far and wide. That amount of athleticism was crucial in his quest for WR1 coming out of the 2020 NFL Draft. His relative athletic score of 7.45 was enough to get him over the hump and beat out Ruggs.
Statistical significance does not define Lamb’s rookie campaign
We must all remember the difficulty of the task we’ve assigned to the first-year receiver. This would be the first time in the history of the NFL that a rookie receiver was part of a 3000-yard trio. It is a literal once in a lifetime moment to date and we are expecting it from Lamb and the Cowboys offense.
That goes to show the expectations we have for the offense as a whole. But even if 16 games go by and Lamb somehow only received 60 targets, 40 catches, and 720 yards, that’s still an absolutely fine stat line for a rookie receiver. With that being said, when opportunity meets talent as it uniquely has for Lamb and the Cowboys, something truly special could be the outcome.
CeeDee Lamb 2020 projection
95 targets, 65 receptions, 1008 yards