When Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5, the Dallas Cowboys went from being a mediocre team with playoff hopes to a bad team that is rapidly spiraling towards disaster. One unfortunate casualty of their collapse is rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb, who was having an excellent campaign for the Cowboys through the first six weeks of the season.
Going into Sunday’s game, Lamb had totaled 497 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He was on pace for more than 1,300 yards by the season’s end, which put him in the conversation for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. However, last week’s catastrophic loss against the Washington Football Team was Lamb’s worst game of the season, which could be a bad sign for the rookie going forward.
Problems facing CeeDee Lamb’s Rookie of the Year campaign before Prescott’s injury
Before we get into Lamb’s poor play on Sunday, I think it’s worth mentioning that his chances of being named Rookie of the Year were already quite slim. After all, only nine wide receivers have won the award since its first appearance in 1967. Statistically speaking, were Lamb to win, he would be an extreme outlier. At least he doesn’t play offensive line or tight end, in which case his chances would be virtually non-existent as no player of either position group has ever received the award.
All of that said, even if a wide receiver were to beat the odds and win Rookie of the Year this season, there’s no guarantee that it would be Lamb who did it. Fellow rookie receiver Justin Jefferson was ahead of Lamb in both yards and touchdowns going into his bye last week, so Lamb was facing tough competition even at his own position.
However, despite my doubts, Lamb was undeniably playing well to start the season, and many believed he had a legitimate shot at earning the award when the year was over.
Sunday’s game was a disaster for CeeDee Lamb and the Cowboys
Unfortunately for CeeDee Lamb, any chance he might have had of winning any kinds of accolades took a serious hit against Washington. According to the Offensive Value Metric (OVM), a grading system created by the (Bx) Movement to measure how important a player is to their offense, Lamb was the least valuable wide receiver in Week 7. The metric gave him a grade of just 2.8, which was Lamb’s worst of the season by miles.
Prior to last weekend, his lowest grade was a 22.26 in Week 4. That grade is slightly below average, but it still represents a significantly better performance than what Lamb put forth against Washington.
If you had looked at his statistics from Sunday, his poor grade shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. He was only targeted five times, and none of those targets resulted in receptions, making him the only wide receiver or tight end with a 0% catch percentage in Week 7. In fact, he is only the second player at either position with that stat-line all season, the other being Calvin Ridley in Week 4. As it turns out, it is difficult to provide value to your offense if you don’t catch the ball even once.
The rookie WR was incapable of creating separation on Sunday
Some might question Lamb’s low grade, blaming the incompletions on poor quarterback play, and that wouldn’t be entirely unfair. I recently wrote an article in which I stated that if new starter Andy Dalton plays at the same level as he did with the Cincinnati Bengals, he might be good enough to get Dallas to the playoffs.
However, he has dramatically underperformed those expectations, and backup Ben DiNucci didn’t look much better. Lamb still deserves a good portion of the blame, as he did little to help his quarterbacks against Washington.
Across his five targets, Lamb averaged just 1.3 yards of separation, the lowest total of the week among qualifying wide receivers, indicating that he struggled immensely to get open against the Washington defense. For comparison, the chart below shows Lamb’s average separation from each of the other weeks of the 2020 season.
As you can see, Week 7 was his worst performance in that regard by more than a yard. His averages from the previous weeks weren’t particularly impressive, generally ranking in the middle of the pack for wide receivers and tight ends, but they were still far better than what he achieved last week. Having a backup quarterback does, of course, make Lamb’s job harder, but if he can’t get open, he won’t produce at a high level no matter who is throwing him the ball.
CeeDee Lamb could still be a bright spot for the Cowboys
I don’t expect Lamb to struggle quite this badly going forward. It would be something of a statistical marvel if he somehow manages to maintain a 0% catch percentage for the rest of the season. However, the situation around him isn’t going to get better any time soon; Prescott isn’t going to rise from the metaphorical grave to save Dallas’ offense, and rumors are swirling that the team might soon start trading away key pieces.
The Cowboys are a sinking ship, and there aren’t any lifeboats or loose pieces of timber for CeeDee Lamb to climb onto. If he still wants to be considered in the Rookie of the Year conversation, he will need to be great on his own. Hopefully, he can at least manage to find some level of personal success, both for his own sake and for that of the fans, who could really use something to be happy about in what is looking to be a truly dismal season.
Lucas Ellinas is a writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.