Defining realistic expectations for Dallas Cowboys’ rookie CeeDee Lamb in 2020.
Even though the position was in the mix prior to the draft, most did not expect the Dallas Cowboys to use the 17th overall pick on a receiver. With a bonafide top ten player at that position in Amari Cooper who just earned a $100 million deal and an up-and-coming star as his running mate, Michael Gallup, the team looked set at that spot.
Besides the fact that the Dallas Cowboys offense was already loaded without adding more weaponry, the prevailing wisdom was that the first round selection should be used to upgrade the defense. Sometimes, however, options exist that are just too good to let pass.
This was the case when the Dallas Cowboys were afforded the opportunity to draft receiver CeeDee Lamb from the University of Oklahoma with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Every draft analyst had Lamb in the top three options at his position with most pegging him as the best receiver prospect in the entire draft.
Immediately after the draft, I wrote about how this decision could earn the Dallas Cowboys an “A+” grade. Now it is time to discuss what to realistically expect from Lamb in year one as a professional.
The recent history of rookie receivers in the NFL
Over the past decade, the NFL has increasingly turned from a running back driven league to a pass-happy offensive show. Starting with the 2010 Draft, just 17 running backs have been chosen in the first round. Of those, only seven were selected in the top ten overall.
Comparatively, forty receivers have been selected in the first round with 11 being chosen by the tenth overall choice in that same time frame. With more than double the number of receivers being picked before running backs, teams are clearly putting a priority on the perimeter of the offense.
Making these selections, however, is just the beginning. In order for these choices to be validated, the players need to be producing as well. For the most part, that is exactly what has occurred.
Since 2010, twenty-seven rookie receivers have posted a minimum of 50 receptions, 500 receiving yards, and five touchdowns. Nine of those were first-round selections in their draft class.
Sixteen rookie receivers caught more than 60 balls in their first year as a pro. Eight eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark as a rookie, while four had double-digit touchdowns in their opening campaign.
These performances certainly help boost optimism for Lamb and what he may bring to the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2020. Of course, there are limitations to factor in as well.
The first, and possibly biggest, is what the NFL offseason will actually consist of due to COVID-19. With one round of organized team activities (OTA’s) already out the window, the opportunity to actually be on a field and honing his craft is gone. The more these opportunities go by, the less likely it is that Lamb will hit the ground running.
The next limitation is all the other mouths that need feeding. We already mentioned Cooper and Gallup ahead of Lamb on the depth chart. Do not forget about running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard as well as tight end Blake Jarwin.
Cooper, Gallup, and Elliott will all get significant opportunities, while it would be wise to let keep Pollard and Jarwin in the mix more than the previous coaching staff was able to do. Undoubtedly, Lamb will get more touches than either of those two, but there are still three people ahead of him.
Lastly, there is the coaching staff. Looking back into head coach Mike McCarthy’s only other run as a head coach may give us a glimpse of how much he relies on rookies.
During his 13 seasons as the head coach in Green Bay, nine rookie receivers saw playing time under his guidance. None had more than 50+ receptions or 4+ touchdowns, while only three had more than 500+ yards receiving in their first year.
Before you suggest a talent disparity between Lamb and these nine guys, know that this list includes Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson. All nine also had either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. It might just be that McCarthy does not give a lot of opportunity to guys who have not established themselves.
All in all, I do believe CeeDee Lamb will have an impact in his first season. I think it would be wise to temper expectations, however, and give the kid time to grow into the great player we all think he will be. No one should consider a rookie season of 40-50 receptions, 500-700 receiving yards and 4-6 touchdowns a bad first year. Given the list of others who put up similar numbers as a rookie, it would actually put Lamb in great company.