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From sheep to lion: Unleashing CeeDee Lamb in the Cowboys offense

Cowboys first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb has had a good stretch of games thus far to open his rookie campaign. But there's a entirely different level of play he’s yet to discover.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

CeeDee Lamb is not a sheep. Aside from his birthright namesake, the Cowboys rookie wide receiver possesses qualities that nearly immunize him from comparisons with any creature that embodies mild and meek.

Lamb is a ferocious competitor. A lanky 6’2 deep threat with blazing separation speed (don’t let the 4.5 40-time fool you), and a knack for the end zone, he’s carved out a nice niche for himself in Kellen Moore’s passing attack.

As of week three, his stat line is a telling sample size of his impact: 16 receptions on 22 total targets, 230 cumulative yards and 11 first downs. He’s failed to reach the end zone up to this point, but that’s not necessarily a product of his own shortcoming. Dak Prescott’s historic opening offensive stretch has been substantiated by a variety of dangerous receiving targets, and he’s predicated his success up to this point on sharing the wealth between his options.

And they've cashed in - making more than good on his deposits of the football into their banks, and even accruing interest stipends from their quarterback as his trust in them as dependable beneficiaries only swells.

The receiving corps’ production is one to marvel at (this is with Lamb subtracted from the fold): 80 receptions, 958 yards, 423 YAC, five touchdowns (though fans would undoubtedly like to see a higher TD total).

For Lamb though, there is another level of excellence that fans and coaches alike want to see him ascend to. As does management - they spent a coveted first-rounder on him, then followed up that by slapping a #88 on his chest - the figurative equivalent for the Cowboys to a Superman S.

One glimpse of his college game tape shows he’s more than up to the challenge, but coach McCarthy and staff have yet to figure out how to fully discharge the monster that thrived in Lincoln Riley’s potent regime.

So how can they do it?

Disguises

Lamb’s physical presence alone makes him a step-up (literally) from Dallas’ previous slot option, Randall Cobb. It’s hard to miss Lamb on the pitch, but when he’s lined up alongside stalwarts like Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, masquerading him as a decoy is more than feasible.

Ezekiel Elliott is not the yard-chewer he was in Scott Linehan’s design, but play fakes to #21 still garner enough attention from linebackers to open up the middle of the field should they commit to the run too early. That, coupled with Dak’s arsenal of receiving weapons that must be respected for their outside playmaking prowess, leaves Lamb with chunks of yards to eat up in one-on-one matchups with slower linebackers.

In the above video, Lamb is an undercover sleuth as he glides across the seam for a crossing route. Both Jamal Adams and KJ Wright are weary of him as he gets off the line, but attentiveness to the lethality of Cooper and Gallup leaves him wide open as he crosses the 10-yard mark.

He does the same on this clutch third-down reception. Here, Lamb lines up slightly behind the line of scrimmage with Michael Gallup to the inside of him on a doubles look. Gallup takes his corner deep to free up Lamb in the flat, who runs a perfect route to secure the pass just past the sticks.

And yet another. This time Seattle employs a Cover 2 look, but Dallas combats with four deep vertical routes, leaving the middle of the field a wide open red carpet strutting zone for Lamb.

Attacking the outside

Normally a slot receiver’s territory is just that - the slot. But Lamb is a different breed of animal in this offense. He spent plenty of time as the number one outside threat at Oklahoma, so the downgrade to third on Dallas’ depth chart is actually a plus for Lamb - it gives him much more freedom to maneuver. He still has tremendous big play capabilities when presented with space to roam, and removing him from the stuffing of centerfield has its advantages at times.

Here, Lamb lines up in his usual slot area. Instead of shading towards the middle of the field once play commences, Lamb darts straight towards the numbers on a hard slant, while Dalton Schultz brings his man in the opposite direction to free up outside terrain for Lamb. Atlanta blitzes two linebackers to corral Prescott in the pocket, but his throw is on time and on target to #88, who pulls in one of the biggest catches of the game. It’s a wonderful display of his hand-fighting and ball skills.

Does this guy make huge plays or what? Prescott’s reliance on him as a rookie is telltale enough, and once again, he looks Lamb’s way on a crucial second-down play with just over a minute left. This play call appeared to be designed for Lamb the whole way. Gallup takes his man out of the fold by running a fly, while Lamb fakes a duck inside before accelerating back out for a massive chunk of yards.

Unicorn may be the adequate animal tabbing to place on CeeDee Lamb up to this point. Aside from his dexterity in the receiving game, he’s been a semi-efficient runner out of the backfield, and has taken most of his squad’s special teams snaps at punt returner as well.

His greatest strength remains his one-of-a-kind receiving ability. Now, Lamb hasn't been bad by any stretch of the word, but Cowboys Nation remains giddy with excitement in anticipation of what could be: his transcendence into an elite NFL playmaker.