Despite missing out on the playoffs last year, the Cowboys offense was pretty spectacular; they led the league in total yards, finished top five in both passing and rushing yards, sixth in scoring, and second in offensive DVOA. They also saw both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup rack up over 1,100 receiving yards each. Randall Cobb, their third receiver, was also very productive with 828 yards.
Now the offense stands to somehow improve on that performance with the addition of first-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb from Oklahoma. Considered by most draft analysts to be either the best or second best receiver in the draft class, Lamb was a steal at 17 for Dallas. Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network compared him to DeAndre Hopkins and said:
CeeDee Lamb is a quality Day 1 prospect, with a rare high-floor/high-ceiling projection. Lamb is a proven producer with the ball in his hands, and has the tackle- and angle-breaking ability to house designed runs, bubble screens, and check down routes.
Accordingly, Lamb is an instant impact player before he even develops a more diverse route tree. Lamb enjoyed all the benefits of the space of the Oklahoma offense and his gaudy numbers were inflated by poor Big 12 defensive play, but he clearly has the athletic ability and technique to become a dominant route-runner at the NFL level.
Press releases remain a question given the context of his competition, and Lamb was often protected from top defenses by a slot alignment, but Lamb has a unique blend of athletic prowess and football IQ, which should help him grow into a three-level threat from any WR alignment. Lamb will be most attractive to teams with a versatile WR room already installed (Carolina, Oakland), so that Lamb can maximize his ability to win from all alignments.
How exactly will Lamb fit with the Cowboys? The answer might seem obvious, especially if one considers him as merely a replacement/upgrade over Cobb, but that would be severely limiting Lamb’s potential. Lamb looks to have a higher ceiling than Cobb, or most receivers. Case(s) in point:
New Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb. Very good after the catch pic.twitter.com/F2OV4YT4jq— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 24, 2020
The athleticism that Lamb possesses makes him a threat almost anywhere on the field, whether it’s going down the middle of the field or taking a quick tunnel screen and punking the entire defense. As Solak mentioned, though, Lamb did benefit from having a lot of clean releases at Oklahoma due to their multifaceted Air Raid attack.
Therefore it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cowboys use Lamb primarily in the slot to cut down on the amount of press coverages he’ll get. Lamb told Jimmy Johnson and others at Fox Sports shortly after the draft that he prefers playing out of the slot anyway:
After all, the slot receiver is quickly becoming a very important receiver in the NFL due to their broader range of routes that can be run. For example, receivers that line up out wide can only break so far out before they hit the sideline. Putting Lamb in the slot with regularity gives him more freedom to go in any direction with his routes, thereby maximizing his insane skills as a pass-catcher.
Relegating Lamb exclusively to the slot, as Dallas once did with Cole Beasley, would also be capping Lamb’s potential. At 6’2” and just 198 pounds, Lamb has a slender frame but he certainly doesn’t play that way. He’s a bully at the catch point, and knows how to use his long arms to create a sizable catch radius:
Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb is know for his ball skills. Those in-air adjustments are truly rare— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) April 28, 2020
(last clip called incomplete but who cares) pic.twitter.com/fbCzTRECEF
So while Lamb is an ideal candidate to primarily play in the slot, he’s also got more than enough capability to go outside and still thrive because of his ability to play the ball in any situation. When you move Lamb outside, it allows the Cowboys to slide Cooper into the slot, where his elite route running skills can fry just about any defensive back that would cover him.
That kind of flexibility gives the Cowboys so many options just from an alignment standpoint. Both Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore should relish the opportunity to add a new dimension to this offense with Lamb. In fact, they’ve already started working on that.
Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said that he and Kellen Moore met on Saturday morning and added a few new wrinkles.— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) April 25, 2020
In short, Lamb is exactly what this offense needed to get even better than it was last year. McCarthy and Moore have both stressed the importance of being multiple in their approach to the game and fitting a scheme around their players’ strengths. In Lamb, they have a guy who can play inside and outside and burn defenders on just about any route.
If Lamb went to a team that was asking him to be their star receiver, he could probably handle that kind of responsibility. But in Dallas, he joins two players coming off career years. That allows for the Cowboys to essentially do whatever they want on offense, and it’ll certainly help make this offense even more explosive.