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Cowboys rookie report: Evaluating CeeDee Lamb’s first season

First impressions are everything. So how did CeeDee Lamb acclimate himself to the Dallas Cowboys in his first year with the team?

San Francisco 49ers v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

CeeDee Lamb’s first highlight mixtape as a member of the Dallas Cowboys is chock-full of record-breaking hits that easily vaults its status to the top of the rookie wide receiver charts.

He entered training camp as a preeminent jersey sales leader based on popularity and college résumé alone, and his on-field production in 2020-21 was a more-than-worthy pitching presentation to attract buy-in approval from fans and coaches alike towards his potential for 2022 and beyond.

No. 88, who joined an elite Hall of Fame fraternity upon being granted the number from team owner Jerry Jones, lived up to the hype – and then some – that surrounded his highly-chronicled first-round draft selection. Lamb’s initial campaign shattered a bevy of seemingly timeless records, which included a 55-year old receptions mark held by Olympic gold-medalist sprinter by day/football player by night, “Bullet” Bob Hayes.

Lamb hurdled gracefully past Hayes’ previously set mark (46) by leapfrogging his way to a momentous 74-catch total on the year. And he did it all while hauling in passes from four different quarterbacks – an absolutely unheard of encapsulation of adaptive consistency from a man who just recently gained entrance into the alcohol club. But Lamb’s maturity has long outweighed his physical age, and that was one of the greatest qualities Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley attached to his personality prior to his exit from Norman.

The Cowboys knew they were getting a young-gun whose mental prowess was beyond his years when they opted for the best available route in order to take Lamb – which strayed far away from the Jones family’s usual “best fit” ideology they’ve famously so employed when evaluating prospects. What they couldn’t have possibly predicted, was how game-ready Lamb would be the moment he stepped foot in D-Town. His reputation long preceded him, but he made good on the glitzy showcase he put on at Oklahoma by wowing coaches with dazzling grabs and crisply-run routes as soon as training camp got underway.

Lamb quickly became one of Dak Prescott’s favorite targets, and #4 learned early on that looking towards #88 generally sprouted fruitful results. The pair linked up 21 times (nearly half of Hayes’ season-long record-book sum) through the first four games of the season, and Lamb proved himself reliable as ever when targeted – reeling in a commendable 72.4% catch ratio on balls hurled in his direction.

And while countless witnesses thought the team’s offensive potency would come to a standstill following Prescott’s broken ankle, Lamb remained a stalwart even as his primary signal-caller was relegated to crutches.

Dallas Cowboys v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

He continued to put up meritorious totals as Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert tested their merits under center, serving as an exemplary vital option for each.

As the season wore on, he began to unravel defenses through alternate means outside of the passing game. His carries total swelled: 10 ground-game opportunities netted 82 yards plus a touchdown for the rookie sensation, and became a force in special teams – a late-game scoring burst on a kickoff vs. San Francisco complemented 172 yards on 24 punt returns.

Getting the ball in his hands generally produced positive results for Dallas, and none were greater than the ones he was able to muster as a pass-catcher. Lamb finished the campaign with 74 receptions for 935 yards and five touchdowns on a 12.6 YPR average, coming up just short of breaking the coveted 1,000-yard mark.

Now, he’s got a few issues to work on. Drops have come far more frequently than Mike McCarthy would hope for, and there have been few occasions when he’s thrusted himself into ill-timed miscommunications with his exporter. But positive is much more apparent than negative in Lamb’s overall evaluation, and both film footage, and statistical representation echo that sentiment glaringly.

Should Lamb capitalize on the foundational bricks he’s laid forth thus far, while minimizing his mental mistakes, a Pro Bowl appearance looms in the near future.