On April 23, 2020, the Dallas Cowboys officially started the clock on Mike McCarthy with the first round of the NFL draft. Having the 17th pick in the draft, Dallas hoped to find someone to jolt some energy into the fanbase.
Like fans saw this season in Dallas’ matchup traveling to Philadelphia, the ball doesn’t always bounce your way. However, the draft gods were smiling upon the Cowboys on that fateful night from the lounge chair of Roger Goodell. Somehow, some way, a wide receiver named Cedarian Lamb fell to Dallas, and the war room couldn’t turn in the card fast enough.
Just four seasons later, Lamb has become one of the best receivers in franchise history and one of the best in the NFL. How did No. 88 get to this point? There have been ups and downs that have made Lamb the player he is—here are a few “Lambmarks” that have shaped the Cowboys receiver to become who he is today.
Honorable Mention: Cowboys trading for wide receiver Brandin Cooks
Some might look at this and say, “How is trading for another wide receiver supposed to make Lamb great?” That’s a great question, and here’s an answer—Brandin Cooks has significantly impacted the locker room and helped Lamb learn more about the game. Don’t believe it? Just hear from Lamb himself.
#Cowboys Brandin Cooks is worth his weight in gold:— Brandon Loree (@Brandoniswrite) November 15, 2023
Cooks: “You know you’re special? You’re special, bruh. Keep going.”
Lamb: “You help a lot, bro.”
After setting an NFL record, CeeDee thanks Cooks for his mentorship.
If this doesn’t tell you all you need to know about… https://t.co/EZIfZG2qAi pic.twitter.com/WSQHD64lTX
After Lamb got the NFL record for his third straight game with 11-plus receptions and over 150 yards, he was caught on the sidelines thanking Cooks for his help to get there. Since the former first-round pick arrived in Dallas, he’s helped all of the receivers in the room develop their game, with some of them having their best seasons in the pros.
In any NFL locker room, veteran leadership is highly valued. As the Dallas Cowboys set their sights on a deep playoff run, the dominance of CeeDee Lamb will be crucial for the success of the offense. Cooks has a wealth of playoff experience that he can share with Lamb, helping him to maintain a steady mindset regardless of the outcome. Additionally, Cooks is still a dynamic playmaker, which opens up more opportunities on offense and prevents Lamb from being constantly double-teamed.
5. CeeDee Lamb’s touchdown catch against the Minnesota Vikings (2020)
Through nine games in the 2020 season, Lamb had 44 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns. He also added three rushing touchdowns as a runner, but there still wasn’t that signature moment to catch national attention with Dallas sitting at a 2-7 record.
Then the Cowboys traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings, and Lamb finally had his moment fans were hoping to see.
In a down year for the Cowboys on offense, this was a play to hang a hat on, knowing the future could be bright with playmakers like Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup already on the roster. After this, the new 88 had over 40 yards receiving in five of the last six games.
Dallas knew the player they had in Cooper and traded a first-round pick for him, but hadn’t drafted a receiver in the first round since Dez Bryant. Lamb would finish his rookie season just 35 yards shy of 1,000 and 39 yards from breaking Bob Hayes’ team rookie record. There was renewed optimism around the team because Lamb could take on the legacy of the 88 Club and put his stamp on it.
4. 2021 Wild Card game against the San Francisco 49ers
The Cowboys made it to their first home playoff game under Mike McCarthy as head coach. However, they were ultimately beaten because of mistakes on offense and an overall lack of discipline as a team.
The most confusing part was looking at the box score after the game. CeeDee Lamb had as many catches in the game as Malik Turner. That couldn’t happen. It had nothing to do with Lamb being out of rhythm with Dak Prescott. It’s because offensive Kellen Moore didn’t get the ball in the hands of his best weapons.
Last year vs. SF in the wild card, CeeDee Lamb and Tony Pollard combined for 8 touches. Dak Prescott knows that has to change this week vs. the Bucs. "It’s important for us to get it to them early and allow them to break some tackles and as you said, be the playmakers they are."— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 13, 2023
The 49ers didn’t have the dominating defense they have today, and for most of the fourth quarter, they didn’t have Nick Bosa and Fred Warner on the field. Cedrick Wilson, Dalton Schultz, and Amari Cooper all had more receptions than Lamb.
It was the first time Moore called an offense in a playoff game, and this was the first time it felt like he might not be the right fit for when it matters in big games. The Cowboys’ offense stumbled similarly this year against the Miami Dolphins when Lamb was absent for two quarters, ultimately costing them the win.
From this point on, if Dallas ever needed to win in the postseason, Lamb would have to be an integral part of the offense, which he’s been for most of the year in 2023.
3. Cowboys trade Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns
Coming off their early exit in the playoffs, the Cowboys were still in a good place on offense, with top wide receivers Cooper and Lamb returning. Gallup was coming off ACL surgery and needed a new contract, so his future was uncertain. Then, the front office shocked everyone with their final decision.
They traded Amari Cooper to the Cleveland Browns for a fifth-round draft pick and signed Gallup to an extension. After being the No. 2 for two years, it was finally Lamb’s chance to become the star wide receiver the front office hoped for.
With the spotlight on Lamb, it took him a bit to get going, which had the Cowboys in conversations to add another receiver at the trade deadline. They couldn’t get a deal done with Houston for Brandin Cooks but were flirting with free agent Odell Beckham Jr.
Ceedee Lamb runs a magnificent route to catch the TD pass over Jaire Alexander pic.twitter.com/heaQy6saBp— Main Team (@MainTeamSports) November 13, 2022
After the media seemingly put Lamb in a corner, he showed everyone and went off after Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings. Down the final seven-game stretch of the 2022 season, Lamb had 49 receptions, 608 yards, and four touchdowns.
When the offense struggled in the playoffs against the 49ers after losing Tony Pollard to injury, Lamb stepped up and had ten receptions for 117 yards. Even though Lamb’s first season as a true No. 1 receiver ended earlier than fans hoped, he showed the stage wasn’t too big for him. If his floor as a receiver was among the top ten at the position, the 2023 season would be focused on how high his ceiling could be.
2. Lamb’s run of three straight games with over 11 receptions and 150 yards
Once again, Lamb’s season would start slow, but through no fault of his own. With McCarthy taking over as play-caller, there was a new offense to get used to. Outside of a 143-yard performance against the New York Jets, Lamb wouldn't have another game over 80 yards through the first five weeks of the 2023 season.
Week 5 against the 49ers seemed to be the breaking point for the No. 1 wide receiver, and after years of losing to the same team, Lamb spoke his mind.
Mike McCarthy said he had a talk with CeeDee Lamb about his visible frustrations on the sideline. He said he understand, and that he was frustrated too.— Joseph Hoyt (@JoeJHoyt) October 9, 2023
"If he's not pissed off ... then I'm pissed off at him for not being pissed off.
"He should feel that way."
The Cowboys again lost to the 49ers by not involving Lamb in the gameplan. McCarthy wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. The following week against the Los Angeles Chargers before their bye week, No. 88 had seven targets and seven receptions for 117 yards.
After the bye, the Cowboys’ offense was visibly different, and it was finally running through their No. 1 receiver. Lamb would have the best three-game stretch for a wide receiver in the Super Bowl era, having at least ten receptions and over 150 yards from Week 8 through 10.
The offense exploded from MVP-level play by Dak Prescott and Lamb being his top target. Many of these great games came against lesser opponents, but the star receiver still had one last box to check. To be thought of among the best players in the league, he needed to show he could carry the offense like Tyreek Hill is in Miami.
1. Breaking Micahel Irvin’s single-season records for receptions and yards
13 receptions, 227 yards, and one touchdown - the stat line against the Detroit Lions in Week 17 would be the culmination of the front office’s expectations when they drafted Lamb in 2020. He carried the Dallas offense on his back and broke Michael Irvin’s single-season record in receptions and receiving yards, all in the same game.
It was a proper passing of the torch moment on a night that celebrated the joy and success of the 90s dynasty, inducting Jimmy Johnson into the Ring of Honor, with Irvin present. The Playmaker played a central role in winning three Super Bowls, so for Lamb to carve his name in team history on that night was special.
The Lions’ secondary is not among the best in the NFL, but it was certainly a playoff-like game against a formidable opponent. The Cowboys had a tough time operating on offense because the offensive line needed help. Lamb showed that amidst the chaos and difficulty, he could be targeted 17 times and make the plays needed.
When the Cowboys traded Amari Cooper, it was met with loads of criticism because of his production and the compensation in return. Lamb’s game against the Lions helped put that memory away for a while because, with Cooper around, Lamb might not have this production.
He’ll have the chance to make more history on Sunday if he gets 72 receiving yards against Washington. If so, Lamb will be in the top ten for yardage in a single season by a receiver, passing Marvin Harrison.
The Cowboys now have a receiver who’s in the conversation for the best in the league and will need him to make an NFC Championship game for the first time in 27 years. Those Lambmarks have led to this moment, and the new playmaker has shown he can be everything the team needs and more.