Progress Report

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Progress Report: Lamb Met, Surpassed Expectations

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(Editor's Note: NFL rosters change wildly from year to year. This year will be no different, as the Cowboys seek to upgrade their roster via free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft. Still, a large percentage of their roster is already in place, and they'll have plenty of work to do to improve last season's 6-10 record. In the coming weeks, the staff of DallasCowboys.com will evaluate those players who are already under contract, examining their past performance and future outlook. Today, we'll continue the series with wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.)

The Good: When the Cowboys were officially on the clock with the No. 17 overall pick in last year's draft and CeeDee Lamb was still on the board, the front office made a decision: He was simply too talented to let pass. The thinking was as follows: Roster need is one thing, but if you have the opportunity to select a player who could be a multi-year Pro Bowler and a fan favorite for years, you do it. And for as disappointing as the 2020 season was as a whole, Lamb did everything he could to validate that logic. No other receiver in NFL history has caught at least five passes in his first six games. He shattered the Cowboys' record (46 set by Bob Hayes in 1965) for most receptions by a rookie with 74. His chemistry with Dak Prescott early in the season was phenomenal, and his playmaking skills produced some of the best highlights of the NFL season — particularly a twisting end zone catch he made against the Minnesota Vikings.

As a whole, Lamb looked a year ahead of most rookie receives. He finished the season with 935 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bad: If you're grading Lamb as a rookie, it's hard to find much to nitpick about his 2020 season. If you're looking at him as the playmaker that he's already proven capable of, there were a few games where his impact was insignificant. He went catch-less in an October loss to Washington and accounted for less than 45 receiving yards in four other games. But all of those games came after Prescott's injury, and included three different starting quarterbacks and a mostly cobbled together offensive line. Another aspect of Lamb's game that can get better is the pass-catching. While he made some great catches, he had some unfortunate drops. He had passes in the end zone of both Washington games that were not caught. He nearly came up with a spectacular Hail Mary catch in Baltimore but couldn't, although that doesn't fair to qualify as a drop. But he did drop a pass late in the Giants game in Week 17 that might have led to a victory.

Best of 2020: His contorting touchdown catch against the Vikings was probably the most impressive and exciting play made by any Cowboy all season, but Lamb's best game came in a difficult Week 6 victory over the Giants. In the third quarter, Prescott suffered a devastating ankle injury that would cost him the rest of his season. Meanwhile, Lamb went into the game with five catches in each of his first five career games, tying an NFL record. Lamb not only recorded the five necessary receptions to break the NFL rookie record, he racked up 124 yards, including a few crucial late-game first down conversions when Andy Dalton came in and needed to move the ball and develop chemistry with a receiver quickly. In perhaps the most emotional game of the season, Lambs stepped up as much as any player on the team.

Contract Consideration: Lamb still has three years left on his rookie contract worth a total of $14 million. It's a pretty safe bet to assume that his second contract will be worth considerably more money.

What's Next? Lamb's future is about as bright as any player in the NFL and certainly any player on the Dallas Cowboys. Fans don't know what next season's highlight plays will look like, but they can be confident that plenty of them will come from Lamb assuming he stays healthy. Amari Cooper is locked in a long-term contract and Gallup and Lamb are still on their rookie deals. The Cowboys have the type of weapons to win a quarterback an MVP and be an offensive juggernaut. Last year was an example of how talented playmaking can go to waste if enough other things go wrong for a team. Some of those problems will hopefully remedy themself when players return from injury, but one aspect of having three great playmakers is that none of them are likely to have the impact individually that they would have as the clear-cut No. 1receiver. Lamb seems to be a great fit as a slot receiver, so it's safe to assume they will keep playing him in that role going forward, but they'll still be looking to maximize his skills in whatever opportunities they can create for him. It will probably be a training camp decision every year whether they want to utilize him as a punt returner, but it seems to be an easy way to get the ball in his hand. Expect him returning punts in 2021.

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