SHELTERED IN PLACE, Texas – You kidding me?
Just fell right out of Thursday's crystal blue sky right into the laps of the unsuspecting Dallas Cowboys.
Guran-darn-tee you they couldn't believe it. Probably shocked. This was nothing in these _virtual_ pandemic days. This was real.
See, after all these weeks of streamed meetings preparing for this 2020 draft – everyone sequestered at their homes, from Jerry to Stephen to Mike and Will, to all the scouts and assistant coaches, all doing their parts to analyze all these players – guessing never in their wildest dreams did any of 'em think a wide receiver with the multiple talents of Lamb would still be on the board when the second half of the draft's first round began with the Cowboys at pick 17.
Well, how about this:
When the Cowboys put their board together, and goodness knows how many boards have been thrust in our face for the past two months, the Cowboys had ranked Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb No. 6.
That's right, sixth. Not the sixth best receiver. Not the sixth best player the Cowboys would have taken within reason, meaning they did not exclude the three quarterbacks going off the board within the first six picks since they certainly would not have taken one. Nor did they exclude from their ranks the four offensive tackles drafted within the first 13 picks since they sure have spent enough draft and financial capital on their offensive line.
We are simply saying the Cowboys had Lamb ranked as the sixth best player in the entire draft. Period.
For example, within my reach now, there's a couple of these top 50s. One had Lamb No. 11. One had Lamb No. 12. A couple had him ninth.
The Cowboys had him sixth, higher than the Alabama tandem of Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy. Had CeeDee _the_ top-rated wide receiver in the entire draft.
Why, the Cowboys thought it so implausible they would have a chance to draft Lamb at 17 that they really only spoke with him once during the evaluation process. At the NFL Scouting Combine. That's it. No virtual streaming hookup. Not even a phone call.
"We felt CeeDee was a top-10 player and we'd never see him," Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said of their surprise at 17.
This is why you evaluate everybody. You just never know when that moonbeam lands in your lap. You've got to be ready.
That is why, unlike all the growing number of draft experts out there, you do not ever deal in draft absolutes. Like, I've _got_ to take a cornerback. Or I've _got_ to take an edge rusher. Or this nonsense about taking a safety in the first round. How many safeties went in the first round, by the way? And we've been inundated with how this guy or that guy was going to just impact the Cowboys defense beyond belief. They just had to have one in the first.
Well, nary a one was drafted in the first round. Not one. Get one of those in the second or third or fourth, if worthy.
That is why, going into a draft, you don't predetermine trading up. Or trading down. In fact, how about this? As it turned out, during the pre-draft streaming press conference, Jerry was asked how big a must is getting a cornerback early.
"When you say _how big_, show me the draft board, show me where we are, show me what we're doing at that particular time," he said. "Show me what we're offering for that pick, and if there is a corner there, I'll show how big a must it is."
So it's pretty obvious the Cowboys had their eyes set directly on LSU defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson as the first round moved past pick 10. Probably even holding their breath since there just might be a collision between need and availability at the 17 hole Jerry previously had said "he liked."
Surely Lamb would be gone by then. Plus, if there became a run on those top-three wide receivers, the Cowboys were inching their way closer to the coveted Chaisson.
But tell you what. When the Raiders took the first of the three, Ruggs, at No. 12, I put a question mark on Atlanta at 16, thinking, _My goodness Chaisson just might be there._ Surely Lamb and Jeudy would occupy two of the next four picks. If only Atlanta doesn't mess things up.
But in the back of my mind, I can remember saying for the past two weeks, _Yeah, Chaisson is the guy, yet with this caveat_: "But what would you do if, say, a CeeDee Lamb still is sitting there at 17?" The Cowboys certainly could qualify taking a wide receiver of his caliber for sure to stick into the slot after losing Randall Cobb in free agency.
And then when Tampa Bay traded up one spot from 14 to 13 with San Francisco, taking offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, I'm thinking, _Oh my gosh._ There are three picks to go and the chances of both Lamb and Chaisson being there seemed awfully reasonable. Especially since Jeudy was still on the board.
Maybe, just maybe.
Because, as McCarthy would say, quite amazed Lamb was still available even at 13, "All the mock drafts we did, he was never there at 17."
Then goes defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw at 14 to San Francisco. You figure Denver was going wideout, and the Broncos did, taking Jeudy. And now only Atlanta stood between the Cowboys getting either Chaisson or, rather unbelievably, Lamb. Or a choice of either.
And I'll be, the Falcons took cornerback A.J. Terrell.
Now it's Chaisson or Lamb. Who would have thunk it? At 17, Jerry would have his _pick of the litter_ all these years later.
Or, as he pointed out, if the Cowboys wanted to get cute, they had four trade-down opportunities to likely get any one of four guys they had their eye on, along with additional picks.
But Lamb's availability trumped cute.
"If someone like Lamb is there, this will tear all that up," McCarthy said of all the best projections and potential plans.
"CeeDee was a blinking light up there," Stephen Jones said.
And when that light goes off, and fortune is staring you right in the face, what do you do?
Darn it, you don't look a gift horse in the face.
CeeDee's availability trumped Chaisson, too.
"Jerry heard everybody out," Stephen says, "and the right thing to do was pick the best football player. That's what we did."
Yep, CeeDee Lamb, third in the country averaging 21.4 yards per catch this 2019 season and ranking second nationally with six games of at least 135 yards receiving. We could go on and on with statistical rationalizations of picking a wide receiver here, giving the Cowboys an embarrassment of riches.
But throw on the tape. Watch this kid play. As the late Cowboys assistant coach Joe Brodsky said of Emmitt Smith when 30 years ago this week the Cowboys traded up to the identical 17th pick in 1990 to grab Emmitt Smith, "Emmitt will take your breath away and you might not get it back until he goes down or scores."
Well, ditto CeeDee.
So there's always today and tomorrow to worry about an edge rusher, a cornerback, a safety, a center, too. But again, if you've watched Lamb play, and not just highlights, I mean play games, you'd come away saying, gosh, I want that guy on my team.
That's surely what Joe would have said.
And as McCarthy praised his new team's draft process, and imagine that after all the draft grief the Cowboys annually take, saying, "You've got to have the discipline to keep drafting the best player."
So the Cowboys did. CeeDee Lamb is their guy, and it's got to make you drool over the thought of lining up Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Lamb at the same time, heck, maybe 80 percent of the time, no matter down or distance, surely causing defenses to play nickel. But in the back of their minds aren't they thinking, _Oh my, what if the Cowboys decide to hand the ball to that Zeke dude._
OK, that was Thursday, and as we know, one day does not make a draft. There is more to come.
But for this one day, "We were efficient," Jerry Jones said. "We were well informed. We had a good time to consider our trades. We nailed it. We nailed it with the evaluation we had. We helped our team, and at the same time, I would say, from the NFL hierarchy, they had a chance to be near and around parts of their family that they never before had on a draft day.
"And this is quite a day."
Yes, Jerry, it certainly was.