FRISCO, Texas – With so many questions to answers, this series will take a look at each position on the roster, and what choices might face the front office heading into 2021.
Today, we'll start looking at the much-discussed wide receiver corps, which established itself as one of the best in the NFL last year.
Re-Visiting The CeeDee Pick
Right around the time the 2020 Cowboys started piling up losses, a sharp narrative shift came into play.
As the Cowboys continued to surrender stacks of stats in losses to Arizona, Washington and others, people began to wonder: given the obvious problems on defense, had the Cowboys' front office been smart to select CeeDee Lamb with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft?
On the surface, it seems like a fair question. The Cowboys' defense was historically bad last season. They surrendered more points than any defense in franchise history, they finished 28th in scoring defense and they allowed an absurd 159 rushing yards per game.
Laying those problems at the feet of CeeDee Lamb feels awfully short-sighted, though.
For starters, Lamb managed to meet the loftiest expectations on a Cowboys rookie since Ezekiel Elliott was drafted. From the time Lamb's name was called on draft night, excitement for his potential was through the roof. The hype only intensified when he was given the famous No. 88 – and when he showed off during an incredibly impressive rookie training camp.
Lamb wasn't perfect. He had issues with drops at times during the season, and he struggled with consistency from week to week, particularly after Dak Prescott was lost for the year.
Even still, the rookie wide out easily met the bar. Lamb finished his first season with 74 catches for 935 yards – setting a franchise rookie catch record, and finishing second in yardage behind only Bob Hayes. He made 18 receptions of 20-plus yards, which tied him with Green Bay's Davante Adams for 11th-best in the NFL. His acrobatic touchdown against Minnesota proved his capability for making show-stopping plays, not to mention his impressive displays against Atlanta, Cleveland, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
On top of that, it's worth considering what the Cowboys' other options were when they came up on the clock last spring.
Receiver was one of the only offensive position the Cowboys heavily considered with their 17th overall pick. Aside from that, they likely had their chance between a bevy of different defenders.
They were tied to a couple high-profile cornerbacks in Clemson's A.J. Terrell and Alabama's Trevon Diggs. Terrell went off the board to Atlanta one pick before them. Ironically, Diggs fell all the way to pick No. 51, where the Cowboys made him their second-round pick. Suffice to say, opting in a different direction with pick No. 17 turned out very well.
The Cowboys also considered a pass rusher in LSU's K'Lavon Chaisson, who wound up going three spots later to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Comments from Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones after the draft strongly suggested that Chaisson may have been the pick if Lamb hadn't been available. The highly-talented edge rusher was seen as a raw prospect with a lot of upside. It's not meant as a knock on Chaisson, but 2020 seemed to bear that out. During a forgettable season for the Jaguars, Chaisson made 19 tackles and finished with one sack on the year. The future may still be bright for the 21-year-old, but it was a season that paled in comparison to what Lamb managed.
It's also possible the Cowboys could've drafted a linebacker with that pick. The team was also tied to Oklahoma's Kenneth Murray and LSU's Patrick Queen, both of whom were drafted at the back end of the first round.
If you're determined to criticize the Cowboys' draft philosophy, this is probably the answer. Murray and Queen both had excellent debut seasons. Murray started all 16 games for the Los Angeles Chargers, finishing with 107 tackles and five tackles for loss. Queen was a revelation for Baltimore, as he managed three sacks, three takeaways and a defensive touchdown to go with his 106 tackles.
Obviously, the Cowboys struggled at the linebacker position in 2020. As this series has already detailed, it's a position that will require them to make a lot of decisions this spring. It feels fair to point out that some of those decisions might be easier to make if they already had a talented young first-round pick on the roster.
Despite all of that, it looks increasingly clear that the Cowboys made the right decision. A young linebacker likely wouldn't have had the same opportunities in Dallas, given the veterans already on the roster. And even if he had, it doesn't exactly offset the production that Lamb was capable of in his rookie year.
Yes, the Cowboys have some work to do in addressing their defense in 2021. But on the flipside, their 2020 first-round pick had a historically good season – and he did so without the help of a first-string quarterback for much of the year.
CeeDee Lamb looks poised to be one of the best young receivers in football, and his presence figures to help the Cowboys have one of the league's most explosive offenses for the foreseeable future.
Even in the wake of a disappointing season, that more than justifies the draft day decision.