How many times do you stop to think about the fact that Oklahoma WR CeeDee Lamb fell to the 17th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft? If you're a Cowboys fan, the answer might be pretty often – as the receiver-needy Cowboys paired the draft's best talent with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. However, if you're New York Giants safety Xavier McKinney, this fact might come up more than it should.
In a recent interview with Patrick Peterson and Bryant McFadden on the “All Things Covered” podcast, McKinney did not shy away from telling his defensive back counterparts that he “takes it personal every time I play the Cowboys”.
As far as players and coaches wanting to put up their best performance against America's Team, McKinney can go ahead and get in line. What makes this example more fun is that McKinney was so often linked to Dallas before the 2020 Draft. Rarely do mock drafts pair a player with a team as steadily as McKinney was projected to be the pick at 17th overall, despite their history of not addressing safety with much priority.
For draft analysts and fans alike, McKinney to the Cowboys made perfect sense. The Alabama product would be an instant improvement to both the team's pass and run defense as a versatile safety capable of playing deep or in the box.
The Cowboys need for defensive help was perhaps so glaring that fans outside of Dallas forget that WR also remained enough of a need to make passing on a talent like CeeDee Lamb impossible. Like McKinney in 2020, wide receiver was the popular pick for the Cowboys in 2018 before they opted for LB Leighton Vander Esch. They then traded their 2019 first rounder mid-season for Amari Cooper.
Lamb and McKinney's rookie campaigns were both clouded by outside factors that make the NFC East rivals' draft decisions hard to judge just yet. McKinney missed ten games with a foot injury, making his week 17 fourth quarter interception of Andy Dalton a season highlight. The fact it was Dalton playing into week 17 and not Dak Prescott – lost for the season against the Giants in week five – puts an asterisk on Lamb's already solid debut.
Dak Prescott had a perfect passer rating (158.3) when targeting CeeDee Lamb on throws more than 20 yards down the field in the first five games of 2020.#DallasCowboys
— John Williams (@john9williams) June 26, 2021
McKinney sealing a win against the Cowboys in the season finale earned the Giants an outside chance at the playoffs via a dreadful NFC East in 2020. This opportunity disappeared in a game that summed up the division well, as the final primetime game of the year saw the Washington Football Team hold off the Jalen Hurts/Nate Sudfeld Eagles to clinch the division.
Since missing the playoffs, both teams have done plenty of work at the respective positions opposite Lamb or McKinney. The Giants prioritized adding playmakers for QB Daniel Jones, as Jason Garrett now has Kenny Golladay, Kelvin Benjamin, Kadarius Toney, and a healthy Saquon Barkley to call plays for.
The Cowboys current plan at safety includes a new but familiar face for Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn in Damontae Kazee, along with veteran Jayron Kearse. The team is also relying on Donovan Wilson to take the next step after a promising season.
Cowboys personnel themselves would justify passing on McKinney simply by pointing out that safeties are rarely the players that decide a game. Before knowing what they had in Lamb, or even at QB with Dak Prescott's extension being drawn out, a dominant pass offense is certainly key to today's NFL. When healthy, the Cowboys easily have all the makings of just that.
A healthy Giants defense, with McKinney set to prove a point, will get their first shot at the Cowboys in week five at AT&T Stadium. If you could redo the 2020 Draft, would the Cowboys first round pick still be a 935 yard receiver without his starting QB for 11 games in CeeDee Lamb?