What a glorious weekend of drafting the Dallas Cowboys just had! As we’re all still grinning about the impressive haul of talent that just joined the team, already we’re thinking about how they’ll fit onto the 2020 roster. That’s especially true for 1st-round pick CeeDee Lamb, and one area where the receiver could help the Cowboys right away is as the new punt returner.
Of the 23 punts that Dallas returned last year, 17 of them were fielded by Tavon Austin. Four of them were by Randall Cobb, and two others by Cedrick Wilson.
Neither Austin or Cobb are on this year’s roster. Randall signed with the Houston Texans in free agency and Tavon remains unsigned on the open market.
The Cowboys could still re-sign Tavon Austin, reuniting him with new Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel. They may have just been waiting to see what the draft yielded before deciding on the veteran’s future.
Alternatively, they may have been content with the idea of turning job over to Cedrick Wilson full time. Or perhaps there’s the thought to see how Tony Pollard would do returning punts.
But with three years under his belt as the primary punt returner for the Oklahoma Sooners, CeeDee Lamb now enters the conversation. He returned 54 punts for 475 yards in college, averaging 8.8 yards per return.
Sure, we’d much rather see Lamb catching passes than punts. And while the idea of him getting hurt on a special teams play isn’t great, there is a good precedent for asking Lamb to take on punt return duties.
The Cowboys asked the same from their last 1st-round rookie receiver.
Dez Bryant joined the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 under very similar circumstances as CeeDee Lamb does. Like Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup today, there was already an established starting duo in Miles Austin and Roy Williams.
Not relying on Bryant to immediately become an offensive workhorse, Dallas found other ways to get the ball in his hands. And he rewarded them handsomely as a rookie, returning 15 punts for 215 yards and two touchdowns.
Like Dez, CeeDee Lamb does some of his best work running after the catch. Those offensive skills translate well to returning punts.
Bryant and Lamb do have some physical similarity overall. Where they differ is that while Dez was a bit stronger and more athletic all around, CeeDee has a little more top speed.
It’s also worth noting that Bryant was a more prolific punt returner during his college career than Lamb was. CeeDee never scored a touchdown on his 54 returns, while Dez had three scores on just 22 returns.
But like so many things with college versus the NFL, you can’t base your evaluation on just stats. It’s up to the Cowboys coaches to see how scheme and surrounding talent factored into his production, and if there potential for more that the Sooners couldn’t tap into.
Again, Lamb may not even be the first option for punt returns in 2020. John Fassel may have already targeted Wilson, Pollard, or someone else for the job. But I promise you that CeeDee will at least be in the mix in training camp as they’re evaluating candidates.
Unless you’re grooming a future quarterback, 1st-Round picks need to impact your team almost immediately. While CeeDee Lamb will certainly boost the firepower in the Cowboys’ 2020 offense, returning punts could be another way to get him the ball and increase his value.