CeeDee Lamb is finally where we've always expected him to be, the primary receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Anointed as the team's future when he was drafted, especially once given the renowned #88 jersey, Lamb is now up against those lofty expectations and carrying a much different burden in his third season.
After over 2,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons, it would be unfair to say that Lamb hasn't lived up to being the 17th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. CeeDee hit the ground running and was productive as a rookie despite the tumultuous issues on offense that year; Dak Prescott missed 11 games and the offense was generally in tatters.
But when the Jones family pushed for Lamb to join Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin, and Dez Bryant in the lineage of great Cowboys receivers to wear the #88, they raised the bar awfully high. CeeDee can't just be good now. Greatness is now the floor.
When Dallas gave Amari Cooper away last March and re-signed Michael Gallup with a known knee issue, Lamb's assumed ascension as an elite receiver was part of the deal. The Jones make interesting choices sometimes but they're not insane. Their entire approach to the WR position was clearly predicated on the belief that CeeDee would emerge as a dominant force in his third season.
Last Sunday's opener was a horrific start to this pivotal point in Lamb's career. With just two catches for 29 yards despite 11 targets, including a crucial drop on 3rd down, CeeDee didn't look at all like a guy who could help his quarterback or offense be better. Instead of assuaging the concerns about Cooper's departure, Lamb left us wondering if Dallas even has a true number-one receiver right now.
Again, none of this is fair to the kid. Instead of being free to become the player that talent and circumstances would allow, CeeDee was thrust into being the heir apparent before he even stepped onto an NFL practice field. Controversy about his future started immediately after the draft with his initial choice of wearing #10 in Dallas, which was eventually changed at the behest of ownership.
Sure, Dez Bryant had bad games in his life. Even Irvin and Pearson dropped a critical pass at some point. Nobody is saying Lamb has to be perfect.
But after two years of watching CeeDee benefit from the presence of others, now he's expected to be the benefactor. Whether he's ready or not, the Cowboys' handling of the WR position has forced him into the long-expected role.
Unfortunately, Lamb's quest for redemption from Week 1 will be severely hindered by the absence of Dak Prescott and the likely continued offensive line issues the next few weeks. But even if the offense struggles overall, CeeDee could still do things to make Cooper Rush's job easier. He can still prove that he's a catalyst, not an effect, for Dallas' offensive prowess going forward.
It may take the returns of Michael, Gallup, James Washington, and of course Dak Prescott for this passing game to find its groove again. We certainly don't expect Lamb to put up Pro Bowl numbers under the current circumstances.
There's a major difference between big stats and having a positive impact. CeeDee Lamb doesn't need a gaudy box score, but just to take advantage of the opportunities he's given and show that he can create a few with his own talent. That would be a dramatic improvement from Sunday night, and a vital one for Lamb's perceived value going forward.