DALLAS — CeeDee Lamb may have been a rookie in 2020, but he was a weapon for the Dallas Cowboys.
The No. 17 overall pick from Oklahoma caught 74 passes for 935 yards and five touchdowns while taking 10 rushes for 82 yards and a score. On special teams, Lamb added 24 punt returns for 172 yards, a 7.2 yards per punt return average. Technically, he also scored a kickoff return for a touchdown as he took a 47-yard onside kick the other way.
With the 6-2, 198-pound wideout expected to have a more increased role on offense, the expectation is Lamb will have a lesser role as a punt returner. However, coach Mike McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday during day one of mandatory minicamp that Lamb will still be a punt returner.
"I don't view players graduating from special teams because at the end of the day, I think it's important for the job description and job responsibility standpoint, and it's probably outside your specialists and your quarterback, you like to see your players be able to do more than one thing," McCarthy said. “It's something we talk about a lot in player acquisition. What are the two things he can do? Obviously his offensive and defensive role but in what part of special teams can he contribute?"
McCarthy acknowledges that they can't simply rely on Lamb as the lone returner; there will be a competition for another punt returner. In 2020, receiver Cedrick Wilson was the other returner as he fielded five punts, and even lateraled a return to cornerback C.J. Goodwin for a 73-yard return against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9.
"So, you need more than one returner, too," said McCarthy. "So, we understand that. It's a long season. It's a longer season. When do you use those? I've gone through it before."
The situation with Lamb is reminiscent of what McCarthy experienced with wideout Randall Cobb in Green Bay. The Packers selected Cobb in the second round from Kentucky in 2011, and the 5-10, 192-pound receiver had 74 punt returns for 722 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 74 kickoffs for 1,915 yards and a touchdown. However, as Cobb's role on offense grew, hallmarked by a Pro Bowl selection in 2014 for posting the only 1,000-yard receiving season of his career to date, he never saw double-digit punt returns ever again while with the Packers.
Entering year two with Lamb, McCarthy doesn't yet think it's time to scale back his special teams' participation.
Said McCarthy: "I don't see we're there with CeeDee. But at the end of the day, we'll have more than one returner."
Keeping Lamb active on special teams is also part of McCarthy's mission when he took over as coach in January 2020. The Cowboys were ineffective and porous in the transition phase of the game, and McCarthy saw an opportunity with the hiring of former Los Angeles Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel to improve it.
"We made that clear last year when we started and made it clear when we hired John Fassel, that special teams is going to be a priority here," McCarthy said.
Do you think CeeDee should continue to get reps in the return game or is it time for him to focus on his duties on offense? Share your opinion with Mark on Twitter @therealmarklane.