FRISCO - CeeDee Lamb is capable of returning punts for the Dallas Cowboys, as the second-year wide receiver and budding star is demonstrating during the team’s minicamp here at The Star.
But being “capable” isn’t reason enough for Dallas to do something so dangerous - “dangerous” in all the wrong ways.
My buddy Rob Phillips writes at DallasCowboys.com in support of the concept, citing “how effective he was a rookie … the Cowboys didn’t have a problem putting him on punt returns in 2020 and I’m not sure why that would change given how effective he was.”
Phillips is right about Dallas’ lack of caution here. But the questions are:
How effective was he?
Why not “have a problem with it”?
Why not change?
Last year as a rookie, Lamb returned 24 punts for 172 yards. That’s 7.2 yards per return.
Is that “effective”? Not exactly. Among everybody who returned an NFL punt in 2020, Lamb’s 7.1 yards ranked him 40th. Among guys who returned at least four punts, Lamb ranked 32nd.
Lamb did give Dallas three 20-yards-plus returns, which matters - though 31 other guys each gave their clubs at least one such return.
Meanwhile, Lamb was involved in nine fair catches and a fumble and - despite this notion of NFL punt returners as scorers - never did do that.
And guess what? Neither did most anybody else. In the entire NFL last year, there were 1,888 punts …and eight TDs.
You sure you want to subject a potential star receiver to the dangers of returning punts because of the (non-)danger he represents as a break-away threat?
A 7.1-yard, 40th-ranked break-away?
Coach Mike McCarthy was asked if Lamb has sort of matured beyond the point of being the return guy.
“Special teams is going to be a priority here,” McCarthy replied. “I don’t view players as graduating from special teams.”
That’s good, old-fashioned ball-coach talk. And it’s outdated.
Between fair catches, penalties and injuries, punt returners should - barring the second coming of Deion Sanders - be reliable and semi-expendable. Lamb is the former. (It so happens that Cedrick Wilson is both.) But Lamb? Coming off a rookie season in which the first-round pick exploded for 74 receptions for 935 yards with five touchdowns, largely without the benefit of having Dak Prescott as his QB?
In today’s NFL, CeeDee Lamb at punt returner doesn’t really represent a danger to the opponents; based on the risk/reward involved, it only represents a danger to a Dallas Cowboys team short-sighted enough to use him that way.