Adding elite, blue-chip talent in the draft takes some luck, but it usually takes a bad situation. Think about it: elite prospects are almost always drafted within the first 10 picks, usually consisting of disappointing teams looking for that one player to make a difference on the field.
Wide receiver has been a position that has come with some disappointment to teams drafting high in the draft. The one that immediately comes to mind is Kevin White, the seventh overall selection in the 2015 draft to the Chicago Bears. The infamous wide receiver class of 2016 included the likes of Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Will Fuller, and Laquon Treadwell. Three receivers were taken in the top-10 of the very next draft: Corey Davis, Mike Williams, and John Ross.
Would you consider any of those wideouts to be success stories with their respective teams? Fuller and Ross are speed guys that cannot stay on the field, Coleman, Doctson, and Treadwell were all cut by the team that drafted them before the end of their rookie deal. and neither Davis (fifth overall) or Williams (seventh) have proven to be worthy of where they were selected.
When looking at wide receivers picked in the top-15 since the 2015 NFL Draft, just one has been a success: Amari Cooper of the Dallas Cowboys. You can attribute poor quarterback play, a bad situation, and/or health to nearly all of the others that have not lived up to their draft billing. Even Cooper was thought by many to have hit his ceiling with the Raiders before moving over to the Cowboys. In Dallas, Coop has provided a legit go-to guy for Dak Prescott while opening up the passing attack.
But from 2007 through 2013 there were eight wideouts taken in the top 15 of drafts. In the past three years alone there have been six. That’s wild — Amari Cooper, Kevin White, Corey Coleman, Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross all were drafted inside the top 15 over the past three years. And this is not hindsight, but none of those guys meet the threshold for Jones/Green. Maybe Cooper, but there was a debate about him versus White and who would go first in that draft.
The 2020 NFL Draft class consisted of three blue-chip talents: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy were considered the consensus top two at the position, while fellow Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs III was the third name in that conversation. The entire trio was ranked inside the top-15 prospects by the consensus rankings. In fact, Ruggs, of course, was the first receiver to hear his name called by Roger Goodell during the draft. This class was considered by many to be among the deepest ever — as 34 receivers were drafted through seven rounds — but those three stood head and shoulders above the rest as prospects.
The Athletic’s Ted Nguyen wrote a very detailed look at the top three wideouts in the class, giving a grade for each prospect for categories such as their route-running, release, after-catch ability, and more. Nguyen came away ranking Lamb as the most well-rounded wideout, writing that “DeAndre Hopkins is an apt comparison.”
Lamb is the most well-rounded receiver in the draft. DeAndre Hopkins is an apt comparison. Both players play much bigger than their size but have the route running ability of smaller receivers. They aren’t burners but have a good first step and can build up speed late in routes. Though he doesn’t have an elite physical trait, he maximizes what he has with high football I.Q. and passion. His work ethic has been lauded by his former coaches. His personal coach, Rischad Whitfield, who has worked with many NFL stars and prospects, has worked with Lamb since high school and said Lamb always goes the extra mile in his training and hasn’t missed a workout — even during this pandemic.
The All-Pro Hopkins is a very lofty, yet common, comparison for the former Oklahoma receiver. Lamb is not a player that is going to wow you with his 4.50 speed or jump out of the gym with his 34.5” vertical. He is not the biggest receiver in the draft and did not see much press coverage at all during his collegiate career.
Still, Lamb is an elite talent. His after-the-catch ability is scary good, consistently able to make special plays with the ball in his hands which is evidenced by his 19 yards-per-catch average. His ball skills and catch radius are ridiculous — be it going up for a jump ball in the end zone, catching a poorly thrown ball one-handed, or making difficult catches look routine. Lamb’s body control is impressive too, as he always adjusts his body in the air in different angles and boxes out defensive backs when going up for the ball.
Even as a freshman, Lamb made these kind of contested catches with ease. pic.twitter.com/tgoFyOjzvK— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) January 29, 2020
Lamb has legit WR1 talent, which is why many assumed that Jon Gruden would snatch him up for Derek Carr to throw the ball to. He has the talent and the natural ability to be a go-to receiver in any offense with different style of quarterbacks — backed up by his 32 total touchdowns while playing in three different style of offenses at Oklahoma led by Baker Mayfield in 2017, Kyler Murray in 2018, and Jalen Hurts in 2019.
That is not just an uneducated opinion, a lot of different statistics and numbers support the claim that Lamb is a true number one target for an offense. Pro Football Focus ranked Lamb as the second best wideout in the class in their draft guide — but still as the sixth best prospect overall. According to PFF, there has not been a more advanced player at the position in the past six years than the Cowboys’ 2020 first-round draft selection.
Lamb is the most advanced wide receiver prospect I’ve seen since we started grading college players six years ago. That’s not to say he’s the best, but the little things about the position he’s got down pat.
CeeDee Lamb has been the most valuable WR since 2018.pic.twitter.com/0Uo6j4Lswb— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 24, 2020
Lamb enters a perfect situation for a rookie wide receiver to succeed.
Unlike the majority of wide receivers drafted with a first-round selection, CeeDee Lamb will not be asked to carry the load for an offense. He will not have the pressure of being the primary playmaker on the offensive side of the ball, nor will he face very many — if any — CB1s during his first season on the professional level as he adjusts to the NFL game.
Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup are one of the better and more established wide receiver one-two punches across the league. Cooper is a Pro Bowler that has earned Dak Prescott’s trust and the respect of some of the league’s top defensive backs. Gallup had a breakout sophomore season in the NFL after flashing as a rookie. Each of the two wideouts eclipsed 65 receptions and 1,000 yards and took their turns scorching defenses.
Also, unlike many elite wide receivers that are taken early in the draft, Lamb is stepping into a situation that has a franchise quarterback (albeit, not signed long-term yet) and an offensive-minded coach that has had success in the passing game. Dak Prescott took the next step of his career last season as he looked more confident, more poised, and his fundamentals improved on the way to passing for nearly five-thousand yards in addition to 30 touchdowns. It is when — not if — the Cowboys pay their signal-caller, and Lamb will have the benefit of catching passes from a talented, ascending quarterback.
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the better running backs across the league with ability to carry a big load in the run game while also providing value in the passing game as both a pass catcher and in pass protection. Tony Pollard offers versatility as a runner and catcher, and tight end Blake Jarwin has shown to be capable of stretching the field.
A big question that some national media have is: how is CeeDee going to get the ball? Is there enough for everybody to eat, or will Lamb play third-fiddle? Well, Randall Cobb caught 55 balls on 83 targets for 828 yards himself. Cobb’s departure created a hole at the third wide receiver spot, making the position a need that the team was likely going to address through the draft regardless.
The Cowboys not only addressed the need at WR3, the team very well likely upgraded at the spot. Cobb offered more explosive ability than Cole Beasley in the slot, but Lamb is a unique and special talent after the catch.
The NFL really let this guy fall to the Cowboys lol https://t.co/IdoRufR0eh— Cole Patterson (@colelpatterson) April 26, 2020
This is important to note, because the Cowboys were among the worst in the league last season in yards after the catch. Lamb has the opportunity to step in and improve that almost immediately.
% of passing yds per team that came from Yds AFTER the Catch:— D4KY Burgers (@NotToBeTrite) April 7, 2020
Top 5 (Pass-catchers/offensive system helped QB A LOT)
SF - 58.5%
ARI - 54.9%
OAK - 53.6%
NYJ - 52.2%
Bottom 5 (QB NOT helped by players/system)
DAL - 38.8%
MIA - 38.4%
TB - 37.8%
DET - 37.5%
ATL - 35.5% pic.twitter.com/Ck3duMBuWQ
Furthermore, Lamb has a ton of experience playing in an offense that shares the football. Lincoln Riley’s offensive system is very offensive-friendly and loves to spread the football around to a variety of playmakers.
Lamb has experience being the new guy on the offense looking to carve out his role as he caught passes from Mayfield during his first collegiate season. He also has experience being the secondary option as he played alongside 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown while catching targets from Murray. Finally, Lamb was the unquestioned go-to player last season while hauling in balls from Hurts. The Oklahoma system has prepared Lamb for a variety of different roles within the offense.
CeeDee Lamb was a big play waiting to happen during his collegiate career, consistently making defenses look foolish while wearing Oklahoma’s colors. Whatever Lincoln Riley needed — to stretch the field, to get involved in the quick game, or to create something out of nothing — Lamb always stepped up to the challenge. The Athletic’s Dane Brugler describes the Oklahoma product as someone that is highly competitive and possesses “playmaking instincts”.
Lamb has quick hands and feet to give defenders the slip before and after the catch, showcasing the football IQ and athleticism that allows him to find open space downfield. There is a backyard football element to his game and added refinement is needed, but his natural feel for creating after the catch is what he does best, showing multiple gears, vision and toughness to force missed tackles. Overall, Lamb is a balanced athlete with the body fluidity of a much small player and the ball skills and competitive nature of a much bigger player, projecting as a high-ceiling NFL starter due to his playmaking instincts.
Exhibit A of Lamb’s incredible playmaking ability, a 70-yard touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats that had every defender on the field look flat out silly:
CeeDee Lamb ends Oklahoma's scoring drought. pic.twitter.com/yz35QEM14i— ESPN (@espn) October 26, 2019
Exhibit B, a touchdown in which Lamb somehow found a way to reach the end zone despite being surrounded by a host of Texas Longhorns defenders:
The play itself:
New Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb vs. Texas pic.twitter.com/jru40MudCy— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 24, 2020
The Dallas Cowboys are going all-in on the passing game, investing many resources in the offense. That’s good news because the NFL is a passing league now and if you don’t catch up, you’re going to get left behind.
Kansas City has invested tons of resources into their passing attack: trading up for Patrick Mahomes, paying both Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, signing Sammy Watkins in free agency, adding speedster Mecole Hardman with a top-60 pick, and drafting Clyde Edwards-Helaire — a running back that brings value as a pass catcher — in the first-round.
In other words, it's the best place to invest your limited resources to give yourself the best shot of maintain a competitive edge— Cowboys Stats & Graphics (@CowboysStats) April 24, 2020
Dallas adding Lamb in the first-round not only suggests that this team has moved to the Best Player Available over Need philosophy, it is the latest source of evidence — combined with the hiring of quarterback guru Mike McCarthy, retaining Kellen Moore, and paying Amari Cooper — that the Cowboys are committing themselves to throwing the football — less than a year after inking Ezekiel Elliott to a hefty extension.
The Cowboys have a team filled with talent on the offensive side of the football, a very good franchise quarterback, an offensive-minded head coach with a history of developing strong passing attacks, and a creative coordinator.
CeeDee Lamb should be a very successful receiver and live up to his first-round billing because of all of these factors. Lamb’s natural playmaking skills, incredible catch radius, and special after-the-catch ability — combined with his versatility to play each receiver position — give him the chance to flourish as soon as he steps onto the field in a Cowboys uniform.