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Eight thoughts after watching every snap from CeeDee Lamb’s junior season

Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire

Eight thoughts after watching every snap from CeeDee Lamb’s junior season

Many were shocked by the 17th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft when the Dallas Cowboys took CeeDee Lamb. Already having an elite and recently paid wide receiver in Amari Cooper and a blossoming young player in Michael Gallup, nobody thought the Cowboys needed another wideout.

Instead, Jerry Jones pulled the trigger and got another weapon for $31 million quarterback Dak Prescott.

Playing at the offensive juggernaut of Oklahoma in college, Lamb was under one of the greatest offensive minds in the sport, head coach Lincoln Riley. Not only the coach but he was surrounded by three Heisman level quarterbacks in Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts.

Transitioning into the NFL, Lamb should be able to pick up where he left off at Oklahoma, already having a great base skill set.

Still, with room to grow, Lamb is going to be a special talent in Dallas for years to come. To get a better understanding of what will be inserted into the Cowboys’ offense, I watch every snap of Lamb’s 2019 season in Norman.

Here are the eight things I learned:

Yards After Catch galore

Going into the NFL Draft, there were three wide receivers known for different things atop every expert’s board. Henry Ruggs (speedster), Jerry Jeudy (route runner), and CeeDee Lamb (yards after catch). According to Pro Football Focus, no receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft and more yards after the catch per reception than Lamb.

His greatest ability above all is making people miss. Usually, once the first defender missed on Lamb, he was going to either blow by the rest of the defense or make them miss too.

The best example comes from the 2019 Red River Shootout against Texas. Initially wide open, the first guy missed before Lamb was surrounded by four other Longhorns. He made another guy miss a tackle, before outrunning the other three to the endzone for a touchdown.

Even on short screen passes when he does not have a running head start, Lamb, will make one defender miss and run for more yards.

Either breaking free for a huge gain or making one guy miss to gain a couple of more yards, Lamb has the ability to do both anywhere on the field. His yards after catch ability is the main reason he is considered such a talent at wide receiver.

He, in fact, shows up in big games

Once Lamb was drafted at 17th overall, there was a notion swirling around that Lamb does not show up in big games for the Oklahoma offense.

From a pure numbers perspective, the idea of Lamb going missing in the biggest games of the 2019 season is false. In fact, he had his best games of the season in those games. The Sooners’ biggest games last season were Texas, Baylor (Big 12 Championship game), and LSU (Peach Bowl/College Football Playoff Semi-Final).

Here are his numbers in those three games:

  • Texas: 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns
  • Baylor: 8 catches for 176 yards
  • LSU: 4 catches for 119 yards

Oklahoma ended up losing just one of those games, mainly because Joe Burrow and LSU’s offense was more than the Sooners could have ever handled. However, against Texas and Baylor, Lamb’s big, explosive plays are what carried Lincoln Riley’s squad to victory.

Even in non-high profile games when now Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Oklahoma needed a spark, Lamb was the guy to get the offense rolling.

Down 25 to Kansas State, in what seemed to be a simple bubble screen, Lamb went all the way to get the Sooners back in contention to make it a game.

Even if Oklahoma has gotten blown out on the national stage the past two College Football Playoffs, Lamb was hardly ever the problem. Stretching back to his sophomore season where he had eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown against Alabama, Lamb will show up in the big games when given opportunities.

Lamb will be effective in the run game

Oklahoma’s offense in 2019 was mainly centered around the run game and Lamb occasionally part of it.

Firstly, Riley would continually use Lamb in motion and use him in jet sweep scenarios. Only getting nine carries in 2019, it only surmounted to 20 total yards for Lamb. The biggest gain of the season came against TCU, breaking off a 21-yard run.

While his motion in the run game was mainly used as a decoy, Lamb’s running ability is nothing NFL teams should take lightly if given the ball.

His most effective part in the run game will come from the blocking aspect though. If you are on a team that runs the ball as much as Oklahoma did last season, you are going to have to learn to block. Lamb is an excellent run blocker, opening-up holes for his teammates, even leading to touchdowns.

Here, Lamb is blocking one guy, before coming off him to knock out another, giving running back Kennedy Brooks a path to the endzone.

Lamb is just as effective on the goal line, coming inside to make a key block on the first-round pick Patrick Queen. Creating the hole for Hurts to runs through, Lamb gets two pushes on Queen for the touchdown.

With great running backs such as Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard and even a stellar running quarterback such as Dak Prescott, Lamb’s blocking ability will come in handy.

Either in the goal line such as the touchdown against LSU or on the outside, blocking two defenders at once against Iowa State, Cowboy runners will love Lamb’s blocking.

He shows patience when running his routes

Patience is key and Lamb showed patience throughout the 2019 season when running his routes. Lincoln Riley’s system sometimes called for longer developing plays, with receivers needing to wait for their route to open up.

In his one and only catch against UCLA this season, Lamb waits nearly five seconds for two other receivers to clear the right side of the field before sprinting to the wide-open space. Once the patience pays off and he is on the other side of the field, Hurts finds him wide open for an easy walk-in touchdown.

The most exciting point of patience Lamb showed all season was in a play-action play against Iowa State. Lined up inside, Lamb acted as if he was getting set up to run block while Hurts faked the run. As Hurts pulls the ball back, Lamb takes off to run his route.

While the play got blown up for a sack, the Cowboys offensive line should be able to give Prescott more time in the pocket to make throws. Most defenses are going to be crashing towards Elliot if they see he could be taking a handoff. Lamb’s patience and commitment to showing run will confuse defenders and before they know it, he will be behind them and open downfield.

Letting plays develop, such as a pass or play-action pass, will lead to wide-open spaces, especially when having two other talented receivers such as Cooper and Gallup to worry about. Already practicing this at Oklahoma, it should be a quick transition to the NFL for Lamb.

Ability to line up anywhere on the field

Not only can he line up anywhere on the field, but he can be used in motion to create a ton of different plays. While he mostly played outside the hashes, Lamb took plenty of snaps from the slot and tighter formations.

According to ESPN, seven of his 14 touchdowns in 2019 came when he was aligned in the slot. Over his career, over 1,000 of his career yards came from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus.

His ability to play inside and outside will benefit the Cowboys greatly, as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup can be used in flexible positions as well. Mainly Cooper is able to play from the slot position, leaving himself with better matchups against cornerbacks and possible double teams.

Even if Lamb is used outside to open up more space for the other two receivers, he will be just as effective there. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore will have the fun task of deciding where Lamb will line up on each play. Either way, production will come from the new No. 88.

He will be the new punt returner

Tavon Austin was the main punt returner for the Cowboys last season, having 17 returns for a total of 84 yards.

Lamb returned punts all three of his seasons at Oklahoma, going for 475 yards on 54 returns, an average of 8.8 yards per return.

While he never (officially) found the end zone, he still had promising returns throughout the season. His best of the 2019 season came against the Kansas Jayhawks, with one going 46 yards.

His return ability (plus a penalty on Kansas) put Oklahoma in a great position to steal seven points right before halftime. On the first play of the drive, Lamb scored to give the Sooners a 14-point lead.

Against the Vikings this past season, Dallas was down four with 17 seconds left. Getting a stop on third down meant Minnesota was going to be punting it to the Cowboys, giving them one last chance to find a winning touchdown. On the ensuing punt, Austin controversially fair caught the ball, despite having nearly 15 yards and the entire left sideline to run down.

While it did not cost the Cowboys the game, it would have put them in a better position to win the game instead of eventually coming up short in the final seconds.
Now, with Lamb possibly having the ability to return punts, he could have done something such as this:

With Austin not being resigned by the Cowboys this offseason, Lamb will have a great opportunity to use his explosiveness as the new punt returner.

His 2019 season could have been better if with a different quarterback

Lamb’s freshman and sophomore seasons were spent as the secondary receiver behind now Baltimore Raven, Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown. In those two years, Brown accounted for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns while Lamb had 1,965 and 18 touchdowns.

While he was given the chance to be the primary receiver in 2019, Oklahoma’s offense took a turn last season. With Jalen Hurts transferring from Alabama, the graduate transfer was not as proficient in the air as Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray.

Continually using his legs when pockets collapsed quickly or taking off with the ball on option plays, Hurts was a run-first quarterback. Accounting for 1,298 rushing yards last season, Hurts ranked second in the Big 12 in the category and the second most for any quarterback in the country, behind Navy’s (triple-option team) Malcolm Perry.

Not only did Hurts enjoy running the ball, but his inability to make certain throws such as Mayfield and Murray cost Lamb some yards, receptions, and even touchdowns. With Lamb being just as big of a threat down the field as he is within 10 yards, Hurts’ longer throws were sometimes inaccurate, leading to fewer home runs plays than Brown’s days as WR1.

If Mayfield or Murray was back in Norman for Lamb’s junior season, he would have been able to reach Brown’s number plus some. Not only could he have been used down the field more often, but the accuracy of throws would have been all-around better.

Even after a 1,327 yard and 14 touchdown season, it is scary to think of what Lamb will become with a quarterback such as Dak Prescott.

Across the middle of the field, he finds himself wide open

Watching every play, it seemed as if every time Lamb came across the middle of the middle, thrown to or not, he was always open. He got open in multiple ways and more times than not, was able to take advantage of the situation.

First, it comes from just being faster and beating a defensive back across the field.
Other times, he found soft spots in zone coverage and planted himself there. Nobody seemed to ever be within a couple of yards of him.

Once he makes those catches across the middle of the field, his yard after catch numbers are going to go through the roof. He will have the ability to make defenders miss to either side and is not afraid to reverse fields. As long as his speed is there, he will get past nearly anyone in the middle of the field.

Over the middle of the field is where Lamb is most effective. Most of his big plays from the 2019 season felt like they came from running across midfield logos. As mentioned earlier, lining him up outside or inside does not matter. If you can get Lamb in open space across the middle, he is going to become an elite receiver quickly.

No matter how or where you use CeeDee Lamb in this Cowboys’ offense, he is going to be effective. Getting picked at 17th overall is widely considered the steal of the draft and for great reason.

His skillset mixed in with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup becomes the most frightening wide receiver corps in the NFL.

Mix in what he has to offer not only in the run game but in special teams and Lamb could be on his way to becoming a special player in Dallas.

Usually, guys make rosters because they excel in special teams or blocking in the run game. With Lamb, he also brings the ability to be a legit WR1 in the NFL.

All his capabilities mixed in makes him an exciting player for head coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.

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