Now that the first few waves of free agency have passed, the tide of the NFL offseason turns to the most crucial 3-day period: The NFL Draft. As the NFL Draft looms closer and closer, evaluating prospects becomes more and more important. While this year’s draft is a tad unconventional, the core principles are still the same: find the pros and cons of each prospect (both on-the-field and off-the-field), compare them to an NFL player who resembles their skillset, and associate them with an optimal landing spot.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be posting scouting reports at least thrice a week, applying those core principles. Disclaimer: The order of these scouting reports doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a matter of who I wanted to study/write about and when.
“CEEDEE! FOR! THE! TD!”. The words of legendary sports commentator Gus Johnson perfectly depict Lamb’s growth through the last 3 seasons. While playing alongside the likes of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Marquise Hollywood-Brown, and Mark Andrews, Lamb’s production increased throughout his 3 seasons at Oklahoma, from starting as a freshman alongside Hollywood-Brown to winning Consensus All-American Honors as well as becoming a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (145.8 passer rating when targeted, per this tweet from Matt Gajewski).
There is no doubt that Lamb is one of the most special receivers to enter the NFL in recent memory, arguably since Amari Cooper came out of Alabama in 2015. However, the focus of today’s scouting report is around one central question: How does Lamb’s skillset project at the next level?
Lamb’s best trait by far is his ability to make people miss (2nd-most missed tackles forced by a wideout in 2019, per this tweet from Matt Gajewski); in fact, he had 376 yards after the catch in 2019, the 2nd-most among all eligible wide receivers in the 2020 draft class, per this tweet from Jarad Evans.
Time and time again, he finds ways to get more yards after the catch, whether it’s stopping and starting to cause defenders to change their movement, cutting laterally (very very quickly) to break arm tackles, keeping his balance either by sticking his hand in the ground or by powering through high attempted tackles or just running away from defenders. This following play against Texas illustrates these tendencies perfectly.
If your favorite team had the #1 pick in the NFL draft, who are you taking?
Eagles – CeeDee Lamb pic.twitter.com/ib8uuMJbdN
— 🆁🅸🅲🅷🦅 (@DynastySweat) April 4, 2020
This play is CeeDee Lamb to a T: get misused by Lincoln Riley (more on this later), use open-field creativity to his advantage, break a bunch of tackles, and outflank defenders to the end zone. On this play, Oklahoma lines up Lamb as the X-receiver (on the line of scrimmage), then motions him around the backfield. Riley dials up a flea-flicker, with Lamb running a wheel route out of the backfield.
The All-American easily brings in the bullet pass, and then watch how he bends inside to make the defender take a more difficult/steeper angle towards the ball, and then jump cuts laterally to make the first arm tackle miss. Lamb then runs through another attempted tackle and then outruns (deceptive speed) the final defender to the end zone. While this seems simple in a vacuum, one of the main takeaways from this is play is Lamb’s effort.
One of the most important things teams look for in a wide receiver (or in any position, for that matter of fact) is effort plays. In the context of wide receivers, the concept of effort primarily applies to blocking. In other words, can this prospect do whatever it takes on-and-off-the-field to help his team win? In Lamb’s case, yes, very much so. Watch what he does on this play.
— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) November 10, 2019
Lamb creates 28 yards on this play by himself. Watch how he gets downfield to disguise the run play, and then positions himself to shield the defender from the outside lane, where running back Kennedy Brooks runs through. While shielding the defender, he disengages and then throws a vicious crackback block on the safety, who was taking a very good pursuit angle towards the ball.
This accomplishes 2 things; first, Lamb’s initial downfield blocking ensures the cornerback can’t seal the edge and force Brooks to cut back, and second, it terminates the safety’s momentum and allows Brooks to secure the outside edge, which is a free trip to the end zone.
Call that crackback block a cheapshot, say whatever you want, but it doesn’t matter; coaches notice effort plays on film. These subtleties (or not, in this case), such as the awareness to cut off pursuit angles, the willingness to throw his body into contact, and the fervor of that crackback, fire up a locker room and create an impassioned culture within a team. If there was any question within front offices as to why Lamb is so highly regarded, plays like this are the answer.
He does everything humanly possible to help his team win. The fact that these plays do the talking for a player of Lamb’s caliber itself shows he should be considered as the best receiver; he still plays with a lot of swagger, but these plays do more of the talking than he does. Furthermore, Lamb’s combine weigh-in was at 6″2, 198 pounds (per mockdraftable.com), but in those plays, he blocked like he was 220, showing that he’s deceptively strong.
This element of strength also applies to Lamb’s receiving game, especially when he’s playing the ball. Watch what he does on this play.
.@_CeeDeeThree, a playmaker.
— Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (@CFAPeachBowl) December 28, 2019
LSU safety Jacoby Stevens is lined up on top of Lamb in the slot, and he’s running a go route, but unconventionally, to gain separation. Stevens is lined up in off coverage with inside leverage, so Lamb immediately exploits that leverage by cutting hard outside. Stevens immediately flips his hips outside and then sprints to play the deep ball once he realizes that’s what Lamb’s doing.
Then, Lamb cuts back inside to change direction so he can expect a touch pass over Stevens’ head but needs to adjust his body because the ball is thrown back-shoulder instead (a terrible ball from Jalen Hurts, what a surprise). As a result, Lamb adjusts his body back into the trajectory of the ball with Stevens draped all over him, only to come down with an amazing 51-yard grab.
Once again, physicality and playing through contact are more weapons in Lamb’s skillset. After watching all the film in this section, who says he isn’t a complete wide receiver? There is evidence of his incredible elusiveness after the catch, his awareness/strength/effort to do whatever it takes to help his team win (blocking in this case), and re-adjusting to track a poorly-thrown deep ball. His lateral quickness is exceptional, he possesses deceptive strength, he’s got deceptive speed to some extent (4.5 40 per mockdraftable.com), and he’s very well aware of what he’s doing.
Lamb’s feet are no exception. He plays with unbelievably twitchy footwork and this allows him to get very open, especially because most corners he faced were either in off coverage of bail technique (more on this later). Watch the following play.
– Strong hands
– Technical, advanced route runner
– Has violent hips and sudden feet
– Dangerous in the open field after the catch
– Elite ball skills and body control
– Dices up zones due to high football IQ
– Loves to play with physicality pic.twitter.com/nukUJmt5GK
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) February 13, 2020
Focus only on Lamb’s feet here, as that’s all that’s important in this play. Notice how he sells the post route in 7 steps, and on the 8th, he plants his right foot and bursts back outside to the corner (post-corner route). Lamb then jumps to adjust for a bad ball (Jalen Hurts is really good at those) and then breaks away to the end zone. The two takeaways from this play are that his start-and-stop ability is more impressive than his explosiveness, and he really works the coordination between his hips and feet. This is a positive indicator of future route-running potential at the next level (more on this later).
In addition to excellent footwork, Lamb’s most unique quality is his intelligence. Not only does he have fantastic awareness to demolish zone coverage, but his improvisational instincts are beyond superhuman. Watch what he does here when he realizes Jalen Hurts is in trouble (8:36 timestamp).
Lamb’s lined up in the slot, running a quick-out route on 3rd and 3 against off-man coverage. If Oklahoma converts here, they win the Big-12 Championship (spoiler: they won it). Lamb completes his route, but by the time he does, Hurts’s pocket has collapsed due to a 6-man blitz, and he’s trying to escape.
Watch how Lamb immediately recognizes it and then changes his route to attack the area between the hashes. While yes, this pass was incomplete, Lamb’s intelligence to improvise and make himself an available safety outlet almost sealed Oklahoma this game, and will be a crucial asset at the next level, especially if his quarterback in the NFL isn’t a fully-developed pocket passer.
Probably the most underrated element of Lamb’s skill set is his variety. As shown in every clip prior, Lamb can make himself available, break tackles, and freeze defenders on sight. However, he projects to be an excellent red zone threat, which is just another apple in his barn. CeeDee can leap out the building, as he jumped 34.5 inches at the combine per mockdraftable.com. If a quarterback needs to throw red-zone fade balls, here’s your guy.
This sideline catch by CeeDee Lamb is RIDICULOUS 😳
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 28, 2020
Finally, the most important aspect of a receiver’s game is their hands. If they’re unable to catch the ball, they won’t be effective, no matter how open they are. It’s often that receivers with drop issues are the ones most commonly found without a job (hello, Kelvin Benjamin).
Lamb’s hands, however, are just fine. Yes, he does suffer from a concentration drop every now and then, but that happens to every receiver. On 245 targets in 2019, Lamb had only 3 drops, culminating in a 1.2% drop rate, per this tweet from John Chapman. Thus, his hands aren’t concerning by any means, making him one of the most complete receivers to enter the NFL in years to come.
However, that isn’t to say Lamb doesn’t have his flaws. The first thing everyone points to when evaluating a prospect coming out a Big-12 school is the competition, or in this case, the lack thereof. The only decent corner prospect who Lamb faced in 2019 (in the Big-12) was TCU corner Jeff Gladney, who was suspended for the first half of their game due to an ejection.
Lamb matched up with Gladney thrice in the 2nd half, and one of those 3 reps should’ve been a touchdown, as the TCU corner was clearly beaten, but Hurts once again missed a throw (wow, it’s like he maybe shouldn’t be a top 5 QB in this class). On the other two, Gladney won their matchup.
The best corner Lamb faced, however, was All-American Derek Stingley Jr of LSU, who was a freshman at the time of their matchup. Lamb did beat Stingley twice, once on a comeback and once on a slant pattern which should’ve been a touchdown but fell incomplete due to an inaccurate throw from Jalen Hurts (seeing a theme?). However, Oklahoma was down by 28 points and had no chance to come back, so not like that throw would’ve made a difference. LSU was far better than Oklahoma, and that was that.
Furthermore, Lamb didn’t exactly face much press coverage at all in 2019, which isn’t a knock on him at all. His physical playstyle is fantastic, but on his few reps against press, he was only mediocre, not spectacular. If he’s going to be a future #1 wide receiver, he’s going to need to learn how to beat press; just because the Big-12 didn’t use it doesn’t mean the NFL won’t.
Another flaw in Lamb’s game, which ironically isn’t his fault at all, is he didn’t necessarily run the most complex of routes, and this can be entirely attributed to Lincoln Riley. Watch this 40-second clip.
Something to consider when evaluating Ceedee Lamb's (or any other OU receiver's) route running… pic.twitter.com/oj88edTrp2
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) March 29, 2020
As Riley himself says in this video, Oklahoma’s Air Raid system is primarily designed off the quarterback’s first read. If play calls feature longer-developing routes, then the quarterback has to hold the ball longer, and according to Riley, the receivers’ momentum isn’t worth compromising by squaring off routes. This primarily affects Lamb’s route-running because polished routes weren’t necessarily a requirement to succeed on Oklahoma’s system.
However, that isn’t to say Lamb can’t run routes (I’m looking at you, D.K. Metcalf), as his footwork, intelligence, and lateral quickness are all great indicators of a future top-5 route runner; instead, his routes could use more development and complexity, as Riley primarily had him running outs, ins, slants, and 9s (go routes). Overall, this flaw is probably the most fixable with good coaching and refinement.
Many have compared Lamb to now-Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. While some parts of Lamb’s skillset do resemble those of Hopkins (excellent hands, plays with incredible physicality, playable anywhere on the field, great footwork, quick as a flash), Hopkins is heavier, is one of the best and most well-developed route-runners in football, and isn’t as elusive in the open field.
Lamb’s improvisation does draw parallels to Packers wideout Davante Adams, but once again, Adams has one of the best release games in the NFL (according to 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore’s tweet) and is a much more refined route-runner. The All-American’s true comparison, however, lies in the NFC North: Allen Robinson.
Robinson compares better to Lamb because he can play on the outside and in the slot, and he’s a fantastic route runner, similar to how Lamb projects. Finally, he’s a much better player in open-field (yards after catch) than people give him credit for. However, Robinson compares best to Lamb because he provides that reliable safety outlet for Mitch Trubisky (or whoever the Bears QB is in 2020), parallel to Lamb’s All-American 2019 campaign with Jalen Hurts, by far his worst college quarterback.
Projected Pick and Best Fit
In Lamb’s case, the projected pick and best fit go hand-in-hand. Lamb will take on the role of the X-receiver for the New York Jets when they take him with the 11th overall pick (always refer to depth chart here). Joe Douglas and Adam Gase need to help Sam Darnold as much as possible, so they need to surround him with as much talent as humanly possible to help him help them.
The Jets’ offensive line may be a mess, but this year’s offensive line class is arguably as deep as the wide receiver class. Furthermore, Lamb is the receiver of the future, and he’s the one exception an NFL team could make when it comes to weighing a core position like offensive tackle compared to a replaceable position like a wide receiver.
When Lamb presumably takes on the role of an X-receiver from Day One (regardless of team fit), he’ll likely draw press-man coverage from the opposing team’s best corner. If Lamb goes to the Jets, those corners will include the likes of Stephon Gilmore, Tre’Davious White, Byron Jones, Xavien Howard, and J.C. Jackson. The last thing the Jets could do is make the lives of those corners easy while destroying their passing game by not providing Darnold with a downfield threat, so Lamb’s expectations will be sky-high.
However, Lamb will start alongside Jamison Crowder and Breshad Perriman in Year 1, who both fill the other receiver holes on the Jets’ roster. Perriman is a prototypical Z-receiver with blazing speed that can really open up the downfield passing game and give Gang Green some offensive playmaking and creativity (outside of Lamb), as well as force defenses to commit to the passing game.
Crowder is a prototypical slot receiver with excellent routes and prior experience in the return game. With any luck, playing alongside Crowder allows Lamb to develop his routes and learn to defeat press-man coverage, ultimately factoring into his development as the Jets’ future playmaker.
He’s already used to being misused from his Oklahoma playing days (let’s make CeeDee Lamb run an out rather than burn defenders with complex routes, says Lincoln Riley). Even if the front office goes through purgatory for the next several years and everyone gets fired, it doesn’t matter for a player of Lamb’s caliber. He’s so special that he’ll be effective with anyone, anywhere, and anytime. Just throw him the ball.
With Sam Darnold needing a safety outlet due to an offensive line that still won’t be good in 2020, Lamb needs to make a splash in Year 1. It’ll take some time for him to get acclimated to the NFL because he’s not played well against elite press-man coverage, his routes aren’t developed, and his opposing talent hasn’t exactly been at the highest level.
However, those splashes will be there for sure, and when they’re there, Jets fans will thank the stars that their front office made this pick. This is a franchise-changing talent worth so much more than the 11th-overall pick, so this is speaking directly to you, Joe Douglas.
If consensus All-American and Biletnikoff finalist wide receiver CeeDee Lamb from the University of Oklahoma is on the board by the time it’s your pick, do not even hesitate. No, don’t even think about it; just turn in the freaking draft card. Coming from someone who desperately wants to see Sam Darnold succeed, here is your PSA: Draft. CeeDee. Lamb. Don’t think about it; just take him.