Analytics expert projects CeeDee Lamb as NFL’s top rookie receiver

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma Sooners (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma Sooners (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Dallas Cowboys’ CeeDee Lamb predicted to become NFL’s top rookie receiver.

If the hiring of Mike McCarthy as head coach and the signing of free-agent defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe didn’t convince fans of the Dallas Cowboys that America’s Team is heading in an exciting new direction, then the 2020 NFL Draft did.

After suffering the losses of former Pro Bowlers in cornerback Byron Jones and defensive end Robert Quinn, two of the Cowboys’ most pressing needs were projected to be at those defensive positions. So, with their first-round draft pick, two of the names linked to Dallas early on included LSU pass rusher K’Lavon Chaisson and Florida cornerback C. J. Henderson.

Other first-round prospects tossed around as potential top draft selections by the Cowboys included South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, Michigan center Cesar Ruiz, and safeties Grant Delpit out of LSU and Xavier McKinney out of Alabama. While many of the talented prospects listed above were available when the team’s number was called, 17th overall, one unexpected name fell into their laps.

That player was Oklahoma wide receiver, CeeDee Lamb. As a junior for the Sooners last season, Lamb recorded 62 receptions for 1,327 yards plus 15 combined touchdowns in 14 games and was considered one of the best players at his position. Arguably even the top receiving prospect in the entire class.

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Yet, the receiver position seemed to be a low priority for the Cowboys considering the team had recently signed Amari Cooper to a massive five-year, $100 million contract extension. And the depth chart also included 2018 third-round selection, Michael Gallup, who was coming off his first 1,000-yard season.

Dallas did lose slot receiver Randall Cobb in the offseason after his one-year stint with the team. Cobb, who left to join the Houston Texans in free agency, posted 55 catches for 828 yards and three scores in 2019. But the Cowboys were expected to find a suitable replacement in the later rounds of the draft as this class was projected to be historically deep at the receiver position.

Considering that the Cowboys have valued scheme fit and team need over raw talent in past drafts, Dallas figured to allow Lamb to continue his fall past them at pick No. 17. Instead, the team shockingly chose to add the talented wideout to their already stocked receiver corps, to the delight of their fanbase. Lamb was deemed simply too good to pass on.

NFL analytics expert projects CeeDee Lamb to be league’s top rookie wideout

Here’s what Cynthia Frelund, analytics expert for the NFL Network, wrote about Lamb after predicting he’d become the league’s most productive rookie receiver in 2020 based on her contextualized data and computer models.

"“Looking at [Lamb’s] slot production (24.2 yards per reception from the slot, the second-most in FBS, per Pro Football Focus) and his ability to operate in the middle of the field, and factoring in how defenses facing Dallas will also be forced to account for Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Lamb has the highest rookie wideout ranking in my model, checking in at No. 38 among all NFL receivers.”"

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With Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup also on the depth chart, CeeDee Lamb’s opportunities in 2020 figured to be limited. Yet, the Dallas Cowboys did lose both Cobb and longtime tight end Jason Witten in the offseason, whose lost production should benefit the rookie. Throw in an offense led by quarterback Dak Prescott that led the NFL in total yards last season (6,904) and you don’t have to be an analytics expert to figure it could be one hell of a rookie year for Mr. Lamb.