Note: Since I no longer have access to the necessary college film to chart prospects and their Reception Perception samples, I’ll be taking RP data from the NFL level and using it to frame what we can expect from these incoming rookies and their best role as pro receivers. You can get access to Reception Perception data on the Top 50 NFL receivers in the 2020 Ultimate Draft Kit.
Football players are capable of the remarkable. When it comes to the wide receiver position, those remarkable abilities that grab attention are often the traits that stick foremost in our minds.
At times, that can be to the detriment of our evaluation. I can remember simply being unable to get a poor game from Tyler Lockett against Oklahoma out of my head way back in my early days of analysis in 2015. He struggled mightily against a physical corner at the catch point. I was unable to move past it, stuck on the idea that bigger corners would bully him around at the catch point in the NFL. Failing to wow in the remarkable area of contested catches in one game, threw me off as an inexperienced evaluator.
If you’re familiar with Reception Perception, you know that after he underwent that more complete evaluation at the NFL level, he quickly became a favorite. Lockett has become one of the best in the NFL at a trait that is, in some ways, considered to be unremarkable: The art of consistently earning separation with subtleties as a route-runner.
In other instances, it can lead to a positive ending. Focusing on just the remarkable, and overlooking the unremarkable, can lead us to miss the full, truly beautiful picture of a prospect. That is certainly the case for CeeDee Lamb, who reveals how good he is in the unremarkable.
CeeDee Lamb checks plenty of on-paper boxes. A well-decorated collegiate player, Lamb was highly productive throughout all three of his seasons at Oklahoma. He finished strong with 62 catches for 1,327 yards and 14 yards in his Junior campaign.
He primarily functioned as an outside receiver in the wide-open Oklahoma offense. You cannot miss his clear best skill when you pop on the tape. Lamb is simply a beast after the catch. The Sooner receiver averaged an insane 11.2 yards after the catch per reception last year, per Sports Info Solutions. He was unbelievably good with the ball in his hands.
This rockstar receiver isn’t the type to simply overwhelm poor college defenders in the Big 12. The way he approaches the open field with a clear plan to make defenders miss is rare. It’s hard to remember a receiver that displayed such a deep understanding of angles as often as Lamb did on film.
However, this is that remarkable trait that’s easy to see. Make no mistake, it is truly special. While he gets deserved praise for his skills in this area, it seems this highlight gift also sees him go undersold in the unremarkable trait of being a great route-runner. In fact, many of those same gifts, having a plan and understanding angles, he displays before in routes before he starts making defenders look foolish once the ball arrives.
Before coming into my study on CeeDee Lamb, I’d read some mild criticisms about his route-running polish. With that in mind, I was surprised to see how advanced he was in a set of nuanced areas.
One word kept coming to mind. Quick…in absolutely everything. Quick breaks. Quick decisions. Quick to accelerate after he’s successfully deceived a cornerback.
Much like his work after the catch, Lamb always has a plan of attack. When he’s lined up in tight press coverage, he brings the fight to the corner. Lamb sells an inside break on an outside route with the ease of a trained magician. He has this move where he almost marches toward the defender, setting the pace of the encounter at a slow speed before changing directions with lightning speed.
You can tell Lamb has put the time in to study cornerback play. He makes decisions in the moment with how he’s going to negotiate beating the defender. It’s almost always based on how the defensive back is position, which influences exactly how he’ll break his route.
You’ll see some receivers, even at the NFL level, sacrifice precious seconds with foot flutters and fancy moves that eventually win the route, but it’s long after the play has broken down and of no help to their quarterback. With Lamb, there is no wasted motion. It’s fluid, decisive, and gets to the open area quickly.
He displays everything you want from a receiver in defeating man coverage on the outside. Occasionally he’ll get lost in zones or overrun the open space but that’s an area he can grow into with time. The precision he shows against man is of far more consequence.
Initially, it was Lamb’s comfort in tight spaces and adjustments to the ball in contested situations that drew me to this player as a comparison. However, after studying now Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ 2019 Reception Perception sample, it is even more clear how similar they are.
Hopkins grew every year he’s been in the NFL as a route-runner. In fact, his 2019 campaign was his best as a separator throughout his star-level run in the league. His Reception Perception results have always been impressive considering that her routinely runs into press man coverage as an outside X receiver. Even more so, no other receiver has drawn more double coverage than Hopkins over the six seasons Reception Perception has been tracking data. Despite that, he checked in with a 95th percentile success rate vs. man coverage score in 2019.
The deliberate moves he makes in his routes are what align Lamb and Hopkins. The way he effortlessly plucks passes away from reaching defenders with timing and late hands in close quarters just put the icing on the cake.
Lamb can be the same type of ultra-efficient technician Hopkins has become at the NFL level. Much like Hopkins was through his Texans career, Lamb will earn favoritism from his pro quarterbacks in no time.
CeeDee Lamb checks every box in the profile of a No. 1 outside X-receiver in the NFL. He shows advanced route nuance to go along with remarkable skills after the catch and in contested situations. You funnel a passing game through this type of receiver with the confidence he can dow everything well.
When all is said and done, Lamb should become a player who can make a huge difference in fantasy leagues when paired with a great situation. You can envision him as the type of wideout who annually inhales 25 to 28 percent of his team’s passing targets. Make no mistake, he is that good. Lamb shares so many traits with Hopkins and if he seeks to build the rapport the latter does with his quarterbacks, the chemistry will be instantaneous.
Right outside of the top-10, there rests a series of teams who should be desperate to get a receiver like CeeDee Lamb in their offense. The Jets at Pick 11, the Raiders at Pick 12 and the 49ers at Pick 13. Lamb would immediately take these teams’ passing games to another level of legitimacy and could push for 100 targets in his rookie season.