The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Football Season: CeeDee Lamb
The Fantasy Footballers Writing Staff enthralled and educated yet again in 2021 with the “Path to a WR1 Season” series. If you haven’t read all of the articles in the series yet, I highly recommend that you read all of them, which include articles on Brandon Aiyuk, D.J. Moore, Adam Thielen, Ja’Marr Chase, Chris Godwin, and Jerry Jeudy. The bar has been raised high by this spectacular group of writers, and I hope to meet it with this article about CeeDee Lamb
What will it take to get CeeDee Lamb into the top-12?
2020 Season Recap
CeeDee Lamb was a big-time draft prospect out of Oklahoma that many considered the best WR prospect in the very deep 2020 class. Fantasy expectations were tempered when he was surprisingly drafted by Dallas because many fantasy analysts saw him buried on the depth chart behind Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and even Blake Jarwin. Instead, Lamb’s talent outshone his opportunity, and he surprised in his rookie year with 111 targets, 935 yards, and five TDs on his way to being the WR20 in .5 PPR formats. Impressively, he had six weeks as a WR20 or better. Still, his season was somewhat disappointing, only scoring 5 TDs and finishing the year 29th in consistency according to the Ultimate Draft Kit (notably with a 50% bust rate).
Still, it should be remembered that Lamb accomplished this strong year without Dak Prescott for 11 full games. Just as a reminder, Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci, and Garrett Gilbert all filled in for Dak Prescott during his injury. Dalton is no slouch, but certainly a downgrade from Prescott. During the games Dak Prescott started and finished (Weeks 1-4), Lamb finished as the WR14, a particularly impressive stat given that Lamb could not participate in OTAs or the preseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
2021 Path to a WR1 Season
Lamb’s path to a WR1 season undoubtedly involves a healthy Dak Prescott. Prescott was hurt in Week 5 and the Dallas offense wasn’t the same afterward. I am bullish on Dallas as an offense overall, and I already predicted them to “Make the Leap” offensively in 2021. An increase in scoring means a likely increase in touchdowns for Lamb, as I will explain more fully below. Still, let’s analyze Lamb’s entire receiving analytic profile to see if the breakout is ready to happen.
An increase in targets is likely necessary to help Lamb find his way into the top 12. On average, WRs generally average about a 25-26% target share on their team (26.455% in 2020) or approximately 130-140 targets per year. In 2020, Lamb had 111 targets, which was only an 18% target share. For comparison sake, Lamb’s teammate, Amari Cooper, had 130 targets for a 22% target share. Dallas spread the ball around in 2020 because they have several talented pass catchers (Cooper, Lamb, Michael Gallup).
The most likely way that Lamb gets more targets is by becoming an alpha by improving his skillset. Dallas is unlikely to throw more pass attempts in 2020 – they finished the year second in the NFL in attempts with 639. So, Lamb must demand more targets by getting open more often, which will require improved route running technique and conditioning, achievable goals for a second-year player going through his first full NFL offseason. Recall, targets reflect a player’s talent, not a coaching decision. Still, Lamb likely needs at least 20 more targets to get to “WR1 Land”. So if you are betting on Lamb to finish as a WR1, you are betting on an improvement to CeeDee Lamb’s game, which is not an unreasonable bet in the second year of a promising young career.
Yards & Air Yards
Lamb’s average depth of target was nothing to write home about: a mere 9.1, good for 71st in that category. His low aDOT is not surprising, however, given that Lamb played almost exclusively out of the slot (84.7% of his snaps, which was #2 in the NFL). Lamb was a slot receiver in 2020, and he was really, really good at that.
But, there has been some recent news that the Cowboys are trying to work in some more perimeter work for Lamb. Outside routes generally correlate with higher aDOT.
Still, even mainly out of the slot, Lamb saw 1013 air yards, which was good for 22.8% of the Cowboys air yards as a team in 2020. That number speaks to Lamb’s talent. Most of the 2020 WR1s had more air yards than Lamb did in 2021, but not by much. Particularly not other slot receivers, like Cole Beasley, who only saw 835 on a similar 107 targets. Lamb is too good to run routes only near the line of scrimmage, and his air yardage numbers should increase with some added time running outside routes.
The path to a WR1 season for CeeDee Lamb is pretty simple: score more TDs. Lamb cannot be completely faulted for his mere 5 TDs in 2020 because the Dallas offense as a whole wasn’t very good (17th in scoring offense on the year). Particularly notable, the Dallas offense scored only 21.1 points per game in games without Dak Prescott, which would have been 5th worst in the NFL. In games where Dak Prescott played, Dallas averaged 32.6 points per game, which would have been #1 in the NFL. So, Lamb’s prospects only improve with a full year playing with Dak Prescott.
Lamb is a clear red zone threat given his body type. He’s 6’2”, 198 lbs, and he does things like this when he’s near the endzone. Lamb has the body and potential to score double-digit touchdowns. Last season, nobody who scored double-digit touchdowns as a wide receiver finished any lower than WR12. The addition of Dak Prescott certainly helps Lamb’s chances to find paydirt 10+ times. I think Lamb gets to 10 TDs, which almost certainly makes him a WR1.
Strength of Schedule
According to the UDK, the Cowboys have a tough schedule for WRs, ranking it 27th. Still, early season strength of schedule is often hard to predict and should not scare you off a talent like CeeDee Lamb.
WR1 Probability for 2021 (Maybe 25-49%)
A Twitter poll revealed that the Footclan thinks that CeeDee Lamb has a decent shot to finish as a WR1 finished with 47.9% of voters choosing “Maybe”. I put his percentage chance of being a WR1 at 45%. See below for full poll results.
The “Path to a WR1 Season” series with the @TheFFBallers continues. I've got CeeDee Lamb What chance do you give him to finish as a WR1 this year?
— Nate Henry (@NateHenryFF) July 6, 2021
With a healthy Dak Prescott, CeeDee Lamb is primed to improve. Mike McCarthy agreed, suggesting that Lamb is ready to “Make a Jump“. Lamb finished as WR20 last year and doesn’t need to improve much to become a WR1, a goal well within reach upon the return of his franchise quarterback.
Still, the path to a WR1 almost certainly involves more touchdowns than 2020. An improved Dallas offense should help Lamb’s chances to score 5 more touchdowns and reach that double-digit TD nirvana that so often leads to a WR1 season. Also, Lamb’s WR1 path likely requires an improvement in skill, technique, conditioning, and route diversity to acquire a higher target share. He should naturally improve as a talent young player in only his second year. He should also line up around the field in more places in 2021 simply because the offseason program won’t be stunted by a pandemic, which should allow the coaches to use him more creatively with more heterogeneous routes. All these factors suggest a relatively foreseeable path to WR1 glory for Lamb.