Leading up to the 2020 NFL Draft, The Post is breaking down the draft class by position in an 11-part series. Tomorrow: offensive linemen.
The passes came from the arms of two Heisman Trophy winners and No. 1 picks, plus a Heisman runner-up.
But what CeeDee Lamb did with the ball after Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts got it in his hands was worthy of a whole extra highlight reel on its own. Though the YAC — yards after catch — is Lamb’s calling card, it’s only one big part of the all-around package that makes the Oklahoma wide receiver one of the shiniest stars of a loaded draft class at his position.
“There’s guys that are a touch faster. There’s guys that may be a little bit better in this skill set or that,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley told The Post by phone. “But I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s the complete package as much as he is. You talk about experience, you talk about route running, you talk about blocking, you talk about after the catch, you talk about being able to play all over the field. He’s got a unique skill set.
“He’s still got a lot of areas that he needs to improve in and he’ll continue to improve, but there’s not a lot of holes in his game. I think that makes him intriguing and I think honestly that makes him a fit no matter what system [you run] or what your other receivers are like or how you see him fitting into your offense and organization. I just can’t imagine this guy not being a fit for everybody. That’s just the kind of player he is.”
Riley had a front-row view of it for the last three seasons, in which Lamb piled up 173 receptions for 3,292 yards and 32 touchdowns. His play invokes comparisons to DeAndre Hopkins and Anquan Boldin, NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said, Hopkins for his savviness and ability to make contested catches and Boldin for his after-the-catch skills, albeit with a different body type.
Each Saturday offered another chance for Lamb to make opposing defenses look foolish, regardless of whether he was lining up outside or in the slot. Last year alone, he forced 26 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. Lamb had some gunslingers getting him the ball, but nearly half of his career receiving yards — 1,520 of 3,292 — came after the catch, per PFF.
One of the more memorable feats came on flea-flicker against Texas last fall, when Hurts found Lamb open at the 30-yard line. Lamb was quickly circled by five defenders, but within seconds, after a few cuts and turning on the jets, he had left them all in his wake as he reached the end zone.
“He’s always had an innate feel for the game and setting people up in space,” Riley said. “Now, the thing that’s made him really good as time has gone on is that, combined with developing his body.”
Even before Lamb filled out his 6-foot-2, 198-pound frame, Riley bought in. The offensive guru watched him practice in the spring of his junior year at Foster High School in Texas — where Lamb lived after his family was displaced from Louisiana by Hurricane Katrina — and thought he was good enough to play for the Sooners right then and there.
Alas, Lamb had to wait a little longer until he could help Oklahoma go to the College Football Playoffs three straight seasons and play in games like the 2018 national semifinal. He burned No. 1 Alabama for 109 yards and a touchdown on eight catches and “really, they had no chance of covering him,” Riley said. He only wished they had thrown it to Lamb more that night.
“The thing you like is he’s doing it against good competition in big games and big environments, which he tended to show up pretty big in,” Riley said.
Now the bright lights of the NFL await.
Whether or not Lamb is the first receiver to hear his name called — it is expected to be him or Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs III — he won’t have to wait long on draft night. And the team that scoops up the mature, soon-to-be 21-year-old could be reaping the rewards for years to come.
“I just start after the catch, that’s what makes him so special,” Jeremiah said in a phone interview. “So competitive and so tough after the catch. That was the one that separated him for me. I like the fact that he can play inside, he can play outside. He’s got strong hands. He can play above the rim if you want to do that. But to me, more than anything else, it’s just once the ball gets in his hands, this kid refuses to go down.”