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Three's a Crowd: How Does CeeDee Lamb Fit in Dallas?

I live in the Dallas area, which means I've spent the past few months listening to our local radio stations talk about the NFL Draft. I'm not a Cowboys fan, but all this listening gave me a pretty good idea of how Dallas would attack Thursday's first round, which the team expected to come away with a top defender like Florida corner C.J. Henderson or LSU linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson.

But when it was Jerry Jones' turn to pick from the couch in his luxury yacht, the Cowboys owner decided to lean into the whole idea of luxury, taking the best player available at a position where the Cowboys didn't necessarily need a top-end talent as he grabbed Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb.

Now, Dallas enters the 2020 season with a trio of talented young receivers in Lamb, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup. Are there too many mouths to feed and how's this all going to work out for fantasy football?

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What CeeDee Lamb Brings To Dallas

Let's start by talking about why CeeDee Lamb was a great pick for the Cowboys, even if his presence is going to complicate things immensely for fantasy owners.

The former Oklahoma wide receiver is capable of doing virtually everything you need a wide receiver to do. He plays outside. He plays inside. He's fast. He runs routes well. He tracks the ball well in the air. He makes contested catches.

Despite some concerns about his frame, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Lamb is about to be highly effective in the NFL, and bringing him onto a team that's got a good quarterback -- yes, Dak Prescott is good! -- and multiple weapons to draw defenses away from him should make the transition to the pros even more seamless for Lamb.

Anyway, to get a good sense of what Lamb does, let's watch all of his catches from Oklahoma's 2019 game against Iowa State. In that game, Lamb had eight receptions for 167 yards and a pair of touchdowns:

Some things to note from this video:

  • Lamb was able to win when lined up inside and outside. In fact, one of his touchdowns came with him lined up in the slot and running a streak route, while the other came with him on the outside, taking a short catch and turning on the YAC jets.
  • Speaking of YAC, Lamb's footwork after the ball is in his hands is impeccable. I'm reminded of watching someone like former NBA point guard Rafer Alston. Quick moves, an otherworldly ability to dance around, to spin and materialize ball movement out of nowhere.
  • The things that weren't working so well here: the screens and the fake sweep where Lamb caught the ball out in the right flat. It seemed like his speed was something that built up once he got moving up the field, and on those plays, he wasn't really able to accomplish anything.
  • There was a fumble. That's not something that happened much to Lamb, but it could be something to be slightly concerned about if he runs the same way against more physical NFL defenses.

Overall, Lamb's got the potential to be an incredibly effective receiver and could wind up as the best receiver from this draft class.


Don't Forget The Other Guys!

Lamb joins a team that already has a pair of very good wideouts.

Amari Cooper -- who just signed a long-term extension with the team -- still has some question marks surrounding him when it comes to things like production on the road, but a healthy, engaged Cooper is a top-10 receiver in the league. Like Lamb, he can play inside and outside, and he offers the Cowboys a lot of things. For example, he was third among receivers in completed air yards last year and ninth in yards per target, plus was 13th in contested catch rate. Like Lamb, Cooper can help you out down the field, but can also get involved in the shorter passing game. There are things to worry about regarding injuries, but Cooper is a fast, agile receiver.

There's also Michael Gallup. He's been productive during his two years in the league. He'll mainly line up on the outside and probably drops a spot in the team's pecking order, but there's too much impressive stuff in his 2019 numbers for him to just disappear. He was 10th among receivers in yards per possession. 12th in yards per target. 14th in completed air yards. But Gallup also had 11 drops and was 72nd among receivers in catch rate and 102nd in true catch rate, so things aren't perfect. He's not the speedster that Cooper is.


Mike McCarthy's Coaching History

Dallas has a whole new head coach this year, as the Jason Garrett regime has finally come to an end. The team brought in former Packers head coach Mike McCarthy, who had some success offensively with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, even if things petered out toward the end of their time together.

Using Dynasty League Football's coaching history app, let's see how wide receivers have fared over the years with McCarthy at the helm.

Keep in mind that this is just a broad-strokes look and is based on overall finish, not per game numbers -- injuries obviously affect things -- but the picture we get for all three players being effective is...not great.

If we look exclusively at McCarthy's time as a head coach, his team has had a receiver finish as a fantasy WR1 six times, plus two more times he had his receiver finish as the 13th overall receiver, so let's round that up to eight.

He's had a second receiver finish in the top 10 twice, plus two more top 20 finishes. You can make a solid argument that a McCarthy offense can sustain a fantasy WR1 and a fantasy WR2.

But then we introduce that third receiver. The best overall finish for a third receiver in McCarthy's time in Green Bay was in 2012, when Jordy Nelson was the WR36, but that was a year where Nelson, who finished as the overall WR4 the previous year, missed time with injury. McCarthy's head coaching tenure produced just two other years where the Packers had three receivers finish in the top 50, as well as two finishes at WR51.

Now, the past doesn't always predict the future and the NFL changes every year, but this isn't the most encouraging sign for whoever ends up seeing the third-most targets of this trio.


What Happens With This Receiver Group?

One of the biggest questions is who'll see the majority of the slot snaps. Remember: Randall Cobb is a Texan now, so someone's going to slide into his role. It should be either Lamb or Cooper.

Last year with Jason Garrett as head coach, Cobb finished as the WR42 during a year where the fantasy production from this unit went about as well as it could have. Cobb played 86.4 percent of his snaps in the slot, so it would be pretty easy to just say "well, give CeeDee Lamb his role, add in a higher catch rate for Lamb over what Cobb had, and just go from there," but it's not quite so simple.

I do think Lamb will see the majority of snaps out of the slot, with Cooper sliding over there at times as well. This trio should be on the field together a lot in three-receiver sets along with tight end Blake Jarwin and running back Ezekiel Elliott.

But here's what I'm thinking, and yes, this is really a lot of guesswork on my part: Lamb was such a reliable weapon at Oklahoma and can do things on so many different levels of the field that I think his role out of the slot will surpass Cobb's role last year. Cooper's still the primary outside option, but I can see Lamb being the option 1B to Cooper's 1A, and there's going to be so many chances to exploit mismatches in the middle of the field with CeeDee Lamb.

That leaves Gallup falling behind. I like Gallup, but he's probably the third read now on most plays. Gallup had just six fewer targets than Cooper last year, but I can't envision him getting 113 targets again, or Lamb only getting the 83 that Cobb got. That number for Cobb tied him with Jason Witten for third on the team in targets last year; CeeDee Lamb is getting more looks than Blake Jarwin in 2020.

What I'd forecast is that Lamb sees something closer to 100 targets, mainly working out of the slot, and Gallup drops down to maybe the 90 target range. Maybe instead of 1100 yards and six touchdowns, he winds up closer to 900 yards and four touchdowns -- good numbers for your third receiver, but not the breakout numbers that people expected from Gallup.

However this works out, I can't see a way that Cooper isn't the primary outside threat. The Cowboys paid too much to put Gallup above him, and Lamb's too much of a mismatch from the slot for Cooper to play there more than 15 to 20 percent of his snaps.

This isn't an ideal spot for Lamb to fall for fantasy owners, but we know one thing: the Dallas Cowboys offense will be exciting this year, and Dak Prescott should be the third quarterback off the board in redraft leagues.

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