FRISCO, TX — When the Dallas Cowboys put in their order for lamb during the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, they wanted it rare and, well done to the organization and to CeeDee Lamb in tandem with Dak Prescott, that's now exactly what they're being served.
After the visible frustration in the humiliating loss to the San Francisco 49ers, Lamb is quickly growing horns. And, of course, one day that would make him a … GOAT … amirite?
But with so much of his NFL career still ahead of the 24-year-old, let's focus on what he's doing now versus where he might legitimately end up when it's all said-and-done. After all, it's a much more fair comparison to see how he's performing against the other top wideouts in the NFL, and not Ring of Honor and/or Hall of Fame players.
“The show ain’t over.” - CeeDee Lamb
Just in case you were wondering, though, he's currently ranked ninth on the Cowboys' list of most receiving yards all-time, able to move into the eighth slot above Miles Austin before he walks off of the field in Charlotte in Week 11, and he's only in Year 4. Oh, and he's tied for the franchise record for most 10-catch games in a season with ... Jason Witten ... and most 10-catch,150-yard games in a single season ... with Michael Irvin.
You were wondering. I know you were.
I felt it in the air like Beanie Sigel in 2005.
In the past three outings alone, helping the Cowboys to a 2-1 record in the process, and nearly 3-0 with his second career-best game in as many weeks, Lamb has been targeted a total of 37 times by Prescott and it's working like gangbusters. The latest to join the 88 Club has produced 466 receiving yards on 30 receptions (81% catch rate, ha … take that Terrell Owens).
He was the second-best player on the field in Philadelphia, behind only his quarterback, on a night that also saw A.J. Brown's six-game streak of 125 yards (that's inhuman, by the way) come to a screeching halt at the hands of the Cowboys' secondary — Brown mustering only 66 yards in the brawl to go along with a touchdown.
This is what got me to wondering where Lamb, and more specifically the duo of Prescott-Lamb, rank among the best in the league heading into their Week 10 bout with the spiraling New York Giants.
Ahead of the regular season opener against the very same Giants, Lamb was asked if he views himself as being in the upper echelon of Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown and the like.
“I’m there. I’ll show you.” - CeeDee Lamb
The offense has had its struggles that led to some of the aforementioned frustration, but he's making good on that statement, and then some; and he's doing it from multiple spots — nearly splitting slot and outside explosiveness equally.
Think that's hyperbole?
Lamb's splits for receiving yards are as follows this season:
- Wide - 407 (49%)
- Slot - 400 (49%)
- Backfield - 12 (1%)
- Tight - 5 (1%)
Still think that's hyperbole? OK, cool.
A deep dive into the film of several of the best QB-WR tandems in the entire league starts to reveal just how special Prescott and Lamb have been after finding their stride, something I expressed in Week 4’s edition of “The Science Lab” was a statistical inevitability (hit that shiny blue link for that insight), and they're now in upper crust, in a way that will undoubtedly silence many who have or still consider either or both anything less than what they truly are.
Lemme talk to ya.
For easy consumption, I'll break this down into categories that display the impact accordingly of each tandem for their respective team. That way, you'll get a good eye on how it stacks up.
Qualifiers: Minimum 25 targets, WRs only
Source material: Next Gen Stats
Total EPA (Expected Points Above Average):
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 50.4
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 49.8
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 48.2
Quiet as it's kept, the Cowboys' tandem is ranked third in the entire NFL, and not by a large margin. They're neck-and-neck with the Eagles and Dolphins, two passing attacks that are largely viewed as the best around, and it's what happened next in my dive that will really peel back your eyelids and tape them to your forehead.
I ultimately broke down 12 total passing + receiving categories across the board and of those 12, the Prescott-Lamb tandem is No. 1 in seven of them.
Yes, more than half of the QB + WR categories that are the most impactful to a team's success on a weekly basis are owned by the Dallas duo.
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 128.2
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 126.5
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 120.8
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 79.2%
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 71.1%
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 59.2%
CPOE (Completion Percentage Above Expectation):
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 13.9%
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 13.3%
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 3.9%
Soup Du Jour
Oh, this is fun, isn't it? The highest passer rating, completion percentage and CPOE all belong to Prescott and Lamb, three areas that go to the efficiency of the targets and receptions. It's like enjoying your favorite entree at your favorite restaurant and the server then brings you some of the best soup you've ever tasted.
Because wait, there's more.
Success Rate (%):
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 62.5%
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 58.8%
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 58.2%
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 1
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 2
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 5
Yards per attempt:
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 11.4
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 11.1
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 10.9
It feels like it was just yesterday when several of Prescott's interceptions began as targets to Lamb, but that was last season, and the problem has literally … literally … disappeared entirely this time around. Granted, I would trade a bit more risk for the possible accompanying reward of an added touchdown or two, but we'll talk about that in a moment.
"A lot of work. … A lot of time invested." - Dak Prescott
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 0
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 2
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 2
Prescott and Lamb are the best in the NFL in success rate, number of drops, yards per attempt and, as mentioned, lack of interceptions. This is cyborg-level efficiency and it's helped to spark the explosiveness within the Texas Coast offense.
I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you of something here, however.
Do you recall when the offense couldn't muster much more than a sputter, on most occasions, over the first several games? While they were trying to get that figured out in Dallas, Hurts and Brown were scorching the NFL along with Tagovailoa and Hill and, yet, the latter two are currently behind Prescott and Lamb in more than half of the 12 most important categories ...
… and fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the Dallas duo from overtaking them in others.
As always, there will be room for improvement, and here's where I'd like to see the Cowboys' tandem take the next step.
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 8
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 6
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 3
The other two duos in the top-3 have this one figured out, although due to different reasons, i.e., Brown is a bigger receiver who can contest more in the red zone whereas Hill is a turbocharged speedster who often makes sure his team doesn't need the red zone at all. Lamb falls somewhere in the middle here, so to speak. He is much more physically imposing than Hill though not as fast, and where he gives up weight to Brown, he gains a bit in height.
Hill is a different type of YAC beast, simply put, but Brown and Lamb aren't much different in that arena, which means there should be more opportunities for Lamb to touch pay dirt.
Yards After Catch:
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 422
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 318
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 309
It all boils down to the number of targets, of which Hill and Brown have gapped Lamb.
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 97
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 91
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 72
But, again, look at the efficiency of the targets, and that means that, theoretically, if Lamb had been targeted more often prior to Week 8, he and Prescott would be No. 1 in more than seven of the categories I've listed for you this fine day.
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 69
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 66
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 57
Separation (in yards per target):
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 3.3
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 3.1
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 2.5
Open Rate (%):
- Tua Tagovailoa + Tyreek Hill = 51.5%
- Dak Prescott + CeeDee Lamb = 37.5%
- Jalen Hurts + A.J. Brown = 30.8%
Add in the fact Lamb is better at separation than Brown (see above), evidence to why he's open more often (your eye test and national media probably failed you on this one, eh?), and you're starting to get my point.
"It's a stepping stone of what's to come." - Dak Prescott
Is it, really? Sure seems that way.
Consider the Cowboys' next five opponents and, outside of what the Panthers' secondary has been able to do in a spiraling season (any given Sunday, and whatnot), there isn't a ton of resistance awaiting Prescott and Lamb.
Next five opponents (pass defense):
- NY Giants - 16th
- Panthers - 3rd
- Commanders - 30th
- Seahawks - 14th
- Eagles - 32nd
Including a rematch with the Eagles — at AT&T Stadium — who went from carrying one of the worst defensive backfields in the league to, after what Prescott, Lamb and Ferguson did to them, now owning the literal worst, there's plenty of opportunity here to remain gluttonous in the passing attack versus trying to force the issue with the run.
Grab a fork, gentlemen.
There are still some hiccups to work out in the Cowboys' offense, and that includes the Brandin Cooks factor as well as consistency needing to stick around for Michael Gallup, but the great news for head coach Mike McCarthy, or rather the version of McCarthy that calls plays, or both, is that Jake Ferguson has become everything they could've hoped for and more; and he's just getting started.
The superlative news is that the connection between Lamb and Prescott has become cerebral, telepathic even, in a way that would make Professor Xavier blush.
Keep this up and you might get dessert in February.
The next stage in their evolution will be to find the end zone more frequently but, at this rate, it feels like a foregone conclusion that will work itself out organically, as has been the case following Week 5 — scheming him open, in multiple spots, instead of forcing him to stick to the boundary which, in turn, would make it easier to defend him.
And maybe that's why the lamb is at such a premium in Dallas nowadays.
It's being organically fed.