Production in the NFL isn’t always a byproduct of talent. Instead, it’s more often the result of situation. Running backs who get more carries or wide receivers who get more targets naturally produce more.
It’s important to remember this when deciding which players are draft busts and which ones should be deemed successful picks. A rookie running back who only receives 10 carries per game won’t put up the kind of numbers to generate league-wide respect, but it doesn’t mean he’s a flop.
But let’s face it: football is driven by stats, especially with fantasy football being such a big part of the fan experience.
As the summer months continue marching on, fantasy football leagues around the country will begin drafting for the 2020 season. Rookies will be a huge part of that process, especially in dynasty/keeper leagues. And in today’s NFL that features a high-flying passing attack, first-year wide receivers will be a hot commodity.
The 2020 NFL draft featured several first- and second-round pass-catchers who will be early targets for fantasy GMs. But which one will be the most productive?
According to NFL.com, the answer is Cowboys wideout CeeDee Lamb.
“Lamb’s Oklahoma resume shows exceptional production from the slot and an elite ability to earn yards after the catch,” wrote Cynthia Frelund. “Lamb forced the second-most missed tackles on receptions (26, per Pro Football Focus) among FBS receivers and recorded the third-most yards after contact (376, per PFF) last season overall, but we need more context to spin all that forward to see the difference he’ll make for the Cowboys. Looking at his slot production (24.2 yards per reception from the slot, the second-most in FBS, per PFF) and his ability to operate in the middle of the field, and factoring in how defenses facing Dallas will also be forced to account for Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, Lamb has the highest rookie wideout ranking in my model, checking in at No. 38 among all NFL receivers.”
Lamb was one of five first-round receivers in 2020. Jerry Jeudy (Broncos), Henry Ruggs III (Raiders), Jalen Reagor (Eagles) and Justin Jefferson (Vikings) all heard their name called in the top-32.
It’s Ruggs who checks in second for Frelund.
“Ruggs could have more fantasy upside with the Raiders than Lamb does with the Cowboys, but there could also be a lot more potential downside with Ruggs than with many of the receivers ranked lower on this list,” Frelund wrote. “Ruggs lined up wide in 80 percent of his Alabama snaps and last season earned 10.5 yards after the catch per reception (third-most in the SEC among those with 30-plus targets, per PFF).”
The good news for fantasy players this year is that the depth of the rookie wide receiver class extends beyond the first round. Colts second-round pick, Michael Pittman Jr., ranks third on Frelund’s rookie projections, and Denzel Mims, who the Jets picked in Round 2, ranks sixth.
My money is on Lamb topping all rookie pass-catchers in 2020. He’s in the perfect situation for a player with his skill set. He’s talented enough to be a No. 1 but he won’t have to be early in his career. Amari Cooper will draw opposing defense’s top cornerback, which will allow Lamb to dominate lesser defenders as he assimilates to the NFL game. Ezekiel Elliott will force defenses to play the Cowboys honest, too.
Big plays are coming in bunches for Lamb in 2020 regardless of the crowded receiver room in Dallas.