CeeDee Lamb's 21st birthday earlier this month began in a house he's been renting in Richmond, Texas, where he spent his formative years. He worked out in the afternoon, wondered how he'd celebrate later that evening during quarantine and, throughout the day, reminisced on stories good and bad with old buddies.
Today, Lamb is just more than a week away from hearing his name called from Roger Goodell's basement in the virtual 2020 NFL Draft. It seems impossible that he slides out of the teens, and the possibility of being the top wideout selected would certify all the work to this point.
"It'd mean a lot and I'm grateful for it," Lamb told CBS Sports. "I just can't wait for it to happen. It's been a dream up to this point."
Alabama receivers Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III combine with the former Oklahoma wideout to make the trio atop most positional rankings. When it comes to Lamb and Jeudy, it's basically a fielder's choice. And with due respect to Jeudy -- who shot Lamb a "Happy Birthday" text -- Lamb (obviously) believes he's the best in this year's draft.
"My yards after the catch," Lamb said. "My versatility, I can do in and outside, I can run any route in the route tree that you need. I'm the bigger target. And I'm a go-getter. I love to play football."
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Before Lamb became a Texas high school legend, the 6-year-old was one of an estimated 250,000 people who left Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and resettled in the Houston area. A scrawny kid for most of his life, Lamb got his nickname when he was playing youth football.
As the story goes, Darrick Reed, Lamb's coach, was trying out nicknames on the fourth-grader during a practice one day. The coach tried out "DVD" because Lamb was prone to making highlight-reel plays before landing on what is now the only obviously nickname for someone named Cedarian.
"Only my mom calls me that," Lamb said. "She calls me that when she's mad or when I'm in trouble."
He played quarterback, running back and some free safety in middle school, said his Foster high school coach Shaun McDowell, who watched him play at neighboring Briscoe Junior High. By his freshman year of high school and before a six-inch growth spurt to get him over six feet tall, Lamb was continuing his highlight plays.
"He's playing defense, went up and grabbed an interception like it was a touchdown pass," McDowell recalled. "He juked probably all 21 on the field including his own people setting up blocks and took it for a touchdown. Everyone turned their heads and did the oh shit.
"That's when we knew we had something special. The things people see on the field now, we saw at practice every day."
Lamb has a penchant for those kinds of plays. During his sophomore season at Oklahoma in 2018, he made what would have been the catch of the season had he come down in-bounds. In the third quarter against UCLA, quarterback Kyler Murray air-mailed a sideline throw to Lamb that made receivers coach Dennis Simmons figure the QB was just throwing the ball away.
"When he jumped, I'm like what the hell are you jumping for?" Simmons said. "And when he caught it I was like, shit. I knew he had some jumping ability but when he went up and got it was like oh shit. I'm looking at the ref like, man you ought to give that to him just for the effort. At least take it to the booth."
For all the great catches in his career -- and that 51-yarder in single coverage against LSU certainly stands out -- Lamb's calling card is his YAC. Lamb is the best yards-after-catch machine in this year's draft, and nothing highlights that more than last year's Texas game.
In the third quarter of a 10-10 rivalry game, Lamb hauled in a flea flicker from Jalen Hurts about 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. A juke-pause sent a pursuing Longhorn defender sliding past him and sent Lamb into the lion's den. Not including the Texas player on the ground, Lamb appeared to be boxed in inside the 25. He broke a flash bomb of a tackle and then out-sprinted a final defender to the pylon for the 51-yard touchdown with 31 yards of YAC.
The play was two years in the making. He arrived at Oklahoma 173 pounds and put on 30 pounds in his first collegiate offseason. Lamb began taking leg day more seriously, putting together extra reps so that he could better run through arm tackles. All the while, he kept his aggressive mindset that nothing would stop him on the way to paydirt.
According to Pro Football Focus, 683 yards of his 1,327 receiving yards last season came after the catch.
"The strength aspect, especially in his lower body, raised his YAC volume," Simmons said. "That's something we preached in the meeting room. Good receivers are going to catch the football. Great receivers make you watch what they do with it after they catch it. He bought into that."
Not only is Lamb a big target at 6-foot-2 and 198 pounds, but he also plays big in big games. One of the best factors in what determines a "big game" for Oklahoma is a neutral field. Lamb played in eight neutral site games in his three-year career, consisting of three Red River Showdowns, two Big 12 championship games and three College Football Playoff semifinals. In those games he caught 51 passes for 954 yards and six touchdowns.
As he got bigger and grew into his body more, Lamb started watching tape of Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins to mimic what two of the best in the world do.
"I literally live for the moments when I see an SEC team or a top-ranked team," Lamb said. "For the things that people aren't used to me going against as far as press coverage or somebody that's 6-foot, I love those matchups because it gives me the motivation to prove people wrong, which I love doing."
Lamb doesn't want to divulge too much about this unique predraft process. He wisely sidestepped a question about who's showing him the most interest, stating he knows if he answered truthfully that it'd create headlines he doesn't need. Suffice to say, though, that the Raiders have been talking with Lamb since the combine.
When Lamb speaks about his near future, the normally talkative 21-year-old starts to trail off. He can't find the words to describe what next week will mean to him. A culmination of all the hard work, yes, but bittersweet due to those who can't join him in this moment.
When he was 14, his stepfather was gunned down. Just before Lamb's senior year of high school, Chester Ramirez, Lamb's uncle who "was like a father" to him, passed away unexpectedly. And just last March, Lamb's aunt passed after a battle with lupus.
The losses have shaped him, made him more mature. And on his 21st birthday amid a pandemic days before fulfilling a lifelong dream, Lamb was able to reflect on how precious life is.
"I just take advantage of every opportunity and every blessing that you get. And by that I mean waking up and being alive," Lamb said. "And at any point anything can happen. I try to live in the moment, seize the moment, and be happy as much as I can. Life is too short.
"One of those ones who's been through all those hard times, it's difficult, yes. But you learn from it. You learn the most from those situations and you appreciate people a lot more. It's having a different mindset and approach and that's what turned me into the person I am today."