FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Cowboys believe they had a strong draft in 2020.
They never expected receiver CeeDee Lamb to be available with the 17th overall pick. They would have seriously contemplated taking their second-round selection, cornerback Trevon Diggs, in the first round had Lamb not been there.
As they put together their board for the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App), the Cowboys know they need to find success to improve the competition on the roster.
They also need the Class of 2020 to take a leap as well.
CeeDee Lamb, WR, first round, No. 17 overall
Lamb set a franchise rookie record with 74 catches, breaking the mark of 46 held by Hall of Famer Bob Hayes. His 935 yards were the second-most by a rookie in franchise history to Hayes’ 1,003. He scored seven touchdowns, becoming the third Cowboy to score a TD three different ways in a season (receiving, rushing, kick return).
He had too many drops as a rookie (eight), but the future is bright. So bright that it could play a part in the team’s decisions with Amari Cooper or Michael Gallup after 2021. Cooper’s $20 million base salary in 2022 becomes fully guaranteed on the fifth day of that league year. Gallup is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. With Lamb under contract through 2025 with the fifth-year option, the Cowboys can take an either/or position regarding Cooper and Gallup when it comes to finances.
Trevon Diggs, CB, second round, No. 51 overall
He was a Day 1 starter. He played through knee and shoulder injuries. He led the Cowboys in interceptions with three. Coach Mike McCarthy said he is the best young cornerback he has coached in terms of getting after the ball.
The Cowboys will need more of that in his second season. He allowed some big plays, but he also has recovery speed to make plays on the ball that few have had in the Dallas secondary. He does not lack for confidence. Perhaps that comes from seeing his older brother, Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, excel.
Pairing Diggs and former Alabama teammate Patrick Surtain II, a potential first-round pick, would give the Cowboys their best young corner tandem in years. South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn wouldn’t hurt either. The Cowboys believe they have a building block for their defense in Diggs.
Neville Gallimore, DT, third round, No. 82 overall
The Cowboys loved Gallimore’s athleticism, but knew he was raw when they selected him. He also seemed to be a better fit for the Cowboys’ old scheme than what Mike Nolan wanted to do with the defensive lineman.
It took Gallimore some time to either feel comfortable or earn the coaches’ trust in 2020. He played just 20 snaps in the first four games. He played more than 22 snaps in 11 of the last 12 games and finished the season with 28 tackles, a half sack, four quarterback pressures and four tackles for loss.
With new coordinator Dan Quinn expected to revert back to the old way of doing things up front, attacking the line of scrimmage, Gallimore is viewed as a big part of the defense in Year 2. With Trysten Hill coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, Gallimore will have a chance to cement the under tackle spot.
Reggie Robinson, CB, fourth round, No. 123 overall
The Cowboys had real excitement when they landed Robinson in the fourth round. He had the size (6-1, 200), speed and athleticism they want to play outside at cornerback. He had four interceptions in his final year at Tulsa. He was a special teams maven as well, blocking four kicks.
He was moved to safety early in the season, was inactive for the first 11 games and did not play a defensive snap the entire season.
Will the Cowboys move him back to corner in his second season? Will he stick at safety? That could be dependent on what happens in this year’s draft. It’s far too early to give up on Robinson, and maybe a change of position coaches will help his development.
Tyler Biadasz, C, fourth round, No. 146 overall
When the Cowboys traded back into the fourth round to get him, it was viewed as one Wisconsin center replacing another on the Cowboys’ line with Travis Frederick retiring after the 2019 season.
It looked as if Biadasz was on his way to earning the permanent starting spot before pulling his hamstring in pregame warm-ups against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In a season with so many different offensive line combinations because of injuries, the coaches stuck with continuity when he was healthy to play again.
As 2021 beckons, he is the odds-on favorite to be the starter. Among qualifying centers, he had the best run-block win rate (81.3%) and was 13th in pass-block win rate (93.8%). There is room for him to grow, and having Zack Martin back full-time at right guard would be a big bonus.
Bradlee Anae, DE, fifth round, No. 179 overall
The Cowboys felt they got a steal in Anae last April. He was a dominant pass-rusher at Utah, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in sacks (30), but fell to the fifth round in part because of a poor 40-yard dash time (4.93 seconds at the 2020 NFL combine).
When the season started, he saw only six defensive snaps. He did not record a tackle and had one quarterback pressure. The return from suspension of Randy Gregory hurt Anae’s ability to make the active roster (he was inactive for nine of the last 10 games) but did play 116 snaps on special teams.
The Cowboys have Gregory back and added pass-rusher Tarell Basham in free agency. Anae has to find a way inside the defensive line rotation in 2021.
Ben DiNucci, QB, seventh round, No. 231 overall
His one start, a 23-9 loss against the Philadelphia Eagles, did not go well (21-of-40, 180 yards, sacked four times) and is difficult to forget. Will he get a chance to compete for the No. 2 spot this offseason? Will the Cowboys select a quarterback on Day 3 of the draft to compete with him?