The fashion in which the Dallas Cowboys lost to the New York Giants in Week 17 was a microcosm of their season, one that saw them mostly flounder when they could least afford it. Kudos to head coach Mike McCarthy and others for rallying the troops to a three-game win streak that made them relevant in the regular season finale, but the absence of a slew of cornerstone players was simply too much to overcome in the end, and questionable decisions at MetLife Stadium didn't help their cause. That said, not all of the decisions made by the Cowboys in 2020 were questionable, particularly when doing an offseason analysis and review of their rookie draft class.
Some first-timers were as advertised or better, while others came on strong in the end after struggling out of the gate. Others peeked out of the bushes to start the season only to be shoved back into them by the coaching staff, shutting them out until Year 2. All in all, it was another impressive draft haul for the Cowboys and one that might easily go down as one of the best ever, headlined by two names you might've heard of.
I mean, how could you not?
Let's dive into the report card for each of the seven draft picks from the 2020 class, and break down what they did right, wrong or indifferent, as Dallas looks forward to rebooting in 2021.
CeeDee Lamb, WR - Oklahoma
Round 1: 17th-overall
Lamb wasn't supposed to be available when the Cowboys went on the clock in the first round. There was no scenario in which Dallas thought he would, having run hundreds of mocks and never once deeming it plausible -- pushing them to prep to pull the trigger on a defensive player in the first round. But when Lamb landed in their lap, they fell over the table to get to the phone and make the call, and he didn't disappoint in his rookie year. Quite the contrary, actually, because Lamb burst onto the scene with Dak Prescott under center and despite a carousel of poor and uneven QB play following the loss of in Week 5, the former Sooner continued to make big plays far more often than not. Showing a willingness to get his hands dirty as a blocker is something rarely seen in any wideout, let alone a rookie, and Lamb showed he wouldn't shy away from taking devastating hits to secure catches over the middle.
Yes, Lamb had an issue with drops while playing with backups (they were not an issue until after Week 5), but on a team that boasts both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, he finished with 935 receiving yards (as primarily a slot receiver, to boot), five touchdowns and took the franchise record for most single-season catches by a rookie away from the legendary "Bullet" Bob Hayes.
The future for Lamb is bright enough to blind the sun.
2020 grade: A
Trevon Diggs, CB - Alabama
Round 2: 51st-overall
It turned out to be a fortuitous turn of events on Day 1 of the NFL draft, because while they rightfully scrapped their defensive plan to grab Lamb -- also knowing the Philadelphia Eagles would've -- but when they went on the clock with the 51st-overall pick, there was Diggs, a player they had a first-round grade on. The decision to part ways with Byron Jones helped fuel the interest in Diggs, but it was also because of what he brought to the table. A former wide receiver who hawks balls and routinely refines his skills in the offseason against an NFL receiver you might've heard of, his brother Stefon, the younger Diggs is as physical as he is skilled at anticipating routes and the reads of opposing quarterbacks. His first two career interceptions also put his athleticism on full display, and he'd finish with three on the year, but that tally could've been much higher if not for time missed due to a broken foot and just narrowly missing on a few that could've been takeaways. Diggs did suffer some growing pains, but they were mostly due to attempts at helping out the beleaguered defensive front -- i.e., staring into the backfield at times -- but those are lessons learned that will help him become a premier corner in the league.
There were six cornerbacks selected before Diggs, and he reeled in more INTs than all of them combined, while also besting them all in completion percentage when targeted (54.2%), sometimes by a massive margin. Lastly, this was achieved despite poor linebacker and safety play -- late-season play by Donovan Wilson notwithstanding -- further making the case for Diggs' looming NFL dominance.
Another jackpot lever pull by the Cowboys.
Demerit: Growing pains, injury
2020 grade: A-
Tyler Biadasz, C - Wisconsin
Round 5: 146th-overall
He didn't win the Rimington Trophy for his good looks, folks. While there were questions on if Biadasz could return to prime form after suffering a shoulder injury at Wisconsin, the Cowboys had no concerns whatsoever. That's why they traded up in the fifth round to grab him, pleasantly surprised he was still available and labeling him the "flashing light" on the board. They even convinced the Philadelphia Eagles to allow them the trade, knowing Biadasz would be in line to become the successor to retired center Travis Frederick, whose footsteps the rookie has been attempting to follow in even before he got to North Texas. Joe Looney was serviceable as a bridge player in 2020, and it was Looney's experience that garnered him more playing time under Mike McCarthy than he should've, because when Biadasz finally got onto the field following an injury to Looney -- his skills were on full display. No ramp-up time was needed, with the legendary Badger hitting the ground running at the NFL level before suffering a hamstring injury that cost him games.
It's uncertain if he was truly 100 percent healthy in his return, but his overall performance was good enough to land him on the PFF All-Rookie Offensive Line, and that's likely the first of many NFL awards heading his way. Expect him to be named full-time starter in 2021, with the Cowboys double-dipping in the Wisconsin pool at center and discovering diamonds on both occasions.
2020 grade: B+
Neville Gallimore, DT - Oklahoma
Round 3: 82nd-overall
Gallimore's talent was never in question, but rather how quickly it'd take him to adjust to the NFL. His progress was initially stunted by changes occurring within the Cowboys defensive scheme, with Mike Nolan attempting to "overinstall" a new framework despite not having an offseason to actually do so. This put players like Gallimore at a grave disadvantage, seeing as the learning curve for a defensive lineman in the pro ranks is steep as-is, and made that much more so when he's being given items to absorb that even seasons All-Pro and Pro Bowl lineman can't figure out quickly. That would all change once the team lost former second-round pick Trysten Hill to injury, which cleared the path for Gallimore to land more playing time, and with more live reps came a more rapid development. His breakout game against the Pittsburgh Steelers showed what he was capable of, and while he cooled a bit thereafter, he again came on strong to close out the season on the defensive interior.
The recipe for Gallimore in 2021 will again be more reps, which he's earned, but it will have to be in the rotation again with Hill and starting nose tackle Antwaun Woods. The good news is he's proven he's worth more than simply sitting on the inactives list -- much, much more.
Demerit: Slow, uneven start
2020 grade: C+
Ben DiNucci, QB - James Madison
Round 7: 231st-overall
Life isn't fair, and DiNucci got a reminder of it in 2020. Granted, given the state of affairs in the world as a whole during a raging COVID-19 pandemic, things could be considerably worse than being asked to take the field for the Dallas Cowboys as their seventh-round pick. From a football perspective, however, he got thrown to the wolves while wearing a pork chop swimsuit. DiNucci broke records at JMU and is a talented quarterback, but it was clear entering the season he'd need development. There was no time for that with both Dak Prescott and Andy Dalton on the sideline though, DiNucci then asked to take the field against the Washington Football Team to complete the game and to log his first start the following week against the then-bloodthirsty Philadelphia Eagles defensive front. His lack of refinement was on full display in that game, and his continued attempts at sidearming passes didn't result in Patrick Mahomes type highlights, but rather an odd mashup of incompletions that sailed more than Captain Jack Sparrow -- equally as drunk.
Seriously, I haven't seen that many sidearms since the last time I played Call of Duty, but those were more accurate.
DiNucci's lack of readiness for the big stage forced the club to bring back Cooper Rush and sign Garrett Gilbert, the latter proving a much more worthy backup than most, if not all, of the arms behind Prescott. The name of the game for DiNucci this offseason is proving he should escape final roster cuts, because right now -- as talented as he might have been at the collegiate level -- he's on an NFL bubble. Again, he wasn't supposed to be unveiled this soon, but now that he has been, the task at hand is to make his current film age quickly, because it's anything but Gucci ... unless you're spelling it with two "o's".
Demerit: Decision-making, lack of preparedness
2020 grade: F
Reggie Robinson, II, CB - Tulsa
Round 4: 123rd-overall
Experience, experience, experience. That's what McCarthy wanted more than anything when assessing who'd start for the Cowboys on a week-to-week basis, and it worked out at times. Other times, it certainly did not, so give kudos to McCarthy for finally unleashing Donovan Wilson at safety and reaping the rewards of that decision, but even that came after Darian Thompson continued to flounder as the starter -- something he shouldn't have been in the first place. And so it goes for Robinson that the fourth-round pick tried desperately to get a shot at being evaluated in the defensive backfield in 2020, but was instead relegated to the inactives list for 11 games, and in the five he did participate, he was utilized solely on special teams. So despite the poor defensive play of Thompson, a regressed Xavier Woods and injuries to the cornerback unit, McCarthy gave Robinson zero defensive snaps in his rookie season.
Entering the league as a lengthy, physical cornerback, the Cowboys moved Robinson to safety and wouldn't even play him there -- for reasons unknown. There was no live-game evaluation done on the former Tulsa standout in his rookie season, save for some special teams snaps that he'd make the most of (including a forced fumble), and he's hoping for better luck in Year 2.
Is Robinson going to be a defensive asset or a throwaway in the NFL? It would've been nice to find out in 2020. Because we couldn't, it would be a disservice to label Robinson's report card as anything but return to sender.
Demerit: Coaching staff decisions
2020 grade: Incomplete
Bradlee Anae, DE - Utah
Round 5: 179th-overall
The boat Robinson is sitting in has two paddles, and it's Anae helping him row. Roundly viewed as one of the biggest steals in the draft, Anae didn't even see the field after Week 8. This led to a rallying cry by fans and analysts alike who wanted to see what Anae could mean for depth at the position in 2021 and beyond, but those calls fell on deaf ears in Dallas. And even when he was allowed to show up on game day, it was almost exclusively in the realm of special teams, finishing his rookie season with only six defensive snaps but 119 special teams snaps between Week 1 and Week 8. Obviously, six snaps on defense is hardly enough to determine if Anae can be a wrecking ball behind Randy Gregory and Aldon Smith, his brick wall having ultimately been McCarthy's and Jerry Jones' adoration of defensive end Dorance Armstrong.
With Smith set to enter unrestricted free agency, and although both sides would like to agree to a new deal of some sort, if one doesn't materialize, maybe Anae can finally crack the rotation. Nothing indicates he's not good enough to do so, but instead that the Cowboys felt they had a logjam at defensive end, and Anae isn't one who you'd look to flex to the interior of the defensive line. It would've behooved the Cowboys to at least split reps between Anae and Armstrong, considering the latter is also entering a contract year in 2021 and a decision on his future must soon be made.
Instead, they'll go into this offseason knowing little more about Anae than they did when they called his phone in April.
Demerit: Coaching staff decisions
2020 grade: Incomplete