One of the most pointless things to do is try and immediately assign grades or value to an NFL draft class. We really don’t know how well these players will work out until we can see them for a few seasons. PFF looked back at the 2020 draft in the form of a first-round redraft, trying to put the players where their actual performance in the pros justified.
According to their evaluation, the Dallas Cowboys had one of the best draft hauls in the league. It was certainly the best in the NFC East, and that was not even close.
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Part of this is because Dallas got CeeDee Lamb at 17. Most of us saw it as an absolute steal at the time as he was never expected to still be on the board when the Cowboys got to make their pick. PFF clearly agrees and saw him as the best pick for the Arizona Cardinals at pick eight. Not only is that nine spots higher than he actually went, he was the second wide receiver to go in PFF’s alternate reality behind Justin Jefferson. LB Isaiah Simmons was the actual pick for the Cards. Here is the rationale from the article.
Wide receiver wasn’t a glaring need for Arizona entering the 2020 draft. The Cardinals had just added DeAndre Hopkins to a receiving corps that also featured Christian Kirk, Larry Fitzgerald and 2019 second-round pick Andy Isabella. However, they would have been wise to target a receiver like Lamb rather than Simmons (49.7 PFF grade in 2021), in hindsight.
Lamb improved his PFF receiving grade from 72.6 as a rookie to 84.8 in 2021 (eighth among qualifying wide receivers) and could be in store for a massive 2022 season in Dallas following Amari Cooper’s departure. He would give his former college quarterback Kyler Murray another high-quality receiving option to pair with Hopkins.
That might reassure some who are concerned about Lamb picking up the WR1 torch for the Cowboys. It makes some sense in other ways. Wide receivers frequently have big years in their third season. It is just a hard position to master with the adjustment to the level of talent facing them in the secondary, as well as having to master an NFL offense that feature much more complex route trees and is also more assignment dependent than they saw in college. If Lamb is typical in that way, this could indeed be a major weapon for Dak Prescott. Sorry, Kyler.
Praiseworthy as Lamb’s selection at 17 was, the biggest win for Dallas, at least according to PFF, is indicated by who they wound up taking there in this exercise: CB Trevon Diggs.
Dallas’ first-round pick (Lamb) isn’t available in this exercise, so the Cowboys “settle” for their second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Diggs was one of the most polarizing players in the NFL last season because of how often he made and allowed big plays in coverage. His 11 interceptions were three more than any other defender, but Diggs also allowed a league-high 1,016 passing yards into his coverage on the season. The value that he can offer as a defensive playmaker who returns the ball back to the Cowboys’ offense keeps him in Dallas in this re-draft.
The Cowboys claimed that they had a first-round grade on Diggs all along, and he would have been the pick if Lamb hadn’t fallen to them. At least in PFF’s opinion, that was not just hype. Diggs grades out as a legitimate first-round talent, acquired with the 51st overall pick.
By these criteria, Dallas walked away with two first-round talents. Both are seen in retrospect as being real steals. Many teams did far worse with their picks, including the other NFC East clubs. PFF saw the Washington Commanders as over-drafting DE Chase Young, although only by three spots. More importantly, they passed on Justin Herbert, who would have solved their quarterback issues far more efficiently than they are trying to do this year with Carson Wentz. The Philadelphia Eagles may have whiffed with WR Jalen Reagor, who they took over better options like Jefferson, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins, and others who have performed better so far in their NFL careers. The New York Giants didn’t make a terrible pick with T Andrew Thomas, but Tristan Wirfs was available and would have been a better choice.
However, before you shower the Cowboys with too much praise, they were far less successful in the remainder of the draft. While third-round pick Neville Gallimore and fourth-rounder Tyler Biadasz have become starters, the rest of the draft for Dallas consisted of Reggie Robinson II, Bradlee Anae, and Ben DiNucci. Robinson and Anae are long gone, and DiNucci is frankly puzzling as a QB option to keep around. However, getting two first-round level talents and a couple more starters is a good result for any draft and does provide some evidence that the staff knows what it is doing in the draft. That is how PFF grades things, at least. Feel free to let your confirmation bias run loose.