As the Cowboys near the end of their 2020 regular season, it’s time to take a look back on the season as a whole. In a year filled with plenty of negatives, one positive for the Cowboys was the performance of some of their young players.
Dallas got some good contributions from young talent on both sides of the ball. Today, we take a look at some young defensive players who’s stock is trending up for 2021.
CB Trevon Diggs
As a second-round pick coming out of Alabama, there were high expectations for Trevon Diggs this season. After letting All-Pro Byron Jones walk in free agency, Dallas needed Diggs and their young corners to step up and try to replicate his production. Despite going through the ups and downs most young cornerbacks go through, Diggs has shown plenty of promise in 2020.
Due to injuries and poor performance from some veterans in the secondary, Diggs was forced into a tough spot to start his NFL career. Diggs basically had to serve as the Cowboys’ number one corner when Chidobe Awuzie went out in Week Two. Diggs, and the entire secondary, had their struggles in the coming weeks, but since Week Seven, the cornerback has really upped his play.
In his last four games he’d played, Diggs has an average PFF coverage grade of 75.22. In a Week Eight matchup against Philadelphia, Diggs received an outstanding coverage grade of 91.6, while recording two interceptions and two pass breakups. Diggs 10 pass breakups lead the team and have him tied for fourth-most in the NFL.
Cowboys rookie CB Trevon Diggs kept the ball from each INT at Philly. They'll go in a case.— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) November 4, 2020
How big a case might he need for 2020? Trevon: "Hopefully the case is real big. I want to keep continuing to grow. Continue to get better. Try to make more plays."pic.twitter.com/QOOzvj0E9r
Diggs has had to go through a lot in his rookie year, and he’s still put out some solid production. As the Cowboys get healthier, and hopefully add some talent in the secondary, Diggs could be primed for a breakout year in 2021.
S Donovan Wilson
For years, the Cowboys have been searching for a safety who can make plays on the ball. We’ve seen guys like Xavier Woods, who have been decent players, but just lack that instinct to take the football away. This year, Dallas may have finally found that guy in Donovan Wilson.
The second-year pro has had a breakout season. In 12 games, Wilson has recorded 61 combined tackles, but most importantly he has forced three fumbles and hauled in one interception.
Hello Donovan! Donovan Wilson has the ability to make things happen, it does appear. These two strip sacks in three games indicate he is potentially more than just a heavy hitter in the secondary. pic.twitter.com/VN4dtXz4hI— Bob Sturm (@SportsSturm) November 25, 2020
Last week against San Francisco, Wilson once again made a huge impact. He recorded an interception, a pass breakup, and received a PFF coverage grade of 82.7.
The Donovan Wilson INT (nearly just had another one cause Nick Mullens is not good)pic.twitter.com/3Dfj9pCZsW— Tom Downey (@WhatGoingDowney) December 20, 2020
Head Coach Mike McCarthy had some praise for Wilson in his recent press conference.
Coach noted anytime a player rises through special teams, then takes a full opportunity on defense or offense, that is what you are looking for. He said it’s about the player taking advantage, that’s what Donovan has done, he’s been impactful.
Wilson still has some work to do refining his coverage skills, but for the first time in forever, Dallas finally has a playmaking safety. If he is able to work on his craft and get a little more knowledgeable/skilled in coverage, Wilson has a chance to be a true difference-maker in 2021.
DT Neville Gallimore
When second-year pro Trysten Hill went down in Week Five, Dallas needed one of their defensive tackles to step up. Third-round pick Neville Gallimore has done just that. In his last five games, Gallimore has racked up 10 tackles and has made an impact in the middle.
Good lord Neville Gallimore... pic.twitter.com/zgych4SSJy— Joey Hayden (@_joeyhayden) December 20, 2020
Gallimore has not been a star by any means, but he has shown much more than Hill did during his first season in the NFL. With the uncertainty regarding Hill and his injury, and Antwaun Woods set to hit free agency after the season, Dallas will need Gallimore to continue his upward trajectory into 2021.
Bonus “young” player: Randy Gregory isn’t exactly young in age but he’s only played just over two season’s worth of game, and hasn't been able to build any consistency. Maybe now, he can get into a routine so we’ll examine his prospects.
DE Randy Gregory
Coming into the 2020 season, there was no guarantee Randy Gregory would even be allowed to play. But, in early September, the 28-year-old pass-rusher was reinstated by the NFL, but would not be allowed to return to action until Week Seven.
Despite having to miss six games, this was overall a great outcome for both the Cowboys and Gregory. No one quite knew what Gregory had in the tank after being out of football for over a year. Would he still be able to be the guy he was when he recorded six sacks in 2018? Well, through eight games of his 2020 season, Gregory has shown he has a lot of juice left.
If you take away the Washington game where Gregory played just nine percent of the defensive snaps, the pass-rusher has recorded at least one quarterback hit in all but one game he’s played in. Gregory has recorded 20 total pressures, 10 quarterback hurries, and two sacks.
Pro Football Focus has Gregory in the top 20 in their pass rush productivity ranking. PFF also has rewarded Gregory with a 75.4 pass-rush grade on the season, second on the team behind DeMarcus Lawrence. He clearly will factor into Dallas’ defensive plans in 2021.