Got your attention with that headline, huh? This is in no way a denial that CeeDee Lamb was clearly the most talented player available, regardless of position, when the Dallas Cowboys went on the clock in the first round of the draft. It does not say that Trevon Diggs is going to get more consideration for post-season honors. No, this is all about just how badly the team needs each of the rookies to perform. And they need Diggs more than Lamb.
The Team 40 Burger train is just about at full steam, at least until real games are played. But as great as it is to have Lamb a part of that, the Cowboys were going to be a pretty potent offense without him. He is generally considered to be the replacement for Randall Cobb as the primary slot receiver. Now, Cobb had a nice season in Dallas before heading south to join the Houston Texans, with 828 yards and three touchdowns on the ledger. That would be a good rookie season by anyone’s standards, so Lamb would not have to outshine Cobb at all to be a successful first-round pick.
However, even without Lamb, the Cowboys still were headed into the season with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, which has all the hallmarks of a great top three targets. And the indications out of camp, no matter how vague, were that Cedrick Wilson, Noah Brown, and even Dalton Schultz were looking much improved as receivers. Additionally, there is the tantalizing prospect of Mike McCarthy and Kellen Moore fully utilizing the pass-catching talents of both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Besides, Dak Prescott is still throwing the ball, so this was going to be a really strong passing attack, Lamb or not.
Again, Lamb is great added value. It’s just that he was not a crying need. No criticism of the selection is in any way implied, because that is the kind of drafting that can elevate a team from good to elite.
Diggs, however, was drafted because the Cowboys elected not to pay Byron Jones the small fortune he got from the Miami Dolphins. And Jones was the best defensive back the team had. He had the best completion percentage allowed and lowest yards per target of the DBs that took significant snaps, and was on the field for 85% of the defensive plays, despite missing a game with a minor injury. He also played about a third of all special teams plays. There is no one coming back from last year that was clearly able to take up that slack. It would be expecting far too much of a rookie to fully replace Jones, but Diggs is not really an ordinary rookie. Additionally, with the addition of Daryl Worley and Reggie Robinson II, Diggs is not the only one available to help fill the void. Robinson especially should be able to cover those ST snaps.
Coaching is important, too. It should really take the hobble off the offense, but the changes that are being reported for the defense, specifically the secondary, could have even more effect. While the beat reporters were very restricted in what they could tell us, they were able to convey just how much emphasis was being placed on the revolutionary and unheard of idea of pass defenders turning their head and finding the ball to try and intercept it, or break things up.
There is also the related idea of coaching to the strengths of your personnel, and Diggs has clearly stated that intercepting the ball is his main goal.
That is two areas, replacing Jones in coverage and getting more takeaways, where Diggs is crucial. And they are more important to the overall success of the defense than even Lamb’s prodigious talent is for the offense.
When it wasn’t falling prey to overcautious coaching and game plans against top opponents or on the road, the Cowboys offense was more than capable last year. The defense, not so much. Their “bend, don’t break” approach broke far too often. The huge investment in new defensive talent is a reflection of the relative needs of the units. Free agency and the welcome news that Randy Gregory is returning as early as week 7 have seriously upgraded the pass rush. But on the back end, Diggs is the biggest thing that the team did to improve.
We won’t know for a few days if Diggs is going to be one of the starters for the season opener at the Los Angeles Rams, but there are certainly some signs pointing that way. In any case, he seems all but certain to break into the starting lineup sooner rather than later. That is impressive for a second-round pick if you are being realistic. Reporting after the draft was that Diggs had a first-round grade on the Dallas board. Getting both him and Lamb was a major coup in what, so far at least, is shaping up to be one of the best draft classes in a long time for the Cowboys, and perhaps one of the best in the league this year. Both of them promise to play big roles for the team this year. Both will be important.
Diggs is just more so.