When we look back on the 2020 Dallas Cowboys, the brightest spot will likely be CeeDee Lamb’s performance throughout his rookie season. Lamb flashed the superstar potential that many people saw in him in the lead-up to the draft. What his career will ultimately become is surely fun to think about considering that he sort of lived up to the ridiculous expectations that many had for him.
Of course, Lamb was just one of the rookies from the team’s 2020 class. Trevon Diggs also performed well after a rough start, and Neville Gallimore came on late as well. Tyler Biadasz showed he belonged. We didn’t quite get to see what we wanted to from the likes of Reggie Robinson II or Bradlee Anae, but perhaps there time will come in 2021.
How did the Cowboys rookie class stack up against the rest of the NFL’s, though?
PFF ranked the Cowboys rookie class a lot lower than you probably would have
If we are discussing rookie classes throughout the NFL it’s hard to ignore Dallas’. CeeDee Lamb appears like a generational wide receiver and when you come away with a player like that (with other potentials as noted), it is generally viewed as a success.
PFF does things a bit different sometimes though and recently ranked all 32 NFL draft classes by their WAR metric. An explainer from them and their work with ESPN here:
Whether it’s in the first round or the sixth round, finding value above expectation in the NFL draft can significantly alter the landscape of a franchise. It is easier to do that with a wealth of draft capital, of course, but it’s important how much a team can get from its draft picks relative to where they were taken rather than just blindly adding together all the production from the class.
If Player X and Player Y have similar seasons, the production from Player Y, taken in the sixth round, is much more valuable than the production a team gets from first-round-pick Player X.
With the help of Pro Football Focus’ Wins Above Replacement (WAR) metric, we ranked all 32 teams on the value of their rookie class over expectation given where each player was selected in the 2020 NFL draft.
The Cowboys draft class does feel legitimate when you consider the whole product. However, if you look at it through the lens of what each player offers from a WAR standpoint, then the waters can get muddied a bit.
Why is this? While Dallas saw performances of note from Lamb, Diggs, Gallimore, and Biadasz, they also had to play rookie quarterback Ben DiNucci and even started him in one game. Being blunt, he weighed down the class’ measurement with his poor performance. That is why the Cowboys are 24th according to PFF.
24. Dallas Cowboys
Why they’re ranked here: To no surprise, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (No. 17 overall) was the most valuable Cowboys rookie by a considerable margin and finished with a top-15 WAR generated in the entire rookie class. We can’t completely ignore the rest of Dallas’ rookie class production, however, even when it was a seventh-rounder, quarterback Ben DiNucci, who brought down the class significantly. DiNucci recorded only 51 dropbacks but finished with a lowly 25.6 PFF grade on those and generated the lowest WAR of anyone in the class.
How their top pick fared: Hauling in targets was an issue for Lamb. He tied for the fourth-most drops at the position with nine. Lamb did continuously exploit holes in zone coverage from the slot, though. No wide receiver generated more 15-plus-yard plays by finding a hole in zone coverage from the slot than him (nine). He hauled in 21 of 27 such targets for 325 yards, and none of his drops came on those targets.
As you can see, Ben DiNucci finished with the lowest WAR of the draft class which made it difficult for the rest of the Cowboys rookies to overcome it. Again, trying to be kind here, he was a weight that they simply could not push mast the 24th overall spot for all classes.
The future is definitely bright for the 2020 Cowboys rookies, particularly with the players taken in the first four rounds. Ideally (with no offense intended here), DiNucci won’t have to start anymore games and we can see all players play out their expected roles.