“I feel like the sky is the limit,” Diggs said late last season before finishing with team highs in interceptions (three) and pass deflections (14). “I’m going to take myself where I want to take myself. I got the ability to do exactly what I’m trying to do and exactly what I want to do.”
While one season does not predict long-term prosperity, Diggs’ performance shows he is on track to achieve something the Cowboys have not had enough of this century: second-round success.
For all of the attention the Cowboys’ first-round pick, No. 10 overall in the 2021 NFL draft (April 29-May 1 in Cleveland, on ESPN and ESPN the App), has garnered this offseason, a team’s successful draft is determined by the entirety of its selections. A second-round pick has to not only be a starter, but also develop into a cornerstone player, which means a significant second contract most of the time.
The Cowboys currently have one second-round pick in this year’s draft, No. 44 overall.
Since 2010, only linebackers Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence have been signed to long-term, big-dollar extensions out of the Cowboys’ 10 second-round picks. Defensive end Randy Gregory, their second-rounder in 2015, signed a one-year extension last year after multiple suspensions.
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Go back to 2000 and only offensive lineman Andre Gurode needs to be added to the aforementioned list.
That means only four of the Cowboys’ 18 second-round picks have been signed to large commitments.
In 2012, Dallas traded its second-round pick to the St. Louis Rams in the move up to No. 6 overall to draft cornerback Morris Claiborne. In 2007 and 2009, the Cowboys traded out of the second round to pick up more selections in later rounds.
At present, it does not appear as if the Cowboys’ second-round batting average on second contracts will improve.
In March, their 2017 second-round pick, cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. It doesn’t look like 2018 second-rounder, Connor Williams, will sign a lucrative long-term deal, and Trysten Hill, their second-round selection in 2019, had a disappointing rookie season and suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season.
Looking back, some of the best picks in the Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones era have come in the second round.
Hall of Famer Larry Allen, an offensive lineman who spent 12 seasons in Dallas, was the No. 46 overall pick in 1994. Defensive back Darren Woodson is in the Ring of Honor after being a second-round pick in 1992. Wide receiver Jimmy Smith was selected before Woodson, and while it did not work out for him in Dallas, he had a tremendous career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Flozell Adams (1998) was a staple on the Cowboys’ offensive line for nearly a decade. Gurode (2002) made five Pro Bowls as a center.
The Cowboys drafted three tight ends in the second round in 2006 (Anthony Fasano), 2008 (Martellus Bennett) and 2013 (Gavin Escobar) to pair with Jason Witten. Fasano had a 12-year career, but was traded by the Cowboys after his second season. Bennett played 11 seasons, but earned his Pro Bowl appearance with the Chicago Bears and won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Escobar caught 30 passes in four seasons with the Cowboys. Beyond the players, some blame has to go on the offensive staffs that could not quite figure out how to make the two-tight end package work as well as it did with other teams, such as New England.
Jones has always viewed the second round as a place to take some chances, especially on injured players.
Lee and linebacker Bruce Carter (2011) had knee concerns coming out of college (Penn State and North Carolina, respectively). Lee has battled injuries throughout his pro career, but when he has been healthy, he is a difference-maker. Carter led the Cowboys with five interceptions in 2014 but could not make enough plays.
Drafting Smith in 2016 represented one of the Cowboys’ riskiest moves. A nerve issue after suffering torn ligaments in his knee in his final game at Notre Dame led more than a few teams to keep him off their draft board. There was no guarantee he would play again. After missing his rookie season, Smith has started every game the past three seasons, but is coming off a down year and needs to find his 2018 form.
The Cowboys are believing Diggs will start a new trend on second-rounders who find success and eventually sign a second contract.
“I’m trying to take myself to as high as I can, go as far as I can,” Diggs said. “And I feel like I can do that.”