The Dallas Cowboys decided they could wait to address their defense in the NFL draft when a receiver they didn’t expect to be available was there for the taking in the first round.
Those greater needs were the focus on Day 2.
The Cowboys took Alabama cornerback Trevon Diggs with the 51st overall choice in the second round and defensive tackle Neville Gallimore of Oklahoma at No. 82 in the third round Friday night.
The Cowboys had pivoted away from defense a night earlier because Gallimore’s teammate, receiver CeeDee Lamb, was surprisingly available with the 17th overall pick. Dallas had Lamb pegged at No. 6.
Executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said the Cowboys actually had a tough call between Diggs and Gallimore in the second round, so they were thrilled that Gallimore was still there 32 picks later.
”It really played out in our favor,” Jones said. ”If you do stay patient, you do stay true to your board, I do think things work out for you.”
Dallas lost its best cornerback in free agency when Byron Jones signed with Miami. Diggs, the younger brother of Buffalo receiver Stefon Diggs, had three interceptions and tied for Alabama’s team lead with eight pass breakups.
The younger Diggs went 95 picks earlier than his brother five years ago. Stefon Diggs was drafted by Minnesota in the fifth round but ended up getting traded to the Bills for several picks, including a first-rounder this year.
”I relied on him a lot because he went through everything,” Trevon Diggs said. ”He’s my father figure, so it’s a blessing to have him, to ask him questions. I’m going to share this moment with him.”
The Cowboys tied for last in the NFL in interceptions last year and have been among the worst in the league in that category the past five seasons. They have young cornerbacks they like in Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis, but the position was still one of need.
”That’s something that I try to work on in practices; catching the ball, getting interceptions, creating turnovers,” Diggs said. ”That’s something they valued a lot at Alabama, so I made that important for me.”
Diggs will have a good chance to start, most likely alongside Awuzie, a second-round pick three years ago. Brown and Lewis have shown promise, and the Cowboys signed four-year veteran Maurice Canady in free agency. Among those players, Brown is the oldest at 26.
The interior of the defensive line wasn’t considered as much of a need as pass-rushing ends because of the addition of Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe in free agency.
The Cowboys still settled on the the 6-foot-2, 304-pound Gallimore, who had four sacks and 7 1/2 tackles for loss as the Sooners reached the College Football Playoff semifinals last season.
Not long after he was picked, Gallimore exchanged texts with McCoy, a former Oklahoma standout who was the third overall pick by Tampa Bay 10 years ago. McCoy made six Pro Bowls in nine seasons with the Buccaneers before spending last season with Carolina.
”Being a fan of his game, I knew very quickly if I wanted that opportunity to play at the next level, he was one of the guys that I’d have to really just look at and see how his approach was and everything,” said Gallimore, now one of two natives of Canada on the Dallas defensive line along with Tyrone Crawford, who also went in the third round eight years ago.
The Cowboys also hope to boost a pass rush led by DeMarcus Lawrence with the reinstatement of suspended defensive ends Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory. Both are sidelined by violations of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
The Cowboys hired an offensive mind in Mike McCarthy to replace Jason Garrett, whose contract wasn’t renewed after a season of high expectations ended with an 8-8 record and no trip to the playoffs.
Dallas gave McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl with Aaron Rodgers and developed several star receivers in Green Bay, another weapon in Lamb. The breakaway threat joins Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and receiver Amari Cooper, who signed a $100 million contract last month.
The Cowboys also have two perennial Pro Bowlers in the offensive line in left tackle Tyron Smith and right guard Zack Martin, so the question now is now a retooled defense can complement what is shaping up to be a high-powered offense.
Dallas has four picks left going into the final day of the draft: a fourth round choice, two fifths and a seventh.
”To be halfway through the draft and to be here with these three players feels great,” McCarthy said. ”Trevon is someone that we spent a lot of time on. I think he’s going to be a great fit for how we want to play on defense.”
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