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IMPACT: Can Cowboys Survive Trevon Diggs Injury?


(Editor's note: The content provided is based on opinions and/or perspective of the editorial staff and not the Cowboys football staff or organization.)

FRISCO, TX — Trevon Diggs is done for the season, but the Dallas Cowboys are not. It doesn't matter how you read that sentence, it's true, because they not only have 15 regular season games remaining but additionally, unlike seasons prior, they have the depth to potentially weather such a devastating blow.

Diggs suffered a torn ACL in practice on Thursday, as the team ran drills on grass at their world headquarters in North Texas, leaving on crutches to undergo an MRI that confirmed the worst.

It marks the third torn ACL suffered by the Cowboys in roughly a month — losing both DeMarvion Overshown and John Stephens, Jr. (two standout rookies) in preseason play.

Diggs joins them on season-ending injured reserve.

The record-setting cornerback recently declared he wants to be the “perfect cornerback” for the Cowboys after inking an extension this summer, and he was off to a sensational start to the season — ballhawking as usual but also putting a heightened level of physicality on display that, in Week 1, resulted in a tip-drill pick-six for DaRon Bland and a fumble recovery for Israel Mukuamu.

More on those two in a moment.

Let's be clear, losing Diggs for any amount of time is a gut punch. Losing him for the rest of the season, and when you're only two games in, can be the equivalent of an uppercut from Mike Tyson in his prime. That is unless you have the jaw to withstand it, and the Cowboys do.

This news will undoubtedly make Dallas take a step back to gather themselves before figuring out what counterpunches to throw at the problem and, in 2023, they're as close to being Evander Holyfield as they've ever been.

In 2022, the loss of both Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown wrecked the cornerback depth chart, leading to Kelvin Joseph being thrown into a fire he proved unready to extinguish, instead becoming gasoline to the issue. He was eventually replaced by Nahshon Wright as the boundary cornerback opposite Diggs, and Wright showed flashes but as the Cowboys approached the playoffs, head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn needed more consistency.

So, in Tampa, against the best QB to ever play the game in Tom Brady, it was Mukuamu getting the start instead of Joseph or Wright.

Mukuamu played very well, impressive when considering he was inactive for all but two regular season games and hadn't started in those two outings, and having dropped down from safety to be the postseason band-aid, no less.

What many often forget is that Mukuamu is a former second-team All-SEC talent at cornerback, not safety, having been mostly relegated to the latter by the Cowboys after getting the nod as their sixth-round pick in 2021.

That brings us to the question of depth, of which the Cowboys aren't lacking, and especially after having traded for Stephon Gilmore this offseason, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year whose inaugural game for Dallas produced an interception, four tackles and a low passer rating when targeted by Daniel Jones.

Without Gilmore, the injury to Diggs would be enough to put the secondary in ICU.

Furthermore, the timing for the return of ballhawking cornerback Jourdan Lewis could not possibly have been more fortuitous for the Dallas defense — the physical veteran returned to action in the 30-10 defeat of the New York Jets in Week 2 and looked great doing so.

His coverage was as sticky as it's ever been, and a key pass break up against Randall Cobb that prevented what would've been a critical third-down conversion by Zach Wilson serves as evidence to that point.

Lewis, who was mostly on a pitch count last week, will likely now return to his status as full-time nickel corner going forward. That means Bland, who led the team in interceptions last season as a rookie fifth-round pick out of Fresno State, will likely move outside, where he took a ton of reps in training camp in preparation for a scheme-altering injury to the defensive secondary.

With Gilmore and Bland securing the outside and Lewis back in the comfort of his familiar digs, no pun intended, the Cowboys are admittedly not fielding the equivalent of having Diggs on the field, but they're also far from the dire straits they fought desperately through last winter.

Sidebar: Anthony Brown was recently signed and immediately released by the San Francisco 49ers, but I don't get the impression the Cowboys are interested right now in a reunion with their former cornerback, at least right now, anyway.

And it's too soon to discuss a possible trade, though that sentiment will change around the trade deadline if it needs to.

Turning eyes to what happens behind Gilmore, Bland and Lewis will thrust Mukuamu into the depth equation for a second consecutive season, and for the aforementioned reasons (2022 and collegiate résumé), but also count on Noah Igbinoghene getting a very real chance now to see if the trade to Dallas is indeed an “answered prayer”.

Igbinoghene is a former first-round pick acquired from the Dolphins hours ahead of final roster cuts in late August, exploding onto the scene in his debut with a scoop-and-score against the Giants on a blocked fumble in Week 1, labeling the trade as the “fresh start” that “I need”.

Three weeks later, it's one the Cowboys need as well.

I expect Igbinoghene to ascend to the role of CB4, effective immediately, but as a boundary corner, seeing as that's his specialty and what made the former state track-and-field champion (and son of two former Olympic track athletes) a standout at Auburn. His speed and skill set wouldn't be something I view as ready-made for a backup nickel corner, but instead to rotate with Bland and Gilmore — as needed.

From there, the Cowboys will have to look to another rookie late-round pick to step up in short order, not unlike what Bland was subjected to last season before having a breakout season.

I am speaking about Eric Scott, the 2023 sixth-round pick landing in Dallas after the Cowboys traded up to grab him in April. Scott has not only the build to play in the nickel, but his demeanor is physical, nasty and one that welcomes press coverage and a chance to get physical with receivers before they ever have a chance to get into their route.

Any plan to bring Scott along slowly and deliberately is out the window now, and everything he's learned from guys like Lewis, Bland and others will need to come into play sooner than later.

He's got the ability, but he'll need to minimize and/or eliminate any would-be rookie errors, which is not impossible. It's on him to seek the challenge that's in front of him and attack it.

Scott finished his career at Southern Miss with 78 tackles, 12 pass breakups, five interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 27 starts over three seasons.

There's talent there, or the Cowboys wouldn't have traded up for him.

Lastly, so to speak, there's an emergency talent in Josh Butler, who is waiting in the wings on the team's practice squad and Wright, whom I mentioned earlier, being two games away from eligibility for activation from injured reserve. Buter, a native of Mesquite, TX, spent his collegiate career at Michigan State before taking his talents to the USFL (see KaVontae Turpin and Brandon Aubrey) before ultimately signing with the Cowboys in July.

As it stands, Butler would provide immediate special teams assistance in addition to emergency CB depth, which puts him in the same breath as C.J. Goodwin, though the latter is the benchmark for what a special teams ace should be in the NFL.

Because of Goodwin's value on special teams, he's rarely deployed as a cornerback, unless the game is well in-hand or in the case of a pile of injuries, but he's an option as well.

Losing Diggs is a jaw-rattling blow for the Cowboys, but this version of their defense (including the league's best pass rush, an upgraded run defense and their unit of safeties that will now feature the return of a tone-setter in Donovan Wilson to the mix) are more designed than ever to withstand such a punch. The NFL season is a 17-round fight, and 20-21 rounds if you want to seize everything.

Keep a close eye on how McCarthy and Quinn come out of their … corner … swinging after the loss of Diggs.

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