Much has been made of Trevon Diggs’ early success through nine weeks. A wideout turned corner out of the University of Alabama, Diggs’ name has become synonymous with early conversations for Defensive Player of the Year. With seven interceptions through the first six weeks, at one point, it looked like the award could be a runaway in favor of Diggs as the backend anchor of a then 5-1 Dallas Cowboys defense. However, as you take the ball production mask off of Diggs’ game and get into the guts of his ability as a boundary corner, an ugly truth begins to reveal itself.
Despite leading the league in picks as we enter Week 10, he also leads all corners in penalties, and yards allowed—two stat categories where you don’t want to find your name atop the chart as a perimeter defender. After a blazing start to the season, a fall back to reality was expected despite some comparing him to the league’s elite.
A second-year talent that was targeted nearly eight times a game last fall in 11 starts, Diggs’ game, from a coverage standpoint, has not improved in his sophomore campaign. A fundamentally weak corner with stiff hips and a game still at the beginning stages as a CB1 at the NFL level, Diggs has often found himself as a defender to target from opposing signal-callers.
Looking around the league and its past DPOY candidates, offenses tend to gameplan around them. You won’t see teams running at Aaron Donald or blocking T.J. Watt with a tight end, and you surely won’t see offensive coordinators scheming to target Jalen Ramsey or Jaire Alexander in coverage. The same can be said about Myles Garrett and Khalil Mack in the front seven, and Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White on the backend. Why that matters is how teams have attacked Diggs so far this season.
From Dallas’ opening week loss against Tom Brady to their most recent against Teddy Bridgewater’s Denver Broncos, no matter the skill level of the opposing quarterback or opposing pass-catchers, teams have gone at No. 7 and are enjoying success. Not known as a high-flying wideout or perimeter burner by any means, Broncos receiver Tim Patrick single-handedly exposed Diggs’ weaknesses in 48 minutes in Week 9 to the tune of four catches for 85 yards (21.2 avg) and a touchdown in Denver’s 30-16 drubbing of Dallas last Sunday.
While his seven interceptions look great on a stat sheet, allowing 18.5 yards per catch is a disgustingly high number and represents a small look into just how often Diggs has been picked on through eight games. Whether he thrives in man better than in zone, or vice versa, no one will ever downplay ball production. A ballhawk by nature due to his success as a prep athlete on the opposite side of the football, Diggs’ ability to mirror route concepts as a ball-hungry corner ranks among the tops in football. However, corners who have made a living off their fundamental ability to create turnovers isn’t anything new to the NFL landscape. Marcus Peters, Xavien Howard, and farther back, DeAngelo Hall, neither of the aforementioned pass game vultures were ever considered for a DPOY trophy—and again, while interceptions look nice, 2019 DPOY Stephon Gilmore amassed just six in 16 games, allowing 599 yards on 51 completions (101 targets) at 11.7 YPC compared to Diggs who’s allowed 377 yards (49 targets) in eight games (25 completions) and is on pace to eclipse the 800-yard mark in yards allowed.
The fact of the matter is, elite corners don’t see much action in the pass game. They are placed on the cliche “island” and whoever lines up opposite them is considered an afterthought when it comes to a quarterback's progression. In just his second season, don’t let Diggs’ ball production sway your thought process when microscoping his ability as a perimeter defender—he's been nothing more than average this fall.
Given his makeup and his instincts, the ceiling on Diggs is uncapped. He just has a long, long way to go to be a dominant cover corner and a potential DPOY candidate.