Trevon Diggs is a monster.
Through five weeks of the 2021 season, he has not yet gone one game without an interception, and he leads the league with his six picks, twice as many as any other player. That’s double his pick total from last year and nearly halfway to the most single-season interceptions since Lester Hayes had 13 in 1980.
The Cowboys cornerback is clearly on pace for a historic season—not that he’ll necessarily keep up the more than one interception per game pace, but he is already having one of the best seasons by a secondary defender in history. For context, Deion Sanders, Prime Time himself, never had a season with more than seven picks. In the last 40 years, no defender has surpassed even 10 interceptions in a season. In this first-ever 17-game season, Diggs has 12 more games to tally just five more interceptions to do that.
Because of his high pick count, it is statistically correct to say that quarterbacks that have targeted Diggs were nearly just as likely to throw an interception as they were to have the pass fall incomplete. Of 26 targets, he’s allowed just 12 completions against the six interceptions, leaving just eight non-intercepted incomplete passes. Diggs could have even pulled that stat to an even seven picks with seven non-picked incompletions after an incredible play on a Daniel Jones pass on Sunday, but he couldn’t complete the catch in bounds.
As it stands right now, he’s the best cornerback in the NFL in 2021. But what is it that’s made Diggs so successful so far this season?
For one thing, it’s the fact that teams keep throwing the ball his way. As the Cowboys’ best secondary defender, he’s usually been following opponents’ No. 1 receiving threat around the field. With that being the case, quarterbacks are often looking to their WR1 as their first read on pass plays. What makes Diggs so special in these scenarios is his ability to bait the quarterback into thinking that the first read is open, just to either close the gap before extending his long arms to snag the ball or giving the receiver juuuuust enough space before jumping the route with perfect timing to snatch the ball out of his opponent’s hands.
These plays are much, much easier said than done. It’s abundantly clear that Diggs does his homework on opposing teams with his ability to jump routes and read quarterbacks’ eyes the way he has. He’s also an incredible athlete with elite speed, quickness, and length.
Revisiting that interception against the Giants, it looked like receiver C.J. Board burned Diggs on the deep route. But as the ball traveled downfield, the cornerback used his elite speed to close the gap before leaping and twisting in the air to snatch the ball before it could even come close to Board’s hands. His play saved the Cowboys from giving up a touchdown and allowed Diggs to continue his impressive run of 205 coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown this season.
It’s that closing speed and length that Diggs uses to bait quarterbacks into making those kinds of throws before making them pay. When the ball is in the air, he’s tracking it then attacking it to make sure he’s the one that comes down with the football.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said it himself: “The ball goes up in the air, and he’s coming down with it. I don’t even think it’s a 50-50 ball anymore.”
One downside to Diggs’ style of play is his occasional susceptibility to getting burned on a well-run route if he tries to jump it too early.
He hasn’t been a “lockdown” cornerback in the sense that he still gives up some chunk yardage in coverage (14.3 yards per completion), but his weekly rising tally of interceptions, the opposing quarterback EPA of -29.0 when he’s the nearest defender—the next closest defender has quarterbacks at -16.2—and his 205-snap run without allowing a touchdown in coverage still puts him in the elite tier of NFL cornerbacks this season.
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