FRISCO – The conversations took place at two different locations at The Star.
Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs was standing outside the equipment room defending himself with a conviction that he will accomplish his goal of becoming the best at his position in the NFL.
About an hour later, coach Mike McCarthy was discussing players taking the next step in their careers, especially after not having a normal offseason due to the pandemic in 2020, when the conversations moved to Diggs’ perceived faults.
McCarthy, standing on a small stage in the atrium of The Star, pushed back against the narrative Diggs takes too many chances on defense to his detriment.
Yes, this is the world Diggs and the Cowboys face as their best cornerback enters the third season of a promising career.
Last season, Diggs led the NFL with 11 interceptions, tying a franchise record set by Everson Walls in 1985. Diggs became the first Cowboys cornerback named to the All-Pro team since Deion Sanders got the call in 1999. He also was one of just four players in league history to record an interception in the first six games of a season. In addition, Diggs became the second player since 1970 to pick off seven passes in the first six games of a year.
How could anyone be critical of what Diggs produced in 2021?
Bucky Brooks, a respected NFL.com analyst who played five seasons in the NFL and was a regional scout for Seattle and Carolina, offered his top five corners in the NFL.
No Diggs in the Top 5. JC Jackson (Chargers), Jalen Ramsey (Rams), Denzel Ward (Browns), Jaire Alexander (Packers) and Xavien Howard (Dolphins) made the list.
“That’s his opinion,” Diggs said. “Bucky feels like I’m not one of the top (five), that’s what it is. He said I wasn’t one of the top corners coming out of college, too. Now look.”
Pick your poison
The NFL’s 2021 interception leaders:
|Player||Team||INTs||Targeted||QB comp %||Yards allowed||TDs allowed|
Source: Pro Football Reference
You can’t deny the impact Diggs has on this defense that features growing young stars, led by linebacker Micah Parsons mixed with veterans such as defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence.
The criticism of Diggs come from people reading the stats. Last season, Diggs, while being targeted 103 times, allowed 907 passing yards and four touchdowns. Diggs also gave up 411 yards after contact.
If you compare Diggs’ numbers to Brooks’ No. 1 corner on his list — Jackson, who left the Patriots to sign a five-year deal with the Chargers this offseason — it might justify Brooks’ rankings.
Jackson picked off eight passes for the Patriots. He was targeted 106 times and gave up three touchdowns and 658 yards. Opposing quarterbacks completed 49.1% of their passes against Jackson. Quarterbacks completed 52.4% against Diggs.
The critics will point out Diggs’ picks came when he took chances that could have led to long receptions and eventually touchdowns if they didn’t work out.
“I don’t know what taking chances mean,” Diggs said. “I play football.”
In a follow up question a few days after making that statement, Diggs replied, “I never gave up a 100-yard game, never gave up 100-yard game to nobody, no one has never had 100 yards on me. We play 18 games, so somebody gets 60 yards a game. Like, we play 18 games, it’s not hard to get that.”
In the Cowboys’ defense, cornerbacks are in single coverage with little deep help. It means Diggs is on his own. It’s easier to take chances — or in Diggs’ words, play football — with a safety protecting the back end of the defense.
But making plays on the ball is the goal.
“We play real man coverage, no help,” Diggs said. “I follow the No. 1 receiver. I really, really be on the field for real. I’m not saying don’t look at (the numbers). You can do what you want. It’s your opinion at the end of the day. But ain’t nobody doing what I’m doing, simple as that.”
The Cowboys, of course, agree with Diggs’ assessment of his play.
When Diggs entered the league in 2020, he didn’t have the traditional offseason of practicing on the field and participating in in-person meetings because of the restrictions enforced due to the coronavirus pandemic. Diggs had three picks his rookie season and gave up five touchdowns and 667 receiving yards.
Once NFL teams were allowed to have offseason on-the-field work, he improved dramatically. It got to the point where maybe quarterbacks tried to avoid him. However, because of his style of play, quarterbacks went after him.
“Chances or playing aggressive? I think there’s a fine line between that,” McCarthy said. “And I would say a big part of his success is his ball skills. I don’t know. I’m trying to think back over the years. Obviously, Deion (Sanders) and some of those, when the ball went up in the air you just assumed Deion was coming down with it. Diggs has some of that, too. You’re not throwing 50/50 balls when you throw it his way. You don’t get that way by playing cautious, too. So it’s a balance; he’s young.”
In two NFL seasons, Diggs has 14 interceptions. Compared to Sanders, Prime Time had eight over 31 games. Darrelle Revis, considered the best corner of his generation, had eight interceptions in two NFL seasons spanning 32 games.
Diggs has a long way to go before getting fair comparisons to Sanders and Revis. He admits he needs to continue working on his game. Diggs knows quarterbacks will challenge him because of his aggressive nature. There is danger with attacking Diggs; he could either pick off the pass or knock it away.
If he keeps up this style, he said he’ll achieve his goal.
“I want to be the best DB out,” he said. “Period.”
Checking the stats
A look at Trevon Diggs’ key career statistics:
|Year||Targets||QB comp %||Yards allowed||TDs allowed||YAC|
Source: Pro Football Reference
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