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Even people who have been around the NFL for a long time admit they have no frame of reference for this.
Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs continued his one-man campaign to eliminate football’s forward pass on Sunday, hauling in his sixth interception of the season versus the Giants. The last Cowboys defender to haul in six picks in a season was Anthony Henry, in 2007. But Diggs has matched that total in the first five games.
Coaches, teammates, and staffers alike- and even one of the game’s all-time greats- can’t help but marvel at the second-year phenom’s ball skills, on full display during this blistering start to the season.
“I was standing there with Dak, and I’ll use his word: ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,'” Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said of the third-quarter play that saw Diggs rob Giants wide receiver C.J. Board on a deep bomb to thwart a potential comeback bid. “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. Playing at an extremely high level, confidence [is] off the charts. Just the way he goes after the football, it’s unique.”
His fellow Cowboys players have been just as awed as the fans.
“It never gets old,” rookie linebacker Micah Parsons said. “As long as he keeps getting picks, I’ll keep smiling. I’ll keep getting that pressure for him, you know what I mean?”
“The kid’s a baller, and it just astounds me how he goes and gets it every single day,” added linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. “It starts in practice. It starts with how he’s preparing day in and day out, so you’ve got to give the credit to him.”
“How many picks does he have? Six? That’s crazy… But if they keep throwing at the kid, he’s going to get more…” running back Ezekiel Elliott predicted. “If you keep throwing the ball at 7, he’s going to pick you off. I think it’s about time quarterbacks stop looking his way.”
Which only means more interception chances for others. Anthony Brown has gotten extra opportunities thanks to passers shying away from his fellow corner on the opposite side. The Purdue alum snagged an interception of his own late in Sunday’s game and returned it for a 45-yard touchdown, the first pick-six of his five-year career.
Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs is rightfully the talk of town, given NFL-high six interceptions and at least one in each game. But CB Anthony Brown is one drop from his own three-game streak.
His two INTs tie a single-season career high. First career pick-six came Sunday vs. Giants. pic.twitter.com/zVGcM4IgXZ
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) October 11, 2021
“We’re like, ‘Meet me in the end zone,'” Brown nodded to Diggs after the win. “That’s our motto every week.”
Perhaps most astonishing about Diggs’s league-leading total: it could be higher. As it is, he currently has more interceptions than 29 entire teams. But the 24-year-old had two other passes in his mitts on Sunday. And as has become typical for the youngster, Diggs was very focused after the game on the two throws he couldn’t steal.
“The one,” Diggs explained to media members after Sunday’s game, “I think it was a double move; he was trying to run an out. I jumped, but didn’t get my feet in. And then another one, he ran an over route. I think I dropped that one. But I had it my hands; I dropped that one.”
No matter. The pace Diggs is on has been enough to draw the attention of three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.
That social media shout-out made its way back to a humbled Diggs.
“It’s amazing. It’s a blessing,” Diggs said of the praise. “He’s someone that I was watching in college when I first came over to DB, I was like, ‘Who can I watch that’s similar to me, similar to my body type? He was one of the guys that I was really watching. That’s around when The Legion of Boom was there, so I was watching him doing a great job on the field. That’s somebody I still look up to. I have a tremendous amount of respect. So that means a lot to me.”
Dallas Cowboys staff writer Nick Eatman had to reach even further into the past to come up with a comparable to what Diggs is doing.
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this or write this,” Eatman posted on the team website, “but it’s got to be true. I haven’t seen a Dallas cornerback play like this since Deion Sanders, who actually never had more than five picks in a season with the Cowboys.”
Diggs’s unique ability to terrorize the league’s wide receivers comes in part from the fact that Diggs believed he would be one of them one day. It’s now well-covered territory that Diggs started his college career at Alabama as an offensive pass-catcher, and that it was Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban who convinced Diggs to switch to defense. He believes that experience as a receiver now gives him keen insight as to what the ones he’s charged with covering are trying to do against him.
“It’s actually easier being a former wide receiver,” Diggs explained. “I know all the routes. I know all the route angles. I know all the steps. So that makes things a lot easier. I can recognize; it’s not foreign to me. So I know exactly what’s going to happen.”
The NFL record for interceptions in a season is 14 (Dick “Night Train” Lane, 1952). The record for passes defended in a season is 31 (Darrelle Revis, 2009).
Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs is on pace to finish this season with 20 interceptions and 34 passes defended.
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 11, 2021
Diggs reflected on that positional turning point in Tuscaloosa after Sunday’s win in Dallas.
“I was hurt at first, honestly,” Diggs said. “I called my brother [Bills receiver Stefon Diggs]. I was crying. He’s not somone to say, ‘Oh, its okay.’ He was like, ‘No, come on, let’s go. Now we’ve got to go to work.’ He’s one of those types. And that’s exactly what I did. I sucked it up and just got back to work. I thank Saban for that. [He] said the league is looking for corners with your body type tall, long. That’s how he sold it. [Stefon] was like, ‘You can do it; you played it before. You’ve just got to grind.’ It’s all football is: it’s about the grind. Whatever you really believe in, you’ve got to really do do it and really achieve it. I believed I could be a good corner. So I worked, worked, worked, worked, worked.”
That work is paying off with a transcendent- and potentially-record-breaking- season at cornerback for America’s Team.
But it turns out Diggs may still harbor long-ago dreams of being on the other side of the ball.
“Diggs thinks he’s a receiver,” Cowboys passer Dak Prescott revealed. “During the week, he’s asked me for reps at receiver. I’m like, ‘Relax.’ But when you see a catch like that [third-quarter interception], maybe we can talk again.”
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