Cowboys' Trevon Diggs Is the NFL's Next Superstar Shutdown Cornerback
In seemingly every week in the NFL, a new player emerges as a potential star. Sometimes it's a flash in the pan, while others have real staying power.
The rigors of the high competition and workload make even good players look mediocre for long stretches, but there are always early indicators that a star has emerged.
Cornerbacks are one of the toughest positions to judge and project because of the nuance of the scheme and the position. Even the best cornerbacks fail to wipe out great receivers. That along with the rules gives the offensive a major advantage on the gridiron.
Diggs-ing Into The Numbers
The stats are absolutely impressive, with Diggs allowing the lowest passer rating in the league and zero touchdowns on 205 coverage snaps. Entering Week 5, NextGen Stats had Diggs leading the league in target EPA and performance when playing the ball. He added to his league-leading interception total this past week in the Cowboys' victory over the New York Giants.
Diggs has quickly shown he's got elite ball skills. His ability to play the ball and time his bursts is right there with Marcus Peters, Jalen Ramsey, and Xavien Howard. Unlike this group, most corners have lost too badly at this point of the play or lack the confidence needed to turn their head and take the ball.
The flashy plays from Diggs are easy to point out and don't necessarily speak to a well-developed and technical corner. Howard has improved as a playmaker and even as a cover corner but is still far from reliable on a weekly basis despite 10 interceptions and 20 pass deflections last year.
Peters, as well as veteran Patrick Peterson, are better examples of players who have gotten better while keeping their ball skills, despite a drop in overall production.
Diggs has piled on the production in his first 17 games which confirms his ascent into superstardom. He has nine interceptions and 24 pass deflections in that timeframe and leads the NFL in both categories this season. The 23-year-old has mastered how to utilize his 6-foot-2 frame to his advantage when he needs to.
Diggs' lengthy frame is needed most when the ball arrives. Disrupting receivers throughout the route needs to be subtle to avoid penalties. Most referees will allow contact as long as the corner finds the ball and isn't blatantly holding on for dear life.
Diggs doesn't have a lot of bulk on his lean frame but he outmuscled Kenny Golladay on the target above. Pinning a receiver to the sideline is often the best tactic for any corner. The worst outcome is the receiver makes an insane catch that requires the perfect pass and catch. Even in this scenario, the corner did his job.
Press coverage gets more publicity than off-man assignments due to the physicality and spotlight on the technique. Winning in press coverage is hard because the corner is at such a disadvantage. Footwork, hand placement, and focus must be perfect for the corner to stay in step with their receiver.
Diggs isn't asked to put his hands on his man and jam often but he does press well. The route above on Golladay was a crucial third-down crossing route. Most corners lose their target as the receiver sprints across the long side of the field, but Diggs stayed with his assignment and almost nabbed another interception as he headed downhill as the ball arrived.
This is consistently happening in 2021 and the list of top targets Diggs has faced lends credence to his emerging reputation. His length and aggressiveness at the catch point mean he doesn't need to be the perfect technician to win every down, but those traits help overcome the inevitable missteps.
Always Room For Improvement
There's still room for Diggs to improve, as the video above shows. Kadarius Toney immediately gained an advantage on Diggs as soon as the corner took a single false step with his inside foot off the line. Playing from behind is almost a sure-loss, and Diggs knew he lost as he tried to slap Toney's hip to slow the rookie's route.
There will be more plays like this one throughout the season for Diggs and every other top cornerback. But the rest of Diggs' film is incredibly strong for such a young talent.
His numbers and attention have given him the third-best NFL Defensive Player of the Year odds. I recommend putting a partial unit on him in case he continues to stack ball production.
Free bet: Trevon Diggs wins DPOY +900 via DraftKings Sportsbook
Photo: Getty Images