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Why the NFL is so split on Trevon Diggs

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In more ways than one, Trevon Diggs is taking the NFL by storm. Depending on who you’re talking to, the second year cornerback is either second coming of Deion Sanders, or loose cannon who gives up as much as he takes. The wide disparity everyone’s assessment is understandable, even if it is clearly partisan.

Trevon Diggs’ six interceptions leads the NFL (by a pretty wide margin) this season. Even going back to last year, he has nine interceptions over the past 10 games. The 6-foot-2 Alabama product is a turnover machine. As a converted WR, Diggs plays a unique brand of football. When the ball is in the air, it’s his, and unlike most ball-hawking DBs, Diggs has the sure hands to go with his aggressively elite ball skills.

Trevon Diggs’ style of play makes him a difficult assessment for the Dallas Cowboys, but the numbers paint a clear picture

But Diggs is also a gambler. He’s on pace to give up a whopping 843 yards this season. He reads passers and baits them into a false sense of security. Sometimes that results in easy completions and sometimes it brings on game-changing interceptions. There’s good and there’s bad and both are true at the same time.

Diggs isn’t a lockdown CB in the traditional sense, or frankly, any sense. With the utmost confidence in his make-up speed and ability to calculate angles and high points, Diggs often allows receivers to separate. That’s why his coverage grades come off so puzzling.

Pro Football Focus has Diggs graded as the 37th CB in the NFL right now. This, despite the fact he’s gone 205 snaps without giving up a touchdown. And despite the fact he allows a league-worst (but best for him) -20 CPOA when targeted. Most telling is his league-leading negative EPA score when targeted (he’s by far the top CB).

Teams are averaging a passer rating of 38.9 when targeting Diggs. They’d literally have a higher rating spiking the ball into the turf.

EPA places value on each and every play. It tells whether a play helps (positive score) or hurt (negative) the offense’s chances of scoring points and to what degree. Diggs has a net -29 score meaning the plays he’s making far out weigh the plays he’s giving up. Teams are averaging a passer rating of 38.9 when targeting Diggs. They’d literally have a higher rating spiking the ball into the turf.

As a film watcher, I don’t agree with PFF’s rating, but I understand why they are critical. Watching the All-22 Diggs routinely gives up separation. Whether the ball goes his way or not, standardized grading is right to ding him for this.

It’s the same reason Marcus Peters‘ grades were all over the board most of his career. He was a bit of a gambler who gave up yards and also stole yards. He felt if he could make one game-changing play, it would more than make up for a few completions. And he’s mostly right since the average INT is worth enough EPA to make up for handful or standard completions.

It’s no wonder why I related Trevon Diggs to Marcus Peters early in his rookie year. He was showing the same qualities and mindset Peters was, and it was only a matter of time before he started profiting. As we can all see, he’s starting to profit. And this year he’s out Marcus Peter-ing Marcus Peters himself.

Deion Sanders broke the standardized grading rubric 25-years-ago and Diggs is doing the same dang thing today.

As a playmaking Dallas Cowboys cornerback, it’s understandable he’s garnering some fair but premature Deion Sanders’ comparisons. Sanders broke the standardized grading rubric 25-years-ago and Diggs is doing the same dang thing today.

Sanders had arguably the best defensive ball skills the NFL had ever seen. He baited QBs into throwing his way and made them pay with his ridiculous closing speed and jaw-dropping plays on the ball. If a grader didn’t know what Deion was-doing/could-do they’d be inclined to ding for lose coverage on some routine plays as well. Only after learning Deion’s make-up abilities, strategy, and mindset do we know that Deion was in complete control and that “separation” was 100 percent according to plan.

Now, clearly Trevon Diggs has not reached those levels and probably never will. Deion was off-the-charts special and we’ll probably never see anyone like him. But Trevon is following a similar path and that’s what makes grading him so difficult and everyone’s analysis so different. Until graders start realizing his coverage is according to plan and not a mistake, we’re likely to see more of the same scores.

Whether he’s a great CB or not is not really up for debate. As we see by the numbers, the value of the plays he’s making is far out-weighing the plays he’s allowing. His NFL leading – 29 EPA when targeted shows teams are shooting themselves in the foot when they throw his way. The expected points place value on each and every play, and right now show the plays he’s made are far more valuable than the plays he’s given up.

Things are destined to change. QBs are going to stop testing him. Anthony Brown, the CB who starts opposite him, is already the most targeted CB in the NFL. Such was often the case for whoever started with Deion Sanders back in the day.

Slowly, passers are going to back off Diggs, opting to avoid him at all costs. Graders will take notice and Diggs will have the opportunity to flirt with that elusive “shutdown” label that hasn’t been applicable since Deion last wore the Star.

But until then, Trevon Diggs will operate in the middle. He float between gambler who gives up too much and play-maker who will make you pay. He’ll bait passers and big plays will come. Graders will struggle and the Dallas Cowboys will profit.

The numbers show us exactly how good Trevon Diggs is. He’s the best.

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