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Each week during the 2021 season, we'll examine our NFL draft steal of the week — a first-, second- or third-year player whose NFL success has surpassed where he was drafted. We'll try to look back at the why and how of where he was selected and what we thought of that prospect prior to the draft.
Alabama CB Trevon Diggs
6-foot-1, 205 pounds
2020 NFL draft: Round 2, No. 51 overall
Diggs followed up an inconsistent but fairly promising rookie season with a hot start in 2021. He was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September, and just to prove that it was no fluke, Diggs was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week last Sunday, intercepting two passes in the win over the Carolina Panthers.
It's been a strong sophomore campaign for the former second-rounder. He's now roundly viewed, along with rookie Micah Parsons, as a cornerstone for a vastly improved Cowboys defense with an NFL-best five interceptions, including at least one in every game. Diggs appears well on his way to Pro Bowl status this season.
Only two other players, Hall of Famer Mike Haynes and possible future Hall of Famer Devin McCourty, also intercepted a pass in each of their first four games to start a season, an NFL record. Diggs is now halfway to the all-time record for the most consecutive games with a pick at any point, which is eight, held by the Raiders' Tom Morrow over two seasons back in 1962 and 1963.
The Cowboys lead the NFL in interceptions with eight overall. Last season, they had a total of 10 picks. Diggs' improvement has been a big reason why Dallas' defense has appeared much improved.
So why was Diggs only the eighth cornerback to be drafted in 2020? And how high is his ceiling? Let's revisit his pre-draft scouting report for answers to these questions.
Why did Trevon Diggs slip in the draft?
Measurables and ability? Check. Competition level? Check. Bloodlines. Another big check.
Yet Diggs slid to the middle of Round 2. Cornerback is among the most coveted positions in the draft, with many teams operating from a "you can never have too many" perspective. So what gives?
Well, it wasn't one single thing that hurt his stock.
Diggs was a converted wide receiver, so his technique and tackling remained a bit crude and unrefined. There were minor health concerns (foot and back) that clouded his evaluation. His career production was solid (four INTs, 17 passes defensed) but hardly eye-popping. Diggs also skipped Bama's bowl game, turned down a Senior Bowl invite and didn't run a 40-yard dash or perform other athletic workouts at the NFL scouting combine.
Perhaps most damning, though, was that the Bama coaching staff didn't exactly talk Diggs up as a no-brainer, high-floor prospect. The word "underachiever" made its way through scouting circles, and we suspect some of that came directly from the school.
Nick Saban even questioned Diggs' confidence at times. The Crimson Tide have produced some great thinkers, but his football IQ and recognition skills were challenged by some evaluators.
How we viewed Diggs as a prospect
Diggs did check a lot of boxes as a prospect, however.
He's a textbook height-weight-speed specimen, with ideal measurements for cornerback. Diggs played at the highest-caliber of competition at Alabama, with daily battles against elite receivers in practice and on Saturdays against top talents. He's also the brother of Buffalo Bills WR Stefon Diggs.
But the question marks we mentioned trumped some of his upside by the time the draft rolled around. A player who was considered a late first-round draft pick in slid to the mid-second by April.
We felt some of this was unnecessarily harsh, giving Diggs a grade just below the Round 1 level and rating him our 30th overall prospect in the 2020 NFL draft.
Our bottom line on how we thought he fit in the NFL:
Diggs would be an ideal fit as a press-man or zone corner (Cover 2 and 3 predominantly) who can be a matchup piece to handle bigger and more physical receivers. Pairing him with a savvy, veteran corner or a nurturing DBs coach also might bring out the best in Diggs in the long term.
In the hands of a strong defensive coaching staff, led by coordinator Dan Quinn, secondary coach Joe Whitt Jr. and DB coach Al Harris, Diggs has been terrific so far from a 3-1 Cowboys squad. Fellow CB Anthony Brown (who also is having a strong season) has been credited by Diggs for playing a mentor role for him, calling Brown a pseudo "big brother."
Projecting the career arc for cornerbacks is extremely difficult. The position is extremely demanding, especially in a league where the rules tend to work against them and in favor of the offense more often than not.
We've seen plenty of corners start their career with flurries of interceptions and then fall back to earth when opponents have had ample time to break down their deficiencies and weaknesses.
Diggs still has some stiffness in his hips and doesn't stick with faster and shiftier receivers as readily when singled up. He's also been highly aggressive, so it wouldn't be stunning to see offenses try to bait him into jumping routes.
But even so, it's hard not to be excited about Diggs' potential to grow. His talent level is high. He's currently in a system that highlights his strengths mostly. And Diggs' confidence appears to be at an all-time high. The future looks very bright, even if the picks don't keep rolling in.