Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs recorded 11 interceptions this year. That’s the most by any player in the NFL in 40 years, and I don’t think his season is earning the respect that it deserves due to a couple of factors. Quite simply, I don’t think people understand how challenging it is to get 11 picks in a single season.
As a former cornerback myself, I understand how hard it is especially when you have the right technique. You see, when you're in man coverage, the correct technique is to key and mirror the man and when he gets to the top of his route, you close separation to the nearest hip. If you're playing the correct technique, you're not supposed to “look” at the quarterback until you are in the hip pocket of the receiver. Oftentimes, the ball is already in flight at that point, so by the time you get your eyes up, the ball is already on top of you. This makes the ball harder to catch because there's an old adage about playing the cornerback position that says “If you see the ball thrown, you will see it caught.”
However, if you're playing zone—which Dallas plays a lot of—you get the opportunity to play with vision more and react to the ball. You don’t have to be as disciplined with your eyes playing in zone, which in turn allows you to key the quarterback and the flight of the ball.
There have certainly been a good number of times this season where it seems as if Diggs is trailing the receiver who is en route to a big play. However, I would caution you to be careful with this. Just because you see a cornerback trailing a receiver who’s carrying the football, doesn’t mean that he's been beat. There are some coverages that call for a “trail” technique. It is in these situations where the corner doesn’t have to be “deeper than the deepest'' in their particular zone. They have now become reliant on help from the safety position.
Understanding the coverage the team is in gives you clarity on what a corner’s responsibilities are. Some of these advanced analytics can also be misleading. Analysts chart coverage snaps, targets, receptions allowed, and yards allowed, all of which are subjective and don’t factor in responsibility or context. Even charting “completion rate allowed” is irrelevant because Dallas plays predominantly zone coverage. In zone, you're taught to give up the underneath stuff and come up and make the tackle. In fact, the purpose of zone coverage is to not get beat deep. As a result, you give up the shorter throws intentionally.
Nonetheless, you cannot discredit Diggs’ value to that team. He helps their offense because he gives them extra possessions. The statistic that is most indicative of wins and losses is still turnovers. His presence gives Dallas the turnover advantage more often than not. His 11 interceptions (21 passes defensed) in 2021 are more than 12 teams in the NFL.
Sure, giving up yardage isn't ideal. However, a defense that bends without breaking is indicative of a good unit. As a result, Dallas gives up only 20 points per game, good for seventh-best in the NFL. So while the advanced analytics may suggest otherwise, it is obvious that Diggs has helped that defense and team overall far more than he has hurt them. Give the man his respect.