ARLINGTON, Texas – When Nick Saban first floated the idea, Trevon Diggs cried.
The young brother of NFL receiver Stefon Diggs wanted to be a receiver, too. He’d arrived at Alabama eager to play offense, his cornerback skills evident in high school but his offensive potential also ranked highest of any Maryland product in the 2016 recruiting class. Saban believed Trevon Diggs’ length would translate even more powerfully at defensive back.
“I was hurt at first, honestly,” Diggs said Sunday night after his Cowboys beat the Giants, 44-20. “I called my brother. I was crying.”
Stefon Diggs ditched the sympathy card in favor of motivation. “We’ve got to get to work,” he told a then-teenaged Trevon Diggs.
Fast forward to Sunday night, and Trevon Diggs—now a second-year cornerback—was securing his whopping sixth interception in five games this season. Prior to Diggs, no Cowboys player das intercepted a pass in each of the first five games of a season in 50 years. The franchise hasn’t even had a player intercept six passes throughout a full season in 14 years.
Diggs’ message to Saban now: “Thank you.”
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When the Cowboys selected Diggs in the second round of the 2020 NFL draft, no trait mesmerized them more than his ball skills. The 6-2 cornerback had nabbed three interceptions his senior season at Alabama, breaking up eight passes on the year. As a rookie. he deflected 14 passes, including three interceptions, despite battling injuries and debuting without a preseason, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now in his second pro year, he has starred.
Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Sam Darnold (twice) and Mike Glennon have unintentionally completed passes to the Cowboys’ young standout this season. Dallas teammates laugh at quarterbacks continuing to throw in Diggs’ direction, even if he has taken to traveling with opponents’ top receivers. Management compares him fondly to Hall of Fame defensive back Deion Sanders.
“It’s incredible what he’s doing,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told a handful of reporters in the AT&T Stadium tunnels Sunday night. “I don’t want to overdo it here, but that was a little Deion-esque how he set that up.
“I hope he keeps it up.”
Diggs’ interception this week came via Glennon after Giants starting quarterback Daniel Jones was carted off with a concussion. On the first play after the Cowboys had extended their lead to 24-13, Glennon heaved a deep ball roughly 50 yards toward receiver C.J. Board. Diggs high-pointed the catch instead.
“When they get in formation like that, it’s more so play-action, back-to-back deeper routes against max protect,” Diggs said after the game. “I read my keys, saw he ran the post route and made a play on the ball.”
Diggs’ technical explanations, like the interceptions themselves, have become a weekly staple in postgame news conferences. The cornerback has yet to attribute his takeaways to chance or luck, nor does he decline to explain them with the oft-cited excuse that he hasn’t yet watched film. Diggs credits his receiver background with giving him the deep knowledge to understand his coverages and why an interception did or didn’t materialize. Two earlier potential interceptions against the Giants, lost to a drop and out-of-bounds landing? Diggs can detail the double move and over route played against him on the missed opportunities.
“It’s kind of easier because, being a former wide receiver, I know all the routes, all the route angles, all the steps,” Diggs said. “I know exactly what’s going to happen, what you’re going to do to me.
“It’s not foreign to me.”
The regularity with which Diggs finds his interceptions, however, is indeed foreign.
Just 11 players in league history have recorded an interception in each of the first five games of the NFL season, and only three players had previously picked off six balls in the first five games of the season. Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters swiped six in five games in 2016, then no more through the final 10 games he played of the season. Before that, six interceptions by a single player through five weeks had not been seen since 1984.
“If they keep throwing at the kid, he’s going to get more,” Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott said. “I mean, he almost had two other ones today. If you keep throwing the ball at 7, he’s going to pick you off.
“I think it’s about time for quarterbacks to stop looking his way.”
Diggs hopes quarterbacks continue to look his way, including Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Diggs has goading Prescott to let him take reps at receiver in practice. Prescott told the 23-year-old: “Relax.” Then he watched Diggs’ acrobatics yet again Sunday.
“When you see a catch like that you’re like, ‘You know, maybe we can talk again,’” Prescott said. “Diggs thinks he’s a receiver.”
The cornerback, meanwhile, is careful not to get caught up in the hype that comes with accolades like his NFC Defensive Player of the Month and Week awards. Sure, he appreciates the notice from those whom he respects, including five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman tweeting Sunday that Diggs should win Defensive Player of the Year.
But on game days, Diggs focuses less on social media and more on maximizing his preparation, from early-morning sauna trips to clear his mind to phone calls with his 4-year-old son Aaiden, who requests weekly which plays his dad make.
Then Trevon Diggs returns to his brother’s advice from the day Saban challenged his receiver future, the mindset that he believes will establish any of his success at the NFL level.
“You’ve just got to grind,” Diggs said. “That’s all football is, is about the grind. Whatever you really believe in, you’ve got to really go do it and really achieve it. I really believed that I could be a good corner so I worked, worked, worked.
“I sucked it up and just got back to work, and I thank Saban for that. Appreciate you.”
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys: Trevon Diggs reveals Nick Saban made him cry, how it helped