ARLINGTON, Texas – When Nick Saban first pitched the idea, Trevon Diggs cried.
NFL wide receiver Stefon Diggs’ younger brother wanted to be a wide receiver as well. He had arrived in Alabama with an urge to play on the offensive, his cornerback skills evident in high school, but his offensive potential was also the highest of any Maryland product in the 2016 recruiting class. Saban believed that Trevon Diggs’ length would translate even more powerfully to the defensive back.
“I was hurt early on, 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 have to get down to business,” he told then-teenager Trevon Diggs.
Fast forward to Sunday night, and Trevon Diggs, now a sophomore cornerback, had his sixth interception in five games this season. Before Diggs, no Cowboys player had intercepted a pass in each of the first five games of a season in 50 years. The franchise hasn’t even had a player intercepting six assists in a full season in 14 years.
Message from Diggs 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 fascinated them more than his ball skills. The 6-2 cornerback had three interceptions in his senior season in Alabama, breaking eight assists during the year. As a rookie, he deflected 14 passes, including three interceptions, despite combat injuries and a non-preseason debut, which were called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now in his second year pro he has been playing.
Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Sam Darnold (twice) and Mike Glennon have unwittingly completed assists to the young Cowboys star this season. Dallas teammates scoff at quarterbacks that keep throwing in Diggs’ direction, even though he’s used to traveling with the opposing top receivers. Management affectionately compares him to Hall of Fame defensive back Deion Sanders.
“It’s amazing what he’s doing,” Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones told a handful of reporters in the tunnels of AT&T Stadium on Sunday night. “I don’t want to overdo it here, but it was a bit Deion-esque how he put this together.
“I hope he will continue.”
Diggs’ interception this week came via Glennon after Giants starting quarterback Daniel Jones suffered a concussion. In the first game after the Cowboys extended their lead to 24-13, Glennon threw a ball about 50 yards deep towards wide receiver CJ Board. Diggs pointed out the take instead.
“When they get into formation like that it’s more of an action game, deeper back-to-back roads against max protect,” Diggs said after the game. “I read my keys, saw he ran the way to the station and played with the ball.”
Diggs’ technical explanations, like the interceptions themselves, have become a weekly staple in post-match press conferences. The cornerback has yet to attribute his dishes to chance or luck, and he doesn’t refuse to explain them with the oft-cited excuse that he hasn’t watched the movie yet. Diggs credits his experience as a receiver for giving him the in-depth knowledge needed to understand his covers and why an interception or not materialized. Two previous potential interceptions against the Giants, lost to an out-of-bounds drop and landing? Diggs can detail the double hit and the course he played against him on missed opportunities.
“It’s a little easier because, being a former wide receiver, I know all the roads, all the angles of the road, all the stages,” said Diggs. “I know exactly what’s going to happen, what you’re going to do to me.”
“It’s no stranger to me.
The regularity with which Diggs finds his interceptions, however, is indeed foreign.
Only 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 collected six balls in the first five games of the season. Cornerback Marcus Peters slipped six in five games for the Chiefs in 2016, then more in his last 10 games of the season. Prior to that, six interceptions by a single player in five weeks had not been seen since 1984.
“If they keep throwing at the kid he’ll get more,” said Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. “I mean, he almost had two more today. If you keep throwing the ball at 7, he’ll knock you out.
“I think it’s time for the quarterbacks to stop looking in his direction.”
Diggs is hoping the quarterbacks continue to look his way, including Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Diggs pushed Prescott to let him do reps at the receiver in practice. Prescott told the 23-year-old, “Relax.” Then he watched Diggs’ acrobatics again on Sunday.
“When you see a trap 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 carried away by the hype that accompanies accolades such as his NFC Defensive Player of the Month and Week awards. Of course, he appreciates the advice of those he respects, including five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman, tweeting Sunday that Diggs is set to win Defensive Player of the Year award.
But on match 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 asks. every week what his father does.
Next, Trevon Diggs looks back on his brother’s advice from the day Saban challenged his future as a wide receiver, the mindset he says will establish any of his NFL successes.
“You just have to grind,” said Diggs. “It’s all football, it’s a question of grind. Whatever you really believe, you really have to do it and really get it. I really believed I could be a good corner so I worked, worked, worked.
“I sucked it all off and just got back to work, and I thank Saban for that. I 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 Him