As the regular season came to an end, Trevon Diggs finished a phenomenal season, in which he tied Everson Walls’ 1981 Cowboys record for single-season interceptions with 11. It is no secret the second-year player out of Alabama has put himself in elite company with his performance this year. Looking at some key cornerback stats, we can provide some context and comparisons to his legendary season, while sparking some debate over the importance of what it means to be a top-tier cornerback in the NFL.
The first comparison is Jalen Ramsey and the season he put together. It is not necessarily as historic as the others mentioned but still serves as a good benchmark for a corner playing at the top of his game, as he has been the consensus top player at his position over the past few years. Next is 2019 Stephon Gilmore. His 2019 season is well regarded as one of the top performances by a corner over the past decade, as he took home the hardware for the DPOY. Lastly, we looked at 2009 Darrelle Revis and 2012 Richard Sherman. These two seasons by the respective cornerbacks will remain in history as two of the most dominant seasons ever by cornerbacks.
The debate over Trevon Diggs’ season is focused on the effect of interceptions for a cornerback, as interceptions are the most common statistic that people look at. However, it does not tell the whole story. Courtesy of Pro Football Focus, we are able to provide many other statistics to understand the performance of a defensive back.
We have broken cornerback-play down into two lenses. The first lens takes a look at the basic box score statistics like catches allowed, yards allowed, TDs allowed interceptions, and more. The second lens looks at more specific rate statistics like targets per coverage snaps, completion percentage when targeted, opposing QB’s passer rating when targeted, and forced incompletion percentage.
Overall, the premise of the debate is how important interceptions are to cornerback play? Do you value a cornerback who is more likely to shut down an opposing wide receiver by isolating him and causing him not to be targeted, or do you value one who will give up catches and yards, but will create more turnovers? This debate does not solely pertain to cornerback play, it incorporates the bend-don’t break mindset of many defenses. However, cornerback play is perhaps the most useful lens to look through.
|Year||Player Name||Coverage Snaps||Targets||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Interceptions||Forced Inc|
In the table above, we can see the traditional counting stats for cornerbacks. The initial takeaways are the utter-dominance by 2009 Revis or 2012 Sherman. Many have seen the graphics of the top receivers visiting Revis Island in 2009 and getting stranded. Despite being targeted the second-most in the league, Revis allowed the 51st and 64th most receptions and yards.
On the flip side for Diggs, he has demonstrated his special ball skills, as he has intercepted the opposing QB, a league-high, 11 times. That said, he has also allowed the most yards in the league. The 1,051 yard mark is the most yards given up by a CB since 2016, when Vernon Hargreaves allowed 1,071 yards.
|Year||Player Name||CTGT%||Completion Pct||Passer Rating||Forced Inc%|
Looking at the next table, we, once again, are exposed to Revis’ dominance. He allowed the lowest completion percentage and passer rating when targeted while having the highest percentage of forced incompletions.
In 2021, Jalen Ramsey forced incompletions at a high rate, but also allowed the highest completion percentage and passer rating out of the group. Looking at Trevon Diggs’ season, despite his 11 interceptions, while still impressive, he has allowed the 15th lowest passer rating to opposing QBs and forced incompletions at only the 33rd highest rate out of CBs.
In the end, all of these impressive cornerback performances provide insight into the unique and impressive season of Trevon Diggs. Diggs has created a lot of turnovers but has not been a true shut-down corner, like some of the other corners we have highlighted. Both the corner who creates turnovers but allows a lot of catches and the corner who may not create as many turnovers but does not allow many catches, are very valuable to their teams. While most stats suggest that the shut-down corner may be more important, it is interesting to see the different styles of cornerback play and the importance of interceptions in their play.