Editor’s note: As a three-time all-pro defensive back with 47 career interceptions, former Tampa Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber knows a thing or two about ballhawking. The 33rd Team asked him which players currently in the NFL are the top ballhawks.
The best ballhawking corner in the league right now is Miami’s Xavien Howard. He’s big, fast and has unbelievable leaping skills. He also has soft hands. When Howard goes up for an interception, it’s not like he’s trying to just defend the football. He’s trying to catch the ball. That’s why he leads the league in interceptions over the last three seasons.
The Chargers’ J.C. Jackson really jumped out at me last year, and I had been sleeping on him when he was in New England. He’s not your prototypical, modern NFL cornerback. He’s not 6-2, he doesn’t have long arms. But he is a ball magnet. A lot of what gets him in front of passes is his knowledge of the game and his anticipation. Some of it is scheme-related. But he still has to catch the ball, and he does that as well as anybody in football right now.
Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys is phenomenal as a ballhawk. He’s physically gifted and mentally strong. You could make the point that he gives up a ton of yards, and he does — more than anybody in the league last year. But what stands out about him is his ability to go get the ball. He looks like a receiver, and he played receiver at Alabama before transitioning to defense; we all know how good his brother Stefon is at that, too.
What signifies a great corner in this league is the ability to take the ball away. Having good coverage skills and taking one side of the field away means nothing to me if you aren’t taking the ball away. Turnovers dictate outcomes, and Diggs is really good at forcing turnovers. I hate that he gives up a lot of yards. But I love the way he attacks the ball and forces turnovers. That ability he has is unparalleled. His coaches and the fans might get frustrated with him, but he’s just going to be a guy who you take the good with the bad. But the good is really good.
To be a more complete corner and not just a ballhawk, Trevon Diggs has to do the little things. Not every throw his way is an opportunity for an interception. Interceptions have to be timed perfectly, they have to be preparation meeting an opportunity to get the ball. Diggs gives up a lot of big plays because of how aggressive he is in coverage. You do appreciate that he’s always looking for a chance for a takeaway. Not every situation is good for that, though.
Sometimes, you just have to play with caution. And that athleticism he has so much of will make him able — in the right situations — to take the ball away. That’s just about technique and perfecting your craft, and he needs to work on that as his career continues to evolve.