A video went viral of second-year receiver Simi Fehoko, who did not catch a pass as a rookie last season, beating Diggs, an All-Pro corner, on a deep pass in a one-on-one drill. It didn’t matter that there was neither a pass rush nor safety help -- it fed into a narrative that Diggs gives up too many big plays.
Diggs ended up deleting his Twitter account the same day.
“It's toxic,” Diggs said of social media. “I usually don’t be on Twitter a lot, but I’m in camp. I’m trying to focus, trying to lock in and just be better every day.”
On one hand, Diggs’ second season in the NFL was historic because of his 11 interceptions. On the other, he was the only cornerback to allow more than 1,000 receiving yards to opponents last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Diggs is entering his third season in the NFL and sixth as a defensive back after switching over from wide receiver his sophomore season at Alabama.
“I feel like I’ve grown up a lot,” Diggs said. “I know a lot of football and have seen a lot of football now so it’s just kind of natural to me and I do feel a lot better than last year.”
Before Diggs’ 11 interceptions in 2021, the last player in the NFL to record that many picks in a season was Cowboys defensive back Everson Walls in 1981. Diggs’ seven interceptions in the first six games were the most since Hall of Famer Rod Woodson did it in 1993.
Diggs also returned two interceptions for touchdowns. He added 21 pass deflections, becoming the first player since that stat started being tracked in 1984 to have 11 interceptions and more than 20 pass breakups in a season. He became the first Cowboys cornerback to earn first-team All-Pro honors since Deion Sanders in 1999.
But on the negative side of the balance sheet, Diggs was the nearest defender in allowing 790 yards on 46-of-86 passing and four touchdowns, according to NFL Next Gen stats. In an ESPN survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players, Diggs was rated the 10th-best cornerback. For what it’s worth, in the Madden ratings, Diggs checked in at No. 19 among cornerbacks.
Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay calls piling on Diggs’ play “clickbait.”
“The [hardest position in the NFL] is quarterback. The second-hardest is corner in the NFL,” McClay said. “And No. 1, to be able to match up and cover the best receiver that he does sometimes, to be able to go and get the football, all those different things that he does, he has to support the run, he’s an All-Pro player. And there’s been very few that do everything 100% complete at the top level.”
That’s not to excuse the big plays, especially since he has proven to be susceptible to double moves.
“Ain’t nobody perfect but trying to be perfect on the field and clean up some technical things,” Diggs said.
Secondary coach Al Harris likes to remind people that Diggs remains a young player.
“The guys are going to make plays,” Harris said of opposing receivers. “Do we expect for our guys not to make plays? No, but [opponents] are going to make plays. There’s some areas that we need to clean up and that’s what we work at.”
The Cowboys drafted Diggs in the second round in 2020 after they made no real effort to retain cornerback Byron Jones before free agency began. What was the knock on Jones, a 2015 first-round pick? He could not take the ball away. He had two interceptions in five seasons. Yet in 2019, he gave up fewer than 400 yards while lining up against some of the top receivers in the game.
Now the Cowboys have Diggs, who had 14 interceptions in his first 28 games, and he is knocked for allowing too many yards.
Diggs' interception goal in 2022 is to top his 2021 total. The last time a player recorded consecutive double-digit interception seasons was Tom Keane of the Dallas Texans and Baltimore Colts in 1952-53. Can someone expect that from Diggs again?
“You can’t,” Harris said. "I don’t either but, you know, you just set your goals high.”
Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta joked that a team wants “both,” when it comes to cornerback. One who doesn’t give up yards and takes the ball away. There’s just not many of those guys walking the earth.
“It’s a very, very challenging position to play, probably one of the toughest in sports to play,” DeCosta said, echoing McClay. “You’ve got to have speed, athletic ability, but you’ve also got to have a warrior’s mentality.”
Maybe deleting his Twitter account gave too much credence to the noise, but if Diggs’ confidence has ever been affected by the plays allowed, he has hidden it well.
“Hate comes with success,” Diggs said. “All I can do is control what I can control on the field and let my play speak for myself. I can’t respond to everybody. I can’t reply to everybody, so I’d rather not say nothing at all and just perform on the field.”