Five weeks into his second season in the NFL, it's hard to imagine a world where Trevon Diggs isn't a cornerback, but that very well could have been a reality.
Diggs kept his interception streak alive on Sunday against the Giants. The young defensive back has recorded at least one pick in every game thus far and has six total interceptions on the season. Only four teams in the NFL have as many interceptions as Diggs.
After Sunday's game, however, he explained that his ball skills are no accident, and that his career as a defensive back might never have happened if it were not for his former coach at Alabama, Nick Saban.
Diggs was a high school wide receiver talented enough to be recruited to play for the power house program in Tuscaloosa, but prior to his sophomore season in 2017, Saban broke the news to him that the coaching staff had decided to convert him to cornerback. Looking back now, the decision seems obvious: The Crimson Tide had an embarrassment of riches in their wide receiver depth chart. Calvin Ridley was entering his final college season. Also coming up on the roster were Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and future Heisman winner DeVonta Smith.
But at the time, how could Diggs, whose older brother Stefon led the NFL in receiving in 2020, perceive the move as anything but a failure?
"I was hurt at first, honestly," Diggs recalled after Sunday's game. "I called my brother. I was crying."
Stefon, who was already a successful NFL receiver at the time, has been a mentor and a father-like figure to Trevon since both were young. The older brother didn't give Trevon much room for self-pity. He advised him to work as hard as he could at his new position because he could succeed at it.
"That's exactly what I did," Trevon said. "I sucked it up and got back to work. I thank Saban for that."
Perhaps with different advice from his brother or a less persuasive case from Saban, Diggs might have transferred to another SEC school where perhaps he could have been an NFL caliber receiver, but it's hard to imagine him being nearly as successful on offense as he is as a cornerback thus far.
Surely, though, one is not unrelated to the other. His current coach, Mike McCarthy said that typical "50/50" balls aren't actually 50/50 when Diggs is involved because of his ball skills. The cornerback agreed with the sentiment and credits it to his past.
"Being a former wide receiver, I know all the routes," Diggs explained. "I know all the route angles. It makes things a lot easier. I can recognize it. It's not foreign to me. I know exactly what's going to happen."
Indeed, if one were to start watching the clip of Diggs' interception of Mike Glennon on Sunday after the ball was in the air, they might not realize that Diggs is the defensive player until he catches the ball and runs the other direction. The way Diggs catches up to the ball and then times his leap to make a play on it would surely satisfy any wide receivers coach. A similar thought might be had about his second interception of Sam Darnold against the Panthers. The way he went after the ball that was still potentially up for grabs to DJ Moore suggested that his hands were very used to catching, rather than deflecting, footballs.
On Monday, Stephen Jones, the Director of Player Personnel for the Cowboys, said that Diggs' ball skills were so impressive as to have made the idea of playing him on both sides of the ball at least enticing, and he wasn't afraid to allude to a legend in the process.
"We got such great corps out there with Gallup right on the precipice of coming back, and I can certainly see where Diggs might see himself as a Deion-esque type player," Jones said. "But I don't think we need that just yet. But you can obviously see he comes from a good lineage with his brother being one of the best receivers in the league. He certainly has those wide receiver ball skills."
Diggs is early into his career, so for that prospect to already be in the conversation suggests it could someday happen. But for now, there are plenty of receivers in the NFL who wish they were touching the football as much as Diggs is on defense.