FRISCO, TX — Don't look now, but there's a very real case to be made for one of the Dallas Cowboys' defensive backs being in the conversation for 2023 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and that's a big deal when considering it's impossible for that person to be Trevon Diggs — out for the season with a torn ACL. Instead, it's DaRon Bland, currently operating in maniac mode.
No, seriously, Bland is something different entirely.
Just ask Diggs.
"It's amazing to see what he's capable of. 've been watching him since he came in and he's always been a heck of a player. I'm just excited to see him display it. He's playing like one of the best corners right now." - Trevon Diggs (October 2023)
That's high and worthy praise from a First-Team All-Pro and record-setter himself, and Diggs couldn't contain his excitement during Bland's pick-six in Carolina — thrusting him into a topic of discussion that deserves to be broached, at this point, considering what the Cowboys' other sensational cornerback is achieving in only 16 NFL starts so far.
"DaRon Bland! DPOY Convo! - Trevon Diggs (November 2023)
Ah, there it is, the truth.
Corner … the DPOY Market
One season after blazing onto the NFL scene with five interceptions as a rookie, the most of any first-year player in 2022 and falling just one INT shy of tying for most in the league, Bland has ratcheted his game to another level.
His pick-six against the Panthers marked his fourth of the year, tying an all-time NFL record … … … and there are still seven regular season games to be played. The California native is also just 24 years old and doesn't hail from one of the power conferences or schools — spending his collegiate time at Sacramento State and ultimately Fresno State — but here's what truly blows the mind:
He's a former fifth-round pick.
Not a first- or second-rounder.
Not a third-rounder that slipped through the cracks.
A fifth-rounder who is on the precipice of already being, literally, one of the best defensive backs in the history of American football, only two seasons removed from Diggs having done the same.
This begs the question of why Bland isn't in the conversation [yet] for Defensive Player of the Year? It's currently one dominated entirely by pass rushers, and that'll be a tough nut to crack for a cornerback, and the names on the list are of the household variety.
And, to that point, let's take a look at the top frontrunners to land the award this season, per VegasInsider.com (with accompanying odds):
- Myles Garett: +175
- Micah Parsons: +200
- T. J. Watt: +225
- Maxx Crosby: +2200
- Nick Bosa: +3000
- Chris Jones: +4000
In scanning the list of top-25 players with a chance to win, only one is a cornerback, and that's Bland, but he's locked in an eight-way tie … for 11th-best odds.
- DaRon Bland: +10000
That is seriously unserious.
On one hand, it's promising to see that Bland is at least on the top-25 list, including being the only cornerback mentioned; and that shows just how much distance he's created between himself and the other elite corners in the league so, and explain this to me like I'm five, please, why is Bland not a household name like the others are — a key component in an award that is at least somewhat based upon popularity (alongside impact).
- Sauce Gardner: 0 INTs
- Patrick Surtain: 1 INTs
- Jaire Alexander: 0 INTs
- Darius Slay: 2 INTs, 1 DEF TD
- Jalen Ramsey: 3 INTs (3 starts due to injury)
**Trevon Diggs excluded due to season-ending injury
I'll tell you where it all gets truly wild, though, Bland, a defensive back, has more touchdowns this season than do all but 20 wide receivers, and he has the same number of touchdowns (4) as the entire depth chart of WRs of the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants; and more touchdowns than the entire depth chart of WRs of both the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
This is spicy enough to require teams to bring milk to the matchup against him.
Takes One to Know One
And it's not only the two flashiest categories that Bland is dominating.
Fact is, he's as special in the lesser-known but equally important areas as well, e.g., currently owning the lowest target EPA (expected points per attempt when targeted) with a league-best mark of -41.3.
And that was before he allowed only nine yards on five targets in Carolina, adding the aforementioned pick-six to his stat line.
Only one player in the history of Next Gen Stats has ever been better in this category through 10 weeks and, wouldn't you know it, his name is Stephon Gilmore (-45 target EPA) and, wouldn't you know it (again), it was in the very same season (2019) wherein Bland's teammate in Dallas won the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
"He's having a great year. I think they always try to give it to a defensive end, but anything you have a corner that's playing like he is right now, and like I did in 2019, you've gotta put him in that category." - Stephon Gilmore (November 2023)
Oh, by the way, the category has been updated on Monday, and Bland isn't playing fair anymore, not that he ever was in the first place.
Top-5 in Target EPA (through Week 11)
- DaRon Bland: -47.6 (a new record)
- Paulson Adebo: -28.0
- Denzel Ward: -26.2
- L'Jarius Sneed: -19.7
- Brandon Stephens: -18.2
*minimum 25 targets
Are we sure Bland isn't a descendent of Loki? So much mischief.
You could look across the expanse of coverage categories and Bland is either No. 1 not far from it, nearly lapping some established All-Pro cornerbacks in more than one metric (from coverage success rate to hawk percentage and the like).
Do you need any more evidence?
Nope, but I'm going to give it to you anyway.
I'd like to believe that with the endorsement of Gilmore and other top cornerbacks around the league, along with the glaring numbers and film to back it up, that Bland would have a solid chance but I keep circling back to the common thread behind the curtain here.
He's not a top pick and, as such, is unfairly often overlooked.
"I just keep making goals throughout the season. The next one is to go and break the record." - DaRon Bland (November 2023)
Hell, even Gilmore is a former top-10 overall pick, but Bland is outplaying Gilmore's award-winning 2019 season and, still, you won't hear him named by a casual fan if you were to ask them to list the top-10 most popular Cowboys' players.
At worst, Bland is already cemented himself as a First-Team All-Pro frontrunner and a Pro Bowler in Year 2 but, of course, we'll have to see how those honors shake out because the latter is most certainly a popularity contest and the former has a stringent voting process that could see more … say it with me … popular … cornerbacks edging out Bland for a spot — despite having not performed to his level.
Even those operating in enemy territory have praise for Bland's production, and that's telling of how far behind the majority of the football world is when it comes to recognizing the greatness being displayed by Bland simply because he's a Day 3 selection in a defensive secondary with more recognizable names (e.g., Diggs, Gilmore).
If you want a head-to-head comparison of Bland's current season and Gilmore's best in 2019, well, I'm glad you asked, because it's my pleasure to present it to your retinas.
Stephon Gilmore (16 games):
- 49 tackles
- 20 passes defensed
- 6 interceptions
- 2 defensive touchdowns
DaRon Bland (10 games):
- 38 tackles
- 12 passes defensed
- 6 interceptions
- 4 defensive touchdowns
The case is being built for DPOY consideration, as well as both First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl, and it's undeniable. Did I mention Bland is doing all of this after being moved to a new position in Year 2, almost instantly, after having grabbed five of his career INTs as a nickel corner as a means of replacing the irreplaceable in Diggs?
Degree of difficulty? Avengers-level threat.
"I'm always wondering when they'll attack me next. I'm never letting my guard down. … Never chase the play or the play is never gonna happen." - DaRon Bland (November 2022)
The 'Spice' of Life
As has long been determined before now, there's nothing bland about DaRon.
The only thing that even remotely fits that category is his humble demeanor — one that many confuse for shyness when, in actuality, it's telling of the man himself. At only 24 years of age, he punches above his weight class in ability, production, confidence and a drive to let his play speak for itself. When he's on the field, the switch gets flipped and he's lights-out until the clock hits all zeroes.
Off of the field, he's a quiet, baby-faced assassin who wears the same ear-to-ear grin on a daily basis and who is tougher on himself than anyone else could ever be.
It all lends to why he's ascended to where he is today, but also to why many are overlooking him in quality football discussions.
Will Bland get any roses at all when the season is over? That is to-be-determined, and it's clear he's looking for the biggest of them by way of a Super Bowl appearance and victory. It's not his job to prop himself up verbally, but rather the job of actual football analysts to survey the field of candidates and draw a true and honest conclusion as to who deserves what individual accolade.
And if Bland walks away without a single individual honor in 2023, just burn the entire system down and let's start over from scratch.