Cornerbacks typically endure miserable rookie seasons: The receivers they cover are bigger, faster, and smarter than those they faced in college, while quarterbacks are quick to exploit their every. blunders. But Trevon Diggs’ rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys has been particularly appalling. The standout player and the University of Alabama second-round pick allowed for easy touchdowns, sniffed out several tackles and often seemed unsure of his assignments.
A year later, Diggs leads the NFL with six interceptions. He’s intercepted at least one pass in every game this season.
Experience isn’t the only reason Diggs is improved. The entire Cowboys defense played as if they had made it through the 2020 offseason which was disrupted by Covid-19 with its Zoom cameras turned off, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan muted sound in one browser window and Minecraft in the other . The Cowboys defense is still giving up plenty of yards now that Dan Quinn has replaced Nolan and normal training routines have returned, but at least everyone knows where to line up, and Diggs’ turnovers helped Dallas start the match. season 4-1.
He is one of many NFL players to take advantage of breakout campaigns in 2021.
Cordarrelle Patterson, receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Patterson spent his first eight seasons in the NFL as a kickoff returner in a league that doesn’t have much use for kickoff returns anymore.
In 2013, he left the University of Tennessee with a measurable combination scout bingo card. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound receiver with a run time of 4.42 seconds and 40 yards was drafted 29th overall by the Minnesota Vikings, who then spent four years making half-hearted efforts to integrate such size plus speed marvel in their offense. It’s not that unusual: Thor himself might show up to some training camps and the coaches would say, “My God, there’s no role in our plan for a demigod. Do you know of tight ends of the wood? “
Patterson is tied for the NFL record with eight career kickoff return touchdowns. But over 60% of kickoffs started to result in touchbacks, so his services weren’t in high demand. He rebounded from the Vikings to the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears, earning the All-Pro’s rating three times as a returner, but seeing little more than one-off spots in their offenses.
This season, Patterson finally landed with the Atlanta Falcons, a team desperate enough to attempt a wacky strategy: give transfers and short passes to the player who made a career out of scoring 100-yard touchdowns. Patterson is averaging 93.6 yards of scrimmage per game this season and has five touchdowns. The rebuilding Falcons are only 2-3, but the emergence of Patterson is one of the few factors that keeps the team competitive.
Rondale Moore, wide receiver, Arizona Cardinals
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound Moore barely matches the NFL prototype. He’s quick and elusive, sure, but he’s suffered two cropped seasons of injury after catching 114 freshman assists at Purdue in 2018. NFL teams are generally wary of little athletes with long injury histories, but the Cardinals believe conventional wisdom is for squares, so they picked Moore in the second round of the April draft.
Moore may have been branded as a little-used gadget specialist on other teams, but Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury loves gadgets. Moore moves all over the lineup in Kingsbury’s unpredictable offense, catching screen passes and taking transfers in the wrong direction. According to Pro Football Reference, Moore ranks third in the league with 222 yards after the catch on 21 receptions, and he’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry.
With Moore sneaking through defensemen after catching short throws from 5-10 quarterback Kyler Murray, Cardinals games sometimes feel like Take Your Kid To Work Day. But the Cardinals are 5-0, so the kids need to be okay.
Derwin James, Security, Los Angeles Chargers
James finished third in the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year poll, when he recorded three interceptions and 3.5 sacks as a general-purpose safety, edge rusher and race tamper for the Chargers.
Then came the injuries: a fractured foot wiped out most of James’ 2019 season, a meniscus tear all year 2020. The Chargers roster has had such a terrible chance of injury in recent seasons that it Wouldn’t have been shocking if James had been hit by a meteorite on the first day of training camp. Instead, James thrives again in a versatile role, with 1.5 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and a total of 43 tackles for the Chargers (4-1).
James hasn’t totally escaped his injury curse this year. He dislocated his shoulder against Kansas City in Week 3, but only missed a few shots. His teammate Joey Bosa told the Los Angeles Times that James “just put him back in and came straight back to the field.”
Locker Room Autosurgery is a skill that comes in handy when playing for Chargers.
James Robinson, running back, Jacksonville Jaguars
In their latest effort to turn the tide, the Jaguars hired legendary college coach Urban Meyer, passed the 2021 draft’s first pick to quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and used a stock of additional draft picks to revise their roster. . So naturally the best player on the team this year is a guy they tried to replace.
Robinson made the Jaguars’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2020. He became the first running back a few days before last season’s opener when Leonard Fournette was unexpectedly lifted, presumably for do not fit into the culture of the team. (Fournette now matches the culture of defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) Robinson ran for 1,070 yards last season, but Meyer drafted Clemson full-back Travis Etienne with the 25th pick overall. When Etienne injured his foot in the preseason, Robinson was pushed back into the lineup.
Robinson ranks fourth in the NFL with 387 rushing yards. His 149 rushing yards in Week 5 almost spurred the hapless Jaguars to their first win of the season. After the Tennessee Titans, 31-19, at the start of the fourth quarter, the Jaguars drove to the 1-yard line, where Meyer ordered a fourth transfer to… Carlos Hyde, Robinson’s replacement veteran. Hyde was pissed off for a loss, bringing the rally to an end.
Robinson will become even more famous as soon as he finds a way to no longer fit the Jaguars’ team culture.