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How turmoil in Texas, on the Lions, helped shape Quandre Diggs into Pro Bowler
He wants to "weed out" the bad players who don't love football: Seaside Joe 1593
Previously…on Quandre Diggs.
In the first part of this Origin Story on Seattle Seahawks safety Quandre Diggs, we learned about his relationship with half-brother Quentin Jammer, his mothers roots as an all-state basketball star at a Texas high school, his do-everything career as a high school quarterback, special teams star, and becoming one of the top cornerback recruits in the country. But probably the most important takeaway from that article was Quandre’s mantra:
“I’m not going to be the soft one in the family.”
Next, Diggs is headed to Texas where he will play for the same position coach who helped mold his brother Quentin Jammer many years earlier into a top-five pick in the draft. Quandre’s path would be much different, but by the end of this story—and by the skin of his teeth—he will have out-picked his brother.
If that’s not being the soft one in the family, it’s pretty damn close.
Quandre Diggs joins the Longhorns
Diggs joined the Texas Longhorns as a 2011 cornerback recruit at a moment when the program was in disarray for the first time since the mid-90s.
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Texas went 5-7 in 2010, ending a streak of nine years in a row with at least 10 wins. It was the first time since 1997 that the Longhorns finished with a losing record or missed a bowl game appearance. At the time, people could come with reasons X, Y, and Z for why Texas had become so offensively inept against their opponents and couldn’t run the ball, but the simplest explanation is usually the right one: The team wasn’t recruiting well.
Despite reaching the BCS national championship in 2009 with the likes of Earl Thomas, Colt McCoy, Lamarr Houston, and Jordan Shipley, then boasting top-five recruiting classes in 2010, 2011, and 2012, we can now safely say that the Longhorns didn’t land many future NFL players. Diggs ended up as the best of a small bunch.
Diggs was one of 15 four or five-star recruits in the 2011 Texas class, but almost all of them peaked in high school or college. For example, Steve Edmond and Sedrick Flowers were the top-ranked linebacker and guard recruits in the country, where as Malcolm Brown (RB), Jaxon Shipley (WR), and Sheroid Evans (S) were all top-five. Diggs was also top-five for his position (some sites say CB, but 247 lists him at Athlete) and unlike most true freshman was able to make his mark right away.
In only his second career game, Diggs intercepted BYU quarterback Jake Heaps—the Washington native, former Seahawk, and current personal QB coach for Russell Wilson—in a narrow 17-16 Texas victory, while also forcing a fumble.
Not only did Diggs help end Heaps’ BYU career — “BYU had one last chance to drive the length of the field behind Heaps, but was stopped when Heaps fired a long throw down the sideline that was intercepted by Quandre Diggs” — he provided content for Heaps as an analyst many years later.
Diggs must have gained even more confidence with that interception and Texas was out to a 4-0 start, ranked 11th in the country, and the defense had mostly shut down their four opponents. Then reality hit Texas like a football to the face: A 55-17 loss to third-ranked Oklahoma and a 38-26 loss to sixth-ranked Oklahoma State. The Longhorns rallied with a 43-0 win over Kansas (and Diggs made his second interception) and a 52-20 win over Texas Tech, but losing three of the next four guaranteed that Texas wasn’t a top-25 team.
Still, Diggs had a few more highlights left in him, intercepting Ryan Tannehill in a win over Texas A&M and then adding another interception in a Holiday Bowl win over Cal. Diggs said the week before the bowl game that he was already comfortable in that San Diego stadium because it was where Jammer played his NFL career and Texas assistant coach Major Applewhite emphasized just how long the young cornerback had been preparing for this moment:
“From the time I met him in first or second grade he’s always had a football in his hand,” Applewhite, who quarterbacked UT to a pair of Holiday Bowls from 2000-01, said. “Always had the latest stats. The latest Sportscenter highlights. He’s always been a gym rat. And he’s continued to be that way as he’s grown up. He’s got an infectious attitude, a lot of energy and enthusiasm. He’s a guy that’s a straight baller.”
With four interceptions (tying a school freshman record), Quandre Diggs made multiple Freshman All-American teams, was the Big-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and he also helped on kick and punt returns. With few other breakout stars to choose from, that meant Diggs was already one of the most important pieces for a Texas team trying to put itself back together.
The 2012 Texas Longhorns' defense is expected to be among the best in the country, and sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs is its most dynamic talent. Having spent the offseason exclusively working on his coverage skills, there is little reason to think Diggs will not continue his journey toward becoming the next great product of "DBU."
When you watch Diggs play, you notice that he is very comfortable no matter where he is on the field. He has excellent vision when he has the ball, he has no problem laying a hit on anybody with the ball, and he is not afraid to mix it up with players that are much bigger than he is. His overall understanding of the game is superb, due to the fact that Diggs played quarterback as well as defensive back in high school.
Because of respect for their defense, Texas started the season ranked 15th and then got off to a 4-0 start again. Diggs picked off a New Mexico quarterback, then got two more the next week against Bo Wallace of Ole Miss. But fittingly, given the present moment, Geno Smith’s West Virginia put the first blemish on the Texas record in a 48-45 victory (Geno had 4 touchdowns against the Longhorns) and then despite optimism of revenge by Diggs, Oklahoma blew them out for the second year in a row.
Expected to be one of the best defenses in the country, Texas was instead one of the worst, giving up 48, 63, and 50 points in a three-game span. Diggs added a fourth interception, once again in a bowl game victoy, but it wasn’t the season that he wanted to have for himself and his team at the onset.
Diggs, then playing some in the nickel in 2013, didn’t record a single interception as a junior as Texas went a disappointing 8-5; the game cited as his “worst” came against Tyler Lockett. That may have contributed to there being less hype around Diggs going into his final college season (and I’m not sure but maybe influenced his decision to not enter the 2014 draft) but he did get to at least add three more interceptions to his career tally, including this highlight against BYU’s Taysom Hill:
Before the season, Diggs was called the leader of a “locker room of alphas” and that he could attribute that to his improved trash talking abilities, something that he can now relate to with premier trash-talking defensive back Devon Witherspoon.
“I’ve matured as a trash talker,” Diggs said Tuesday at Big 12 media days. And don’t get him started about the dynamics in the Texas locker room. “It’s 125 alpha males in there,” Diggs said. “Everybody wants to be the man. If you don’t think you’re the man, then you’re weak-minded. That’s the way I look at it.”
Diggs also said he took it upon himself to help new head coach Charlie Strong “weed guys out” who didn’t love football enough. His heart may have been in the right place, but the direction of the team wasn’t, as Texas finish 6-7. But Diggs finished college with 11 interceptions, 37 pass breakups, three appearances on the All-Big 12 team, and he never missed a single game.
But Diggs had a big problem. Or a small problem. A “short” problem when it came to the NFL Draft…Is he a cornerback?
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Quandre Diggs rated as day 3 CB prospect
WalterFootball cited Diggs as a “poor man’s Asante Samuel” and named nine possible fits, all of which were wrong.
Diggs is only going to fit in the NFL as a nickelback. He is too short and doesn't have the length to play on the outside. Diggs was constantly outplayed for balls in college due to his lack of height and length. On the other hand, he has the man-coverage skills to line up against slot receivers and run with them throughout their routes. However, teams will move wideouts around to create size mismatches on Diggs. He is a scrappy defender, and that could help him to overcome some of his size limitations to a degree. Diggs also is a quality tackler who will contribute in the ground game. He could cover backs out of the backfield, but shouldn't be matched up against tight ends like some nickel corners.
NFL.com noted a high production score (8th among CBs) but a very low athleticism score (28th) after Diggs ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, 1.65 10-yard split, and underwhelming measurements in the jumps and leaps and so forth. Interestingly, despite Diggs citing players like Ed Reed and Sean Taylor as his idols when he was a high school safety, I can’t find many experts who even considered a move back to that position. It was all: “He can play nickel maybe, nothing else.”
"He's got draftable qualities and he showed great improvement this year. I'm just not sure what to do with him because he's too small to play outside, and teams in our division are good at slot corners. He's short and slow and that makes him matchup-deficient." -- NFC South area scout
I looked up defensive backs who had similar measurements to Diggs and there are no first round picks, while the only two second round picks are Keiwan Ratliff and Javier Arenas, neither of whom panned out in the NFL. Most of them were also cornerbacks, with few exceptions. One of those exceptions? Ugo Amadi, a fourth round “safety” pick of the Seahawks in 2019.
To be fair to the NFL, Quandre Diggs does not really fit in a box of “types of players who typically work in the league”. To be fair to Diggs, there’s nothing typical about him.
The unfortunate life of being drafted by the Lions
Diggs was picked by the Lions in the sixth round, 200th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft. He was teamed up with head coach Jim Caldwell, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and defensive backs coach Alan Williams. As a sixth rounder, Diggs wouldn’t be guaranteed a roster spot either, but he was gaining confidence by that spring.
During the spring, the sixth-round pick split first-team reps with veteran Josh Wilson. That the Detroit coaching staff felt good enough about Diggs to even put him out there -- especially when other rookies who might have bigger roles in 2015 were receiving mostly second-team reps -- helped.
“It definitely helped a lot,” Diggs said as he arrived for training camp Tuesday. “It gave you the confidence to know that you are actually working for something. Working for an opportunity that you can go out there and get a starting job.
“I think that’s a big deal and something I am looking forward to.”
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein even noted that Diggs would compete for a starting role right away, if he could beat out former Seattle second round pick Josh Wilson. Though that didn’t happen and he wasn’t a Week 1 starter, Diggs had an immediate role in a secondary that featured Darius Slay, Glover Quin, and James Ihedigbo. He made four starts that year, forcing a fumble against Michael Crabtree in a win over the Raiders. Lions fans voted Diggs as the team’s rookie of the year and remember, the team picked five players ahead of him.
The site Pride of Detroit has some great breakdowns of Diggs’ rookie season that I won’t entirely copy/paste here. But it’s as obvious as it was before that Diggs’ height couldn’t match his talent. Diggs would be the team’s top option at nickel, but he finished the season with only 421 snaps and was placed on IR with a pec injury, missing the final four games. Something needed to change, and it finally did in 2017.
The Lions were still hyped on Quandre Diggs, but there was a limitation to his role if he was going to be a nickel and Detroit also had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL despite talent like him, Slay, and Quin. The team had Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew at strong safety, but finally Caldwell and Austin moved Quandre Diggs over to see if that would help. It somewhat helped.
But the Lions clearly believe that Diggs offers something that Killebrew doesn't, because Killebrew played just three defensive snaps last week in Tampa. Diggs, meantime, has played 126 of a possible 135 defensive snaps the last two weeks. He hasn't exactly been great in coverage, allowing five first downs last week, and catches on five of his seven targets the week before that. But he's also generated some big plays, including forcing a fumble with a big hit against Tampa and then picking off his first career pass.
Quin noted the same positives we’ve been saying this whole time, which is that Diggs can tackle and find the ball as well as anybody back there:
"I mean, he's obviously a good tackler," Quin said. "He's got great ball skills. He's athletic enough. He can move, he can run, he can take people to the ground. I mean, as long as you understand angles and concepts and how to read the quarterback, know what they're trying to do, know how they're trying to attack you, your athleticism will overcome a lot of stuff. And the more he plays, he's going to get more comfortable. He's going to be good."
Diggs intercepted Jameis Winston in Week 14, Mitchell Trubisky in Week 15, and Andy Dalton in Week 16, the second, third, and fourth games of his college/NFL CAREER at safety. That was the good news for Quandre Diggs.
Matt Patricia was the bad news.
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Will the Lions ever learn?
Detroit fired head coach Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season and replaced him with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Coincidentally (I think), Patricia also hired Brian Stewart as the team’s defensive backs coach, who had previously worked in that role for the Chargers from 2004-2006 which means he was Jammer’s coach too.
Luckily for Diggs, the new staff wasn’t stupid enough to move him back to corner (actually they paid him a $20.4 million extension) and for the first time in his career was able to be a Week 1 starter at strong safety. Diggs started all 16 games next to Quin, Slay, and Nevin Lawson, recording three more interceptions, the first of which was also the first pass of Sam Darnold’s career. (Will Diggs torture Darnold again if he’s starting for the 49ers when the two teams meet?)
Pride of Detroit was elated with the elevated play of Diggs in the first year with Patricia, and noted that it was a “mutually beneficial relationship”:
Diggs thrived in his new role, and Patricia’s creativity with safety use made the most of Diggs’ skillset. We saw Diggs stuff the box, cover deep, and take on men both smaller and bigger than him without hesitation. Most entertaining of all, we got another season’s worth of tape on Diggs thumping receivers and running backs who dared to venture into his domain.
It should also be noted that thanks to Diggs, the Lions’ first and last defensive possessions of the season ended in interceptions.
I guess Patricia wanted the benefits, but didn’t want to be friends.
Lions’ loss is Seattle’s gain
In a move that nobody predicted (because it made no sense to anybody), the Lions traded Diggs to the Seahawks only five games into the 2019 season. Said The Athletic’s Chris Burke with a headline that sums it up: ‘Trying to make sense of the Lions’ stunning Quandre Diggs trade’
Tweeted Darius Slay at the time: “That’s some bullshit right there.”
Diggs said that it was a “control” thing by Patricia’s Lions. It brings back those earlier comments of Diggs saying that he wanted to help Charlie Strong “weed out” the bad players at Texas and certainly Detroit has had their share of bad players in the last…forever years.
“I think it was more of just a control thing,” he told the Free Press in a phone interview Thursday to promote the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. “Them wanting to control the locker room. Control the locker room, control voices in the locker room.”
The Seahawks got one of the NFL’s best young strong safety starters for only a day three pick swap: Lions get a fifth, Seattle gets a seventh and Diggs.
“Like I say, I don’t have no ill will towards anybody, but at the end of the day, I’m at a new organization that respects the players, they respect your personality and the people that you are,” he said. “I’m just happy about my situation. Those guys, they do what they do, (what) they feel like what’s best for the organization. I don’t fault them, but at the end of the day, I’m good where I’m at.”
The Lions were 2-2-1 when they traded Diggs. They lost 10 of their last 11 games. Not only did Detroit not-fire Patricia during the 2020 offseason, they traded Slay to the Eagles for a third and a fifth. Since Diggs was traded to Seattle, he’s made three Pro Bowls in three full seasons. Slay has made each of the last two and is consistently one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL.
Arguably the Lions biggest weakness the last three years: Secondary.
Quandre passes Quentin
Origin Stories cover how players and coaches get to Seattle, so for the most part you know his Seahawks journey. Diggs has been the team’s free safety and has recorded 17 interceptions over 55 games since the trade. Adding in the six interceptions he had in Detroit, Diggs now has 23 career interceptions over eight NFL seasons.
Brother Quentin Jammer, the number five pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, posted 21 career interceptions over 12 NFL seasons. Diggs wasn’t lying when he said he had the best ball skills in the family.
Called “too short, too slow” to be an impact NFL starter, Diggs tied his brother’s mark when he intercepted Derek Carr twice in that ugly overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. He surpassed Jammer when he picked off Mike White in an all-important 23-6 win over the Jets in Week 16, then added a cherry on top by picking off Baker Mayfield to send the Seahawks to the playoffs in the season finale against the Rams…pointing the ball towards Bobby Wagner on the sidelines as if it was his first move to recruit the All-Pro inside linebacker back to Seattle.
And that’s really the side of Quandre Diggs that can’t be measured in a box score or a highlight reel or any of his career accolades: The teammate, the locker room leader, the “weed whacker”, and the first voice of the Seahawks to be recruiting the good players to Seattle, the pathway between the fans and the franchise. The Lions traded those qualities away for nothing.
Pete Carroll knows more about the value of football as family.
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