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 take advantage of their every mistake. But Trayvon Diggs’ rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys was particularly terrifying. The University of Alabama standout and second-round draft pick allowed easy touchdowns, whispered on multiple tackles and often seemed as though he wasn’t sure about his assignment.
A year later, Diggs led the NFL with six interceptions. He has intercepted at least one pass in every game this season.
Experience isn’t the only reason Diggs improves. The entire Cowboys defense played as it spent the 2020 off-season that had been disrupted by Covid-19, with its Zoom cameras turned off, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan in one browser window and Minecraft going into another. Was. The Cowboys defense still gives up so much yardage that Dan Quinn has replaced Nolan and the normal practice routine is back, but at least everyone knows where to line up, and Diggs’ turnover has hit Dallas. Started the season 4-1.
He is one of the many NFL players to enjoy breakout campaigns in 2021.
Cordarrell Patterson, Receiver, Atlanta Falcons
Patterson spent his first eight NFL seasons as a kickoff returner in a league that no longer has much use for kickoff returners.
In 2013, he left the University of Tennessee with the Scouting Combine Measurable Bingo Card. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound receiver with a 4.42-second 40-yard dash time was drafted 29th overall by the Minnesota Vikings, who then spent four years at such size-plus-speed. Tried half-heartedly to integrate the miracle into himself. Crime. It’s not all that unusual: Thor himself could show up at some training camps and the coach would say: “God, a god has no role in our plan. Do you know the tight end of some wood?”
Patterson is tied for the NFL record with eight career kickoff return touchdowns. But more than 60 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks, so their services were not in high demand. He bounced from the Vikings to the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Chicago Bears, earning All-Pro notice as a three-time returner, but his offenses saw little more than spot duty.
This season, Patterson eventually landed with the Atlanta Falcons, a team desperate enough to try a zany tactic: feeding handoffs and short passes to the player who has made a career out of scoring 100-yard touchdowns. Patterson has averaged 93.6 yards from scrimmage per game this season and has scored five touchdowns. The rebuilt Falcons are just 2-3, but Patterson’s emergence is among the few factors keeping the team competitive.
Rondell Moore, Receiver, Arizona Cardinals
The 5-foot-7, 185-pound Moore hardly fits the NFL prototype. He’s certainly fast and elusive, but he suffered two injury-less seasons after catching 114 passes as a freshman at Purdue in 2018. NFL teams are generally wary of younger athletes with long injury histories, but the Cardinals believed the conventional wisdom was for classes, so they picked Moore in the second round of April’s draft.
Moore may have been typecast on other teams as a little-used gadget specialist, but Cardinals coach Cliff Kingsbury loves gadgets. Moore speeds across the formation while Kingsbury’s unexpected offense, catching a screen pass and taking a handoff in the wrong direction. Per Pro Football Reference, Moore is third in the league with 222 yards after catching 21 receptions, and he averages 8.3 yards per rush.
With Moore weaving through defenders after catching a short toss from 5-foot-10 quarterback Kyler Murray, Cardinals games sometimes look like Take Your Child to Work Day. But the Cardinals are 5-0, so the kids should be fine.
Darwin James, Security, Los Angeles Chargers
James finished third in the 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year Award poll when he recorded three interceptions and 3.5 sacks as a versatile safety, edge rusher and run stuffer for the Chargers.
Then came the injuries: A fractured leg wiped out most of James’s 2019 season, a meniscus torn all of 2020. The Chargers roster has suffered so many horrific injuries in recent seasons that it wouldn’t have been shocking if James had been hit by a meteorite. First day of training camp. Instead, James is once again thriving in an all-purpose role, with 1.5 sacks, one interception, a coercive fumble and a team-high 43 total tackles for the Chargers (4-1).
James hasn’t completely escaped the curse of his injury this year. He dropped his shoulder against Kansas City in Week 3, but missed just a few snaps. Teammate Joy Bosa told the Los Angeles Times That James “just went back inside it and got back on the field.”
Locker room self-surgery is a skill that comes in handy when playing for the Chargers.
James Robinson, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
In their latest attempt to turn their fortunes around, the Jaguars hired legendary college coach Urban Mayer, spent the first pick in the 2021 draft on quarterback Trevor Lawrence, and used a stockpile of additional draft picks to overhaul their roster. . So naturally, the best player on the team this year is the one they tried to convert.
Robinson cracked the Jaguar roster in 2020 as an unfinished rookie. That started days before last year’s season opener when Leonard Fournet was unexpectedly pardoned, possibly for Doesn’t fit the team culture. (Fournette fits into the culture of the now-defending-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.) Robinson ran 1,070 yards last season, but Meyer drafted Clemson all-purpose back Travis Etienne with the 25th overall pick. When Etienne injured his leg in the preseason, Robinson was put back in the lineup.
Robinson is fourth in the NFL with 387 rushing yards. His 149-yard run in Week 5 almost propelled the miserable Jaguars to their first win of the season. Trailing the Tennessee Titans, 31-19, early in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars headed to the 1-yard line, where Meyer … ordered a fourth-down handoff to Robinson’s veteran backup Carlos Hyde. Ending the rally, Hyde filled in for a loss.
As Robinson finds a way not to fit into the Jaguars’ team culture, Robinson will achieve even greater stardom.