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The Drive: On Quandre Diggs playing free safety

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Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks erased Jimmy Garoppolo’s deep passing. According to Next Gen Stats Garoppolo finished 3/18 for 59 yards and an interception on pass attempts thrown ten or more yards down field. Here’s a chart which shows the location of every pass he attempted.

That red dot represents Quandre Diggs’ interception. That’s not the play by Diggs I want to highlight though. Before we look at that let’s evaluate Diggs’ talent and see how he fits into Seattle’s scheme.

Consider these parallels to the player Diggs is indirectly replacing.

Earl Thomas’s performance at the combine:

Diggs’:

Both Thomas and Diggs were rated as four-star prospects by Rivals, and both received a Rivals Rank of 5.9. Both played defensive back at Texas. Both were considered safety/corner tweeners by NFL talent evaluators. Thomas was quicker and had the better overall athletic profile, but it’s close. Diggs is the younger brother of Quentin Jammer. Prior to a game Thomas liked (likes?) to eat a pickle and a watermelon slush but presumably not a pickle and watermelon slush. Their pro careers are not really comparable, either. Thomas has been transcendentally great. Diggs has split time as a backup and starter, but maybe he’s finally found a home.

And maybe having finally found a home, a role which fits his skill set, he may finally unlock his true potential. We won’t know for a long time, but let’s get hype anyway. Why not? We’ve a week to dream on and nothing but crappier teams to watch, and so let us look at a decidedly Earl Thomas kind of play from Diggs.

Circled we see Matt Breida, reigning fastest player in the NFL, and Quandre Diggs.

Breida recorded the fastest top speed in the NFL in 2018, at 22.09 miles per hour. He surpassed that in 2019, hitting 22.3 miles per hour, and again tops the NFL in that stat. I would guess Tyreek Hill is faster but he hasn’t been faster in over two years.

Diggs will tackle Breida after Breida gains seven yards. It’s a negative EPA play, but it’s beautiful and it very well may have saved Seattle from yielding the touchdown. Here are the finer details.

Diggs is lightning fast in his read. Here we see the pitch has not yet reached Breida, but Diggs is already planting and closing toward the ball carrier.

Diggs angle of pursuit is nearly perfect. That’s best shown in this video.

He evades the unintentional pick sent by K.J. Wright to not just form tackle Breida, but to run him out of bounds preventing further gain.

Consider the outcome of this play if Diggs had not been present.

Wright is beat to the outside. Maybe he is able to slow Breida. Marquise Goodwin has inside position on Tre Flowers and a very sound looking block. Flowers was still entangled with Goodwin as Diggs was driving Breida out of bounds. Even if he was able to get free, Flowers has missed one in eight tackle attempts. (Which isn’t too bad.)

This play is very possibly one Diggs’ tackle from being a touchdown. Allowing seven yards on first and ten from the San Francisco 37 cost Seattle 0.4 EPA, but stopping Breida from housing it saved Seattle 5.2 EPA. It saved Seattle non-theoretical points, six of them.

Next season Diggs’ cap number jumps from 1.6 million to 5.2 million. Earl Thomas, by contrast, will cost 15 million against the cap in 2020. Diggs will rank behind Bradley McDougald as the 24th highest paid safety in the NFL. If he’s bad, it’s no bargain. If he’s only serviceable, it still cramps the cap. But if his performance Monday was any indication, in which Diggs played a lot of free safety, the Seahawks shutdown the San Francisco 49ers deep passing game, and Diggs himself contributed the above saving tackle to go with an interception, Seattle has added a long missing foundational piece at a relative bargain.