The top graded cornerback in the NFL through the first two weeks of the season isn't Patrick Peterson, Josh Norman, Richard Sherman or Aqib Talib. It's a Detroit Lion, and it's not Darius Slay, either.
Nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs has earned that distinction from Pro Football Focus through two terrific performances to start the season.
Diggs has given up just 35 passing yards when targeted the last two weeks. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer and New York's Eli Manning had a combined passer rating of just 58.3 throwing Diggs' way the first two games.
"It's a tough job (playing nickel), I know it is, and he's playing phenomenal right now," Lions safety Glover Quin said.
"Great coverage. He's always been a physical guy. He's always been smart. That's one thing you have to have to play inside. You can't just have talent. You have to be smart, because there's too many moving pieces. If you're just talented, you won't play well. There's too much going on."
Playing the nickel in the NFL isn't just about covering slot receivers. They also play a huge role in the run game, and have to know all the run fits. They also blitz more than most cornerbacks. Quin is right, there are a lot of moving pieces, and the veteran Diggs is handling it all terrific early on.
But always the team-first kind of player, Diggs credited the fact that the Lions return all five players in the secondary from a year ago, and the terrific communication they've developed as a unit, as a big reason for his success early on.
"I don't ever look at my numbers as being individual," Diggs said Wednesday. "It has a lot to do with the d-line and the linebackers and the secondary. I'm connected to all those guys (in the slot), I think people forget that.
"I'm one of the guys on defense that's connected to everybody. I'm connected to the linebackers, I have to know run fits. I've got to know what GQ (Quin) is thinking and the corners. I think people take that for granted and don't know how hard the position is."
Lions head coach Jim Caldwell echoed that sentiment, saying: "Yeah, it's a unique spot because it requires somewhat skills of a linebacker and skills of a perimeter player because when you're lined up in there, you're going to have to be able to support the run. You have to be also willing to trigger, get dirty down inside, but then yet be skilled enough to cover some pretty gifted guys that play on the inside. So, I think that's where it becomes a real challenge for people."
Detroit's been good in every phase on defense early this season, and Diggs' play in the nickel is connected to it all. He's had a great start to his third season. Detroit's defense will need him to continue to play well Sunday against the high-flying Atlanta offense that has few, if any, real weaknesses.
ODD MAN OUT
After Marvin Jones Jr. scored Detroit's first touchdown in Monday night's win over the New York Giants, he celebrated by playing a pretend game of ping pong in the end zone with teammate Golden Tate.
But while Jones and Tate were acting out their celebration, offensive guard Graham Glasgow came over to celebrate the touchdown. He stood by patiently with his hand in the air looking for a high five from Jones, but didn't want to interrupt the celebration. After standing by for a few moments, Glasgow had to get back to the huddle, so he tapped Jones on the helmet and went back to the huddle.
"I'd been focusing on the ping pong and just didn't see him," Tate said Wednesday, when asked about it. "But I looked at it again today, I was like, 'Oh, poor Graham.' He just wanted to be included.
"We're going to definitely try to involve him in something next time because it was a little awkward to look at it."
"You got to be careful with a lineman because the clock is still running and those guys still have to get back to what the 15 (yard line) or whatever it is. They still have to get back and get ready for the extra point, so it's kind of like, it's got to be quick so we've got to get on the same page very quickly. But yeah, we'd love to get ol' Graham involved and all the other linemen and have a big fiesta after we score."
Rookie cornerback Jamal Agnew was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week after his 88-yard punt return touchdown helped seal the Lions' 24-10 victory over the Giants Monday night.
Agnew said the play was by far the best return of his career, and gives him a ton of confidence moving forward.
"It definitely skyrockets my confidence," he said.
Agnew only started returning punts his senior year in college at San Diego, but he has natural hands and a terrific ability to track the football.
"If I get the ball in my hands, I can do some things with it," Agnew said. "You have to be smart back there, especially making good decisions. That's the No. 1 goal about being a punt returner. You have to catch the ball first. Coach always says secure the ball and make good decisions."
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
The Lions' defense had just 10 interceptions all of last season. They have four through the first two games of the season.
Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin made it a point of emphasis this offseason, and it appears early on that practice makes perfect for this Detroit secondary.
"Putting an emphasis on it every single day," Quin said. "Keeping our standards high on tough days, when you're tired. If you practice it and you do it in practice, a lot of times it translates over to the games."
Speaking of interceptions, Quin would like the NFL to come up with a new statistic: Assisted interception. It was Quin who assisted on Tahir Whitehead's interception Monday night in New York by popping the ball up in the air after attempting to pick it off himself on what would have been a difficult catch on a ball thrown behind him. Whitehead snatched the ball out of the air and the Lions eventually turned the interception into seven points.
Quin has had a number of those kinds of plays over the years.
"I feel like I'm doing my good deeds," he said with a grin Wednesday.
Quin obviously got a pass defended on the play, but he argued – I think jokingly – that the NFL should adopt a separate statistic for defenders who get their hands on footballs that are ultimately intercepted by teammates.
"Should I have caught it clean? Of course. I didn't," Quin said. "But what if I wasn't even there and the ball hits the ground. They line up for second down. The fact that I was even there and attempted to catch it and it bounces up again, Tahir gets to catch it."