Two years ago, I wrote about Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs’ ridiculous start to the 2021 season, intercepting six passes in five games. Through that point in the season, he was an obvious Defensive Player of the Year candidate based on that productivity alone. But his value in totality didn’t add up to that, because he was performing very poorly on the other 99% of plays.

This year, in Diggs’ absence, the Cowboys are again benefiting from a ridiculous turnover season, this time in the form of pick-six record holder DaRon Bland. But this time, that’s resulting in truly elite value (even if the stats that don’t care about interceptions aren’t transcendent). 

DaRon Bland ranks, 2023 CB (min 30 targets)

Rank (out of 77)
Pass Coverage Total Points per play 1st
Positive% Allowed 39th
Deserved Catch % 16th
Yards per Cover Snap T-68th

Through Week 13, Bland has generated 61 Total Points, which puts him at the top of the list of non-quarterbacks. That’s 40 points—more than three points per game—above an average cornerback. Corners are admittedly more likely to have extreme seasons like this because of their ability to generate defensive touchdowns, but this total already puts him among the most productive non-quarterback seasons Total Points has seen (i.e. since 2016).

When you think about how pick-sixes work from an Expected Points Added (EPA) perspective, this isn’t shocking. Each one turns a situation where the offense might expect a point or two into one where they’ve locked in negative-six, for a swing of more than a touchdown on average. Just those five plays basically account for the difference between Bland and an average corner.

The bigger difference between Bland’s 2023 and Diggs’ 2021 is what the former is doing on the rest of his snaps. Diggs was outright bad when he wasn’t ending up with the football, which resulted in his overall numbers looking average.

Trevon Diggs ranks, 2021 CB (min 45 targets)

Rank (out of 72)
Pass Coverage Total Points per play 43rd
Positive% Allowed 48th
Deserved Catch % 50th
Yards per Cover Snap 72nd

If we break down their Total Points contributions on interceptions versus other plays, we see that Bland has been more valuable regardless of the turnovers.

Pass Coverage Total Points comparison

Interceptions Other plays
DaRon Bland, 2023 52 (on 8 plays) 6 (on 615 plays)
Trevon Diggs, 2021 39 (on 11 plays) -16 (on 941 plays)

Bland is generating more than six points per interception (and return), which is insane. That’s like if he scored eight 90-yard touchdowns as a receiver. 

To put some more context on that production, here is a look at the value defensive backs have generated with interceptions versus other plays through 13 weeks of the last eight seasons. A few outstanding interception seasons are highlighted, including Xavien Howard’s 10-pick 2020.

Bland blows everyone out of the water on interceptions because of all those touchdowns, blending that with middle-of-the-road production overall. This puts him solidly ahead of Diggs in both respects, and in line with Howard (plus some touchdowns tacked on top).

We generally don’t see big turnover numbers from true shutdown corners, because the big play guys are often trying to jump routes and bait quarterbacks, which results in a lot of completions when they don’t get there. Bland is keeping his head above water when he doesn’t pick off the quarterback, though, which makes him a legit contender for Defensive Player of the Year.