Always business, never personal for big-hitting Lions CB Quandre Diggs
The evidence is all over the Internet.
There was the big hit on Patrick Mahomes in 2014, when he knocked the then-Texas Tech quarterback woozy. There was the time as a true freshman when he body-slammed a Kansas State wide receiver to the ground (and then broke up a pass with another bone-jarring hit on the very next play).
And this year, the toughest pound-for-pound player on the Lions – and maybe in the NFL – has delivered one punishing blow after another to the likes of Shane Vareen, DeShone Kizer and Antonio Brown.
Meet Quandre Diggs, nickel cornerback, New Jack City aficionado, modern-day Nino Brown.
“Quandre’s got some pop, man,” Lions safety Glover Quin said.
“You’re going to feel him when he hits you,” said cornerback Darius Slay. “We ain’t got to question his physicality. He’s going to show you.”
Diggs is officially the second-shortest player on the Lions roster, behind only running back Ameer Abdullah, at a hair over 5-feet-9. But what he lacks in stature, he more than makes up for with his fearless play.
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Diggs has started six games this year for a Lions secondary that surprisingly has been one of the team’s biggest strengths heading into Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
He has 33 tackles, including four for loss, four pass breakups, and a number of cringe-inducing hits that drew “oohs” and “aahs” in the Lions’ film room.
Against the New York Giants in Week 2, Diggs blasted Vareen inches short of a first down on a fourth-and-3 play late in the fourth quarter to seal a Lions’ victory.
In a Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, who felt Diggs’ wrath when the cornerback closed in an instant from 10 yards away to flip Brown on his head after he caught a short drag across the middle.
Last month, Diggs knocked Kizer from the game with a shot to the rookie quarterback's ribs on a well-timed blitz. The game was tied at 24 at the time, and the Cleveland Browns failed to score a point the rest of the way.
“Small dude but he packs a punch,” defensive tackle Akeem Spence said. “Knocking receivers out, knocking quarterbacks out. He just plays big, man. And big things come in small packages.”
Diggs is a sledgehammer of a hitter despite his size because of his low center of gravity, thick build and tenacious approach to the game.
A high school quarterback and safety, Diggs said he learned early on how to use something some saw as a negative – his size – to his advantage.
His powerful legs allow him to quickly close on plays in front of him that others can’t, and because he’s naturally lower than most ball carriers, he’s able to play from underneath his pads in a big way.
“I pride myself on tackling,” Diggs said. “I always hear about people talking about he gave up a catch here and there. But if it’s third-and-8 and I give up a 4-yard catch and we get off the field and I make the tackle, it doesn’t matter if I gave up a catch, it matters that we got off the field. A lot of the backlash and things, I just ignore it and I go on about business and pride myself on tackling and getting a guy down.”
Diggs isn’t without his shortcomings as a player. He doesn’t have great long speed – Juju Smith-Schuster beat him for a 97-yard touchdown pass in Week 8 – and the Lions rarely use him as an outside cornerback.
But his contributions as a run defender, covering other teams’ slot receivers and on special teams are a big reason why the Lions are 6-5 and in contention for a second-straight playoff berth.
“He’s tough, he’s tenacious, he’s strong,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He obviously plays well behind his pads. He can strike a blow. He’s smart. And he triggers quickly on the run. So all of those things I think help us, and he certainly does ignite some things out there from time to time when he goes in and brings a much bigger guy sometimes down quickly.”
Diggs takes great joy in some of his big hits, and occasionally references his alter ego, the Wesley Snipes-portrayed Nino Brown, online.
In New Jack City, which Diggs called “one of my favorite movies,” Brown was a cut-throat New York City drug lord who hustled his way to prominence. Diggs sometimes cites one of the character’s famous lines, “It’s always business, never personal,” on Twitter and Instagram.
“I like Nino’s swagger,” Diggs said. “He has great swagger. He carried himself like a real boss. You guys know me, I carry myself well and I’m a very confident guy, so that’s kind of why I reference it. It’s nothing serious, it’s just a nickname that a few people call me.”
Diggs declined to say how he got the nickname or who bestowed it upon him originally, but teammates have called him "Nino" for some time.
"It's just, that’s me," Diggs said. "That’s kind of my alter ego. I teeter and tatter a little bit, I’m on edge all the time. Like I say, it’s always business, it’s never personal. I talk trash on the field, guys talk to me, but at the end of the day, it’s never personal. I’m just in one of those zones and sometimes I just flip that switch."
After an injury-shortened 2016, Diggs has been "in one of those zones" as the sparkplug of the Lions defense most of the year.
"I think tackling is more of a skill," Diggs said. "You can be taught to tackle, but to be a great tackler I think it’s just a skill that you’re naturally born with and not everybody has. I’ve been blessed with that trait."
Contact Dave Birkett: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.