Special Teams Ace?

The signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey underscored the Steelers' need for special-teamers. Here's one mid-round CB who would excel at it.

Remember the short running back from USC named Curtis McNeal?

He was in the Steelers' 2013 training camp for a couple of weeks. He was 5 feet 7 and came out to practice every day in a bad mood. It's why Mike Tomlin nicknamed him "Moody."

One day "Moody" was in a particularly fowl way, and Tomlin hollered, "Moody, you're one mean little sawed-off sucker."

The reason I bring this up is because I watched Quandre Diggs play this year. And I talked to him at the combine.

That's another mean little sawed-off sucker.

I asked him if he has a chip on his shoulder.

"Oh, yeah, definitely," said Diggs, a 5-9.1, 196-pound cornerback out of Texas. "Feel I don't get the respect I deserve. But I guess I'll just show guys."

He actually did show that he deserved respect this past season. There wasn't a college cornerback, in my humble opinion, who hit the way Diggs hit.

"I think I'm the most physical corner in the draft, honestly," he said at the combine. "I continue to say that and that's what I believe. If you put on the tape it will definitely show. It will show how smart, how physical, how passionate I am about the game. I think that's the blend of things you need to play this game at a high level."

After a straight-A, two-time all-state, big-school prep career in the Houston suburbs, Diggs went to Texas, where he had been hanging since the age of six. That's because his older brother, Quentin Jammer, a first-round pick in 2002, played at Texas.

Diggs didn't just step into the program, he stepped into the starting lineup. The four-year starter ended his career with 214 tackles, 11 interceptions and 5.5 sacks. And he tweeted this after his last game: "There are guys in this locker room that don't deserve to be here."

Diggs said something similar before and during the season, so he was non-repentant after the bowl loss dropped Texas to 6-7.

How did his brand of brutal honesty go over with the NFL personnel men with whom he had been meeting?

"Those guys love that," Diggs said, adding: "I speak my mind. I'm very truthful about things. I was a team captain. Those guys voted me as team captain for a reason. The coaches didn't pick that; the players picked that. I have a voice and they respect me."

Passionate. Smart. Physical. Pedigreed. But short. And that's why Diggs is considered a Day Three prospect in spite of all of those intangibles, statistics, a 4.56 40 time, 17 reps, and a 35 1/2-inch vertical jump. He also returned punts and kickoffs throughout his college career.

What were those personnel men saying about his NFL role?

"They like me as a nickel guy, a guy that can move outside, too, and a special-teams guy of course," Diggs said.

Of course. And that brings us to today's topic: The Steelers need special-teams guys. The re-signing of Darrius Heyward-Bey underscored that need yesterday. On a team that has only three experienced wide receivers, and another they consider half-WR/half-RB, DHB represents shaky depth at the position. But he's a core special-teamer, so he's likely to make the team -- unless the one WR/RB skill player they do draft can do the job better.

That's unlikely, so on a team with offensive reserves such as Dri Archer, DeAngelo Williams and Matt Spaeth, the bulk of this year's special teams will consist of inside linebackers and defensive backs. And if the Steelers draft a second cornerback, there isn't one better suited for special teams than Diggs, whose ferocious hitting as a cornerback brought up another question. How many times had Diggs been flagged for the way he hit receivers?

Diggs didn't appreciate the question, but he answered it.

"Never," he snarled. "I know how to play the game the right way. I grew up around the league. I have a brother who's a 12-year vet. I know everything about this game and the penalties that come with it."

And on defense, does the slot position suit him?

"I had a coach last night tell me 70 percent of the plays were in nickel last year," he said. "The nickel position is very important. Guys respect those guys. Those guys come in and work their tails off. As a nickel guy you've still got to be able to play outside, too. It presents different challenges. You definitely have to be ready for the run game, and they throw out to those quick guys in the slot. It's a big opportunity to make big plays. It's a big place to play."

Even for mean little sawed-off suckers.


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