Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs turned back the clock in the 2021 NFL season with 11 interceptions. The former Alabama standout had the most interceptions in one season in the league since 1981, and Diggs set a single-season record for interceptions by a player from an Alabama high school or college.
Diggs broke the record shared by three players who reached 10 interceptions in the AFL before its merger with the NFL – Billy Atkins (Millport, Auburn) for the Buffalo Bills in 1961, Tommy Morrow (Georgiana) for the Oakland Raiders in 1962 and Bobby Hunt (Lanett, Auburn) for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966.
MORE ALABAMA ROOTS NFL TOP 10:
· ALL-PRO SELECTIONS
· ALL PURPOSE YARDS
· FORCED FUMBLES
In the 1970s, the NFL began to adopt rules that prevented defensive players from hitting, chucking and pushing potential receivers during their routes, as they had been allowed to do except when the football was in the air. This old style of pass coverage gave defenses much more leeway to disrupt pass patterns and spoil timing routes than they have today, and that created more interception opportunities.
In 1978, the NFL adopted a rule that aimed to eliminate contact with receivers more than 5 yards past the line of scrimmage. But it wasn’t until 1996 that the NFL announced its officials were going to crack down and strictly enforce that rule.
In 2001, the NFL announced its roughing-the-passer rule would be more stringently enforced, kicking off a wave of regulations aimed at protecting quarterbacks.
Statistics indicate the rule changes have made completing passes easier and intercepting passes harder. In 1977, the season before the 5-yard rule, NFL quarterbacks completed 51.32 percent of their throws and had 5.74 percent of their passes intercepted. In 2021, the completion rate was 64.78 percent and the interception rate was 2.35 percent.
Even the increase in opportunities – from 9,786 passes in 1977 to 18,712 in 2021 – did not make up the difference in the quantity of interceptions. In 1977, 562 passes were intercepted in the NFL. In 2021, the total intercept was 440.
Cornerback Richard Sherman had more career interceptions than any other player who appeared in the 2021 season, and he ranks tied for 104th on the NFL’s all-time list with 37.
Jackrabbit Jenkins is the only player in the Alabama roots top 10 for NFL interceptions who has been on the field within the past 19 seasons.
RELATED: ALABAMA ROOTS: THE 100 GREATEST CAREERS OF THE NFL’S 102 SEASONS
The 10 players with Alabama football roots who have recorded the most interceptions include:
1. Bobby Hunt, Lanett High School, Auburn: 42 interceptions
Dallas Texans 1962, Kansas City Chiefs 1963-1967, Cincinnati Bengals 1968-1969: A safety, Hunt was an All-AFL selection on a championship team as a rookie in 1962 and led the AFL with 10 interceptions in 1966 for another AFL championship team. While he’s tied for 67th in NFL history in interceptions, Hunt is 38th in interception-return yards with 755.
2. Eric Davis, Anniston High School, Jacksonville State: 38 interceptions
San Francisco 49ers 1990-1995, Carolina Panthers 1996-2000, Denver Broncos 2001, Detroit Lions 2002: A cornerback, Davis was a first-team All-Pro eleven and a Pro Bowler twice and returned four of his interceptions for touchdowns. Not counted in Davis’ total are six postseason interceptions, including four in three games during the 1994 playoffs, when the 49ers won Super Bowl XXIX.
3. Andy Nelson, Athens High School: 33 interceptions
Baltimore Colts 1957-1963, New York Giants 1964: A safety, Nelson was a first-team All-Pro in 1959 on the Colts’ second straight NFL championship team. The previous season, he led the NFL with 199 return yards on eight interceptions.
4. Lee Roy Jordan, Excel High School, Alabama: 32 interceptions
Dallas Cowboys 1963-1976: A middle linebacker for most of his career, Jordan was a first-team All-Pro eleven and a Pro Bowler five times and reached a high of six interceptions in 1975. Jordan had four playoff interceptions that don’t show up in his total, including two in the 1971 postseason, when the Cowboys won Super Bowl VI.
5. Wes Hopkins, John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham: 30 interceptions
Philadelphia Eagles 1983-1993: A safety, Hopkins earned first-team All-Pro recognition in 1985, when he reached a career-high six interceptions.
5. Don Hutson, Alabama: 30 interceptions
Green Bay Packers 1935-1945: The NFL’s first star receiver, Hutson was a member of the inaugural class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But in the days of two-way football, he also played defensive back, leading the NFL with six interceptions in 1940 and with 197 return yards on eight interceptions in 1943.
7. Mike Washington, Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama: 28 interceptions
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976-1984: Washington was the right cornerback for the Bucs for most of their first eight seasons of existence. I have intercepted a career-high six passes in 1981.
8. Janoris Jenkins, Alabama: 27 interceptions
St. Louis Rams 2012-2015, New York Giants 2016-2019, New Orleans Saints 2019-2020, Tennessee Titans 2021: A cornerback, Jenkins has gotten the most out of his interceptions by returning eight for touchdowns. That’s tied for eighth in NFL history and are the most for a player with Alabama football roots.
9. Hanford Dixon, Theodore High School: 26 interceptions
Cleveland Browns 1981-1989: A cornerback, Dixon was a first-team All-Pro twice and a Pro Bowler three times. He had five interceptions in 1984 and 1986.
10. Speedy Duncan, Druid High School in Tuscaloosa: 24 interceptions
San Diego Chargers 1964-1970, Washington Redskins 1971-1974: A noted punt and kickoff returner, Duncan also spent five seasons of his career as a starting cornerback, and he was an AFL all-star in the first three of those. He returned three of his interceptions for touchdowns, including a 100-yarder in 1967.
10. Zeke Moore, Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee: 24 interceptions
Houston Oilers 1967-1977: Moore caught on as a kick returner with the Oilers, but became a starting cornerback, reaching a career high of six interceptions in 1970, the second of his two Pro Bowl seasons.
FOR MORE OF AL.COM‘S COMPREHENSIVE COVERAGE OF THE NFL, GO TO OUR NFL PAGE
Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.