Minnesota’s elusive wideout stakes his claim as one of the league’s best playmakers
In today’s NFL, star wide receivers aren’t hard to come by. Wideouts who make jaw-dropping plays like clockwork are all over the league and come in all different sizes, from Pittsburgh’s 5-foot-10 Antonio Brown to Carolina’s 6-foot-5 Kelvin Benjamin.
Just three weeks into the 2016 season, it looks like we’ve found the league’s next star playmaker.
Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, 22-year-old Stefon Diggs sits second in the league in receiving yards (325). His 20 catches (on 27 targets) trail just four other wideouts, and his 16.3 yards per catch average ranks third among wide receivers with at least 15 receptions. Maybe even more impressive is that he’s given the Vikings 15 first downs through three games, tied for second in the league. And Pro Football Focus has awarded Diggs their highest grade among wide receivers to open the season.
If you were unfamiliar with Diggs last season, when he caught 52 balls for 720 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, you likely discovered him after watching the Vikings upset the division-rival Packers 17-14 on Sept. 18. Playing with new quarterback Sam Bradford for the first time, Diggs tore up the Green Bay secondary to the tune of nine catches for 182 yards and a 25-yard touchdown in the third quarter that put Minnesota up by 10. The University of Maryland product had his way with Packers corner Damarious Randall all night, to the point where you felt a little bad for Randall.
Randall may not be a top cornerback, but it doesn’t matter; Diggs would have burnt anyone who tried to stop him. The most impressive part of Diggs’ coming-out party in the first game at the new U.S. Bank Stadium was what he showed after the catch. Multiple times, Bradford, who was called in to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater, would find the 6-foot, 194 pound speedster on an intermediate pass, and Diggs would either make defenders miss, or turn on the jets for a big gain. The wideout has 103 YAC after three games, good for third-best among wide receivers.
“When I first got here and started watching tape, he just kind of popped,” Bradford said after the game. “You would just kind of notice him. He always getting separation, he seems to always be finding a way to get open … he was pretty much unstoppable out there tonight.”
Diggs had some bright moments last year, but none of them were as brilliant — or as important — as this one. When Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL during the preseason, the Vikings made it clear they’re in win-now mode by trading for Bradford from the Eagles in exchange for a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-rounder.
Yet in Week 1 vs. the Titans, Bradford sat out, as he was still getting accustomed to the new playbook. Veteran backup Shaun Hill got the start, and although star running back Adrian Peterson had a tough day at the office, Diggs picked up the slack on offense, pulling down seven balls for 103 yards to propel Minnesota to a 25-16 victory. Making seven catches in an NFL game is never an easy task, but when you catch seven balls from Shaun Hill in an NFL game you deserve a contract extension immediately.
In Week 2, Peterson continued to struggle before exiting the game with a torn meniscus. The Vikings held on to the win thanks to a dominant performance from Diggs, but now it’s evident that Minnesota needs Diggs more than ever. Reports suggest Peterson’s season may be over, hampering the team’s playoff hopes.
But fear not, Vikings fans; Diggs’ nationally televised performance was no fluke. He already has a great rapport with Bradford, who elevated his game as well against Green Bay.
Diggs showed he has the MVP swagger on the field. After his first touchdown of the season, Diggs pulled out an imaginary shovel and began digging a grave for Randall, the cornerback he just murdered. Get it? Because his last name is Diggs?
He’ll have the occasional pedestrian outing, but with the Vikings’ playoff hopes riding on his shoulders, expect Diggs to draw the opposition’s best shutdown corner every week. Don’t be surprised when he digs more graves, either.