Stefon Diggs: How good can he become?
By Josh Zinger
After bursting onto the scene as a rookie to lead the team in receiving, one question remains for Stefon Diggs: just how good can he become?
As the offseason progresses and we inch toward football, all eyes will be on rookie wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, the high-profile first round pick and perceived savior of the Vikings’ offense. Standing at 6’2″ and weighing in at a chiseled 221 pounds, Treadwell has the look of a true number one receiver, reminiscent of stars such as Michael Irvin and Dez Bryant. But while Treadwell carries all of the hype, the immediate fate of the Vikings’ passing game may lie in the hands of second-year pro Stefon Diggs as Treadwell adjusts to the NFL.
Diggs joined the Vikings last year under very different circumstances than Treadwell. After an injury-riddled and inconsistent college career, Diggs was unable to distinguish himself at any point in the draft process, failing even to finish among the top ten receivers in any combine event. Taking a chance on his solid yet unspectacular measurables and brief flashes on tape, the Vikings selected Diggs in the fifth round of last year’s NFL draft. Joining the roster as little more than an afterthought, Diggs brought none of the headlines, none of the intrigue, and none of the excitement that now follows Treadwell.
Even after an impressive training camp and preseason Diggs remained quietly on the sideline, inactive for the first three games of the season. It wasn’t until a week four match-up against the Denver Broncos that Stefon Diggs stepped onto the field and proved he should never be taken off of it.
After an injury to starter Charles Johnson, Diggs was finally given an opportunity, rotating in with Cordarrelle Patterson and Adam Thielen. Despite initially being used in this limited role, Diggs caught fire and ended the game as the leading receiver with six catches for 87 yards.
Even at the dawn of his NFL career Stefon Diggs showcased the polished technique of a seasoned veteran. By keeping his route stems consistent, Diggs was able to disguise his routes and catch defensive backs by surprise with his breaks. Displaying outstanding suddenness, Diggs excelled at sinking his hips and accelerating out of cuts to consistently create separation. Add in an arsenal of head fakes and stutter steps and Diggs was able to lose defenders seemingly at will. With exceptional quickness and refined fundamentals Diggs was immediately a force on short and intermediate patterns such as outs, slants, and comebacks.
On top of his technical proficiency, Diggs proved a dynamic and explosive weapon with the ball in his hands. Playing faster than his athletic measurables, Diggs routinely looked like one of the best athletes on the field. In the open field, the young receiver simply turned on an extra gear, breaking free with shifty moves and accelerating past defenders.
Using his savvy routes and dynamic athleticism, Stefon Diggs continued his offensive explosion, catching 25 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games.
Unfortunately, the lack of complementary receiving options allowed opposing defenses to key in on Diggs down the stretch, providing safety help over the top to lock him down. As defenses focused in on him Diggs amassed only 27 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns over the final nine weeks of the season, far below his initial pace. While he still flashed the skills that made him stand out over the first four weeks, the increased defensive attention largely kept him in check.
With Laquon Treadwell joining the team, that should no longer be a problem. With a legitimate receiving threat to complement him, Diggs will face single coverage far more often as the defense is forced to spread itself out.
Just by being on the field Treadwell will immediately impact the offense, but it would be unrealistic to expect the rookie to be a star right away.
In the meantime, expect Stefon Diggs to emerge as the number one receiver. As Treadwell acclimates to the NFL and develops rapport with Teddy Bridgewater, Diggs will build upon his impressive rookie season. With a year of development and a new receiving threat to take pressure off of him, it is more than reasonable to expect Diggs to eclipse 1000 yards and eight touchdowns in his sophomore season.
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For Stefon Diggs, however, the work is far from done. While he came into the league more polished than most, there are still weaknesses in his game that he must address in order to become a star.
First of all, with a rail-thin 6 foot, 195 pound frame, Diggs will need to add bulk and functional strength in order to more consistently beat press coverage at the line. While he was by no means awful at this in 2015, he struggled at times with physical cornerbacks throwing off the timing of his route. With added strength and refined technique against press coverage Diggs would be a much more reliable target in Norv Turner’s timing-based offense.
Additionally, Diggs’ improvement largely depends on how much he diversifies his skill set. In his rookie season, Diggs made a living on shorter patterns, using his quickness and making sharp cuts to get open. However, he often struggled when asked to gain separation vertically. With a 4.46 forty time and a nuanced understanding of route running, Diggs has more than adequate tools to win deep, but he must capitalize on them more frequently.
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There is no reason that Diggs shouldn’t be able to develop into a competent deep threat, and he actually showed promising growth in the area as the season went on, but his ceiling as an NFL player is only as high as his ability to stretch the field. While he already has the ability to make big plays with the ball in his hands, adding posts, corners, and go patterns to his game will make him a much more dynamic and explosive threat.
At the very least Stefon Diggs will continue to be a reliable chain-moving target who can be counted on to run exact routes and make plays in the open field. If he can just improve his strength and develop into a downfield weapon, however, the sky is the limit. With hard work and good coaching, Diggs could develop into the kind of complete receiver that keeps defensive coaches up at night.