While flashier second-year wideouts like Tyler Lockett and Devante Parker are gaining all the headlines and fantasy steam, Vikings sophomore Stefon Diggs continues making plays under everyone’s radars. Diggs’ fantasy value seemed to take a serious hit after the team spent a 2016 first round pick on Laquon Treadwell, but the on-field reports suggest nothing but a massive leap forward. According to Minnesota Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel, the Maryland product was asked to learn all three receiver positions in an effort to maximize his playmaking abilities, and the results have been nothing short of exceptional. Diggs has reportedly been the most impressive offensive player throughout camp, and savvy fantasy football owners should invest heavily at his unjustified discount; Diggs is going as the WR44 and 110 overall in FantasyPros composite ADP ranks.
Let’s not forget only a few months ago Diggs was being compared to Antonio Brown after he exploded for 25 catches, 418 yards, and 2 TDs and became the first rookie to ever record 85+ yards in his first four contests. Recall Mike Wallace, who’s played with both Brown and Diggs while they were blossoming as talents, saw parallels to the Steelers great in both Diggs on field game but more importantly his work ethic and passion:
“When you look at a guy, you can tell from day one who can play football. I always felt like he could. Just the skill set, the way he runs his routes, the energy that he has. It reminds me of him. When you see somebody every single day, putting in the amount of work he does, it’s going to happen. He does a really good job of taking coaching and wanting to get better. If he messes up, he’s going to lean on anybody. He’s going to ask an older guy, ‘What should I do here? What should I do there?’ If he continues to do those things, it’ll all work out.”
That same article also noted how “the rookie’s unbridled love of football that might be fueling his early success.. during his first night at the Vikings’ rookie camp the Maryland product was running routes on his own, in the dark, long after practice… And already, Diggs talks about insights he gleans from film study like a veteran receiver.” Players with this drive and genuine love for the game give themselves the greatest chance to develop into studs.
Indeed, Diggs cooled off drastically after his scorching start, topping double digit PPR points only twice in his final 9 contests. His coaches insist this was more a product of weather and game flow than a knock on Diggs himself, as the team had the fewest passes in the entire league in 2016, particularly down the stretch. They also feel being forced into the split end role made Diggs easier to defend, as wide receivers coach George Stewart noted, “He was pigeonholed in one spot so we couldn’t move him to take advantage of matchups. That’s why we preached position flexibility.
[Now] he’s all over the place… He is a playmaker, and with playmakers like Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Roddy White, you want to give them opportunities to make plays. And that’s what he’s doing.”
In particular, Diggs is focusing on the “Z” flanker receiver role after being forced into the “X” split end position as a rookie. While the “X” receiver lines up on the line, the “Z” is lined up a bit back, which offers which offers two major advantages:
A) He’ll be able to evade press coverage far easier with some room to use his quicks to gain a free release before the defensive back has his hands on him.
B) He can be put into motion and find mismatches more easily.
The results thus far have been extraordinary:
“In the 10 days since the Vikings first reported to Mankato, Diggs has been by far the most impressive offensive player, ahead of his quarterback and new left guard Alex Boone. He has looked a lot like the kid who last season became the first rookie in NFL history to rack up 85 or more receiving yards in his first four games.
One moment he was crossing up the legs of a starting cornerback with a nifty whip route near the goal line. The next he was blowing by the secondary to catch a deep ball from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. And, yes, that was him, too, making that one-handed grab in the back corner of the end zone.
His routes seem sharper. His biceps and upper body look bigger. And his move to the flanker spot and occasionally the slot should benefit him…Plus, Diggs has been producing so many big plays that on Friday he couldn’t even remember the 70-yard bomb he caught from Bridgewater the day before, the one that left two defensive backs stumbling over each other as he pulled away.”
Clearly, Diggs himself has taken a major leap, and I always target players who love the game and never stop working. The team clearly recognizes his skill and work ethic, and is making a concerted effort to get him the ball more frequently and in more advantageous positions. Yes, the offense will remain among the most run-heavy in the league behind horse Adrian Peterson, but the team is reportedly using more shotgun-based sets to help out Teddy Bridgewater. Even a modest uptick in pass attempts would be huge for Diggs. With his own improvement and as the projected “chess piece” focal point of the passing attack, Diggs jumps up to my WR36.