Stefon Diggs emerged as a rising star for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, even with some injury trouble preventing him from playing a full season. A groin injury would keep Diggs out of action in Weeks 6 and 7. But even after missing the two straight games, Diggs remained in the top 25 for receiving yards and finished the season with a 67 percent catch rate. Diggs was again garnering comparisons to Randy Moss, as one of the best receiving in recent Vikings history.
What Defines Stefon Diggs?
The Vikings would finish the 2017 season 13-3, clinching the NFC North. With their bye, the Vikings would take on the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional round. With only 10 seconds left in the game, Diggs would make a remarkable catch, winning the game with a 61-yard, walk-off touchdown. The 29-24 win was hailed as the ‘Minneapolis Miracle,‘ and was one of the most iconic moments in Minnesota sports history.
The Vikings would go on to lose to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game that year. However, even in the loss, Stefon Diggs had put a mark on the Vikings fanbase during their 2017 playoff run. The financial compensation for the team’s appreciation for him would come in the summer of 2018. Diggs would sign a five year, $72 million contract extension that would see him locked up with the team until the 2023 season.
Things started off well for Diggs and the Vikings in 2018. In Week 1, Diggs caught the first touchdown pass thrown by Kirk Cousins as a Viking. Diggs and Adam Thielen continued to be a dominating receiving duo. The two became the first pair of Vikings receivers to put up 1,000 yards each since Moss and Cris Carter did it in 2000. Overall, it was a disappointing season for the Vikings, who would fail for the second time in three years to make the playoffs. However, it was another year of career milestones for Diggs, who put up a career-best 102 receptions, along with nine touchdowns. At the end of the season, Diggs was ranked 65th on the NFL Top 100 Players list of 2018.
The 2019 season was another filled with career bests for Stefon Diggs. He became the first Viking in 16 years to score three touchdowns in one game, in a week six 38-20 win over the Eagles. However, there was tension brewing on the team’s sideline, which was evident from Week 11 on. Diggs, who was known for emotional outbursts, was continuing to rub teammates and potentially even the coaching staff the wrong way. Meanwhile, even with the emotional tension over Diggs building in the organization, the team continued to win games and perform to the best of their ability, finishing the season 10-6.
In the 2020 off-season, after months of speculation concerning the relationship between Diggs and Vikings organization, Stefon Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills. The trade would see the Vikings exchanging Diggs and their seventh overall pick for the 2020 draft, for the Bills’ 22nd overall pick, as well as fifth and sixth rounders and a fourth round pick in 2021.
What Stefon Diggs Brings to Buffalo
The Bills seem to have a fascination with the undersized receiver in the NFL today. The club adds Diggs to their group of already undersized, but overachieving receiving corps. The group is headlined by the likes of John Brown and Cole Beasley, who quickly make up a three-some of highly skilled and explosive talent. When the trade initially happened, some in the NFL media even suggested that the Bills have put together ‘the best wide receiver group in the NFL.’
When you pick away all the perceptions built around Stefon Diggs, you start to find out that he is a player that any NFL franchise should want to have on their team. Diggs is top of his class when it comes to route running and contested catches. He has unbelievable hands and is explosive downfield and quick when he needs to be. Diggs has an ability to exploit man-coverage and is not afraid to put himself into dangerous areas to make plays. Bottom line is, Diggs is likely a misunderstood misfit with a ton of talent. All he needs is the right team to harness it.
Leadership and Confidence
Stefon Diggs has two younger brothers, Darez and Trevon. Trevon was recently drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. Trevon was drafted out of the University of Alabama, while their youngest brother Darez plays for the UAB Blazers. Needless to say, Stefon comes from a lineage of football players, that have been, more or less, led by his own aspirations for the game. When Diggs was just 14 years old, his father Aron died at age 39. His father’s death left Stefon having to take a major step in becoming a role model for his younger brothers. This was a deciding factor in Diggs remaining in Maryland while playing college football. As he chose to stay close to his family when choosing a school.
The Downside of Stefon Diggs
There were many fans and NFL media alike that were expressing disdain for Diggs’ behavior at times during the 2019 season. After the Vikings lost to the Chicago Bears in Week 4, while he finished the game with 108 yards on seven catches, Diggs was clear that he was not happy with the offensive game plan. The following day, Diggs would not show up to the team facility and missed practice that week and was fined upwards of $200,000. At the time it was viewed as a team and player in an abrasive relationship. However, whatever was worked out with Diggs after that Week 4 game seemed to have worked for the Vikings. In their first four games, Diggs had 209 yards and a touchdown on just 19 targets. In the four games following, Diggs earned 496 yards and three touchdowns on 30 targets. Whatever the perception about Diggs having a bad attitude is, there is no doubt that when he is involved in the game plan, he delivers.
For Good or Bad, Stefon Diggs Has an Emotional Element to His Game
For the Vikings and Mike Zimmer, it seems that it was almost a personal preference that got in the way of Diggs and the Vikings having ultimate success. That notion is amplified when looking back to one of the Vikings’ worst games of the season in 2019. After being down 20-0 at halftime to the Denver Broncos, Diggs made it clear to his coach that he wasn’t happy with being left out of the offensive picture and called out the play calling. Diggs and the team rallied from that point, with Diggs making a 54-yard touchdown catch, making the game 23-20. The team’s reaction to Diggs’ outburst brought the team to life and at that point, no one, not even Mike Zimmer was complaining.
“Don’t Confuse Passion With Distraction”
When it’s all said and done and the book is written on the Vikings 2019 season, the path of chronology is clear. As much as Diggs’ comes off as an abrasive character, there is no doubt that his emotion is what kick-started the team into turning around their season. It was also clear that Diggs was the emotional leader that Mike Zimmer may have wanted Kirk Cousins to turn out to be, but that wasn’t going to be the case.
When you see the team turning things around after Week 4, when you see the team coming back from 20-0 deficits, you start to think there may be something behind Stefon Diggs and his emotional attachment to the game of football. The tension seemed to have brewed over during the NFC Wild Card game when Diggs threw his helmet in disgust during the third quarter of their upset victory over the Saints. The Vikings were leading 13-10 at the time, but Diggs had yet to be targeted for a reception. The Vikings would once again rally from that point on, holding on for a 26-20 overtime victory. Diggs would finish the game with just two catches, both of which came on third down, both of which set up touchdowns, including the game-winner.
“Don’t confuse passion with distraction because the guys on my team know me,” Diggs said after the win. “We’re always ready and we’re going to do anything to get a win. People can formulate their own opinion as you watch. I care about my teammates and their opinion about me more than I care about the outside.”
This sentiment is the exact reason why Stefon Diggs is misunderstood as a leader on a team. What the outside deems as a master of distraction, should only be viewed as a master of motivation. That is what Stefon Diggs is turning out to be. Whether you like his methods or not.
Diggs Demands Accountability
For the Buffalo Bills, it may be a blessing that Stefon Diggs wore out his time and welcome with Mike Zimmer and the Vikings. The Bills saw a ‘buy low’ situation and jumped on it, which was the right choice to make. The myth behind Diggs and his bad attitude is reflected in the numbers. 2019 was another season of career numbers when it came to production for Diggs. However, even when the critics favored him over Adam Thielen, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to favor Thielen, even when the numbers pointed to Diggs as the top option. This obvious factor, along with the fines, the missed meetings, and the sideline outbursts, all pointed to Diggs being on his way out. For the Vikings, it may seem at good reason, but what they are losing is a particular piece of the puzzle to winning that has eluded them for quite some time, accountability.
Great Players Demand Accountability
Coming off back to back 1,000+ yard seasons, Diggs will quickly establish himself as the number one offensive threat in Buffalo. To go along with that, Diggs has likely not even reached his highest potential and is still yet to have the best seasons of his career. Beyond all of that though, is the factor that can’t be quantified. Accountability. Buffalo head coach Sean McDermott had no one to blame but himself after their devastating loss to the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card round in January. The Bills head coach came under a ton of scrutiny, after failing to successfully defend the 13-0 lead they took into half time. What Diggs would bring to the table in a similar situation next year, will not only be a ton of talent, but also a sense of responsibility. Diggs will be an offensive option that this team has not seen since the likes of Terrell Owens, but what he also brings is something that statistics can not measure. Hopefully, with the addition of Diggs, the days of the Bills’ offense being a liability to their success will be gone and dead.
Sure, the Bills could have taken the cheaper and possibly safer route, waiting and developing the number 22 pick wide receiver Justin Jefferson. However, with Tom Brady leaving the AFC East and the New England Patriots’ dynasty finally coming to an end, the Bills have a window to win now and there may be no time to wait and develop offensive weapons. At $12 million a year, Diggs is by far the more expensive option, but it will pay dividends when it comes to the experience and the personality that the Bills are getting with Stefon Diggs. Like him or hate him, he is the answer in Buffalo.