Vikings’ Stefon Diggs’ Four-Game, 419-yard Breakout Rookie Performance

After just four games, ProFootballFocus ranks rookie Stefon Diggs as the 9th best receiver in the entire NFL.  His 419 receiving yards through his first four games is the second-most among all NFL players in their first four games in NFL history.  In the four games he has played, Diggs has accounted for 46% of the Vikings’ passing yards and has been targeted on over 30% of Teddy Bridgewater’s passes.  So the question on every Vikings fan’s and every fantasy football player’s mind is—is this kid for real?

Surely there is a reason Diggs was a fifth-round pick, #146th overall and the 20th wide receiver taken in the 2015 draft.  And Vikings fans have seen wide receivers overhyped before: in 2010, it was Sidney Rice; in 2012, it was Percy Harvin; in 2014, it was Cordarelle Patterson; and even this preseason, it was Charles Johnson.  Who is to say Stefon Diggs is any different?

I say he is.  Or, rather, the tape says he is.  Rather than expecting Diggs’ production to slowly decline as offenses study his tape and adjust to his tendencies, we should be expecting the production to increase as Diggs continues to develop his craft.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the tape.

The Situation: Vikings at Lions, Lions up 17-15, 10:19 left in the 3rd, 1st and 10 at DET 36

The Route: Out-and-Up

The Matchup: Lions are in Cover 3 zone; Rashean Mathis matches up with Diggs’ deep route

The Play:



The Route Running

The Out-and-Up route is an advanced route that requires two successive 90-degree cuts at full speed.  It’s not the sort of route that coaches are typically comfortable assigning to rookies, so the fact that the coaches assign this route to Diggs speaks volumes as to how confident they are in Diggs’ talent.

The route is a good matchup against this cover-3 look, as it only develops once Diggs gets five paces and about 10 yards downfield.  This places Diggs out of James Inhedigbo’s curl zone and into Mathis’ deep zone, forcing Mathis to play the route one-on-one.  Watch the route frame-by-frame as Diggs sells the out route perfectly—right before cutting up, his entire body (head, shoulders, feet) are all pointed out:

The speed with which Diggs cuts out forces Mathis to swing his hips out to cover the sideline route.  But just as easily as Diggs cuts out, he then sinks his hips and cuts up.

Notice how easily and deeply Diggs sinks his hips, enabling him to cut hard up without losing speed.  This is phenomenal route running—not just for a rookie, but for any NFL receiver.  Diggs is so quick out of his breaks that he gets nearly ten yards of separation—an absurd amount of space in the NFL.

The Adjustment

Two paces after Diggs cuts up, he looks back to pinpoint the ball—Diggs himself said that this look back came two paces too early, keeping him from fully accelerating out of his break.  But this minor error does not prevent Diggs from accelerating to catch up to where the ball will fall while tracking the ball left.

The Catch

Diggs leaps out, fully extending his entire body, and reaches out his hands to catch the ball on his fingertips, then immediately secures it underneath his torso with one hand. This fingertips catch was made possible by Diggs’ 10″ hands—very big for a WR, particularly for a 6’0” WR.

This one play encapsulates why Diggs’ success is no fluke—this is simply phenomenal footwork and agility on an advanced route, combined with great acceleration and a natural ability to track the ball in air with the raw size and athleticism to extend fully for a highlight-reel catch.

The Situation: Vikings at Bears, Bears up 20-13, 1:49 left in the 4th, 3rd and 4 at CHI 40

The Route: Option

The Matchup: Bears are in Cover 1 press man; Sherrick McManis starts in press against Diggs in the slot threatening to jam the route.

The Play:



The Route Running

Option routes are probably the most difficult routes to run in the NFL because they require the wide receiver to read the defense, choose the correct route and be on the same page as the quarterback.  Again, the fact that Diggs as a rookie is already running these advanced routes speaks not only to his athleticism and polish but the coaches’ confidence in his mental game as well.

Diggs starts his route sprinting upfield—recognizing the man coverage as McMannis tries to stay on him, Diggs sells the out route, forcing McMannis to turn his hips out to keep up.  Diggs then decides his option—faking out, he turns 270 degrees to cut inside, leaving him wide open with McMannis stumbling to recover.

Bridgewater works through his progressions and finds Diggs as he cuts in, yet Bridgewater’s pass leads Diggs back out.  Diggs has no trouble cutting another 270 degrees out, but McMannis is unable to keep up after stumbling to recover from the previous cut and winds up in the ground, leaving Diggs with plenty of space to sprint into the end zone.  Mike Wallace does Diggs no favors with his blocking, but Diggs manages to spin through one tackle and drive through another to score the touchdown.

The Takeaway: Not only is Diggs fully capable of physically outplaying his defender by sinking his hips and cutting 270 degrees twice to leave defenders on the turf, he’s also capable of outplaying his defender mentally by reading the defense and choosing the right route.  The yards after the catch encapsulate his fluidity in space and his tenacity to drive into the end zone

The Situation: Vikings at Broncos, Broncos up 17-20, 7:18 left in the 4th, 1st and 20 at DEN 44

The Route: Out

The Matchup: Broncos are in Cover 1 man with a five-man blitz; Aqib Talib—one of the best cornerbacks in football—matches up deep against Diggs.

The Play:



Route running

On 1st-and-20 against the league’s best front seven, Denver brings a blitz hoping to prevent any deeper routes from developing.  Aqib Talib plays high man coverage over Diggs, who runs a simple out route.

This is a simpler route, but Diggs executes it perfectly.  He sprints straight-line up field until he meets Talib, then, to sell the veteran corner on an in route, he sinks his hips, angles in and turns his whole body left.  As soon as Talib turns his hips in, Diggs cuts hard the other way over 90 degrees out, shaking Talib off completely.

The footwork here is phenomenal.  Ideally, a wide receiver will make his cut in about three or four paces–Diggs does that here with three steps, and he does it without slowing down.  You can’t run this route any better than this.

The Takeaway: Sometimes rookies succeed because they get matched up against a team’s worst defender.  On this route, Diggs matches up against one the NFL’s best cornerbacks, and he wins—handily—getting over five yards of separation by selling the in route and cutting out without missing a step.

By the Way: Diggs has run this out route several times, and has been wide open nearly every time:

That first route is worth taking a deeper look at.

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Nick Olson