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Mankato Is Quickly Becoming Diggstown

Photograph provided by Thad Chesley

For the past couple of years. . .or maybe longer, though I hadn't really noticed it. . .a favorite pastime among the local Minnesota Vikings media members during Training Camp has been to speculate as to who will win the title of "Mr. Mankato." That is, who will be the guy that comes out of nowhere to really impress coaches and fans during the time that the team is going through their preseason preparations.

We're only a week into those preseason preparations, but it sounds as though we may already be able to declare a winner in the Mr. Mankato competition for 2015.

Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who the Vikings selected in the fifth round (#146 overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft, has been the guy whose name has appeared most frequently among those who have impressed early in camp this year, and it appears that he can be primed to make a big impact this season.

It shouldn't be this surprising that Diggs has made an impression. He was a highly sought after high school athlete, being ranked as the #2 wide receiver prospect in the nation by both and in 2011. Despite scholarship offers from schools such as Ohio State, USC, and Auburn, Diggs chose to stay close to home and attend the University of Maryland. As a freshman, he was eighth in the nation in all-purpose yards per game, and ranked fifth in the ACC in receiving yards per game, second in kick return average, and fifth in punt return average.

After that, however, injuries began to play a role for Diggs. He played in just seven games as a sophomore in 2013, and missed a couple of games with injuries at the end of 2014 as well. Still, as a junior, he was good enough to be named to the All-B1G second team. Diggs then decided to forego his senior season with the Terrapins to enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

The Vikings suddenly have a lot of talent at wide receiver, thanks to the acquisition of Mike Wallace and the emergence of Charles Johnson, among other things. But the reviews coming out of Mankato on Diggs thus far make it easy to think that he's going to be making an impression on Sundays sooner rather than later. His quarterback was certainly impressed with his first prime-time performance on Saturday.

Diggs was one of the stars of the Vikings' annual evening practice at Blakeslee Stadium, drawing cheers from the capacity crowd of 10,300 with a series of impressive catches. He hauled in a 40-yard touchdown from Shaun Hill on a ball over his head, went low to catch a ball over the middle in traffic and took a touchdown pass away from Marcus Sherels on a corner route in a red zone drill.

"Some guys showed up big tonight, talking about Stefon Diggs," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said. "(He's) showing what it takes to play in this league."

Even if Diggs doesn't get into the wide receiver rotation, it appears that he's the favorite at this point to assume punt return duties. . .and, possibly, kick return duties if Cordarrelle Patterson doesn't get back to his late-2013 form sooner rather than later. Diggs excelled as a returner with the Terrapins, and has all the skills to do so at the pro level as well.

Yes, it's very early in the process, but it's starting to look like the Vikings got themselves quite a find in Stefon Diggs. Hopefully what the heavy "Mr. Mankato" favorite has shown thus far will transition to games against defenders that aren't wearing purple.