In week four of the 2015-16 NFL season, Stefon Diggs made his first career NFL start in Denver after being inactive the first three games of the year. The 6'0'' 191 lb receiver posted 6 receptions for 87 yards, confirming to Viking fans that his impressive preseason was no fluke. This was followed up with three monster stat lines of 7 receptions for 129 yards versus Kansas City, 6 receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown at Detroit, and 6 receptions for 95 yards at Chicago. But after a scorching hot start, he was only able to manage 301 yards over the team's final nine games.
Fast forward to the 2016-17 season, which began with a similar narrative for the young star, as he posted 285 yards and a touchdown in the first two games of the season. After a week one and two explosion, his play tallied off a bit the followring two weeks before missing week five due to a groin injury. But don't be fooled, if there is one thing his play has shown thus far, it's that he's here to stay.
While Diggs isn't the most physically imposing receiver, he does have elite traits to his game that suggest he will continue his development into a top flight receiver.
As a route runner, Diggs is very advanced for his young age. He knows some veteran tricks to keep defensive backs off-balance- both literally and figuratively. Watch as he makes Packers defensive back Damarious Randall turn a full circle on this touchdown grab in week 2.
He begins his route with a slight inside release, before attacking Randall's outside shoulder about 7 yards into his route, causing Randall to slightly lose his balance. Randall gets away with a hold, at which point he is hanging on for dear life as Diggs then cuts back inside while using an ever so slight arm bar to give himself just enough space to make the catch and keep his feet in bounds.
Now let's take a look at one of my favorite plays of Diggs' young season.
After making a catch on a hitch route, he quickly breaks the first tackle. While trying to maintain his balance and with very little time to react to Packers safety Morgan Burnett, Diggs pulls off an extremely quick and effective spin move that sends Burnett flying into the turf. Ladies and gentlemen, this is pure instinct working together with raw athleticism to create a beautiful play (And a first down on 2nd and 11).
Did I mention Diggs can catch? Oh, well, yeah, he can. Take a look at another play from the Packers game, where he shows it off in spades.
Here's another angle.
Impressive. On a ball that traveled over 40 yards, Diggs made a full-extension catch between two defenders while falling to the ground.
I touched earlier on Diggs' bag of veteran tricks. On this play late in the game against the Titans, they show up again in a different form.
Facing tight coverage from Jason McCourtey, Diggs can't afford to give away the ball location, which is the one advantage he has on McCourtey who doesn't have his head turned around. Watch as Diggs waits until the last split-second to adjust to the ball and bring his hands up, leaving McCourtey with no time to react, and thus resulting in a game-icing catch.
Now, lets go back again to the week 2 Packer game. This is the last time. I promise.
A couple of things to note on this play, both good and bad. First of all, I think it goes without saying- excellent explosion here. He catches the ball and is gone. Or at least he should be. For some reason he makes the dubious decision to cut this one back inside, when he could have picked up another 20 yards or possibly even scored had he continued on the path he was originally on. Cutting back inside is actually something he frequently does. Sometimes to his success, and sometimes to his detriment.
As I mentioned earlier, Diggs doesn't have the physical build of a large wide receiver. But that doesn't mean he can't imitate it.
Just an all around great play by Diggs. He runs his route at excellent depth- far enough for the first down, but not too far to give the defender a shot at the ball. He then high points the ball with stellar body control while using his body to shield off the defender. This style of "box-out" play turns up a lot when watching film on him, which is surprising when factoring in his slender frame.
The final part of Diggs' game I want to highlight is his ability to stop on a dime. He can do this as good as any player in the NFL, and when you factor in his elite speed (Next Gen Stats had him as the fastest charted player of week 2 at 22.50 miles per hour) it is even more impressive. Take this play last year against Kansas City for example.
He catches the ball and starts running up the sideline at full speed. He then pumps the breaks and makes Derrick Johnson, a Pro Bowl linebacker, look silly as he flies by. While he didn't gain many net yards after the move, this is a great visual of just how quickly he can go 60-0.
At just 22 years old, Stefon Diggs has an extremely bright NFL future. Despite his quiet last two contests, his tape shows an immensely talented young player who is just beginning to blossom in his second season. He receives plenty of comparisons- Antonio Brown being the most tossed around. But let's let the kid be himself. He isn't Antonio Brown. He's Stefon Diggs. And that's pretty badass.
Well, that's about it folks. Following a week 6 bye week, we should expect to see Diggs back on the field week 7 in Philadelphia for what should be a good matchup. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below, and don't forget to follow me on twitter @GIFScouting.