Stefon Diggs is a force to be reckoned with when he is fully healthy. Injuries have nagged him throughout the past two years, and despite a few huge games he has still not yet broken 1,000 yards in a full season. He is back to full health entering 2017, but many feared a drop in production as he will be taking most of his snaps split wide this year and not in the slot where he had seen playing time before.
Diggs silenced many of his doubter’s week one with a huge game against the New Orleans Saints. The receiver had seven catches on eight targets for 93 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings beat the Saints to open the new season.
He only lined up in the slot twice all game, and all of his receptions came from out wide. Many of his receptions early on came on the same routes he would run out of the slot anyway.
Diggs still has the quick first step and insane agility when split out wide that he has in the slot. On this play, he is lined up towards the inside and makes a quick move off of the snap. His route takes him beneath underneath two other routes and the defender covering him has trouble weaving through the bodies to keep up. He has a few steps on his man and catches a quick slant and turns up the field for 10 yards and a first down.
His first three catches of the day were all on plays that looked exactly like this one. He caught three passes in the first quarter for 23 yards all on slant routes. Diggs is quick and shifty and has the route running ability to always find space when he is in man coverage. He excels on shorter routes as they allow him to make full use of his agility, and usually get the ball before defenders can recover.
His route running also allows him to make plays when running downfield, as well, though.
On this play, Diggs absolutely embarrasses the Saints secondary. He initially turns towards the inside on his route, causing the linebacker and corner back around to creep forward. Diggs quickly changes his course and breaks towards the outside before either can react and finds himself wide open for an easy touchdown. He benefitted greatly from the Saints deep safety being at the other side of the field being distracted by Adam Thielen.
Even when there is a safety on that side of the field Diggs still manages to find space within zone coverage.
Diggs breaks into another corner route on this play after starting his route by taking a few steps towards the inside. Off the snap, the deep safety on Diggs side begins to back pedal, while the corner in front of him begins to sit within his zone to help on a shallower route. The corner facing his hips towards the inside is a telltale sign of zone coverage, which tells Diggs the kind of defense he has in front of him. Once he is beyond the corner and linebacker on the first level he finds the crease in the zone. He makes a quick break on his route to the outside and Sam Bradford finds him in space for an easy completion.
He comes down with the ball while getting absolutely blown up on both sides by the Saints defenders. Diggs is great at making a play on the ball and has great hands that allow him to snag passes out of the air, which he showed on two later grabs.
On his second touchdown of the day, Diggs fights off contact at the goal line before going up and coming down with a touchdown catch over his man. He has always had great hands but in his first few seasons in the NFL he had troubles fighting through contact. Here he uses his agility at the line of scrimmage to get outside leverage and then beats his man over the top for the catch. Diggs also shows incredible balance to come down with the ball and getting both feet in bounds to complete the catch.
His longest catch of the day came despite a defensive pass interference.
Diggs comes off the snap and instantly breaks towards the outside. He runs a vertical route upfield, and even though he has a step on his man he never fully shakes him. Bradford stares at him the whole way and launches a great pass at his receiver. The corner needs to grab on to Diggs in order to recover and hopefully break up the pass. Diggs still manages to make an excellent grab despite the defensive back hanging off his arm.
He may not have been the Vikings top receiver on the day but he was the most exciting of the bunch. The Maryland product used his skills as a slot receiver to make plays over the middle, but spreading him out wide lets him show off his true arsenal of skills. His speed and agility running downfield make him look like a sort of Odell Beckham-lite, and he should only get more comfortable as the season goes on.
One issue that did arise in this game, though, was his limited route tree. Diggs ran 27 routes on Monday night but slant routes, vertical routes and corner routes accounted for 17 of them. All his targets on the day came on those exact routes and he had trouble getting open at all when running any other route.
He was most efficient running corner routes but found a lot of success with the other two as well. His limited tree does make him more predictable though. New Orleans has one of the worst defenses in the league, and they rarely jammed him at the line of scrimmage which seemed to be a weakness for him in the past.
Diggs is taking on a new role for the Minnesota Vikings and he got off to a hot start. It may have been one of the easier match ups he will run into all season, but his performance turned heads around the league on Monday Night Football. Minnesota can have a dangerous passing attack this year, and Diggs may be one of the most important parts of it.
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