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Why Are You Booing Stefon? He’s Right.

The Vikings traded Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills on Monday night in a deal that gave them the #22 overall pick in the 2020 draft, a 2020 5th, a 2020 6th, and a 2021 4th, while the Vikings also sent a 2020 7th.

Overall, this feels like fair compensation. Diggs is a top 5 receiver, but this is the equivalent of a first and a high third, which is a haul compared what the Texans just got for DeAndre Hopkins, and should be enough for the Vikings to recoup some of the lost production from Diggs and add more pieces to the team.

Still, Diggs was one of the most valuable assets in the NFL, especially when looking at players not on a rookie contract. He is an elite player at one of the three most valuable positions. He’s young, and his contract had a lot of team control with little dead money, part of the reason it was easy for the team to move on. The loss hurts.

The Vikings didn’t do Diggs any favors by trading him. The Bills appear to want to be a run-first, defense-led team. Josh Allen is an exciting young player, but he also struggles to make good decisions passing, and is very inaccurate. Exciting is not necessarily good.

Diggs, discontent on the Vikings, appears to have pushed his way out. The enigmatic WR, who may be the best route runner in the league, was on a team-friendly deal, but money didn’t seem to play a factor in his demand. Instead, his role on the field catalyzed the move.

Whether or not you agree with him, from looking at the Vikings’ offense over the past couple of years, you can see the roots of his frustration. Diggs is an extremely versatile receiver who can thrive in any role he’s asked to. In fact, that can be seen in his stats from 2018 and 2019:

Statistic2018 (Rank)2019 (Rank)
Targets149 (10th)94 (46th)
Receptions102 (11th)63 (44th)
Yards1021 (20th)1130 (17th)
Yards/Reception10.0 (98th)17.9 (4th)
Yards/Target6.9 (95th)12.0 (2nd)
Catch Percentage68.5% (30th)67.0% (30th)

In 2018, Diggs was used primarily as an underneath receiver. He was a quick passing game and dumpoff option for Cousins, rarely used intermediate and deep. That doesn’t mean he can’t thrive in those areas, as he was an intermediate target often in his three seasons before 2018, and in 2019 was almost exclusively a deep target.

Diggs may have been the most efficient WR in the NFL in 2019. He is an elite deep threat. His yards/target and yards/reception were excellent, and his catch percentage (30th among WRs), while not elite, was excellent for a player with his usage profile. No one else in the top 10 in yards/reception caught more than 62% of their targets.

The gripe Diggs likely had was how often he was getting targeted. Despite being one of the most efficient receivers in the league, he was just 46th in targets, and that’s with Adam Theilen, the only other viable receiver on the team, missing basically 8 games.

Not only was Diggs used poorly — he should have been running routes at all depths — and not targeted enough, you can almost pick out the Vikings losses by looking at the games where Diggs had the fewest receiving yards this past year.

Both Packers games and the Chiefs game stand out as games where Diggs did not get the ball enough. Across those games, Diggs had just 5 receptions for 110 yards. There are many missed opportunities on tape. Let’s look at some:

In the above, Diggs starts out in the slot and is running a post. The deep safety give him the inside, and he has a ton of space to run to. Inexplicably, Cousins has a ton of time but decides to check down to the TE on the crosser.

Kirk Cousins struggles mightily to create off-script. Here, Kirk gets spooked by pressure and bails to early. Even still, if he sees Diggs down the field he has an opportunity to make a play. Instead, Cousins inability to extend plays and operate out of structure leads to a throwaway.

Diggs never seemed to be the first option in the Vikings’ passing offense. In this case, the Vikings are running mirrored smash concepts. The Packers are in man, and Diggs beats his man soundly with a great route. However, Kirk is looking to Thielen and heaves an ill-advised throw instead of going to the wide open Diggs. Thielen does not have leverage on his defender at the break, while Diggs has his defender’s hips completely facing the wrong way. There is pressure, but Cousins needs to come off this read.

The above is a three level flood concept off of play action that the Vikings ran consistently last year. There is a bit of a variation on this play, as Diggs converts what looks like it is going to be a corner into a post. As soon as Cousins has turned around, Diggs has already won, and the safety is running towards the far sideline. This should be a TD. Cousins has more than enough time to load up and throw deep. Instead, he decides to throw to Thielen in the flat, and misses the throw.

Context matters. This play is on 3rd and 14. By the time Cousins hits the top of his drop, Diggs is running full speed, even with the CB who looks to be in quarters. The safety, rotating deep, would also be unable to get to the ball. Instead, Cousins checks down on a route that has no chance of getting a first down.

I do not believe the root of Diggs’ frustration was not necessarily that he was not getting the ball enough in general, the typical complaint of a disgruntled receiver. Rather, there are a number of instances in Vikings’ losses where he gave Kirk an opportunity to make a play, but Kirk failed to throw the ball to him.

It will be interesting to watch Diggs on the Bills. Josh Allen is a foil to Kirk Cousins. He can make plays off script, and isn’t afraid to throw the ball deep into tight coverage, but has severe accuracy issues and doesn’t make consistently good decisions. We’ll see if Diggs is happy when he’s getting thrown too often, even if the passes aren’t catchable.

Stefon Diggs made huge plays for the Vikings. In the Packers’ game above, he had just one catch, but it was a 49 yard TD on a contested catch. He should have had more. In the Bears game the next week, he got just two targets before the team was down 16-0, but had 3 catches on their lone scoring drive. In other losses, he simply wasn’t targeted enough.

When the Vikings didn’t make Stefon Diggs a priority, they lost football games. It makes sense why that frustrated him. Now they’ll have to try to win without him.

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