RSP analyst Dwain McFarland takes a closer look at the decline in productivity from Minnesota Vikings’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Follow Dwain on Twitter @DwainMcFarland
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is not happy about his role in the offense. Only one offseason ago, the Vikings signed the budding young wideout to an $84 million extension with $40 million in guarantees—8th most in the NFL).
In the first year of his new contract, Diggs produced 1,021 yards and 10 touchdowns in 15 games with newly signed Kirk Cousins—whose guaranteed money was the 7th most for a quarterback in history.
Through the first 12 weeks of the 2018 season, Diggs had 114 targets, 79 receptions, 724 yards, and 6 touchdowns. Then, the Vikings struggled in losses versus the Patriots and the Seahawks, and everything changed.
Wanting a run-oriented attack, head coach Mike Zimmer’s philosophy didn’t mesh with that of offensive coordinator John Defilippo. So, the Vikings fired Defilippo and replaced him with Kevin Stefanski. Then, in the offseason, the Vikings brought in Gary Kubiak to assist Stefanski with the offense—specifically the ground game.
Dalvin Cook is reaping the rewards from a scheme change, however, the passing attack has not shown any consistency to this point. Diggs is currently on pace for 74 targets, 51 receptions, 809 yards, and 3 touchdowns—worse than his 12-game marks last season.
Now you understand the source of his disenchantment.
Can Diggs earn a statistical rebound? The Vikings’ game scripts indicate it’s possible.
Three of the first five games have been blowout wins against the Falcons, Raiders, and Giants. The Vikings’ average margin of victory in those contests is 18 points. In the two losses, the Vikings have faced decent defenses and fell behind early versus Green Bay and the Bears.
In each of those trailing scripts Diggs saw seven targets versus an average of three in the blowout victories.
Four out of the next five Vikings’ opponents—the Eagles, Lions, Chiefs, Cowboys—have formidable offenses that should create more competitive scripts despite Minnesota’s excellent defense. The two blowout wins have come against inept offensive squads that were also struggling defensively, the Raiders and Giants.
Assuming this is the case, projected game scripts will help Diggs overcome two of the primary issues holding him back: A lackluster pace of play—he’s 25th at two plays per minute—and a low dropback passing rate of 49 percent—31st in the NFL.
However, the Vikings must get Diggs on the field more. Given the limited passing volume due to the two issues stated above, it doesn’t make sense to keep one of the star players off the field in passing situations.
Over the past three weeks, Diggs has only run a route on 78, 83 and 81 percent of the team passing plays. That means Diggs is missing roughly one out of every five dropbacks with Olabisi Johnson and Laquon Treadwell gaining additional snaps.
While expecting a slight uptick in production with Diggs is reasonable, it is unlikely we see anything close to the volume many expected prior to the beginning of the season. Game scripts will help, but the Vikings must also pick up their pace and get Diggs on the field closer to 100 percent of the time that Cousins is dropping back to pass.
Even at seven targets per game for the rest of the season, Diggs would barely eclipse 100 targets. This is hardly the workload of an $84 million receiver. Maybe the Vikings should consider listening to Diggs requests if the offense isn’t going to change.
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