Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: The Tight-Quarters Virtuosity of Vikings WR Stefon Diggs

Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio NFL Lens examines the release on a slant route from Minnesota Viking wide receiver Stefon Diggs, a maestro of a route runner. 

I can’t tell you for a fact that Stefon Diggs practices new ideas slowly. However, I’d bet money that at some point during Diggs’ learning process, he’s breaking down details and piecing them together at a much slower pace than the ultimate execution we see on the field.

Diggs is a virtuoso route runner, and the most technically virtuosic performers practice things slow. If you can’t envision and execute each detail at a snail’s pace, it’s unlikely you’ll perform those details with precision at a breakneck tempo.

This slant against the Cowboys on Sunday night is an excellent example. Diggs clears the tight coverage using this list of movements:

  • Three steps,
  • Four small changes of direction with his head and eyes
  • Two arm-pumps
  • A stick (jab of the outside leg)
  • A shoulder reduction
  • A raise of the inside forearm and elbow of the sideline arm
  • A chop with the hand with the sideline arm

If you count the last two bullet points as one move and the stick and shoulder reduction as paired movements where the stick leads to the reduction naturally, it’s 5-6 key movements in a process that spans a little more than a yard.

This is a play with a high density of skills packed into a confined space.  It has to be with tight, man-to-man coverage over top. As you watch this play, consider the precision of Diggs throughout.

Diggs squares the cornerback with his head up, and eyes forward as if he’s going to run through him, pumping his arms through the initial motion. This beginning sets up the stick to the outside and complements the dip of the outside shoulder as he breaks inside.

Note how the Diggs turns his head briefly to the outside to sell the movement but doesn’t turn his head inside after the outside fake. He turns his head upfield so he can look down at the corner’s reaction to the fake.

This allows Diggs to adjust his sideline arm to the movement of his opponent while attempting to clear the corner’s inside shoulder. The corner shoots his arm towards Diggs and because Diggs turned to focus on the defender after the fake, Diggs can see the corner’s arm and raise his forearm high enough to effectively clear the contact and set up the chop

Diggs doesn’t turn to look for the ball until he’s finished that final piece of contact and cleared the defender. This is highly technical work in a tight space where each movement is part of a sequence and made a priority.

When viewing the game on a casual level, the series of moves we see over a larger range of space seem most impressive. We see top college receivers show out with refined movements over the course of 5-15 yards.

However, the most compelling and difficult actions are often performed in the tightest confines and within the shortest range of space. When I watched these same college prospects, much fewer of them have a plan and/or the refined execution to win over the course of 1-5 yards.

Diggs’ elegant solution resulted in a completed slant and this short gain is a more impressive play within the scope of difficulty than most plays you’ll see on Saturdays. It’s just one of many examples why the NFL plays at a much high level and even future stars need acclimation time.

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