When the Minnesota Vikings drafted Stefon Diggs, the plan wasn’t to have him be a critical part of the offense immediately. Most fifth-round picks are viewed as project players that are brought along slowly.
But when injuries hit the Vikings prior to the last game against Denver, Diggs was thrust into the spotlight and responded. He was targeted a team-high 10 times against the Broncos, he caught six passes for 87 yards – the most yardage any Viking has piled up this season.
After being inactive for the first three games, Diggs knew his role was going to increase, but he had no idea he would be the centerpiece of the pass offense.
“I didn’t really go in expecting anything,” Diggs said. “I just went in prepared that, when my number was called, I was going to be ready. That was the main thing for me. Going in, I didn’t have any expectations.”
He was a bit surprised by his number of targets, which was tied for the most times a player had been targeted all season. He didn’t know how big a day he was going to have, but he knew he had earned the confidence of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and it was time to translate that rapport onto to the field on game day.
“As far as being targeted, that’s just trust between me and my QB,” Diggs said. “It’s well-appreciated because you’re out there working hard. I just try to make the most of every opportunity I get.”
Bridgewater was shorthanded in the receiver corps against the Broncos, but was impressed with what he got from Diggs in his debut. He had seen improvement from the time he arrived to the Vikings, and Bridgewater gave a strong endorsement of what he has seen in practice with Diggs and what he saw on the field a week and half ago.
“He’s a young guy who is working extremely hard and he showed some flashes throughout training camp,” Bridgewater said. “The thing you like about Stefon is the big catch radius he has. He has big and strong hands and will go up and make tough catches for you. He’s a guy who knows (when) he’s in the game what we expect of him. All of those guys, we expect those guys to play at their best.”
Diggs had a strong first game, but realizes that he is still the low man on the receiver totem pole. The other five receivers have been with the team longer and he is the only one in his first season working out of the Norv Turner offense.
As Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright get healthier and closer to returning, Diggs’ role may diminish, but he is keeping the same mindset that has got him this far – be as prepared as you possibly can be because you’re number may get called again and big things will be expected of you.
“Of course you want to be out there, but you have to deal with the cards you’re dealt,” Diggs said. “I had no problem with it. We just try to scheme what we’re trying to get done, so I was just cheering my guys on, trying to get a win each and every week. There’s no lost love. I’m still out there.”
It wasn’t all positive in Diggs’ debut. He fumbled the ball twice but, fortunately, neither of them resulted in turnovers. Bridgewater was impressed with his catches, but nothing gets a player benched faster than coughing up the ball and Diggs put in on the ground twice.
As impressive as he was in spurts, keeping the ball secure is something he needs to continue working on.
“He did some good things for us, but also some things that he can clean up,” Bridgewater said. “He had two fumbles. Luckily we recovered both of them. But he’ll learn quickly in this league that the guys tackle the football. He’s a guy that works extremely hard and he’s eager to be great. We take pride in taking care of the football around here. Stefon, he’s a guy who is going to learn in this league that guys tackle the football. For the most part, he played good against Denver and we expect him to build off his performance.”
With a wide receiver room that has as much speed and talent as the Vikings have had since the days of Randy Moss and Cris Carter, the Vikings have depth that they haven’t had the luxury of in previous years. The competition between them will only get fiercer now that Diggs has established himself as a viable option, much in the same way Charles Johnson made a quick ascent last year.
He knows that he could end up being a game-day inactive in the coming weeks, even though Norv Turner said Monday that it won’t happen this week against Kansas City. If he wants to keep his spot on the field on Sundays, he will have to continue to play at a high level because the fight for playing time is getting more intense all the time.
“We’ve got a lot of talented guys in our room,” Diggs said. “A lot of speed, a lot of route running, a lot of guys that can do it all. It just shows that we don’t lose anything if someone goes down as far as the next man up, you’ve got to be able to take that role and run with it. When all the guys get healthy, you have to get ready as well.”
You couldn’t have asked much more from a debut that Diggs gave the Vikings against Denver. He surpassed all expectations, but it was just the first chapter of the book of his NFL career.
What happens from here on out?
“I guess we’ll have to wait and see,” Diggs said.