Stefon Diggs has been receiving opportunities to play in games because of injuries to the wide receivers ahead of him on the depth chart and he is taking advantage of every opportunity that he has gotten. For two weeks in a row he has been the Minnesota Vikings’ leading receiver with 87 yards against the Denver Broncos and 129 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Since he was forced to sit the first three weeks of the season it has seemed as though he has come out of nowhere, but that isn’t how his teammates feel. They are able to see him work in practice so they were expecting this type of production from him.
“He stepped up. We all knew he would,” said Vikings wide receiver Mike Wallace. “Certain people get excited because you don’t see a person on a daily basis. When you see somebody every single day put in the amount of work that he does and wants to get better it’s going to happen for you. He does a really good job of that, and he does a really good job of taking coaching and wanting to get better. If he messes something up he’s going to lean on anybody. Whoever the older guy is he’s going to ask him, ‘What should I do here, what should I do there?’ If you continue to do those things it will always work in your favor.”
Wallace even went as far to compare Diggs to the NFL’s leading receiver from a year ago, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. When you look at the two of them, it is easy to find similarities. Both of them are smaller receivers – Brown is 5-10 and Diggs is 6-0 – and they were both drafted in later rounds.
But neither of those things were what Wallace meant when he made the comparison. Instead, he just meant that you can tell they are both talented players when you watch them.
“I think the skillset,” Wallace said of why he made the comparison. “I mean, personally, when you look at a guy you can tell from Day 1 who can play football and not. There are some exceptions where guys get better drastically over time, but for the most part you can see a guy from Day 1 – can he play, can he not play? And I always felt like (Diggs) could from Day 1 when I first ever seen him when I got to training camp because OTAs I don’t think he was here. So from training camp Day 1 it was just the skillset, the way he runs his routes, energy that he has and hands just reminded me of (Brown).”
In the two regular season games that Diggs has played in, he has been impressing people with his route running. In both games, he has completely turned around an opposing defender and that is not something you see too often from a rookie with so little NFL experience.
While Diggs is naturally good at many things, such as his hands and speed, he said that route running is not something he has always been good at.
“Actually, my route running got a lot better when I got here,” he said. “When you see Charles Johnson and other guys that run great routes you automatically got to sharpen your blade a little bit and take the little things from him that you can and that kind of thing. I’ve been working at it a long time. I haven’t always been the best, I’m still not the best, but I’m trying to get there, no doubt.”
The hard work has definitely been paying off for the rookie as he is even impressing some of his own teammates on the opposite side of the ball. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is the Vikings’ nickel cornerback, has been in the NFL for seven years and thinks that Diggs is one of the most polished rookies he has ever seen.
But Diggs is also one of the hardest working players that he has seen in practice. According to Munnerlyn, Diggs is always working hard in practice, even when the team is only conducting a walk-through.
“He’s one of the (most) polished receivers I’ve seen as a rookie,” Munnerlyn said. “He runs great routes, great route runner. Some guys, it takes them time to learn how to run routes in the NFL, he’s already got that. He’s a great receiver. He’s got great speed, great hands and he goes and gets the ball. He works hard at practice. If some of you guys could see what he does at practice ya’ll be like, ‘Wow.’ I know ya’ll seen it at training camp but, man, he’s very talented. He has turned it on these last couple of weeks and it shows up on the field. You practice hard and it shows up on Sundays.”
That drive to work hard in practice day in and day out is something that has always come easily for Diggs. He wants to make the ascent from good rookie to great player, focusing on the things he could do better. He had 129 receiving yards against the Chiefs, but his biggest focus after the game was how he was upset with himself for getting tackled on one play when he had a lot of open space in front of him.
That kind of attitude continues to push Diggs to work hard in practice and improve his game, but he is not always so negative. He enjoys playing the game of football and it is the love of the sport that really keeps him going.
“I’ve been around the game for a long time, so I just love football, everything about it,” he said. “The pressure that everybody says people get, third downs and that type of thing, that’s what keeps me going. It gives me life. So I just love the game.”