Then, one man’s injury – a broken rib for Charles Johnson – was another man’s opportunity. Diggs took full advantage of his first chances to get on the field.
Although Cordarrelle Patterson started the first game after Johnson’s injury, it was Diggs that that quickly asserted himself. Patterson had one of his two catches in that Week 4 game against the Denver Broncos, but it was Diggs’ show during his first month of playing games in the NFL.
He was targeted 10 times against the Broncos, catching six passes for 87 yards. He followed that with back-to-back 100-yard games and then a 95-yard game.
“Those competitive juices come out and that’s why it’s important for me to see where (different receivers) are in ballgames because they could be totally different in ballgames than they are in practice,” Vikings receivers coach George Stewart said. “Not saying Stefon Diggs was because I knew he may have a chance once he got on campus.”
But after Diggs’ incredible first month of NFL games, the gravy train slowed down considerably. After going four straight games with 87 yards or more, and averaging almost 105 yards per game, his final nine games never produced even a 70-yard outing.
Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn believes that a receiver’s second year in the league may be harder than the first because defensive coordinators have a year of film on a receiver’s strengths and weaknesses. For Diggs, that intense film study by opponents may have started sooner.
“That’s part of football. Teams watch film, too. That’s what everybody gets paid to do, paid a lot of money to do, so it’s my job, no matter if they know what I’m going to do, to still win,” he said. “As far as the offseason, that’s what I’m working on, winning at all times.”
But the Vikings believe they can help him out, too. The plan this year is to move Diggs around more instead of concentrating him at one receiver position or on one side of the field.
It may go against the “diva” reputation that receivers often earn, but Diggs seems ultra-protective against causing waves. Still, he gave the impression that moving him around might help free him up.
“It’s not my place to say, but I love wherever they put me, and anytime I get the opportunity to get the ball and make a play or make a block for my team, I will,” he said.
Stewart called it a media fabrication that defenses focused on Diggs more after his first month of action, but he offered another explanation for why the production from the rookie receiver dropped after Nov. 1.
“I just think Adrian (Peterson) was in a good groove. He was 150, 175 yards in those times so it gave him an opportunity to get the ball better,” Stewart said. “Stefon is going to be a good player for us. Obviously he played well as a rookie. Hopefully he can have a sophomore year very similar to his rookie year. As he said, he wants to get better.”
As for what exactly Diggs wants to improve after a promising rookie season, he is tight-lipped about specifics.
“As far as the recipe, you know I’m not good on giving guys the ingredients, but let’s just say I’m going to be ready when it’s time,” he said.
“Mainly just being better all around, becoming a better pro and just doing things the right way. You know things don’t happen overnight so you’ve just got to continue to work at them and I’m looking forward to this second tier, finishing off OTAs the right way and getting after it.”
Perhaps the generalities came because Stewart doesn’t have a lot of specifics when it comes to techniques that the position coach would like to see Diggs improve upon.
“There’s not a lot. He’s a talented kid. He’s a good route-runner. He’s an excellent hands-catcher, speed,” Stewart said. “The thing he’s learning, he’s learning the game. He was out there learning a year ago and he’s starting to understand what people are trying to do to him and he’s trying to understand the complex coverage. We sat down over the course of the offseason and we were talking about coverages for a chance for him to read coverages better. He’s becoming a student of the game.”
The coursework would seem to be increasing for him this year if the Vikings follow through and have him moving into different spots to free him up or create more mismatches. The hope is that his production is more like his first four games on the field rather than his last four of the regular season, when he averaged less than three catches for 25 yards a game.