Former Minnesota Vikings WR Stefon Diggs led the NFL in targets during 2020. That is the most important aspect to know in evaluating his superstardom in Buffalo (for the purposes of this examination). This is not to claim “he only played well because he got the ball a lot,” but conversely to illuminate the utilization of a prized asset in western New York. Josh Allen and friends realized precisely what they have in Diggs – a mammoth talent that rabidly demands attention within an offense. In Buffalo, he is allotted the moniker of offensive focal point.
It worked. Diggs is outwardly jubilant, and Buffalo visited the AFC Championship, albeit in a losing capacity to the dynastic Kansas City Chiefs.
Unless one is shrouded in bias that cannot shake a my-team-is-better mentality, the Vikings and Bills are reaping the benefits of the Diggs-for-picks transaction. Buffalo has their volume wideout that rarely has quiet games – and one that does his damndest to stretch the field with the Bills. In 2019, Buffalo was mostly devoid of production in these parameters at the wide receiver position.
The Vikings flipped Diggs’ exodus into a 21-year-old wide receiver, Justin Jefferson – a player that set the NFL record for most receiving yards in a rookie season. For five years – count them – Jefferson will be a more affordable commodity than Diggs while on a trajectory to equal, if not exceed, Diggs’ statistical output.
It is a win-win.
The Vikings paired Jefferson with seven-year veteran, Adam Thielen, in 2020. The season culminated with an anticlimactic 7-9 record, but the offense was far from the culprit. The defense ranked 29th in the NFL via points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. The offense checked in at 11th in points scored and 4th in yards gained.
Because of some tomfoolery, Diggs was the pass-catching prize to depart the team via trade last year. Thielen did not. But what if it was Thielen that was traded to Buffalo in March of 2020?
The Per-Target Stat Translation
These are Stefon Diggs’ year-end regular season statistics for 2020:
1,535 Receiving Yards
12.1 Yards per Reception
This is a blistering hotplate of productivity. The Vikings offense only gifted Diggs 94 targets in 2019. So, according to the statsheets, Diggs is vindicated for implying he wanted to leave Minnesota with his strange tweets.
For the sake of analysis, let’s pretend Adam Thielen was targeted 166 times in Buffalo (or wherever). Truth be told, a hypothetical scenario can be conjured where Jefferson did not bust out of the draft with herculean performance – either postulation will do the trick.
With Thielen’s 2020 numbers (108 Targets, 74 Receptions, 925 Receiving Yards, 14 TDs, and 12.5 Yds/Rec) weighted to reflect Diggs’ 166 targets in Buffalo, this is Thielen’s presumed mathematical output via per-target pace:
166 Targets (Diggs’ total in Buffalo)
1,421 Receiving Yards
12.5 Yards per Reception
Which is statline is more impressive?
Diggs with More Pizzazz
While both Diggs and Thielen were members of the Vikings, their respective statistical accomplishments were incredibly similar. Whether it was yards, touchdowns, or receptions, the two mirrored each other for four seasons. Diggs’ separated in deep-ball prowess during 2019 when former offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski called upon Kirk Cousins to throw the ball long more often. In that regard, Diggs was supreme for one season.
Ultimately, Diggs and Thielen were eerie stat-bedfellows in Minnesota – a true salt-and-pepper combination. When Diggs grabbed headlines as the co-architect of The Minneapolis Miracle in early 2018, his name headlined the flashy stuff thereafter – an apropos outcome for a franchise-altering moment.
Thielen – with nearly identical production – remained the “lunch pail” guy whereas Diggs stepped into television commercials. It’s probably why Buffalo was giddy to pick up the telephone and barter with the Vikings one year ago.
Age in Real Difference Maker
Based on proven numerical pace, Thielen would have been just as qualified as Diggs to assume the role of Josh Allen’s security blanket. But for how long?
Thielen did not portray visible signs of on-the-field deterioration in 2020, but he will be 31 years old this summer. Diggs will have a 28th birthday shortly after Thanksgiving in 2021. Buffalo was interested in Diggs rather than Thielen due to the “father time” element of the equation. Otherwise, the two players are production pals.
Diggs brings three extra years of longevity to Buffalo. His physical prime is now aligned with Josh Allen’s speedy maturation – a package that promises to be salient until the end of Diggs’ contract.
But don’t pretend that Thielen would be some underachiever if he was the man shipped to Buffalo. The numbers disprove the notion.