The Vikings have the best starting receiving duo in the NFL. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are two of the most talented, complete receivers in the game, and both are under contract with the team for a long time after recently signing extensions.
Both of their journeys are remarkable. When you have the best WR duo in the league and it consists of a fifth round draft pick (Diggs) and an undrafted free agent (Thielen), that’s saying a lot, so Diggs and Thielen have both defied many odds to even get to this stage and have been pretty special doing it.
Now, since both players have #1 WR worthy talent, there’s been a debate about who is the better receiver, and both guys have clear cases so I wouldn’t have a problem either way. If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you probably know that I was vocal about how I thought Thielen was better than Diggs in the past.
Recently, however, I’ve made the switch to Diggs’ side. I acknowledge Thielen’s greatness as a route runner, and his approach to the ball and catch radius are both sensational, but to me, Diggs does what he does just a little better, and I also think he’s the league’s most underrated wide receiver.
Truth be told, I think Diggs is a top ten receiver with the talent of a top five guy. While his stats (1,021 receiving yards) would say otherwise, he was constantly getting open and yet quarterback Kirk Cousins would often leave plays on the field when targeting him.
For more on that, let’s get to the clips.
Few receivers in general have the success Diggs possesses against man and press coverage. The amount of respect he commands is evident when guys like Richard Sherman play him so close.
This is not bad coverage on Sherman’s part, and in fact he does enough that Diggs is forced to use his patience to get by the corner. But the hesitance and speed used by Diggs on this route allows him to create enough separation for a huge play to be made, if not for a touchdown.
Cousins misses the throw. He stares down Diggs briefly, but long enough to see that he’s starting to kick in the acceleration that he should be able to fire in an accurate pass without much of a problem. The result, however, is a massive play left on the field on a great route from Diggs.
This is another bad miss on Cousins’ part, and the route from Diggs, like before, is sensational. The quick cut he uses on his break to the corner route is marvelous and this should be another easy enough completion for Cousins to make.
Cousins instead sails it too far.
I’ve seen very few routes look as good as this one against the Eagles. One thing that makes Diggs special as a route runner is how he’s able to contort his body in order to help sell his routes. Here he looks like he’s about to turn around for the curl route but quickly goes back to running a go route, and the execution he uses is beautiful.
And that’s what makes this miss from Cousins all the more brutal. Not every connection is going to be perfect regardless of who the quarterback or receiver are, but great quarterbacks at least are able to minimize the amount of plays left on the field when throwing to open receivers to an extent, and that unfortunately is something I haven’t seen enough from Cousins.
This miss is by far the more recognizable. Kyle Fuller had a damn good season in 2018 and Diggs just burns him here with a beautiful stem on his route. This should’ve been a touchdown, but Cousins wastes it with an incompletion.
It may seem like I’m nitpicking, but Cousins was doing this to Diggs constantly throughout the season in spite of Diggs constantly creating separation. That’s inexcusable with a top ten receiving talent.
Now let’s get to some positive plays where Cousins was actually able to hit Diggs.
Diggs gets a lot of attention and tight coverage on his snaps, a testament to the amount of respect defenses give him. Combine that with the sensational stretch that Thielen has also been on and plays targeting him being left on the field, and it’s easy to see why Diggs’ stats aren’t as good as they could be.
But when Diggs gets an accurate enough pass he makes sure it counts. Again the break on this route is so quick and tight that he’s able to create a much larger window and keep the defensive back from threatening to get inside of it. And wouldn’t you know it, Cousins gives him an accurate toss to reward the $84 million route.
Diggs has it all as a route runner going intermediate or vertical, and is also dangerous in the underneath game when asked to get yards after the catch. His athleticism combines a stiff arm and spin to create a magnificent first down to move the chains for the Vikings.
I would probably give Thielen the slight edge in ball skills, but Diggs’ is nothing short of spectacular either. For this final segment of the piece we’re going to use two examples, both against the Packers.
It would be extremely easy (and understandable) for Diggs to be forced to adjust his mechanics and perhaps lose his balance on this low throw from Cousins, stopping him short of a touchdown. And that’s what makes this play awesome. He catches the ball as if it were in stride and crosses the plane for the touchdown.
Diggs’ quick reflexes and string hands saved the Vikings down the stretch in the rematch against the Cheeseheads at home. If Minnesota doesn’t convert this 3rd and 6, that gives Green Bay enough time to storm down the field and perhaps send this game to overtime.
Cousins did his best to try and make that happen, and despite Diggs brilliantly running the slant route, throws behind him. Diggs reacts perfectly and is able to haul this ball in, crossing the first down marker and sealing the victory for the Vikings.
To conclude, I think Stefon Diggs is the NFL’s most underrated wideout. His brilliance, athleticism, and technique as a route runner rival that of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham in my mind, and he has the all-around ability of both receivers to boot. It just so happens that the Vikings have two WR1s on the same team, so only one can feast more than the other.
Still, Diggs is the dream receiver that should have better production than what he’s getting. Perhaps one day he’ll be able to get less wasted opportunities so more fans can see just how excellent of a player he is in the National Football League.