Landing Spot Deep Dive: Stefon Diggs
By Nathan Drake
Fantasy Football Analyst
When Stefon Diggs fell to the 6th round in my January dynasty startup draft, I knew I had to find a way to get him. I've always admired the talent. Some analysts that I trust consider him to be a premier route runner. However, his upside has been capped playing on a run-focused Vikings offense next to another premier talent in Adam Thielen. That's why, until now, I haven't been willing to acquire him at his usually high price. But I just couldn't pass him up in the 6th round. So I traded back into that round and got my first share of Diggs. As you probably know, the Buffalo Bills traded for Diggs this offseason and paid a pretty penny. They sent the Vikings four draft picks, including their 2020 first rounder, the 22nd pick in the draft. I've heard a lot of takes regarding this news, and the consensus seems to be that this is bad for him. The usual reasons explaining his inevitable demise include that the Bills are a run-first offense, and that Josh Allen is an inaccurate QB. I wasn't quite sure how to feel about the news myself, so I wanted to DIGG (got 'em!) deep to figure out what this really means for him moving forward. First, let's look at Diggs' stats over the last three seasons.
Stefon Diggs’ Stats
As you can see, he had a breakout WR1 finish in 2018 but followed that up in 2019 with a massive reduction in targets. We knew that would happen after the Vikings fired their 2018 OC, John DeFilippo, mid-season in order to focus on #establishing-the-run. BUT, Diggs had more yards in 2019 despite that target reduction, putting up career numbers in the yards-per-reception/target categories. I would expect him to regress towards his career averages in terms of efficiency, but can he get more volume on a new team?
In this table, I'm comparing both the Bills and the Vikings passing stats from the 2019 season. As you can see, the Minnesota offense was more productive both in points and yards, but the Bills ran 4.9% more plays with 10.1% more passing attempts. This is great news from a target volume perspective. But much has been made of Josh Allen's lack of accuracy, so are we doing to see a huge dip in the quality of targets that Diggs will get? Let's look at the differences in QB play between Josh Allen and Kirk Cousins.
QB Comparison (2019)
It shouldn't surprise anyone that Cousins is more efficient. We all knew that. But despite Allen's high percentage of bad throws, his number of on-target throws is nearly the same as Cousins because he threw more passes in general. Allen also had a lot more of his passes dropped (Dawson Knox had 10 drops by himself).
Per the Deep Ball Project, we can look at each QB's deep ball efficiency. Here we start to understand why Cousins is so much more efficient than Allen. Cousins is a good deep-ball passer (#11), while Allen is one of the worst (#29). This isn't a death sentence for Diggs. While he was effective catching the deep ball with Cousins, that hasn't been his bread and butter for most of his career. Per Player Profiler, his average target distance in his most productive season, 2018, was 9.3 yards . That's what we want to see from him. John Brown is still going to be there to stretch the field. So now Diggs can focus on those intermediate targets, and get a lot more of them. Speaking of John Brown, let’s look at the competition that Diggs will have in Buffalo.
In 2019, John Brown and Cole Beasley both exceeded expectations in their first year with the Bills and Josh Allen. Brown finished as the WR20 in half-PPR, while Beasley finished at WR34. Brown was drafted as the WR53 in redraft leagues, while Cole Beasley went undrafted in most leagues (per FFC). My new favorite stat right now is dominator rating. It’s typically used for grading incoming college WRs. But I think it's useful for looking at NFL WRs as well. It measures what percentage of a team’s receiving production that a WR had in a given season. Better receivers are going to command a greater share of the targets, and therefore more overall production and more fantasy points.
In the above table, I am comparing Brown & Beasley’s 2019 stats on the Bills with Diggs’ 2019 stats on the Vikings. On the right-hand side, I’ve listed each player’s dominator rating over the last three seasons. Diggs was with the Vikings, alongside Adam Thielen, for all three seasons. Brown was with the Bills (2019), Ravens (2018), and Cardinals (2017). Beasley was with the Bills in 2019, and the Cowboys in the seasons prior. In 2019 with the Bills, both John Brown and Cole Beasley had exceptional dominator scores over 25%. But they really didn’t have much competition for those targets. When Beasley was with the Cowboys and fighting for targets from Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, his dominator rating was closer to 15%. And although John Brown did well in Baltimore with a dominator rating of 23%, we can see that when he played next to future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, he could only manage 16% of the Cardinals receiving production. Stefon Diggs, however, managed to consistently receive over 27% of the Vikings receiving production even though he had to share the targets with Adam Thielen. Adam Thielen’s average dominator rating over the last three seasons was 26%, by the way.
So what do we do with all of this? Here’s how I’m interpreting it: Brown and Beasley performed admirably last season, but neither is a true alpha WR. Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, and he’s going to (literally & figuratively) demand the lion’s of the targets with the Bills.
Another note: The Vikings ran 3WR sets only 18% of the time in 2019, dead last. They had 2WR on the field 71% of the time. The Bills, on the other hand, ran 3WR sets 60% of the time. That was good for 3rd most in the league (behind the Bengals and Seahawks). They had 2WR on the field 82% of the time. Diggs offensive snap share was only 83.1%, while John Brown was on the field for 94.9% of the Bills offensive snaps. So it's safe to say that Diggs will be on the field more often with the Bills than he was with the Vikings.
Highs & Lows: 2020 Projections
I spent a little time statting out projections for the Bills and Stefon Diggs in 2020 and I’m going to give you a few different scenarios. I’ll give you a ceiling, a floor, and something in the middle. I like to eat my dessert first, so here’s the ceiling: Let’s say everything in the offense clicks, Josh Allen continues to improve his accuracy and efficiency numbers, and Diggs slides right into a featured role in the offense. In that case, I’ll give the team a few more plays per game, and bump Allen’s completion percentage and TD rate. Then we’ll assume Diggs can get a 29% target share and close to his career averages for efficiency. Here’s what that looks like:
This would be pretty exceptional. If Diggs scored 230.8 (.5 PPR) points in 2019, he would’ve finished just behind Chris Godwin, and ahead of Julio Jones. Yeah, it’s not likely. But it’s in the range of outcomes if Allen and Diggs develop chemistry. Here’s a floor projection. This could happen if Diggs struggles to get chemistry with Allen in a new system, and if Allen regresses in the efficiency department. Seeing as we are likely to not have a full offseason program, players on new teams, like Diggs, will suffer the most.
Well, that would suck. But that seems equally as crazy as my ceiling projection. This would have Diggs finishing just ahead of Deebo Samuel (WR30) last year. No more nonsense. Let’s go with something more realistic. Let’s assume Diggs will be the alpha with a large target share, and that Allen will progress in efficiency, but that Diggs’ efficiency will suffer a bit in a new offense. What does that look like?
That’s more like it. This seems feasible. That would have Diggs finishing in between Mike Evans and Jarvis Landry last season. And since he’s being drafting as the WR17 in the 4th round of redraft mocks right now, you could get him at a good value.
Dynasty Value & Recap
Diggs is still just 26, and he’s under contract for four more seasons. Considering what the Bills paid to acquire him, I’m pretty optimistic about his long term value. The Bills seem to be building around Josh Allen. If he and Diggs can develop a good rapport, then we could definitely see his value rise significantly. I consider him a major buy right now. But if you’re still uneasy about it, wait until mid-season. Even if things go well, they will inevitably start slow. If he has a few bad games, go buy him from a panicking owner. Just don’t try that on me.
And for my final, most convincing argument. Can your WR do this?!?!?