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AFC East

Diggs Brings Efficiency & Toughness to Buffalo

Stefon Diggs. Photo by Keith Allison. )CC BY SA-2.0)

The Buffalo Bills’ addition of Stefon Diggs has been widely lauded. They had to send Minnesota a package of draft picks that included the 22nd overall pick in the draft. Given the context of this trade, we’ve already declared the Bills’ draft a big success. Buffalo is in win-now mode in a weak division where Tom Brady no longer rules.

Buffalo’s offense, specifically Josh Allen and the passing game, certainly improved upon a rough 2018 season. While better in 2019, Allen was still last in the league in completion percentage. He has yet to throw for 300 yards in a single game in his career so far.

Diggs’ arrival will hopefully accelerate Josh Allen’s development. While incumbents John Brown and Cole Beasley had excellent seasons in 2019, the Bills had few pass-catching options elsewhere. Diggs offers an infusion of talent and efficiency and permits for a more versatile offense.

A Talented Competitor

Stefon Diggs came into the NFL as an overlooked, injury prone fifth-rounder from an overlooked Maryland program. His six-foot, 190 pound frame doesn’t appear to be the type that would win in contested catch scenarios. However, he has worked his way into becoming one of the top targets in the NFL in such situations.

He earned his 1,130 receiving yards despite facing the fourth-lowest average pre-snap cushion in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats. Brown was only one spot behind diggs on that list. Cornerbacks are more than willing to use press coverage against both. Brown is not quite as successful as Diggs in these situations. None of this is to say that anything is wrong with Brown. Diggs is simply more suited to face press coverage from elite corners. These physically contested situations loom large given the elite corners on Buffalo’s schedule like Stephon Gilmore, Byron Jones, Jalen Ramsey, and Richard Sherman.

High-level Efficiency

The Minnesota Vikings had the third-fewest pass attempts in the NFL last year. Stefon Diggs was fourth in the NFL in yards-per-reception and second in yards-per-target. Minnesota’s devotion to the running game coupled with Adam Thielen‘s lingering injury theorettically could have lowered Diggs’ numbers. He had the fewest catches of any receiver ranked in the top twenty in yards. He managed career-best numbers despite being Minnesota’s only outside threat for a large portion of the season.

Josh Allen is unlikely to lead the league in completion percentage next year. Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll can use Diggs and Brown to stress defenses vertically. Doing so will create more space for Buffalo’s underneath receivers to make plays. Diggs’ aforementioned ability in contested situations also creates opportunities for Allen to simply give him a chance to make a play. The ability for Buffalo to win 50-50 balls was apparent in their playoff loss last season. Given the new weaponry and possible schematic changes, Buffalo is hoping to see a big jump in completion percentage. Last year’s league MVP proved it’s not impossible.

Consistent Success on the Outside

Stefon Diggs has made most of his money lining up outside the numbers. He was generally left to deal with opposing teams’ best corner while Adam Thielen and Minnesota’s tight ends roved the middle of the field. Diggs created separation and made plays in the hardest of situations for a wide receiver.

The Bills sorely lacked a second playmaker outside the numbers last season. John Brown was one excellent option. Cole Beasley excelled, as always, in the slot. However, the Bills had no other wide receivers crack 300 yards. Tight end Dawson Knox had just under 400, but he plays more like a classic inline guy, unlike a contemporary like Travis Kelce.

The “11” personnel grouping (one back, one tight end, three receivers) has become the most commonly used grouping in the league. Despite their lack of receiving depth, Buffalo was among the league leaders in “11” personnel usage. Bill’s receivers not named Brown or Beasley only gained 573 yards total during the 2019 season. Twenty percent of those were gained in the week seventeen game where Brown and Beasley did not play. Diggs nearly doubled that total by himself in an extremely run-oriented offense.

First Preparation, Then Execution

The Buffalo Bill’s acquisition of Stefon Diggs fits the team from both a personnel and schematic standpoint. Their playoff berth was earned in spite of a below-average passing attack. Buffalo had the easiest slate of opponents in the AFC last year.  That is unlikely to repeat, with the Bills scheduled to face both of the loaded West divisions plus Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

Stefon Diggs will have plenty of pressure to perform in Buffalo. His new team and fans are going to expect the production of a top receiver. Fortunately, he has everything Buffalo was looking for. He just has to go out and showcase the talent that makes him great already.

 

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