Stefon Diggs Is Too Good Not to Draft in Fantasy Football
No matter how you slice it, the NFL season is a small sample size.
In fact, if you slice it up at all, it's really a small sample size.
As much as you shouldn't overreact to 16 games in a single season, you especially shouldn't overreact to just a handful of games, particularly if they're cherrypicked for one reason or another.
And even if you take his full season -- 13 games -- into account, it's really easy to make the case that his sixth-round average draft position (ADP) in 12-team PPR leagues is too cheap.
Diggs' Full 2016
Diggs produced 193.3 total PPR points in his 13 games last season, enough to rank him as the WR30 on the year. On a per-game basis, his 14.9 PPR points ranked 14th among receivers who played at least eight games.
He did that on 112 targets (84 catches), which he turned into 903 yards and 3 touchdowns.
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which indicates how many points a player adds to his team's expected output, Diggs should have scored roughly 5.8 touchdowns. With even two more touchdowns to his tally, he'd have hopped up to the WR22 on the season and the WR10 in terms of PPR points per game.
Diggs is being drafted as the WR31 this season.
As I warned about already, cherrypicking is dangerous business in football analysis, but with the way Diggs' 2016 unfolded, it's kind of necessary.
In Week 1, Diggs took advantage of the Tennessee Titans secondary, a unit that ranked 28th by our opponent-adjusted pass defense metrics in 2016 overall. He hauled in 7 of 9 targets for 103 yards in the opener. The 17.2 PPR points (he lost a yard rushing) were enough for a WR19 finish on the full opening slate.
In Week 2, Diggs feasted on the porous Green Bay Packers secondary on Sunday Night Football, churning out 9 catches on 11 targets for 182 yards and a touchdown. He was the WR1 in PPR formats.
Then, things went downhill. Diggs popped up on the injury report prior to Minnesota's Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers. He entered halftime of that game with a lone catch for eight yards on three targets. The Vikings as a whole had just 26 yards passing in the first half. Diggs ended the game with 40 yards on 4 catches (7 targets) and was the WR52 for the week.
In Week 4, Diggs and Minnesota faced the New York Giants, who wound up with the fifth-toughest pass defense in football last season. He caught 5 of 7 passes for 47 yards. Diggs was the WR51 on the week in PPR formats.
Diggs then sat during Minnesota's Week 5 matchup against the Houston Texans and came back after their Week 6 bye. He caught 2 of 5 targets for 18 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7. He finished as the WR77. And for as bad as the Eagles' secondary was in 2016, their front-seven provided enough pressure and sacks to give them the second-best Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play mark in football.
From Weeks 3 through 7, Diggs' Reception NEP per catch plummeted to 0.76, and his per-target rate was just 0.45. The NFL averages on the season were 1.10 and 0.66. That's gross.
Diggs then was no longer listed on the injury report and reeled off three consecutive top-10 PPR weeks against Chicago (19th in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play), the Detroit (31st), and Washington (24th).
Diggs appeared on the injury report again in Week 12 (Thanksgiving week), this time with a knee issue. He missed the team's Week 12 game against the Lions. He returned a week later to catch all 8 targets for 59 yards against the Dallas Cowboys (17th in pass defense, per our metrics). He was the WR24 that week.
In his final three games (he sat out in Week 17 because of a hip injury), Diggs averaged just 5.3 targets, 3.0 catches, and 32.3 yards. He was the WR46, 84, and 31 in Weeks 14 through 16 and was on the injury report for all of them.
So, here's how all that looks when put together, including snap counts (according to FantasyData), his PPR points and weekly rank, and the opponent's year-end pass defense rank after adjusting for schedule strength.
Diggs' volume waned toward the end of the season, but so did his snap counts as the injuries piled up. Overall, he struggled against his toughest opponents, and he generally thrived against weak pass defenses, per our metrics.
In his eight games against teams outside the top 16 in Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per play last year, Diggs averaged 19.2 PPR points. That mark would've ranked second among receivers. (Of course, that alone doesn't mean anything, and we aren't giving other receivers the benefit of looking at just their weak opponents, but Diggs was fantastic in his positive matchups.)
Plus, if you remove a 3.3-point outing against the Colts (when Minnesota possessed the ball for just 22:58, a bottom-20 mark on the entire season), he averaged 21.5 PPR points in seven games against bottom-half pass defenses. For context, Antonio Brown led the position with 20.5 PPR points per game in 2016.
Or if you view things when Diggs was on or off the injury report, well, see for yourself.
Diggs' numbers were bonkers when he wasn't ailing, and I know what you're probably thinking: that's the exact kind of selective analysis we shouldn't do.
But what actually matters here is that -- when Diggs was healthy and had good matchups -- he was phenomenal.
Entering the 2017 season, Diggs has had the offseason to heal up and is quite aware of the fact that he needs to improve his conditioning to stay healthy. Also, Minnesota draws the easiest pass-game schedule in 2016, by our NEP projections. Additionally, SharpFootball's measurements peg the Vikings' schedule as the easiest for passing games in 2017.
So, I understand if you're a mite hesitant because Diggs' quarterback is Sam Bradford, but just know that Bradford ranked 12th in Passing NEP per drop back in 2016 among 34 quarterbacks with at least 200 drop backs. He was also 11th in Success Rate, so he certainly didn't rely on big plays to boost his per-attempt efficiency.
And, again, the Vikings have the easiest passing schedule in the NFL, so that sure helps.
(Potential) Volume Concerns
I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't pretend that tight end Kyle Rudolph saw a team-high 132 targets last year, en route to a TE2 finish in PPR leagues.
Also, Adam Thielen's 92 targets are nothing to scoff at, especially considering his 1.26 Reception NEP per catch ranked 14th last year among 51 receivers with at least 90 targets.
But in 13 games, Diggs saw 112 targets of his own and caught 84 passes. He drew a target on 16.2% of his 693 snaps, which ranked seventh among 67 receivers with at least 650 snaps played in 2016. Thielen was targeted on 11.7% of his 787 snaps, and Rudolph got a pass thrown his way on 13.6% of his 970 snaps (third-most among tight ends with at least 600 snaps played).
For as up-and-down as Diggs' season was, he produced a top-six PPR week in 15.4% of his games, which ranked 16th at the position. And 30.8% of his weeks were top-12 marks, also 16th.
Diggs ranked 23rd at the position in top-24 rate at 38.5%, as 5 of his 13 games were top-24 weeks.
His ADP is WR31, he has one of the best schedules in football, and again, Diggs was the WR14 in PPR points per game last season, even when factoring in the duds and limited snap games. Give him some leeway for playing through injury, and he was easily a top producer at the position on a per-game basis.
As a sixth-round pick, Diggs has all the makings as a player with the potential to win your league. He flat out might be that good. And if he's not that good, he's still the top receiver on a team that ranked 13th in passing efficiency in 2016 and has the pass-defense schedule in the league.
What's not to like at that price?