Is Stefon Diggs an Elite Fantasy Football Wide Receiver?
Through three weeks of the 2017 NFL season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is on his way to becoming a household name. The former fifth-round pick has snared 17 receptions for 293 yards and a league-leading 4 receiving touchdowns.
And he appears to just be getting started.
On the heels of a scintillating 8-catch, 173-yard, 2-touchdown showing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3, it's clear that Diggs is enjoying a true statistical breakout. Need proof? According to Player Profiler, Diggs' 233 air yards rank second in the NFL, the 147.2 rating quarterbacks have accumulated when targeting him ranks fourth in the league, his 87.5 percent success on contested catch rate is tops in the league, and his 5 red zone receptions rank best as well.
Speaking of which...
.@stefondiggs' vertical > yours#TBvsMIN #SKOL pic.twitter.com/tEHxKNneeK
â€” Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 24, 2017
Diggs has also emerged as a big play threat in 2016, accumulating 17.2 yards per reception, a monumental increase on the averages of 13.8 and 10.8 he produced in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Oh, and he's currently the top-scoring wide receiver in all of fantasy football.
The Notorious NEP
No, "Notorious NEP" isn't Diggs' new nickname (although maybe it should be), but rather an indicator of how dominant he's been in our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP employs historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per play basis. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and negative NEP is indicative of sub-standard performance.
Through three weeks, Diggs' Reception NEP of 30.13 is the best figure among all receivers who have seen 12 or more targets. Furthermore, his NEP per target of 1.21 ranks third in this grouping, behind Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks. Those are truly elite numbers and a clear sign of his game-changing ability.
What's all the more impressive is how much of an improvement it represents over his first two NFL seasons. As a rookie in 2015, Diggs produced a NEP per target of 0.72 and followed that up in 2016 with a figure of 0.70. This season's level of production is uncharted territory for the Maryland product.
Does all of this mean we're in the clear to label Diggs as a locked-in elite WR1 for the rest of the season? That question is a little trickier to answer.
While he's looked an awful lot like Antonio Brown, it's nearly impossible to judge his outlook based on a three-game snapshot. There is little question he has flashed elite ability, but two big outings doth not a career make.
After all, this is the same player who came roaring out of the gate with 16 catches, 285 yards, and a touchdown over the first two weeks of 2016, only to sputter out and fail to eclipse 60 yards in eight of his next eleven contests. Peaks and valleys have been an ongoing theme of Diggs' career -- after all, he's already sandwiched a 2-catch, 27-yard clunker between his two big games in 2017.
Injuries have also been a part of the Diggs experience, as he missed three contests in each of his first two seasons -- and that's not even mentioning his struggles to stay on the field in college. While injuries are entirely unpredictable and random, there's considerable evidence when it comes to Diggs, and it's something to consider when trying to properly gauge his value.
More Than a Thielen
With apologies to the classic rock band Boston, let's not forget about Diggs' tag team partner in the Vikings' pass attack. Indeed, Adam Thielen has been terrific in his own right, and his 299 receiving yards actually bests his teammate.
Thielen hasn't scored yet in 2017 and has accumulated a more modest Reception NEP per Target (0.83), but he is clearly an integral part of the offense. Thielen's 24 targets on the season are right there with Diggs' 25, and that distribution is unlikely to change any time soon.
Ultimately, the question is whether the Vikings passing game will feature enough volume to support two top-tier fantasy wideouts. It needs to be noted that the bulk of Diggs' incredible production has been accumulated during career games from quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Case Keenum. But can the Vikes' signal callers sustain that momentum?
In the Vikings' first three contests, Bradford and Keenum have averaged 35 drop backs per game (105 total), something of a middle-of-the-pack figure, as 17 quarterbacks have averaged more. That's a fancy way of saying that in order for Diggs and Thielen to continue their incredible run of production, they would need their quarterbacks to sustain a level of efficiency that is simply unrealistic based on each man's previous track record.
Bradford and Keenum have produced passer ratings of 143.0 and 101.8 in 2017, respectively. Their career averages are 85.2 and 80.3. Regression to the mean is likely in store.
With all of that being said, don't shy away from Diggs. There is simply too much talent and potential on display to view him as a flash in the pan, and the Vikings offense appears to have taken a big step forward in 2017.
And here's a little tip for you: don't make the mistake of benching him because of his quarterback situation, as was the case last weekend with a certain fantasy writer who shall remain nameless. (Okay, it was me.)
At any rate, the breakout is on in Minnesota. Even if Diggs can't sustain this level of play, he still projects as a fringe WR1 or at worst, a top-notch WR2 with elite upside. Based on his past history, one can assume there will be a handful of down weeks, but he's shown that he can put both the Vikings and your fantasy squad over the top, regardless of who's throwing him the ball.