Why the Minnesota Vikings Need to Keep Stefon Diggs on the Field
The tale of 2015 Minnesota Vikings can be told through two different jolly old fellows by the name of Pip(p).
First, we have Philip Pirrip -- also known as Pip -- from Charles Dickens's novel, Great Expectations. This is less about Pip and his expectations (meaning, in his case, inheritance), but rather the title of the novel. I could make a comparison about Pip's evolution and development of self awareness throughout the book, but I honestly SparkNotes'd it in eighth grade, so we'll just keep it simple.
People had set forth great expectations (in the more modern definition of the word) for this Vikings team. They figured that the offense would flourish with Adrian Peterson returning and Teddy Bridgewater in his second year at the helm. And while the team has had success, currently sitting at 3-2, that's certainly not because of some unparalleled offensive assault; they are one of only two teams that is yet to top 100 points for the year.
The second Pip(p) is former New York Yankee Wally Pipp. Pipp was a great hitter for the Yankees in the 1910's and early 1920's. Then, one day in 1925, Pipp was taken out of the lineup. The reasoning for this has never been nailed down, but the most popular tale is that Pipp was taken out of the lineup because he had a headache. In his place, manager Miller Huggins plugged some dude named Henry Louis Gehrig (whom you may know as Lou), who then started the next 2,130 games. Pipp lost his job because of some Aspirin.
There's a Wally Pipp situation in Minnesota that just may allow them to reach their great expectations. They can do so by fully embracing Stefon Diggs as their top receiving option.
Why Diggs Fell to the Fifth
I know, I know -- I shouldn't be getting excited about a fifth-round rookie who was inactive the first three weeks of the season. He has 19 targets in his career. Maybe it's time to pump the brakes.
You're probably right, but there were a few specific reasons Diggs fell to the fifth. He dealt with injuries throughout his collegiate career at Maryland after being one of the top recruits in the nation, but he was productive while he was there. Diggs averaged 87.5 yards from scrimmage per game his freshman year, 90.3 his sophomore year, and 82.0 his junior year. He added to that prolific return skills, specifically his freshman season, where he had two kick-return touchdowns on the year.
Diggs measured in at 6'0", 195 pounds at the combine -- not the most physically imposing pup. He also fell a bit short in most of the measurables at the combine, teaming up with the injury concerns to drop him into the fifth round.
Once Diggs got into camp, the positive reviews started to roll in. He was a fan-favorite in training camp, and then he came through in the preseason. Diggs returned 10 punts for 217 yards, including a long of 62 to set up a touchdown. He logged 15 receptions for 174 yards and a touchdown on offense, upping the hype even a little bit more.
Preseason stats are fairly worthless, so Diggs would need a shot to show those skills could translate against real defenders. So far, he has done exactly that.
What Diggs Has Done His First Two Games
As I mentioned, Diggs was inactive the Vikings' first three games of the season. Then ol' Wally Pipp reared his ugly head. Charles Johnson sustained a rib injury (probably far more painful than a headache) and couldn't play against the Denver Broncos. Diggs was thrust into the lineup, and he took full advantage.
Although Diggs has only seen 19 targets in his NFL career, he has done some nice things with those. Diggs has racked up 18.34 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) over that span, meaning he has increased the expected points the team would score by 18.34 points on only 19 targets. That's not bad.
In fact, it's really quite good. There are 84 wide receivers who have been targeted as many times as Diggs this year; only six have Reception NEP per target marks better than Diggs' 0.97. None of those are Vikings receivers, and it's really not even close.
The second best receiver in terms of Reception NEP per target is Jarius Wright at 0.76. Next up? You have to jump all the way down to Mike Wallace at 0.63. Johnson has only 8 targets this year, but his Reception NEP per target is only 0.33. Despite dealing with the same struggles that Bridgewater has had, Diggs has unleashed a beatdown on his colleagues in Minnesota.
Now, the one thing about Reception NEP per target is that it is a rate stat. It is more susceptible to a small sample size than an aggregate stat, potentially a knock on Diggs' early-season success. Thankfully, friends, we have a response for this.
Although he has only played two games, Diggs leads the team in Target NEP. This measures the points added on receptions, but it also subtracts the expected points lost on incompletions and interceptions when that receiver was targeted. Diggs is at 14.81. Next up is Wallace -- who has 14 more targets than Diggs -- at 9.17. Wright follows at 4.66. Johnson? He's at -1.94.
This isn't all to say that the team should give up on Johnson. Johnson had a higher Reception NEP per target than Wallace last year, so he clearly has potential, especially when you factor in his size and athleticism. This is more to say that his return should not signal the end of Diggs' audition.
After a superb rookie season, Bridgewater sits 33rd in Passing NEP per drop back out of 36 quarterbacks with at least 75 drop backs. Over his 161 drop backs, Bridgewater has -12.18 Passing NEP, well below his production from last year. It should be fairly obvious that whatever they have been doing offensively isn't working. When Diggs has shown in a small sample that he can exceed the output of his teammates, why would you not continue to feed him targets?
Again, I'm not trying to make Diggs sound like a surefire stud. He fell to the fifth and started the season as an inactive for a reason. But at this point in the year, the Vikings really have no better alternatives. If they stash Diggs back on the bench, the passing game may continue to sputter, and there is no way the team is reaching their great preseason expectations without improvements in that arena.