What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Stefon Diggs

In this installment of my “What to Expect” series, I take a look at a young, up-and-coming receiver; Stefon Diggs. Last year, Diggs burst onto the fantasy scene in his second season, after providing a glimpse of what’s to come in 2015 (52/720/4). His final stat line in 13 games was 84 receptions on 112 targets for 903 yards and 3 touchdowns. He averaged over 14 fantasy points per game and scored over 20 fantasy points in four separate weeks. Because of this, Diggs’ fantasy value vaulted from a mid-7th round startup pick in 2016 to a late 3rd round asset. To better gauge the community’s expectations of Diggs in 2017, I ran a few highly scientific Twitter polls.

As the above polls show, the community seems pretty high on Diggs, and it appears they are correct in doing so. Looking at Diggs’ career so far, you can see that he has drastically improved upon a solid rookie campaign.

Diggs capitalized on becoming the WR1 on a team that struggled to run the ball in 2016. Pair that with the NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage in a single-season, Sam Bradford, and that makes for a dangerous receiver. Or, at least a highly targeted receiver. He has the potential to be 100-reception receiver and a valuable fantasy asset in the very near future.

However, Diggs’ outlook for 2017 and beyond might not be as bright as people believe. The Vikings elected to retain interim coordinator Pat Shurmur as their new offensive coordinator after the departure of Norv Turner in 2016. Below is a look at the WR1 on every team Shurmur has either been the OC or head coach for in the NFL:

As you can see, the stats for WR1s under Shurmur still leave much to be desired. The three best seasons under Shurmur came during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles as OC. There, he saw two receivers eclipse 1300 receiving yards and 9 TDs and also was the coordinator for Jordan Matthews’ rookie year in 2015. All three receivers finished as either a WR1 or WR2 in their respective years.

It is also interesting to note that Shurmur coached Sam Bradford in Philly in 2015, as well as with the Rams in 2010 (italicized players indicate Bradford was their QB that season). However, outside of his success in Philly, Shurmur has been relatively mediocre creating productive fantasy wide receivers.

He has had only one receiver crack the top-30 in PPR scoring (2010 Amendola was WR29), and only one receiver eclipse 900 receiving yards in a season (2016 Diggs). Overall, I believe the 2013 and 2014 wide receiver performances from the Eagles offer a high ceiling for Diggs, whereas the average in the table above (65/739/3.6) offers a low floor. So which WR1 performance can we expect from Diggs under Shurmur in 2017? For that answer, I turn to the production for Sam Bradford and the receivers he has thrown to in his career.

Three good years and three bad years. However, in 2011, Bradford only played in 10 games. Similarly, in 2013, Bradford played in only 7 games, so essentially, we can throw those years out.

2012 above appears to be an outlier in terms of WR1 production under Bradford, but we shouldn’t completely ignore it when looking at Diggs’ future. The other three years (2010, 2015, 2016) were all solid campaigns. I would like to point out that two of the four receivers above finished as “PPR Machines.” This is a label I used in a previous article (Identifying Player Groupings: Wide Receivers), which means over 40% of a receiver’s fantasy production comes from receptions. A receiver attains this with low touchdown numbers but high reception totals (usually over 80 receptions). Players like Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman, and Golden Tate are perennial PPR Machines.

Last year, Diggs was labeled as a PPR Machine due to his low touchdown output (3) compared to his high reception total (84). Unless he explodes in the touchdown department, Diggs will most likely join the list of perennial PPR Machines. This makes sense given Diggs’ size and style of play. He is only 6’0” and weighs 195 pounds, and according to Player Profiler, Diggs ran 40.3% of his routes from the slot. Looking back at the short list of names I gave as examples of perennial PPR Machines, what do they all have in common? Generally, they are all slot receivers.

This is not a bad list to be on, but it does cap a player’s upside. Since 2000, only five players labeled as a PPR Machine finished that season as a WR1. The most recent to do it was Larry Fitzgerald in 2016 and Jarvis Landry in 2015. What’s even more interesting is that of the 5 players to finish as a WR1, only one finished inside the top-9. The other four players finished as either WR10 or WR11 those seasons. So on his current track, Diggs already has the cards stacked against him in becoming a fantasy WR1. However, he is certainly capable of becoming a solid WR2 in PPR formats, much like Landry, Edelman, and Tate have all been in recent years. Is 2017 that year?

Above is the list of PPR Machines since 2010 who finished as a WR2 (WR13-WR24) in PPR formats. Many similarities stick out immediately: high target numbers, large market share percentage, high reception numbers, and low touchdown totals. Now we can compare those numbers with Diggs’ production in 2016.

Positives: high reception numbers and low touchdown numbers (if that’s a positive?).

Negatives: low number of targets and market share percentage. Receiving yards is not a concern for me as there are three examples of WR2 PPR Machines above with less than 1000 receiving yards. However, the targets and market share percentage are a concern. But if you were a Diggs owner last year, you know that he was dynamic when he played.

In 2016, Diggs only played in 13 games and started only 11 of those. In the 11 games he started, Diggs posted 76 receptions on 100 targets for 853 yards and 3 touchdowns. That is good for 110 receptions on 145 targets for 1240 yards and 4 touchdowns over a 16-game season. Damn. That would put Diggs at 258 fantasy points on the year, which was good for WR7 in 2016.

Now, his numbers are inflated by a four-game stretch from Weeks 8-11, which he posted 40/357/1 on 49 targets. For Diggs, that is an insane 81.6% catch rate in that time span. In that same stretch, the Vikings rushed for only 170 yards on 66 attempts (16.5 rushes per game) between Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. On the other hand, Bradford threw the ball 158 times over those four games, which is nearly 40 times per game. So, do I expect Bradford and Diggs to have that connection for 25% of the fantasy regular season? Not really, but I do believe that Diggs’ 110/1240/4 projection represents his absolute ceiling for his career.

As for 2017 and beyond, I believe Diggs has the potential to be the WR2 many expect him to be. Diggs averaged 14.9 fantasy points per game last year, which was good for 13th among receivers. He is an effective receiver out of the slot and has solidified his role as a go-to target for Bradford. Digg’s is only 23 years old, turning 24 in November, so his career is just getting started.  

However, his situation in Minnesota is getting bleaker every day. Bradford is still his quarterback, and while that is good for PPR players, he has never produced a 1000-yard receiver in his career. Also, one of Diggs’ concerns with vaulting into a productive PPR WR2 was his low market share. For 2017 and beyond, I do not expect that number to rise much higher than it already is (19%). Diggs faces much competition for targets from Kyle Rudolph, Adam Thielen, and rising sophomore Laquon Treadwell. On a team that already does not throw the ball a lot, adding in talented receivers around Diggs makes for a crowded fantasy offense.

The Vikings also drafted Dalvin Cook with their first pick in the draft. This shows the Vikings want to commit more to the run game since the departure of Adrian Peterson and their lack of star power that was behind him. Not to mention that Cook is also a tremendous receiver out of the backfield, adding yet another receiver to compete for targets from Bradford. The Vikings have been called the Chiefs of the NFC, and rightfully so. They seem committed to winning with a strong defense and a dominant run game. There is not much room left for a high-octane pass attack, especially not with Sam Bradford behind the wheel.

These are all factors to keep in mind if you are a Diggs owner or potential buyer. My projection model forecasts Diggs to score 13.2 fantasy points per game in 2017. That is a weekly stat line of 5.56/61/0.25, which extrapolates out to be 89 receptions for 982 yards and four touchdowns. That is good for 211.2 fantasy points, which would have placed him as WR21 in 2016, aka Terrelle Pryor. I believe this is a very real expectation for Diggs in 2017, who is capable of some big games on a weekly basis. Overall, Diggs is a solid receiver to own in PPR leagues, and given that he is only 23 years old, makes him a valuable asset in any dynasty league.

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Penn State college student and Steelers fan. Been playing fantasy football since 2009 and dynasty football since 2016. Numbers don't lie, people do. Co-Host of the Super Flexible Podcast. @Amazehayes_DFF on Twitter.

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