The Big-Picture Impact of WR Stefon Diggs


Regardless of how you evaluate new Buffalo Bills receiver Stefon Diggs, you come to the conclusion that he is going to make a difference. He will assuredly help make Josh Allen’s job easier with his ability to separate with his plan, suddenness, hand usage, ability to attack leverage, tracking, and late hands. I recently profiled what he is going to bring to the Bills based on his traits, but I didn’t get a chance to show how he will have a dramatic effect on the Bills’ offense as a whole.

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On his own, Diggs produces any way you cut it. He finished 2019 with 67 receptions for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns. Based on his 421 passing routes, he averaged 2.67 yards per route run, per Pro Football Focus. That’s second only to New Orleans’ Michael Thomas, who had double the targets Diggs saw. That ability to consistently produce with an array of quarterbacks over the years will please his teammates.

Diggs should take the pressure off the other receivers on the field because defenses aren’t going to be able to play as much man coverage as they did against the Bills last season. In 2019, wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley saw man coverage 59% and 47% of the time. This is incredibly high when you compare it to Diggs and teammate Adam Thielen, who saw man coverage 33% and 35% of the time, respectively, according to Sports Info Solutions. Even with Allen’s top targets getting manned up, Allen still produced 11 touchdowns in those situations, but eight of those touchdowns came in the red zone, with Beasley securing five and Brown three. So aside from his touchdown production, Allen was very limited against man coverage.

The issue with Brown and Beasley seeing man coverage so often was that 21 of 38 sacks on Allen came against that coverage, but more importantly, his completion percentage was 49.3% (47.6% in 2018). Man coverage can give Allen issues at times because the passing windows are much tighter, which requires pinpoint placement, and sometimes it even deters him from pulling the trigger for fear of a turnover. So, any time Brown or Beasley couldn’t create separation, Allen had to move on in his progressions and took sacks at a higher rate.

Diggs will routinely separate for Allen against man coverage with his array of releases and unorthodox yet precise route running. But overall, Diggs in the lineup will force defenses to play less man coverage for fear of being outmatched, which means more zone coverage.

Defenses chose to defend Diggs and Thielen with zone coverage at such a high clip because they wanted those guys to have to work through multiple defenders in order to get their touches. Defending those dangerous receivers was more of a team effort, and Diggs still got his. He reeled in 38 receptions for 622 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. Diggs, Brown, Beasley, and others on the field will likely force defenses to play more zone coverage. Allen racked up 1,516 yards against zone coverage in 2019, which includes a 7:5 touchdown to interception ratio. While that ratio isn’t sexy, what is sexy is that Allen completed 65.7% of his passes against zone coverage, a dramatic improvement from 2018, when Allen completed 52.2% with a hodgepodge collection of weapons. Acquiring Diggs will force defenses to play less man coverage and thereby allow the receivers to work into bigger passing windows for their quarterback against zone coverage.

The new trio of Diggs, Brown, and Beasley can win routes in a multitude of ways physically, but their football intelligence and ability to read coverages should help Allen continue to improve his anticipation, especially when throwing into zone windows, something Allen will likely see more of in 2020.

Swinging a trade for Diggs is going to pay dividends for Allen, but also the other weapons in the Brian Daboll-led offense.