Stefon Diggs was all business when he took the podium following the first day of Buffalo Bills training camp Wednesday. The NFL’s leading receiver in terms of yards and receptions wasn’t lauding his previous accomplishments He wasn’t proclaiming that he deserved to be the league’s highest-paid pass-catcher like we saw from Davante Adams in Green Bay. Instead, Diggs was talking about the future. The things he – and the team as a whole – didn’t do well last season. The things Buffalo needs to do during training camp to prove that the Bills’ high-flying offense and 13-3 record was no fluke, and they’d have answers for the teams who crafted counters of their own to defend them.
“Just a lot to learn from,” Diggs said in response to how he can improve upon his remarkable 2020 season. “Going into the offseason with that mindset of ‘let’s get better, let’s get back to work.’ Let’s see which ways we can do the things we did well last year because I also feel like I left a lot of hidden yards out there – as far as yards-after-catch – and plays I felt I should have played smarter. But it’s a learning curve. It was my first year and I have a lot to look forward to this year.”
It’s hard to imagine someone that snagged 127 passes for 1,535 yards being frustrated with himself for leaving yards on the table when no other receiver in the NFL produced at a higher rate. But this is the culture head coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have instilled within the locker room at One Bills Drive. Constant competition and possessing a “growth mindset” is something McDermott preaches, and it’s clear that the players believe it.
Diggs’ 474 yards-after-catch in 2020 ranked seventh among receivers, but he averaged just 3.7 yards-after-catch per reception, good for 34th. Diggs believes he can do better by not just creating plays with the ball in his hands, but he also believes he and Josh Allen can get better with their rhythm on deep passes in 2021.
“I feel like we didn’t hit the deep ball well enough. We were pretty good intermediate. But as far as like hitting the deep ball consistently, you know, me being where I need to be when I’m supposed to be there. And him trusting me. So continue to grow that relationship, we had a lot of success. But you know, every year is a new year. And I want to take another step for him as far as like being the best.”
Allen and Diggs connected on just 10-of-25 passes at least 20-yards downfield last season for 341 yards and two touchdowns (per Pro Football Focus, Subscription Required). Diggs made his money in the short-to-intermediate depths of the field, establishing himself as one of, if not the best route runner in the NFL. The addition of Diggs to the offense was a huge catalyst to quarterback Josh Allen’s spectacular jump from Year 2 to Year 3, and the entire team reaped the rewards of the trade. Diggs talked about what Allen means to the offense, and just how impressive the young quarterback can be, not just within the confines of the scheme, but as an improviser.
“We had a little bit of success today as far as like, going off-script,” Diggs told reporters following practice. “You have plays that are designed to you know, work, they work just fine. And then you got some plays that are football plays. And Josh Allen is a football player not only just a quarterback, a guy that, you know, a guy it’s kind of hard to describe a guy that just drops back and does everything but a guy that can go off script and make those throws and, you know, play a little bit of backyard football or, you know, extended play, you know, so a guy like that that you want to take that next step when, you know, there were certain things that we didn’t do.”
Diggs is zeroed-in on the upcoming season and is determined to make sure that that iconic photograph of him watching the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate from a distance isn’t replicated this year. He knows teams will have answers to combat Buffalo’s potent passing attack, and he believes in offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s ability to stay ahead of the curve and put the offense in a position to succeed.
“It’s a new year,” Diggs says. “Everybodys starting from ground zero. They have a lot to learn from, people who watched us play last year. They have a lot to watch as far as finding new ways to stop us and different things. But I trust in my coaches, my quarterback and everybody involved. We’re working equally hard to create new ways to make things happen, and we’ve got great pieces on offense. But as far as running the ball, we didn’t run the ball extremely well last year, but that’s something I look forward to this year.”
Buffalo is all in on a Super Bowl this year, which is a big reason why the team signed Emmanuel Sanders to a one-year, $6 million deal in free agency after releasing John Brown. Adding another one of the NFL’s premier route running specialists was a move that Sean McDermott wanted in order to ensure that the Bills didn’t “lose their fastball” on offense.
“I feel like it’s gonna it’s going to do what it needs to as far as like guys who’ve won guys who’ve had success. Winners breed winners. This is a guy that’s been there multiple times, a guy that’s been in a Super Bowl has success in Super Bowls,” Diggs said of the addition of Sanders. “That’s awesome, that helps your team. So for us, especially on the receiver end. There were some games where as far as like, you know, we had some guys injured or we have whatever it is, whatever the case was. And I feel like he’s a guy that’s, not only going to fill the void, but definitely gonna play a key role on this team. So I’m heavily motivated. I’m just happy to have him and you know, I look forward to working alongside him.”
Statistically, it will be difficult to top what the Bills did in the passing game last year. But from an execution standpoint, there is a lot of room for growth. Allen has talked at length about his work to improve his accuracy on in-breaking routes, while Diggs’ expectation of creating more yards after the catch should result in a more efficient, if not more productive passing offense than a year ago. Nonetheless, Diggs has already put his dominant 2020 season in the rearview and is only looking at Buffalo’s Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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