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Can Stefon Diggs produce WR1 value in Buffalo?

by Ian Hartitz
Updated On: May 18, 2020, 10:29 am ET

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

In the 2019 offseason Antonio Brown was nearly traded to the Bills before managing to blow up the deal. Free agent WRs John Brown and Cole Beasley were signed instead, giving former No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen a significant boost in skill-position talent compared to what he had as a rookie. Positive results were clear, as Allen significantly improved in completion rate (+6%), TD rate (+1.2%), INT rate (-1.8%), adjusted yards per attempt (+1.3) and QB rating (+17.4).

Ultimately, the Bills couldn't make it out of the Wild Card round against the Texans despite holding a 16-0 lead midway through the third quarter. Allen didn't have his best day as a passer, completing just 24-of-46 passes (52%) for 264 yards (5.7 YPA) with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Enter: Stefon Diggs. The Vikings' long-time stud WR and a 2020 seventh-round pick were acquired for 2020 first-, fifth- and sixth-round picks along with a 2021 fourth-round selection. The Bills are clearly attempting to win now with their combination of 1) Allen on a relatively cheap rookie contract and 2) One of the league's best all-around defenses.

What follows is a breakdown on what Diggs brings to the Bills' offense, and what we should expect from Allen's pass-game options next season.

Diggs is truly one of the league's best field-stretching WRs

Diggs is one of the league's premiere deep-ball threats and capable of roasting even the league's very-best corners. The only WRs in the last decade to gain more yards on deep balls than 2019 Diggs have been 2018 Tyreek Hill, 2015 Allen Robinson, 2012 Calvin Johnson and 2011 Jordy Nelson (per PFF).

He's regularly displayed an elite combination of route-running goodness and ball-tracking ability. Just 26 years old and having played in 70 of a potential 80 games during his five-year career, there's no reason to believe that Diggs will be taking a step back anytime soon.

Diggs certainly helped enable Kirk Cousins to new heights in 2019. Overall, Cousins set career-best marks in TD rate (5.9%), INT rate (1.4%), adjusted yards per attempt (8.7) and QB Rating (107.4) last season with Diggs as his No. 1 target.

A season-long 63-1,130-6 receiving line is plenty impressive in its own right, although Diggs' performance was actually so much better on a per-target basis. The only WRs to average at least 12 yards per target in a season since 2010 (minimum 50 targets) have been:

There's just one problem when projecting how Diggs will produce in Buffalo ...

Allen is an emotional roller coaster of a QB

There aren't five QBs I'd rather watch play football than Allen. This isn't to say the rising third-year starter is anything resembling a top-five talent at the position; he's just incredibly fun to watch for better and for worse.

No other QB in the league provides more consistent ups and downs as both a passer and runner than Allen. He's the type of guy to blindly lateral the ball with under two minutes remaining in a playoff game. Or maybe Allen will evade two defenders before squeezing a missile into his receiver downfield. Allen is a wild man under center and I absolutely love it.

Here's the problem: Allen was one of the league's single-worst QBs when asked to throw deep. Obviously Buffalo's young signal caller has the arm strength to make pretty much any throw, but consistently carving up defenses on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield was a major struggle in 2019 (PFF):

  • Deep yards per attempt: 8.7 (No. 32 among 35 QBs to throw at least 20 passes 20-plus yards downfield)
  • Deep catchable rate: 31% (No. 32)
  • Deep QB rating: 64.4 (No. 28)
  • Deep ball rate: 14.8% (No. 6)

The deep ball is to Allen what the three-point shot is to Russell Westbrook: A useful skill that they don't possess yet insist on attempting at a high volume anyway.

Diggs is plenty capable of operating at a high level in the short-and-intermediate areas of the field as well ... but it's not like Allen is exactly thriving on throws to these other areas of the field (via Player Profiler):

  • True passer rating: 87.7 (No. 19 among all QBs)
  • True completion percentage: 64.7% (No. 33)
  • Play-action completion percentage: 63.6% (No. 24)
  • Red-zone completion percentage: 49.1% (No. 46)
  • Deep-ball completion percentage: 25% (No. 33)
  • Pressured completion percentage: 17.1% (No. 34)
  • Clear completion percentage: 67% (No. 34)

It would make sense if Allen improves across the board thanks to the presence of one of the league's best field-stretching talents. Still, he undoubtedly has a long way to go before reaching even above-average status.

Allen isn't the most fantasy-friendly QB in the world, but that's okay because ...

WR2 production is firmly in Diggs' range of outcomes

Both Brown (PPR WR20) and Beasley (WR34) were both good-not-great fantasy assets in 2019. Each WR is almost certain to regress due to the presence of Diggs.

Still, the ability for Allen to enable Smokey to WR2 heights is great news when projecting Diggs for 2020. He's currently going in the WR22-25 range in best-ball and re-draft leagues alike.

This simply feels a tad optimistic. I'm cool with taking Diggs in that ~WR25 range, but we saw how quickly an exceptionally-talented WR can go from great to good with Odell Beckham ... and that was with a perceived boost in surrounding talent and performance under center. Diggs is undoubtedly going to a more-crowded passing game with a less-accurate QB under center and no guarantees of an enhanced workload.

I have a hard time paying up for him at this current draft position. Taking Diggs ahead of players with similar new-QB questions like DeVante Parker, T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen and A.J. Green makes sense, but don't be afraid to fade the talented-new WR in favor of equally-talented players that are still playing with the same QB that enabled them to great heights already. This applies to at least Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel and Jarvis Landry in my opinion, each of whom presently boasts an average draft position lower than Diggs.

Ian Hartitz

All things NFL. Great day to be great. You can follow Ian on Twitter @Ihartitz.