In 2015, there was only one wide receiver on the Minnesota Vikings who caught more than three touchdown catches: Stefon Diggs.
Diggs was a fifth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft who seemingly came out of nowhere.
If you didn’t scoop him up after Week 4, everybody in your league rushed out to add him after Week 6. He added two more great performances, and the 22-year old receiver was the eighth-highest scoring receiver in PPR leagues from Weeks 4-8.
But as his owners know, things went down hill from there…Embed from Getty Images
Diggs didn’t finish with more than 66 receiving yards for the rest of the season. His reception totals also took a big hit, and he had six games with three or fewer receptions.
Diggs only hauled in two more touchdowns the rest of the season, and both of those touchdowns came in Week 15. By then, you certainly weren’t starting him in your Fantasy playoffs.
So what the hell happened? How did the Diggs bubble burst?
In order to find out why Diggs cooled off, it’s important to understand why he became a stud from Weeks 4-8 in the first place…
The Fantasy Football Rise of Stefon Diggs
When I was asked to pick one stud and one dud by FantasPros for the second half of the season last year, I selected Diggs. A lot of people didn’t like that, as they were ecstatic to land a wide receiver performing at top-10 levels off of the waiver wire.
But I had to get my warning out. We were asked to keep it to a few sentences, so I summarized that quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s production levels were not consistently strong enough to help Diggs maintain his current level of success.
From Weeks 1-3, Bridgewater was only averaging 168.33 passing yards per game. During that time, he only had one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
But after Diggs entered the starting lineup in Week 4, Bridgewater averaged 255.25 passing yards per game from Weeks 4-8. He also threw five touchdown passes during that time.
Was a fifth-round pick that good that Bridgewater’s passing yard average could increase by 51%?
Or was there something else going on?
The initial answer seems to be simple…
Adrian Peterson Faces a Tough Schedule
Outside of a strange Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Peterson was as dominant as he had ever been in Weeks 2-3.
But his schedule got a little tougher starting in Week 4…
The Vikings had a bye in Week 5, but Peterson faced two of the toughest defense in the league in terms of Fantasy points allowed to running backs in Week 4 and Week 6.
Week 4: Denver Broncos (12th-fewest Fantasy points allowed to running backs per game)
Week 6: Kansas City Chiefs (2nd-fewest fantasy points allowed to running backs per game)
During Week 4, Peterson only carried the ball 16 times. He rushed for just 80 yards. The coaching staff thought handing him the ball 26 times against the Chiefs would help him be more productive, but he finished the game with just 60 rushing yards.Embed from Getty Images
Because the run game wasn’t working, Bridgewater had to throw more passes.
He went from 24 pass attempts in Week 3 to 41 in Week 4 and 31 in Week 6.
Bridgewater’s receivers weren’t getting enough opportunities to be relevant prior to Week 3. The increased passing production helped change that.
Peterson rebounded in Week 7 and Week 8 against the more run-friendly defenses of the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears.
But why was Bridgewater still throwing the ball more during those weeks? Why was Diggs still successful if Peterson was more effective?
One of the reasons could be that overall, Chicago and Detroit were not great at stopping quarterbacks. This would help allow Bridgewater to be more effective than normal.
The Lions’ defense allowed the 11th-most Fantasy points to quarterbacks per game, and the Bears’ defense allowed the 8th-most Fantasy points to quarterbacks per game. The Lions’ defense allowed an average of 25 points per game, and the Bears’ defense allowed an average of 24.8.
And it’s important to keep in mind that even though Peterson had more rushing yards, he didn’t score any touchdowns.
Bridgewater simply had to throw touchdown passes to keep the Vikings in the game.
The young quarterback recorded one of only two 300-yard passing performances against the Lions in Week 7.Embed from Getty Images
While he only threw for 187 yards in Week 8, Bridgewater had built enough of a rapport with Diggs by this point that 50% of those passing yards went to Diggs.
The next week is when we started to see Bridgewater’s passing totals regress to his earlier averages at the beginning of the year.
Bridgewater averaged 189.44 passing yards per game from Weeks 9-17. That was a lot closer to his 168.33 average at the start of the season than it was to his 255.25 average from Weeks 4-8.
Conclusion on Stefon Diggs in 2015
This is easier to understand after the season is over. We know exactly how strong or weak a defense was against certain positions on average throughout the season. With only a few weeks of information at the beginning of a year, we can’t have a full grasp of what is really going on.
The simple explanation for the bubble bursting is Bridgewater threw the ball more in Weeks 4-8 because Peterson had two games with 80 or fewer rushing yards and only scored one rushing touchdown during those weeks.
But how is that information useful in the future? How can we specifically use it for 2016 Fantasy Football leagues?
One of the ways we should incorporate this information is to adapt our views of what a successful waiver-wire pickup really means. In the past, I always thought a great waiver-wire pickup would be finding a player in Week 2 or Week 3 and using them each week until the end of the season.
In reality, those opportunities are far and few between. From the 2016 Fantasy season, there were a lot of players who were only relevant for a handful of games. But if you started them, you had some of the highest-scoring players in the league on your roster for several weeks.
Running back Charcandrick West was the fourth-highest scoring running back in PPR leagues in Weeks 7-10 when Jamaal Charles went down with an injury. His teammate, Spencer Ware, was third-highest scoring running back from Weeks 11-12. Jeremy Langford was the second-highest scoring running back from Weeks 8-10, and Kamar Aiken was the 14th-highest scoring receiver from Weeks 10-17.
It’s tough to identify short bursts of Fantasy production. But when you look at the situation that created these opportunities for Fantasy success (injuries created the scenarios listed above), then you can prepare accordingly.
The rise of Diggs was more difficult to identify because it was mainly an issue with production at a key position as opposed to injuries. But if you owned Diggs after his big performance in Week 4, Diggs was the fourth-highest scoring receiver from Weeks 6-8.Embed from Getty Images
The other lesson to takeaway from this is for the Vikings specifically.
You can never rely on a defense to be exactly the same from the previous season. But you can use tools like Fantasy points allowed by position to help get an early edge on when you might want to start Diggs.
Last season, the defense for the Tennessee Titans allowed the fifth-most points per game in the NFL. But surprisingly, the Titans’ defense ranked as the fourth-toughest defense in terms of Fantasy points allowed to running backs.
In Week 1, the Vikings square off against the Titans. This doesn’t mean Peterson isn’t going to be productive, but it could be an opportunity for the receivers to be more relevant. It’s a little trickier this year than just plugging Diggs in as the most relevant receiver for Minnesota, though, as the Vikings added Laquon Treadwell in Round 1 of the 2016 NFL Draft. The Vikings also have a very interesting prospect in Mortiz Bohringer.
If you have A.J. Green, Brandin Cooks, and Golden Tate as your starting wide receivers, you obviously aren’t going to sit them for Diggs in Week 1. But this could be a sneaky play in DFS leagues like DraftKings and FantasyDraft, and it’s the type of opportunities you want to keep your eye out for in season long leagues throughout the year.
Hopefully this overview gave you a better understanding of what exactly happened to Diggs in 2015.