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Lunchbreak: NFL.com's Next Gen Stats Place Stefon Diggs as Top 'Tight Window' WR

Posted Feb 7, 2018

Stefon Diggs had a career year in 2017.

While he didn’t top his receiving yard total (903 in 2016), Diggs recorded 849 yards through the air and eight touchdowns after scoring just seven total in his first two seasons.

Diggs was recognized recently by NFL.com’s Matt Harmon for being among the league’s top 10 “tight-window” receivers. In fact, the Vikings wide receiver topped the list. Harmon wrote:

With the help of the Next Gen Stats data collected via the chips in every player's shoulder pads, we can now identify the receivers who are best at winning the ball in tight windows. Using a composite score of several receiver stats accumulated when thrown to in tight windows, we'll examine the top 10 tight-window receivers for the 2017 season.

Harmon then listed qualifiers for the rankings. He specified that Next Gen Stats defines a “tight window” as a pass “where the intended receiver had less than a yard of separation from the defender.”

Only wide receivers with 17 or more tight-window targets were included in the list, and the overall ranking was established by identifying how the 49 receivers in that pool ranked in the following three categories: (1) Catch rate on tight-window targets; (2) Their quarterback's passer rating when they were targeted in tight windows; (3) Yards per catch on tight-window receptions.

Diggs easily came in No. 1 with a catch rate of 61.9 percent and a passer rating of 139.7, and his yards per catch (18) came in ninth. Diggs received a composite score of 11.

Diggs failed to play 16 games for the second straight season, but he displayed the talent to rival the established top wide receivers in the game, scoring eight touchdowns in the regular season and delivering a walk-off for the ages in the Divisional Round. The Vikings list Diggs at just 6-foot-0 and 191 pounds, making his prowess in tight coverage all the more impressive. Diggs was the only qualifying wide receiver to haul in more than 60 percent of his tight-window passes. Diggs is a stunning route-runner with the ability to separate in a flash -- his ability to win catches even when he doesn't separate makes him an absolute chore for opposing defensive backs to cover.

Coming in behind Diggs were Marvin Jones (Lions), Dez Bryant (Cowboys), Mike Evans (Bucs), Demaryius Thomas (Broncos), Antonio Brown (Steelers), Sammy Watkins (Rams), Adam Thielen (Vikings), Keelan Cole (Jaguars) and A.J. Green (Bengals).

Diggs’ teammate Thielen had a 50 percent catch rate (fifth), 81.3 passer rating (seventh) and 12.7 yards per catch (31st). Harmon called Thielen “the breakout receiver star” in 2017 and said that “not many wide receivers displayed his well-rounded ability.”

While a great technical route-runner from the slot, his size and physicality affords him the ability to box out defenders and win the ball in tight quarters. Thielen hauled in 50 percent of his targets when a defender was within one yard of him, fifth-most among qualifying receivers. Having such a reliable target in tight windows helped gun-slinging QB Case Keenum enjoy the best season of his career. Thielen quickly established himself as one of the best receivers in the game in 2017, teaming with the top receiver on this list to form arguably the most dangerous receiver tandem.

Diggs, Joseph, Thielen make PFF’s ‘Top 101’ For 1st Time

In the wake of the 2017 NFL season coming to a close, analytics site Pro Football Focus is releasing its annual “Top 101 Players” list.

PFF’s Sam Monson released Nos. 26-101 on Tuesday, leaving a little suspense for the top tier of names.

Four Vikings players were including in Monson’s list, including three – Linval Joseph, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen – who appeared in the rankings for the first time.

The highest-ranked Viking so far is defensive end Everson Griffen, who has been previously included in the Top 101. This season, Monson placed Griffen at No. 51. He wrote:

The ending was ugly for the Minnesota Vikings defense, but before the NFC Championship game, this was the league’s No. 1 defense and their best edge rusher was Everson Griffen. He notched 61 total pressures over the regular season, adding another five in the playoffs across two games. This was the best pass-rushing season of his NFL career, while his run-defense remained above average.

PFF Elite Stat: Griffen ranked sixth among edge defenders with 55 total pressures from the right side of the defense during the regular season.

Coming in close behind Griffen at No. 55 was Joseph, who anchored Minnesota’s defensive line throughout the season. Monson called Joseph “another dominant force” for the Vikings defense and said that the nose tackle “backed up his impressive 2016 campaign with another strong season.”

He ended 2017 with an overall PFF grade of 88.7, giving him an average of 88.1 over the last three seasons. Joseph had 35 defensive stops, tied for sixth-most among all interior defenders and had 30 total pressures over the regular season.

PFF Elite Stat: Joseph’s run-stop percentage of 10.7 was ninth among interior defenders this season.

Also making their first appearance in PFF’s Top 101 were starting receivers Diggs and Thielen. The duo was ranked No. 77 and No. 78 by Monson, respectively.

Monson said that although Diggs will be remembered for the “Minneapolis Miracle” that advanced the Vikings to the NFC Championship game, “Diggs was remarkable overall this season.”

He led the NFL in contested catch rate at 64.9 percent, despite being a relatively small in stature receiver and was extremely productive when healthy.

PFF Elite Stat: Diggs finished 2017 with the seventh-highest mark in passer rating when targeted (120.4) among wide receivers with at least 41 targets.

Monson pointed to Thielen as “the one player who can rival Doug Baldwin for the best release in the game.”

Thielen also had a top-5 contested catch rate and tied for the second-best production rate in the slot. Thielen gained 2.11 yards per route run inside, trailing only Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.

PFF Elite Stat: Among wide receivers with at least 120 routes run from the slot, Thielen finished tied for second with an average 2.11 yards per route run.