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Stefon Diggs: Live. Work. Play.

Posted Sep 29, 2017

Stefon Diggs loves to live, lives to work and works to play.

Just under two months shy of turning 24, Diggs hasn’t forgotten that football is supposed to be fun.

He enjoys the game from outstretched hands to his fast feet and sideline-tapping toes. In between, his head is focused, and his heart is strong to be the best he can be for the Vikings.

The third-year pro has delivered big games under bright lights to open each of the past two home slates at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Diggs recorded nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown from Sam Bradford against Green Bay in the stadium’s inaugural game on Sunday Night Football.

The encore between the duo in Week 1 of this season was a seven-catch, 93-yard, two-score showing against New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

That night began with a shallow crossing route that gained 11 for a first down on third-and-5. Three snaps later, while facing another third-and-5, Bradford went back to Diggs’ well for another shallow cross and 10 more yards. Although that possession ended with a field goal, Diggs and Bradford were only beginning their lockstep work that evening.

“I feel like everybody was feeding off of each other’s energy,” Diggs said. “Everybody was playing as a team and as a unit. The offensive line was doing a great job, and Sam was slinging it around. Adam [Thielen] was over there opening things up for me, and I was trying to do the same for him. Just playing together and playing as a collective unit, we are a powerful force.”

Diggs and Thielen each wore custom cleats in homage to that night’s induction of Randy Moss into the Vikings Ring of Honor. Moss signed Diggs’ kicks before the game, and he caught a touchdown for each foot. The pair of scores that occurred in the same end zone less than five minutes apart, however, couldn’t have been much more different.

The first was about as easy as it gets against the team from the Big Easy. When Saints corner De’Vante Harris bought on a fake handoff that Diggs helped sell, the receiver was so open and free that the crowd cheered the touchdown before the ball reached his hands. He spun the ball like a top in celebration.

The second score also was against Harris, who blanketed Diggs on the play. It didn’t matter because Bradford threw a dart, and Diggs snared the ball, got both feet in bounds and completed the catch as he went to the turf.

One step, two step, punt. The ball sailed into the stands, and Minnesota took a 10-point lead into the locker room.

Diggs said the cleats were one-and-done.

“They’re going in the case,” Diggs said. “I wore them, but I didn’t want the autographs to wear off. I was going to be mad about that. But they’re going in the case. I’m done with them for the year.”

At Pittsburgh, Diggs wore customs that depicted some of the landing spots on Wheel of Fortune, a show that was one of his grandmother’s favorites. That day, however, didn’t go the Vikings way.

Last Sunday, Diggs dazzled, catching eight passes for 173 yards. He had a 47-yard reception and touchdowns of 17 and 59 yards. He ranks third in the NFL with 293 yards and first with four touchdown catches after three weeks.

Diggs had 52 catches for 720 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie in 2015. He followed with 84 receptions for 903 yards and three scores last season.

This year, he wants to keep pushing and cares most about the Vikings yielding results more similar to his rookie campaign when Minnesota won the NFC North.

Diggs has done considerable damage within the division, totaling 56 receptions for 699 yards and seven scores in nine games.

‘Phenomenal work ethic’

Vikings receivers coach Darrell Hazell, who joined Minnesota this offseason, familiarized himself with Diggs on film before coaches and players were able to start working together in the offseason program. Hazell liked what he was seeing, but one question could be best answered through in-person interaction.

“The first thing to me is you’ve got to find out how his work ethic is, and he’s got a phenomenal work ethic,” Hazell said. “He just loves being out here on the field and improving his skills. That’s what makes him really special. He’s obviously very physically talented, but to be able to have that nature that he’s going to work as hard as he does makes him a little bit different than the rest of the guys.”

Hazell, who coached a bevy of future NFL receivers — including Ted Ginn, Jr., Brian Hartline and Santonio Holmes — at Ohio State, said Diggs has displayed qualities that he’s found have a “correlation with great players.”

“A lot of guys are gifted but don’t always reach their full potential,” Hazell said, “but if you work at it the way he does, I still think he’s scratching the surface in terms of his ability and the things he can do. He’s really explosive before and after the catch. That’s what makes him different.”

Safety Harrison Smith couldn’t help but laugh a little when asked during an open locker room session if he thought Diggs was poised for a “breakout season.”

“I don’t even know what the good stats are, but he’s really good. That’s all I know,” Smith said. “He’s very, I think he’s ahead of time as far as understanding how to get open and where the soft spots on the defense are, how to run his routes. He’s very detailed.”

When Hazell was at Purdue, the Boilermakers 2016 spring semester GPA was 2.89, the highest mark for the program since 2001. Hazell said Diggs is gifted in more ways than one and knows how to separate himself from talented competition.

“When you have smart players that know what’s going to happen before the snap, I think that helps them get an edge,” Hazell said. “You’re going to play against good players, but if you have an edge and he’s going to play you this way or that way and you can see things before they happen, I think that helps you get the goal accomplished.”

Diggs in the Division

In nine games so far against NFC North foes, Stefon Diggs has caught 56 passes for 699 yards and seven touchdowns. He has averaged 12.5 yards per reception against Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay.

Vs. CHI: 3 Games, 17 Rec., 226 Yds, 4 TD
Vs. DET: 2 Games, 19 Rec., 188 Yds, 1 TD
Vs. GB: 4 Games, 20 Rec., 285 Yds, 2 TD
Total: 9 Games, 56 Rec., 699 Yds, 7 TD

Double Diggs

Diggs became the first player in NFL history to record 13 receptions in consecutive weeks last season against Detroit and at Washington.