Stefon Diggs has been finding his way through NFL defenses the past three weeks, including a flight into the end zone for his first touchdown Sunday in Detroit.
The 21-year-old has looked quick in and out of breaks and fast when running straight. He’s also looked ready for professional football in becoming the first Vikings rookie receiver since Randy Moss in 1998 to post back-to-back games with more than 100 receiving yards and three straight with at least 80 yards.
The instant production — 19 catches for 324 yards — since Diggs was elevated because of an injury to Charles Johnson has taken some by surprise, given that Diggs was selected in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Diggs, however, has been mature beyond his years for a third of his life. He had to after his father, Aron Diggs, tragically passed away in January 2008 because of congestive heart failure.
Diggs was 14 and yet to set foot on a high school football field when he became the man of the house, a role model and beacon for younger brothers, Darez (who is in junior college at Iowa Western) and Trevon (still in high school in Maryland).
“(My father) kind of started me in football. Kind of guiding you and teaching you, and then you lose him,” Diggs said. “It was kind of hard for me in the beginning because I was so young and didn’t know who to turn to and that kind of thing.
“I leaned on my little brothers. That’s where all my love came from, and my mom of course. She never let me down,” Diggs added. “I leaned toward my little brothers because they lost a father figure as well. I was really next in line to who they’d look up to and who was going to guide them along the way.”
Diggs became a voice of encouragement and a reminder of discipline.
“I just accepted that role in stride and took pride in it,” he said. “It was rough on me, so I knew it was rough on them, but I couldn’t be weak because we’d all be a mess, so I was trying to be strong.”
After a promising high school career, despite still carrying the loss of his father on his shoulders, Diggs received widespread interest from colleges.
Diggs’ mother, Stephanie, told Roman Stubbs of the Washington Post* *about helping her son work through that process.
Aron “kind of put this all together and put [Stefon] in front of the right people. And when he got sick, it kind of fell all the burden on me. I didn’t know too much about it. I just basically showed up for games. I had to really get involved in the process and read up,” Stephanie Diggs told Stubbs.
Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner said the University of Pittsburgh may have been the first to verbally offer a scholarship to Diggs while Turner was Panthers receivers coach. Diggs, however, opted to stay closer to home and attend Maryland to be closer to his family.
This past season, Diggs had the benefit of being coached by Keenan McCardell, who played 17 pro seasons after being selected in Round 12 of the 1991 NFL Draft. Diggs soaked up knowledge from others, asking why they thought they had been successful or hadn’t met their initial goals.
Diggs overcame multiple injuries in college, which may have been a reason he remained available in the fifth round. He’s brought a learners approach since arriving with other rookies and progressed to being named Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week for Week 6.
“We’ve got a talented group of guys, and I’m just blessed to be in the mix,” Diggs said. “God blessed me with an opportunity to play. I was preparing myself since day one, and I knew I was going to have to sharpen my blade when I wasn’t getting any game time. You’ve still got to work hard, no matter what, and when my time came, I knew I was going to take advantage of my opportunity.”