The Buffalo Bills, not the Minnesota Vikings, reached a conference championship in 2020. The connective link between the two franchises is Stefon Diggs, a player traded by Minnesota to Buffalo in 2020 for [what turned out to be] Justin Jefferson, Kenny Willekes, and three 2021 draft picks.
Diggs was terrific during his first year in Buffalo. This was no surprise as Diggs also played tremendously in Minnesota – he just received more offensive attention with the Bills. Indeed, Diggs led the NFL in targets, receptions, and receiving yards — a wide receiver’s fantasy.
The foreseeable future will dictate the “who won the trade” dialogue, but this cannot be adjudicated in good faith for several years. Diggs and Jefferson were equally as productive in 2020 while Buffalo boasted a defense that was better than Minnesota’s 29th-ranked version. The Vikings will also take a stab at trade supremacy in April when the team finishes out the draft pick selection outlined in the deal. General Manager Rick Spielman is slated to make two 4th-Round picks and one 5th-Round pick to close out the Diggs trade.
There is also a narrative lifted to daylight that is of the “I told you so” variety. Because Diggs was otherworldly in Buffalo – the Vikings must be moronic folks for letting the man walk. There is an odd disconnect of logic inherent with this conclusion.
Diggs flourished in Buffalo not because the Vikings front office is filled with wankers. He achieved superstardom because he separated his wide-receiving target load away from Adam Thielen.
Buffalo’s Focal Point, Shared Spotlight in MIN
Diggs’ exodus from Minnesota is often erroneously associatedwith the notion that Diggs and Kirk Cousins could not coexist – or that “Cousins drove Diggs out of town.” The proclamation is utterly false and was even personally debunked by Diggs in The Players Tribune.
When that theory is invalidated, a pivot ensues to chide the Vikings coaching staff for fancying a run-first offensive scheme. You know the one – the offense that finds all means necessary to get Dalvin Cook the football.
While there is some substance to Diggs “not belonging” on a run-first team, this argument is secondary to the football reality. Diggs is targeted to the utmost in Buffalo – by design. With the Vikings, Adam Thielen necessitated targets, too – unlike a second superstar wideout in Buffalo might.
Diggs and Thielen were statistical bedfellows for the Vikings during four full seasons of coexistence. Diggs is younger, but Thielen was just as productive by the numbers. So, when Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, or Kirk Cousins passed the football, both men were deserving of targets.
Evidently – Diggs wanted his own nest egg of attention. Without Thielen on the Bills, Diggs got it.
Cole Beasley as Thielen-lite
The NFL [somehow] ensured Cole Beasley was anointed an All-Pro player in 2020. It made as much sense as Xavier Rhodes commanding a Pro Bowl nod in 2019 with a 45.4 Pro Football Focus grade.
Beasley is a talented guy, but his skill set is not par with Thielen’s. The Bills understood this. It’s why Diggs was targeted 166 times in 2020 while Beasley was targeted 35% less.
That would not work in Minnesota with Thielen.
Diggs was extraordinary as a member of the Vikings, but so is Thielen. Beasley more easily does the “Robin to Diggs’ Batman” service than Thielen would during the prime of his career. Ultimately, Diggs sought a me-first focus from an offense. He found it in Buffalo. Minnesota said nope.
With Gobs of Targets, Thielen Would Excel, too
Diggs was marvelous in 2020 for two reasons a) His talent is remarkable b) He was targeted maniacally.
He led the NFL in targets with 166. That is the number that an alpha male pass-catcher like Michael Thomas or Julio Jones receives. Diggs now enters that category – and rightfully so.
It was next to impossible for Diggs to get 166 targets with Thielen on the roster. Perhaps in a video game it would work, but not in real life.
With 166 targets like Diggs was afforded in 2020, Thielen’s statline would total 1,421 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns with his 2020 per-target pace mathematically translated. Not too shabby, eh?