Just over one year ago the Buffalo Bills seemingly made a trade to acquire Antonio Brown from the Pittsburgh Steelers late in the night.
What followed was an all-time hilarious hour on Football Twitter culminating in the revelation Brown was not going to allow a trade to Buffalo.
In 2020, however, the Bills actually pulled off the splash move.
Over 365 days late, we can finally write the headline that would have made complete sense had it published last March: “The Buffalo Bills just traded for the best route-runner in the NFL.”
Obviously, the Bills did not try to re-do the Antonio Brown deal. This time around the Bills struck a deal with the Minnesota Vikings for wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Before last year, Brown had long held the title of “best route-runner in the NFL” for me. Given all that went on with him in 2019, it’s hard to remember that he was once a feel-good underdog story. The primary reason that Brown rose from the ranks of being a mere sixth-round pick all the way to the highest seat on the pantheon of NFL receivers was his extreme dedication to mastering the craft of route-running. From 2014 to 2018 there was truly no one as good as Brown at running routes and creating separation.
Now that Brown has left the NFL scene — if not forever then surely to a degree that we cannot confidently gauge where he is as a technician right now — Stefon Diggs ranks No. 1 on the best route-runners’ list.
We can confidently state this based on the data below:
Stefon Diggs' 2019 #ReceptionPerception success rate vs. coverage scores:
vs. man: 76.5%
vs. zone: 84.3%
vs. press: 79.1% (career best)
He's now finished above the 93rd percentile against man coverage for three-straight years. He is the best route runner in the NFL.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) February 28, 2020
Note: Just so we’re clear, the only other three players I can accept in disagreement would be Keenan Allen, Michael Thomas, and Davante Adams. I’d have grouped Odell Beckham in this collection prior to 2019 but health severely compromised his output with the Browns. You are wasting your time if you suggest anyone else.
Much like Brown, Diggs has ascended from being a Day 3 draft pick to an established star by mastering the route tree. Diggs separates at all areas of the field, releases from the line of scrimmage against press with ease and makes cornerbacks look downright foolish all too often.
He is a true No. 1 receiver — full-stop.
The kind of wide receiver that dictates coverages and can break a game in just one play. Diggs doesn’t have weaknesses because even when you do cover him, he excels at winning contested passes.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) January 30, 2020
The fallout of the Stefon Diggs trade
Stefon Diggs is exactly the kind of player you trade a first-round pick (and change) to acquire. It’s a great deal for the contending Bills. The wide receiver corps was in shambles just a couple years ago. Now the team has a true No. 1 wideout in tow. He’ll join another pristine separator in John Brown who is coming off the best season of his career and a reliable slot receiver in Cole Beasley.
The combo of Diggs and Brown is suddenly one of the best duos in the league. Taking a debilitating weakness and turning it into a strength is what good teams do. The Bills have a plan and this is an acceleration of it.
Diggs’ statistical outlook on his new team is less clear than the obvious “W” the organization gets in trading for him. As Diggs himself noted in the video above, wide receivers can execute their assignments, running great routes and balling out even if it is not reflected in the stat sheet. Wide receiver is one of the positions most dependent on outside variables in order to accrue production.
All they can do is run their routes with precision, get open and hope everything else goes right in order to get a pass thrown their way. We know Diggs executes the part he can control to an elite degree.
However, there’s no denying Diggs is going to a situation filled with questions about those outside variables. In many ways, it’s similar to the one he just left.
He’s going to yet another team that ranked inside the top-seven in run play percentage. The Bills are not about to fill the air with footballs. Brown led the team with just 115 targets.
Diggs is certainly going to be the top dog in Buffalo but just like in Minnesota, he’s going to have competition for looks. John Brown isn’t going to vanish from the equation after thriving last year. His 24 percent share of Buffalo’s targets was the 12th-highest mark in the league. He also has some overlapping skills with Diggs.
Don’t forget that Devin Singletary appears ready to be saddled with workhorse-level touches, much like Dalvin Cook was in Minnesota last year.
While they are not the same questions surrounding his old one, Diggs’ new quarterback causes a few eyebrows-raises at the mention of his name. Josh Allen is far from the most accurate quarterback in the league — that’s going to be an issue. But we shouldn’t be so quick to think Allen alone will sink Diggs’ fantasy stock.
We can piece together enough clues to guess that the wideout’s biggest on-field complaint with Kirk Cousins was his hesitancy to pull the trigger downfield when Diggs felt he was open. It’s hard to see Allen being unwilling to do that. In fact, the young quarterback just developed tremendous chemistry with John Brown and lifted him to the best season of his NFL life. That reality should not be overlooked when discussing Diggs’ 2020 outlook and beyond.
The move of Stefon Diggs to Buffalo does not suddenly make him a top-10 fantasy receiver and based on some similarity in outside variables, it may not even alter his outlook from what we’re used to.
I can assure you, that’s not what he cares about.
From an on-field perspective, the Bills acquired the best route-runner in the NFL to assist their growing young quarterback during the window of his rookie deal. Strong front offices make this exact kind of move. The Bills and their fans should be wildly happy with what took place this week.