In this series, I’ll be taking a more pessimistic approach as I highlight a number of receivers who appear inherently risky to me at their current valuations. For clarity, this should not be confused with an “AVOID AT ALL COSTS” piece, as that is simply not the case. As a fantasy player, you need to be of the mindset that any player can become attractive at the right price point. By the same token, it’s wise to avoid becoming infatuated with a player to the extent you feel no price is unjustified. Sentiment in fantasy football is like a pendulum in constant motion, swinging wildly from day to day, week to week and year to year. While buying low and selling high are easy in theory, they become much more difficult in practice.
The focus of this article will be on recently acquired Bills’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs. While Diggs turned in another solid season last year, his newfound home in Buffalo lacks a lot to be desired. I’ll begin by briefly reviewing Diggs’ history, as well as some of the arguments for why he will succeed in Buffalo. Following that, I’ll dive into the reasons why I’m taking a hard pass on him at his current ADP and valuation.
NFL and Fantasy Career
Throughout his NFL and fantasy careers, Diggs has been highly productive. Below are his receiving totals and fantasy stats through each of his five NFL seasons.
Evidently, Diggs has had a very successful career thus far and is only 26 years old. Ironically, those are also what make him a good WR to avoid/sell high in both dynasty and redraft formats. The Vikings thought so too as they shipped Diggs and a 7th rounder to the Bills in exchange for 1st, 6th and 7th round picks this year and a 4th in 2021.
The Case for Diggs
To begin, I think it’s valuable to examine some of the arguments that help compose the case for Diggs. As we enter the 2020 season, there are several valid claims being made as to why he’ll live up to, or even outperform his current valuation.
First, Diggs is a highly versatile, 26 year old receiver who’s entering the prime of his career. Second, Diggs is a fantastic route-runner who can make plays at every level of the field. Third, the Bills paid a hefty price to acquire him and as a result, plan on featuring him which will subsequently lead to an increase in volume.
Admittedly, these are all valid arguments that can’t be directly disproven until we have a reasonable sample size from Diggs this season.
The Case against Diggs
Having touched on the positives, it’s now time to explore the negatives of Diggs’ situation. To start with, Diggs was traded to a new franchise during what will ultimately be one of the most difficult offseasons in history for transitioning players. As a byproduct of that move, Diggs will now shift from the friendly indoor confines of U.S. Bank Stadium to the bitter, windy conditions at New Era Field. Next, Diggs moves on from the quarterback with whom he’s enjoyed his best seasons with, to one who has been markedly worse as a passer. Additionally, he goes from one run-first franchise to another and while his volume may tick up, he’ll face increasing competition for targets. Furthermore, Diggs is a strong candidate for some regression in terms of efficiency. Finally, Diggs has never played a full 16 games in any of his NFL seasons. While he may do so this year, I’d rather not place my bets on something that has never happened.
Transition to the Bills
The Vikings’ decision to trade Diggs this offseason didn’t take many by surprise as his prima-donna behavior last season foreshadowed the event. As we know, transitioning to a new system, with new coaches and a new QB is not necessarily a seamless task for any player. When we begin to factor in the effects of the pandemic on this year’s NFL offseason, that transition becomes even more difficult. In this case, an already uncertain outcome has become inherently risky.
New Era Field
A frequently overlooked aspect of this move is the shift from an indoor stadium, to one that is very much outdoors. To support this notion, I’ve posted Diggs’ indoor/outdoor splits below.
All it takes is a quick glance over those numbers to reach the conclusion that moving to an outdoor stadium is not something that bodes well for Diggs. What’s more concerning, is that 14 of his 16 regular season games will be played outdoors.
Digging into the numbers, we can see that historically, Diggs has experienced a 16% decline (72.4 vs 60.7) in yards per game when playing outdoors. Given the parity in his number of games played indoors vs outdoors, this is a valid cause for concern. Equally troubling, is his 42% decline in touchdowns (19 vs 11) when playing outdoors. Even if we project Diggs to meaningfully improve in all these categories, he would have to do so at an incredible rate to avoid any type of decline in production.
There’s a lot to unpack when we consider the implications of moving from Kirk Cousins to Josh Allen. As a fantasy QB, Allen is solid and was very undervalued last season in terms of ADP. After delivering as a fantasy player last season, Allen’s upside (and then some) is fully baked into his current price, but I digress. Circling back to Diggs, the switch from Cousins to Allen should be seen as a minor downgrade at best, and a major one at worst. Below is a comparison between both QB’s passing stats last season. I elected to omit the 2018 season as it was Allen’s rookie campaign and I believe he has shown some improvement.
|Completion %||True Completion %||Y/A||AY/A||True Passer Rating|
|Cousins||69.1 (4th)||76.0 (5th)||8.1 (7th)||8.7 (6th)||110.6 (5th)|
|Allen||58.8 (32nd)||64.7 (33rd)||6.7 (26th)||6.7 (23rd)||87.8 (19th)|
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine that Cousins is a superior to passer to Allen across every metric. Do I think Diggs will have a net positive effect on Allen as a passer? Absolutely. Will that alone make him a preferable option to Cousins? That’s gonna be a no from me, dawg.
Earlier, I mentioned that Diggs enjoyed the two best statistical seasons of his career alongside Cousins. Using the numbers above, we can infer that the passes he’ll be catching from Allen are likely to be worth less on average than those he was catching from Cousins.
Another argument I’ve come across for why Diggs will do better in Buffalo is that he’s moving to a more pass-friendly offense. While that’s true, the difference borders on negligible. Last season, the Vikings ran the ball on 48.30% of their plays, good for 4th in the NFL. By contrast, the Bills did so on 45.04% of their plays checking in at 7th. Although the Bills added Diggs, they also added Zack Moss. If they do elect to become more pass-oriented this season, I’m willing to bet it’s marginally so and will hinge upon the performance of Allen.
Theoretically, Diggs should slide in as the #1 option in the passing game once he gets acclimated in Buffalo. But how much production should we expect from that role? Last season, John Brown delivered the following stat line: 115 targets, 72 receptions, 1060 yards and 6 touchdowns. This helped him finish the season within 3.2 fantasy points of Diggs. Even if we assume that Diggs siphons some of his targets in 2020, he’s still going to remain a large part of the passing game. Moreover, Cole Beasley is still in town to command heavy snaps and targets out of the slot. On top of that, could the development of Dawson Knox lead to an increase in targets for him as well? It’s certainly conceivable.
Using the first table, we can see that Diggs enjoyed a very robust 12.0 yards per target last season. Compared to his career average of 8.7, that’s a 37.9% spike and has the look of an outlier to me. I’m not saying he can’t repeat or even eclipse that however, it’s more probable that number falls somewhere closer to his long-term average this season.
Diggs also benefited from an average depth of target (aDOT) of 15.0 yards last season. Not only is this a large increase from his career average, but it’s right in line with the 14.6 that Brown saw in 2019. Given that Diggs is a more versatile receiver than Brown, it’s likely he sees a reduction in this category while Brown continues to operate as the primary deep threat. If this is the case, Diggs will need to make the most of any increase in volume he may receive.
I want to be clear here, I’m not really worried about Diggs’ health as a whole. Simply put, it’s worth stating that Diggs has never played a complete 16 game season in his NFL career. As fantasy players, we’re conditioned to put a premium on durability. Currently, Diggs is being priced not only to perform as a WR2 but also under the expectation that he plays healthy the entire season. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s unwise to go in with the expectation that something is going to change without a catalyst.
To be sure, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Diggs as we approach the 2020 NFL season. I’ll confess, he could absolutely ball out with the Bills and make me look an idiot. However, after digging into both the bull and bear cases for him, the probability of him underperforming his current valuation is too high for me to ignore. Moving to a new system, new offense, new stadium, new coaching staff and a downgrade at QB is A LOT to deal with. Add in the likelihood of regression in terms of efficiency, mild health concerns and a high price, and we have all the necessary ingredients for an avoid or sell (reasonably) high candidate.