When great talents at wide receiver don’t get enough targets in the NFL, generally they’ll let you know about it. That’s exactly what happened with new Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs during his time with the Minnesota Vikings.
The key to keeping him happy in Buffalo will be to not allow the same issues to occur.
The biggest reason Diggs is a member of the Bills now and not with the Vikings was Minnesota jumping head first into a run-heavy offense with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison at running back. In 2019, they ranked 30th in the NFL in pass attempts per-game with 29.2. A massive change from the 37.9 attempts per-game in 2018, good for sixth in the NFL two years ago.
Diggs was one of the biggest victims of that offensive philosophy change. Diggs saw 55 fewer passes thrown his way in 2019 than in 2018, playing the same amount of games. The Bills will do well to get Diggs back to the 149 targets he saw in 2018.
Despite this, Diggs produced last season with 1,130 yards and six touchdowns, finishing fifth in the NFL with 17.9 yards per-reception. That made him one of the best deep threats in football, and also one of, if not, the best route runners in the NFL.
Stefon Diggs and John Brown scored in the top-15 in both success rate vs. man AND press coverage last year in #ReceptionPerception. The Bills are just one of two teams with a duo of WRs who did this.
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) June 24, 2020
So, what targets are up for grabs now in Buffalo? How high can Diggs’ number get?
In 2019, Josh Allen had 461 pass attempts. The Bills were 21st in the NFL in pass attempts per-game with 33.4. Just to be optimistic and assuming the addition of Diggs means the Bills want to throw the ball more, let’s round up Allen’s projected 2020 pass attempts to 500. Last season that would’ve been 16th in the NFL for quarterbacks. Right in the middle.
Last season, the Bills had a rotating door at the third starting receiver position, next to John Brown and Cole Beasley. Duke Williams, Isaiah McKenzie, Robert Foster, and Zay Jones all started games. All of those starts now go to Diggs, assuming he’s healthy. How many targets is that?
- Isaiah McKenzie: 39 targets
- Duke Williams: 19
- Robert Foster: 18
- Zay Jones: 18
Add all of that together, you’ve got 94 targets, just at the third receiver position that Diggs is going in for. That’s the exact amount he saw last season in Minnesota. If he’s healthy, that should be Diggs’ floor for targets.
Where else can Diggs take targets from? John Brown saw 115 targets last season and Cole Beasley saw 106. Last season, no team in the league had three wide receivers with 100 targets each. Since Diggs runs routes out of the slot and on the outside, he should take a chunk from both Brown and Beasley.
It’s safe to say Diggs will reach 100 targets, but is he going to get the ball like the top wide receivers in the NFL? Only if he commands a huge percentage of Allen’s attention.
See DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas:
Thomas ranked first in the NFL in 2019 with 182 targets, 33.2% of the team’s share. The Saints were 15th in pass attempts.
Hopkins ranked fifth in the NFL in 2019 with 150 targets, 30.9% of the team’s share. The Texans were 19th in pass attempts.
For comparison, Brown was 26th in the NFL with 115 targets, the Bills were 21st in pass attempts. Brown’s target share was 25.7%. That 5% difference may not sound like a lot, but over 500 attempts, that adds up to 25 additional targets.
Here’s what the Bills’ target share could look like if Allen throws the ball 500 times and Diggs gets 30% of the targets:
- Stefon Diggs: 150 (30%)
- John Brown: 100 (20%)
- Cole Beasley: 85 (17%)
- Dawson Knox: 60 (12%)
- Devin Singletary: 40 (8%)
- Zack Moss: 20 (4%)
- Other wide receivers: 20 (4%)
- Other tight ends: 20 (4%)
- Other running backs: 5 (1%)
This is what the Bills should be aiming for. A realistic target share that gives Diggs the opportunity of a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL.
A key in Allen’s development will be seeing whether he can utilize such a weapon. If a point in the season comes where Diggs is frustrated with his role in the Bills offense, then we may be talking about the need for a new quarterback in 2021. If Diggs reaches the stardom he’s capable of, the Bills may have their man under center.
For a closer look at Diggs’ route running ability and target share in 2020, Matt Harmon of Yahoo! Sports joined One Bills Live in June: