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Can Stefon Diggs Unlock Josh Allen?

Or will the mercurial wideout become even more frustrated in Buffalo? It all depends on how the Bills’ third-year quarterback develops.

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Apparently we live in a world where DeAndre Hopkins is worth David Johnson and a second-round pick, and Stefon Diggs is worth, well, a bunch of picks. On Monday, the Vikings finally traded the disgruntled receiver, and in return the Bills gave up a solid haul of draft capital:

These two trades aren’t directly comparable, but the difference in value is still stunning. Diggs has never made a Pro Bowl in five seasons; Hopkins has been a first-team All-Pro in each of the past three. And while Hopkins’s desire to rework his contract certainly played into his trade value, there’s context to the Diggs deal, too: While he’s under contract for four more seasons, the receiver was clearly done in Minnesota.

Diggs made it known he wanted out. During the 2019 season, he skipped practices and declined to deny that he’d asked for a trade. The Vikings fined him for those unexcused absences, and then in the playoffs Diggs threw his helmet out of frustration with Minnesota’s offense. In recent days, Diggs has tweeted everything from clock emojis to the much less subtle “it’s time for a new beginning.

Now he finally gets his wish. After two seasons of working with Kirk Cousins he gets … [squints] … Josh Allen. It could be a match made in heaven. The cannon-armed third-year quarterback has never had an elite downfield playmaker to play catch with, and Diggs could be the talent the Bills need to unlock Allen. It could also be a match made in hell. Diggs has never played with a quarterback who can’t hit the side of a barn before, and unless Allen dramatically improves his accuracy, Diggs could be frustrated like never before.

Regardless of how it all works out, the Bills just gave Allen the best receiver he’s had the chance to work with. Last season, despite the drama, Diggs put together his best campaign yet, hitting a career high in receiving yards (1,130) while blowing past his previous high in yards per reception (17.9). He tacked on six touchdowns in the 15 games he played. He earned Pro Football Focus’s 19th-highest wide receiver grade and was essential to Minnesota’s offense—per Next Gen NFL Stats, he garnered 41.3 percent of the team’s intended air yards, the third-highest mark in the league.

Despite that astronomical number, Diggs would benefit from more volume. The wideout finished second in yards per target but garnered a mere 46th in targets, and as PFF noted, he’s delivered when he does get attention:

Diggs will now line up next to John Brown and Cole Beasley in Buffalo, which means he’ll instantly be Allen’s best receiving target. He won’t share the field with Pro Bowler Adam Thielen anymore—but that also means Diggs will draw more attention from coverage units. Attention is a double-edged sword, as Diggs will now be getting more of it on both offense and defense.

Last season Diggs showed that he’s at his best when he’s taking the top off a defense. Diggs was targeted deep (20-plus yards downfield) 29 times last season. Only Kenny Golladay and Odell Beckham Jr. saw more deep targets. But Diggs’s catch percentage on those targets (55.2 percent) outpaced all those guys, and as a result Diggs led the league in deep receiving yardage (635 yards)—and Golladay was the only wideout within 100 yards of Diggs.

The Bills are hoping that the deep-play threat will be the perfect complement not just for Allen, but for the rest of the receivers in Buffalo. As noted by Warren Sharp, the Bills want to have three wide receivers on the field on most plays. Previously they’ve had to stretch to make that happen—now they have the kind of wide receiver who can make those lineups easy to implement:

Getting Diggs on the field won’t be a problem. Getting him the ball might be. Allen threw deep on 14.8 percent of his pass attempts last season (sixth highest), which is a tick higher than Cousins’s 13.7 percent (ninth). But that won’t matter much if the balls aren’t on target. Allen completed just 18 of his 68 deep-pass attempts and had an abysmal passer rating of 64.4 (29th). Cousins went 24-of-61 on deep throws with a passer rating of 119.7 (third).

With Allen entering the third year of his career, the Bills need to find out whether they can fix his flaws or if they’ll have to move on. Diggs is a great player to help them solve the dilemma. If the big-armed Allen can’t find Diggs deep down the field, it’ll confirm that the problem has always been the quarterback and not his receivers. But if Allen unexpectedly thrives in 2020 and builds a connection with his new downfield threat, it’ll finally unlock the passer the Bills were hoping for when they drafted Allen no. 7 overall in 2018. One way or another, the Bills have to find out—trading for Diggs is a good way to do so.