Right now, a lot of Minnesota Vikings fans are understandably distressed. The 2015 NFC North Champions were seemingly heading into 2016 with a ton of promise before catastrophe struck. After Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a torn ACL and dislocated kneecap that will cost him at least the ’16 season, expectations for the Vikings have changed dramatically.
The Vikings and their fans aren’t the only ones impacted by the Bridgewater injury, though. Fantasy football owners have been forced to reconsider where they should target the Vikings’ skill players. Adrian Peterson’s spent most of his pro career, save for a year with Brett Favre, on teams with poor quarterback situations. In the eyes of most, his status as a top-five running back is safe.
Stefon Diggs, a Minnesota wide receiver, hasn’t been afforded the same vote of confidence. Nor should he be. However, the second-year player was a coveted mid-to-late round target of many after a surprisingly solid rookie season. He had reportedly been making strides in his second NFL training camp and had seized control of Minnesota’s top receiver spot.
Losing his quarterback unquestionably puts a damper on that. A 71-yard outing during Diggs’ most extensive preseason action, with Bridgewater at the helm of the offense, inspired faith in all those who had high hopes for the receiver. So, yes, it’s fair to knock him down a peg without Bridgewater. But don’t remove him from draft consideration altogether.
For one, it’s not as though Minnesota is down an Aaron Rodgers-level quarterback. Don’t take that as a knock on Bridgewater as he’s very good – for what he is. He’s an efficient, game manager on a run-first, and second, team. He won’t typically hurt your team, but it’s rare to see him take over a game.
On a team like Minnesota, that’s all well and good. After suffering through the Christian Ponder’s and Tarvaris Jackson’s of the world, not to mention bad Brett Favre, most Vikings fans were probably glad to have a quarterback who protected the football. That said, Bridgewater’s playing style doesn’t necessarily make all-stars out of his receivers.
Through two seasons, Bridgewater’s thrown for 6,150 yards, 28 touchdowns and 21 picks. His average season equals out to 3,075 yards, 14 scores and 10.5 interceptions. 40 years ago that might’ve been Pro Bowl-worthy, but, in this era of 5,000-yard passers, it’s decidedly below average.
Of course, as his top receiving option, Diggs doesn’t really need a quarterback who’s spraying the ball around for 5,000 yards. Many receivers, like Michael Irvin with Troy Aikman, have had elite statistical seasons without their quarterback putting up gaudy numbers. Diggs was probably a player with 900-1,100-yard ceilings before Bridgewater’s injury.
But will catching balls from Shaun Hill really knock him so far off that pace?
Hill first came on to the scene some nine years ago for an injured Alex Smith in San Francisco. He fared quite well in sporadic relief. Between 2007-09 he started 16 games and went 10-6 while throwing for 3,490 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. There were even some rumblings about him becoming a full-time starter somewhere in the NFL.
That never came to pass, but Hill’s had a few chances to start for an extended period in the years since. Both times, with the Detroit Lions and then-St. Louis Rams, Hill performed solidly – completing well over 60 percent of his passes and posting a positive touchdown-to-interception ration. His stint as the Rams starter came recently in 2014 and Hill’s solid performance was particularly impressive given St. Louis’ dearth of offensive talent.
Again, he’s no world-beater, but Hill’s proven to be competent time and again when pressed into duty. Many would use the same word, competent, to describe Bridgewater. Of course, the former is younger and has higher upside than the 36-year-old Hill, but Hill’s not far off the iteration of Bridgewater we’ve seen over the past two seasons.
With that in mind, Stefon Diggs is a still a strong target once the draft rounds reach double digits. He may not be the breakout star some were hoping for, but he’s still Minnesota’s top pass-catcher, and that’ll make him a solid fourth or fifth receiver.