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As we begin our “Path to WR1” series, I wanted to give you the lay of the land as our writers will be examining WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top 15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. Let us be clear: we are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.

Each of these WRs brings a bit of optimism for 2017 and our job is simply to lay out the “path” to a top 12 finish. This journey ultimately comes down to projecting their target share, receptions, yards, and TDs for the upcoming season. None of this can be done in a vacuum as projecting one player’s ceiling can also forecast doom and gloom on fellow teammate. For instance, if today’s subject matter, Stefon Diggs, is championed we also might have to temper expectations on Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and others if Diggs becomes an alpha-dog type option for Sam Bradford.

Let’s recap Diggs’ 2016, project what a WR1 season looks like this year, and finally give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign.

2016 Season Recap

Stefon Diggs came into 2016 as spicy as they get as he was found on many pre-season sleeper and breakout lists following up an exciting rookie campaign. However, on average, Diggs was taken at the 9.03 in PPR leagues according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. He made a few steps in the right direction progressing from 2015:

Targets Catches Yards TDs PPR Finish
2015 84 52 720 4 WR45
2016 112 84 903 3 WR31

If you owned Diggs, the beginning of the year was a thrill ride. He was an absolute animal Week 2 with the top WR performance of the week roasting the Packers for 9/182/1. He also posted 3 WR1 performances in a row (WR7, WR9, WR4) during Weeks 8-10.  Through the first 10 weeks of the season, Diggs averaged 18.1 fantasy points per game in PPR leagues, good enough for 7th among WRs in that span. He finished slightly behind Odell Beckham Jr. (18.4 per game) and ahead of fantasy stalwarts such as Jordy Nelson, T.Y. Hilton, Amari Cooper and Doug Baldwin. In other words, Diggs was setting a WR1 pace for much of the season.

stefon diggs2 300x156 - The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: Stefon Diggs

Getty Images Sport / Don Juan Moore

However, Diggs suffered an injury in Week 11 forcing him to miss the following week and struggle the rest of the season. He failed to eclipse 60 yards the rest of the way after averaging almost 89 yards per game for the first 10 weeks. His average depth of target (aDOT) was just 8.5 yards for his 13 games played, a pedestrian number that placed him in the range of slot receivers such as Julian Edelman and Jeremy Kerley. In other words, Sammy Biscuits wasn’t eyeing Diggs too far down the field in 2016, something we definitely need to consider as we look forward to 2017.

The Path for 2017

In order for Diggs to ascend to WR1 territory, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet to become truly an elite fantasy option.

Target Share– Diggs’ target share fluctuated greatly during the second half of 2016. He essentially morphed from better than Odell Beckham Jr. (28.31%) to worse than Jermaine Kearse (16.89%) after Week 10 in terms of his target share.

Weeks Target Share # of weeks WR1 # of WR2 weeks # of WR3 or worse weeks
1-10 28.45% 4 1 3
11-16 16.12% 0 1 4

For him to sustain a WR1 season, we’re looking for something north of 22% in terms of market share. Count on TE Kyle Rudolph’s 139 targets to decrease and Laquon Treadwell to be more involved than his putrid 3. We have to factor in that Minnesota’s 588 passing attempts last year (12th most in the NFL) was fueled by having the dubious reward of having the fewest rushing yards in the league (1205). Regardless, if Diggs sees 130+ targets he’s in business.

Catch Rate– Diggs was a machine catching 75% of his targets in 2015, good enough for 5th among pass catchers and tied with teammate Adam Thielen. It helps that Sam Bradford decided to set the single-season completion percentage mark (71.6%) which definitely amplified Vikings pass catchers last year. He does not have to repeat that 75% to enter into WR1-ville, simply regress to somewhere around 65%. Of his 112 targets in 13 games, 42% of his targets resulted in a first down besting fellow WRs Antonio Brown and Doug Baldwin (both at 41.6%). He also posted an absolutely, otherworldly 91.7% catch rate in the red zone. Despite a subpar catch radius and frame, Diggs was dependable inside the 20.

Receptions– If Diggs were to catch 65% of his 130 targets, we’re looking at 84 catches, the EXACT total he had in 2016, which was 16th best among pass catches despite playing only 13 games. However, through that 8 game stretch to start the year, Diggs had 61 catches putting him on pace to finish the year with 122 for a full 16 game season. In other words, we’re not having to stretch this one too much to fit into the WR1 mold. He’s a PPR machine and 90+ receptions seems more than likely.

Yards– Diggs’ 903 yards last year were more than respectable although his 10.8 yards per catch leaves something to be wanting. That left him 94th among pass catchers sandwiched between TEs Clive Walford and Jermaine Gresham. Yuck. However, his game, as well as Sam Bradford’s, is best utilized on in-breaking routes such as the curl, comeback and slant routes as Matt Harmon details in his Reception Perception profile found in the Ultimate Draft Kit. It’s not hard to see a 1,000 yard season to add to his resume given a full body of work.

TDs– This is the one part of his fantasy forecast which is hard to project. Diggs saw only 8 red zone targets in 2016 including only 4 from Weeks 10-16. Kyle Rudolph aka the “Red Zone Reindeer” dominated those looks for the Vikings and I assume his role in the offense will look similar inside the 20. Regardless, Diggs can “ascend” to T.Y. Hiltonian levels of a smaller receiver with 6-7 TDs given a full schedule. A low ceiling in TDs is definitely the biggest factor that could hold him back from hitting the WR1 pantheon.

WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Below 25%)

This percentage is based upon the combined average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. 25% is essentially saying Diggs would hit WR1 PPR numbers 2.5 out of 10 times if we were to simulate 2017. To put this in perspective, Antonio Brown would probably something be more like 95% given his consistency, team, and mostly scratch-free medical record. Tavon Austin is looking more like 5%.

Conclusion

Diggs has the makeup of a PPR asset especially at his current draft price as the 24th WR off the board in MFL10s and the 7.03 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com. His path to becoming a WR1 is definitely within the realm of possibilities with real upside owners can bake into their squads when they draft him as their 3rd WR.

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