Player Spotlight: Maryland Wide Receiver Stefon Diggs
The Penn State secondary will have a tough task on its hands this Saturday, as it matches up against Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs is one of the most electrifying players that the Nittany Lions will have to face all year. Combining the agility of Tavon Austin and the versatile playmaking ability of Percy Harvin, Diggs poses a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Let’s take a look at what makes Diggs so special.
Diggs, a four-star prospect in 2012 and the thirteenth-best prospect in the nation, has the hands of a possession receiver and the explosiveness of a speedster to pick up yards after the catch. He is especially dangerous in traffic, effortlessly making the grab and finding space to work upfield.
While Diggs excels in short yardage situations, he is also a reliable deep ball threat. His burst allows him to blow by corners in one-on-one situations, and his vertical leaping ability helps him stay in front of defenders when going up for the ball. He’s the type of player who doesn’t need a perfectly placed throw to make a catch, but rather can grab any ball thrown in his area code.
Expect Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown to test Penn State’s secondary early and often on Saturday, and expect most of those throws to come Diggs’ way.
After The Catch
What makes Diggs so dangerous is not his catching ability alone, but rather what he can do after the ball is in his hands. As James Franklin says, he picks up those “YAC yards,” which is kind of repetitive since it means Yards After Catch yards. Diggs is a powerful runner for a kid who is only 6’0, 190 pounds, and who routinely blows by would-be tacklers. He is a slippery runner and is tough to bring down.
What makes him unique is his ability to produce big gains with limited space. He compares favorably to former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin in this category, as both possess ridiculous lateral quickness that allows them to break off big plays in tight space.
While Diggs can juke defenders out of their cleats, he’s also fearless as a north-south runner who isn’t afraid of contact. Keeping Diggs out of the next level will be a top priority for the Penn State defensive unit, as it tries and contain him from dicing up the secondary.
No matter where he lines up on Saturday, Diggs will be a threat to score. He’s one of the few receivers that can line up as a running back, in the slot, or out wide, and can make an impact at each position. His versatility gives Maryland head coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley plenty of options, as Diggs plays a multifaceted role in Maryland’s offensive game plan.
He can hurt teams on the ground, being utilized on sweeps or lining up as a running back out of the backfield. Through the air, he is equally as effective on short yardage routes as he is on the deep ball.
Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop must have his players ready for anything on Saturday, because they won’t face another game changer with Diggs’ skill set for quite some time.
Special Teams Play
Diggs is a versatile athlete, and his ability as a return man adds another dangerous dynamic to his already impressive skill set. While his stats don’t necessarily pop off the chart this season, Diggs is a threat to score as both a punt returner and a kick returner.
During his freshman season, he took back 26 kickoffs for 713 yards and two scores, while returning 22 punts for 221 yards. He reminds me of Harvin, a former Florida Gator and one of the most dangerous return men in the NFL today. His shiftiness and vision allow him to find daylight and give the offense great starting field position, as well as making him incredibly tough to contain.
He hasn’t had a chance to return many punts this season, but remains the Terps’ go to kickoff returner. Special teams will definitely be an area to watch as the Nittany Lions prepare for Maryland.
How To Contain Diggs
There is no easy way to shut down a playmaker like Diggs, but there are ways to slow him down and keep him from tormenting the secondary. The first step would be to assign one man to follow him wherever he ventures on the field, be it in the slot, out wide, or even in the backfield. The next step is to never assign a linebacker to cover him in the slot. This simply cannot happen. Instead of having a player like Brandon Bell spotlight the slot man, as he did against Akron’s spread approach, keep another athletic safety, such as Malik Golden or Jesse Della Valle, in his place to stay with Diggs.
The most important way to contain Diggs will be to keep a safety deep as a last resort to prevent him from getting behind the secondary, and to have somebody in the area to keep an eye on him at all times. Too much zone defense could allow Diggs to sneak in between zones and produce big plays. Communication will be key, and the Nittany Lions cannot afford any miscommunication issues against Maryland.
With 46 catches for 601 yards and five touchdowns on the season thus far, Diggs has made some noise in the Big Ten. He ranks second in receptions, ranking only behind Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton, who has 57 grabs, while Diggs’ yardage totals land him fifth in the conference.
Diggs can make plays all over the field, and expect Maryland’s number one playmaker to be public enemy number one on Saturday.