EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At the conclusion of the Minnesota Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium opener last September, after he had filleted the Green Bay Packers secondary for 182 yards on nine catches, Stefon Diggs had asserted himself as the NFL's leading receiver through two games.
Diggs caught 16 passes for 285 yards in the Vikings' first two wins, posting 100 of those yards after the catch while working with two different quarterbacks. He appeared on the way to a breakout season, as the top option on a team that would now have to live without Adrian Peterson.
The final accounting, though, left Diggs somewhere just beneath the lofty standard he'd scratched early in the year. He finished with 84 catches, which led the team and were the most by a Vikings receiver since Percy Harvin posted 87 in 2011. Diggs' downfield productivity, though, waned throughout the year; after surpassing 11 air yards per target in his first two games, he had just four games the rest of the season that reached that threshold, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
As Diggs put it on Wednesday, the groin injury he sustained in the Vikings' Week 4 win over the New York Giants was a bigger culprit than he let on last season. He was never 100 percent after that, he said, and he pinned some of the blame on himself for getting hurt in the first place.
"Stuff like that is on me, staying healthy, staying where I need to be so I can be at tip-top shape come game time," Diggs said. "Muscles should be preventable if you take care of your body. If you break something or something like that, that’s something you can’t prevent. But I should be able to take good control of that other stuff."
Diggs was limited to 13 games because of his groin injury last year, and said Wednesday he was never 100 percent after Week 4. He posted just 188 yards after the catch following his groin pull, and saw his number of targets dwindle late in the season, as he was unable to separate from defensive backs in the same manner he was before.
He enters his third season as an established receiver, though he's facing a pivotal year from a contract standpoint. The Vikings made the decision to extend Adam Thielen's deal after last season, and there could be money waiting for Diggs (who becomes a free agent after 2018) with a big year, too.
The 23-year-old had an impressive day on Wednesday, hauling in a long pass from Sam Bradford during the Vikings' organized team activities, and it's Diggs' ability to make plays downfield that could return if he's healthy this season.
During Diggs' rookie season, coach Mike Zimmer attributed some of his success to the receiver's ability to cut near full speed, when defensive backs aren't able to react as quickly. If he's able to do that effectively this fall, and continue on the trajectory he established last season, there could be another realm in store for the wide receiver.
"I believe things are going to happen the way they’re supposed to," he said. "I never sell myself short, I still go out there and do the best I can, give it everything I’ve got. I’m not going to sell myself short. This upcoming year, we’ll see how things go."