Not to put too much hype into preseason NFL games, but Vikings performance in Sunday’s Hall of Fame game against the Pittsburgh Steelers gave us plenty of reasons for optimism.
Teddy Bridgewater was nearly perfect during his one drive, the defense shut down the punchless Pittsburgh offense, several key reserves stepped up with solid performances, and the Vikings somehow knocked out the Steelers’ kicker for the season.
But the most impressive showing was from Stefon Diggs – the rookie fifth round wide receiver drafted out of the University of Maryland – who returned a third quarter punt 62 yards to the one yard line. Replays appeared to show the ball crossing the plane of the goal line, but the Vikings nevertheless scored on the next play with a touchdown run that would ice the game.
Diggs has been an electrifying player since his early years, and his impressive showing in training camp makes for good odds that he will play an important role in what will be a surprisingly potent Vikings passing game this year.
He runs a 4.46 40 yard dash and has been a dynamic player throughout every rank – earning annual all-region status as a high school player in suburban Washington, DC and winning ACC rookie of the year at Maryland in 2012.
Before you go invoking Darius Heyward-Bey references – another speedy Maryland receiver who has failed to translate his skill set into NFL success, recognize that Diggs was actually productive at the collegiate level. He is statistically the second best wide receiver in Maryland history behind Torrey Smith.
With Cordarrelle Patterson entering a make or break year with the team, Diggs is exactly the type of speedy receiver and returner needed to push the underachieving former first rounder – who is long on talent but short on motivation and work ethic. Diggs also brings a level of dynamism to the punt return game that has not existed the past few seasons with excitingly average Marcus Sherels at the helm.
The emergence of Diggs and the oddly-named rookie tight end Mycole Pruitt as offensive weapons are two reasons why this year’s Vikings squad will have the most dynamic passing attack since 2009, when Brett Favre was at the helm, and the Daunte Culpepper-era before that (no. the Tarvaris Jackson to Bobby Wade combination does not count as a dynamic passing attack).
Mike Wallace provides the over the top threat that Teddy lacked last year. Jarius Wright is more than ready to take over Greg Jennings’ slot role at a fraction of the cost. Charles Johnson came out of nowhere last season to be Teddy’s favorite target. Kyle Rudolph looks like he’s back to Pro Bowl form.
The return of Adrian Peterson will only help this bunch get open and give Teddy more lanes to throw through. The missing link remains the dynamic, open field receiver who can take any play to the house. The rookie Diggs will either motivate Patterson to get his head on straight or supplant him altogether.
It’s difficult to fathom considering recent history, but should all of these pieces come together, don’t be surprised if the Vikings finish near the top of the league in total offense and scoring in 2015.