Why Maryland's Stefon Diggs Could Be the Biggest WR Steal of the 2015 NFL Draft

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystMarch 30, 2015

USA Today

It's a familiar story. A young football player enters college amid great fanfare, but for whatever reason the production never quite meets the potential.

When that player then moves on to the National Football League, it's usually amid more whispers than cheers.

So it goes for Maryland's Stefon Diggs. Once one of the nation's most prized high school recruits, an injury-plagued career with the Terrapins has relegated Diggs to also-ran status—just another mid-round pick in a deep class at the position.

Of course, one man's trash is another's treasure. Look at Diggs' situation from a different perspective, and the "disappointment" of Diggs' time in College Park could make the youngster one of the biggest potential draft-day steals of 2015.

One thing is sure—the next chapter of Diggs' playing career is going to begin with a lot less fanfare than the last.

Back in 2011, when Rivals.com released its first list of 5-star prospects for the following year, the very first player they spotlighted was Diggs. Analyst Mike Farrell gushed about Diggs' playmaking ability:

Diggs won't wow you physically and he tests well but not off the charts, but when it comes to playing actual football he's one of the most dynamic prospects in the country. He can take a swing pass and take it the distance, is physical and tough enough to go over the middle and he's a legitimate downfield threat. He'll fight for the ball, amps up his game the more physical you get with him and he doesn't back down from anyone. I've seen him play since his freshman year and he hasn't gotten much bigger but he gets more explosive and more dangerous every season. He can play slot receiver or play wide, he will be a return guy at the next level and if he wanted to he could be a top notch cornerback or safety. He's simply dynamic.

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Scout.com ranked Diggs as the No. 2 wide receiver prospect in the entire country. Scholarship offers came from far and wide. USC came calling. So did Ohio State. And Florida.

Instead, Diggs chose to "stay home" and attend the University of Maryland. In retrospect, that may have been a mistake.

Granted, Diggs made an impact for the Terps as a freshman. He topped 50 catches and 800 receiving yards with half a dozen touchdown grabs in 2012. Diggs was also a key contributor in the return game, taking two kickoffs to the house while racking up nearly 950 combined return yards. Diggs was the runner-up for ACC Rookie of the Year.

Unfortunately, that was as good as things got for Diggs in college.

Stefon Diggs Career Stats
YearRec.YardsAvg.TDRet. YardsRet. TD
Per CFB Stats

In 2013, a broken leg cost Diggs nearly half the season. In 2014, Diggs lost time both to a lacerated kidney and a one-game suspension after a pregame dust-up against Penn State. Diggs was able to log 62 catches for 792 yards and earn second-team All Big-Ten honors, but it was hardly the sort of impact that had been expected from Diggs.

Given that, Charles Davis of NFL.com wrote back in December that Diggs would be well served by returning to Maryland in 2015:

Diggs has been well-hyped since his high school days, but he's not yet had the breakout year we've been waiting to see from him. He's battled injuries, and another year with the Terrapins would give him a chance to have that big year that has eluded him. Diggs could prove his durability and give his stock a big boost.

Diggs disagreed, choosing to forgo his final year of eligibility.

And that leaves NFL teams with quite the puzzle.

Before the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine, draft analyst Russ Lande told Matt Zenitz of The Baltmore Sun that Diggs was one of a number of players with much to prove over the spring:

He’s a gifted kid. He’s got big-play ability. I don’t think he’s produced at the level in every game that he has the talent to. I think he’s probably going to be anywhere from a third-to-fifth rounder if I were to guess. But a lot of underclassmen who come out early, a lot of where they go comes down to how they work out. Teams don’t have a great feel for the underclassmen and a lot of them start looking at them now, so they haven’t taken a close look at them physically. If he performs well at the combine, performs well at his Pro Day and if the tape is backed up — and I think the tape is pretty good — he’s got a chance to be a third or fourth rounder. He’s a good football player, and that’s sort of what I look at him as.

Just as with his collegiate career, however, Diggs' time in Indianapolis was something of a letdown.

Stefon Diggs Combine
DrillResultWR Rank
40-yard dash4.46 seconds17th
Vertical jump35 inches25th
Broad jump115 inches33rd
3-cone drill7.03 seconds22nd
20-yard shuttle4.32 seconds30th
Per NFL.com

Mind you, it wasn't as if Diggs' numbers in Indy were terrible. But they weren't especially good either, and afterward Jacob Myers of Rotoviz opined that the shine was coming off Diggs more and more each day:

Diggs is a fairly average WR athletically which is hurts for a player of his size and play style. The most troubling numbers are probably his cone and shuttle times. Diggs posted below average agility numbers even though the average WR was half an inch taller and three pounds heavier than he is. That’s alarming for a guy who had success in college by being one of the best athletes on the field and had to do most of his damage after the catch. When Diggs hits the field in the NFL he won’t be able to make defenders miss as easily as he did in college. Diggs’ explosion numbers are slightly below average as well which is another sign that he’s not the athlete he was portrayed to be. Finally, his 40 time looks solid at a glance, but as Shawn Siegele pointed out, sub 200-pound wideouts really rely on their speed. This could be especially problematic considering that one of the biggest knocks on Diggs from scouts is that he isn’t a very effective route runner.

It leaves Diggs with a lot on the line when Maryland holds its pro day on Thursday. Light up the track, and much of the bad taste from Diggs' so-so showing at the combine goes away. Have another iffy afternoon, and the pile of questions only gets larger.

The thing is, there's no avoiding those questions with Diggs. NFL teams searching for a sure thing should keep searching—Diggs isn't one.

Of course, who is?

Before Diggs ever set foot on the field at Maryland, Farrell wrote that "Diggs won't wow you physically and he tests well but not off the charts."

So that hasn't changed. So what? When it comes to choosing between a player who fares much better on the playing field than in drills vs. the other way around, it's a safe bet most (like say 32 or so) NFL clubs would choose the former.

Former NFL wideout Keenan McCardell (who coached Diggs last year at Maryland) allowed that Diggs is a work in progress while speaking to Lance Zierein of NFL.com:

"I've preached to him to always practice like a pro and that is something he has worked on. I can tell you this -- get the ball in his hands and he's a different kind of football player."

Diggs may well never be the superstar some pegged him as a few years ago, but that hardly means he can't make a significant impact for NFL teams. The 6'0", 195-pounder has already shown considerable aptitude for getting open from the slot. It's an attractive attribute in today's NFL where three-wide sets are as much rule as exception.

Diggs has also proven quite adept at making defenders miss in space, and his return skills open the door for the youngster to make an immediate impact for his new team.

Yes, it may not be the impact folks once thought Diggs would make. But, while speaking with Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post, ESPN's Mel Kiper allowed that it may be too soon to even say that:

Diggs has got great upside. I thought another year would have really helped him, but you can’t dispute the talent. Stefon Diggs is a big-time talent. If you get him in the third, fourth round, you have got yourself a kid that’s got an awful lot of ability. For today’s NFL, he’s ideal.

For the price of a Day 3 pick, Kiper's right. In many ways Diggs is ideal. No NFL general manager has ever lost his job or received a televised tongue-lashing from a talking head for "missing" on a fourth-round pick.

However, if all Diggs ever is is a decent complementary receiver and a plus kick returner, that alone would be worth that modest cost.

More than that, if Diggs comes anywhere close to realizing his vast potential?

Well that's just gravy.

And NFL general managers love gravy.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter at @IDPManor.