The Rookie Route Running Clinic: Stefon Diggs

Making the transition from college football to the NFL can be very difficult for receivers. However, Stefon Diggs and Amari Cooper are adjusting just fine. Mark Schofield examines the rookie route running clinic that Diggs has been putting on the rest of the league.

When the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders meet Sunday, two emerging playoff contenders led by rookie wide receivers will be on display. The route-running abilities of the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs are worth your attention Sunday afternoon.

Diggs and Change of Direction

Stefon Diggs made his first NFL start in Week 4 against the Denver Broncos, but even missing the first three games of the season, he is already Minnesota’s leading pass catcher (28) and yardage (461) ‒ in just five games. We previously highlighted his ability to change direction, as illustrated by this out route in his debut.

Diggs is lined up wide to the right as the Vikings have QB Teddy Bridgewater in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field. Minnesota has a stack slot to the left with WR Cordarrelle Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph, and slot formation to the right with receiver Adam Thielen (#19) inside of Diggs. The Broncos have their 4-2-5 defense in the game with all six front players on the line of scrimmage, showing Cover 1 in the secondary:NFLPreview7DiggsPlay1Still1

Diggs runs a deep out route on the right toward the sideline, and is able to get huge separation from veteran cornerback Aqib Talib (#21):

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The replay angle illustrates how Diggs gained such a big cushion at his cut. As the WR reaches the top of his vertical stem, Talib is in good position to take away the out route, with outside leverage on Diggs’ right shoulder. But as the rookie receiver makes his cut, he sets it up with a hard plant to the inside with his left leg, to fake a route inside:

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After sticking his left foot into the turf, Diggs then executes a sharp cut to the right sideline. Talib starts to cut inside, thinking he can jump on a route toward the middle of the field, but after the CB takes two hard steps inside, he’s forced to use a baseball turn to try and catch up with the WR breaking away from him. He cannot recover, and the Vikings have a big completion.

While opponents have film of Diggs and his change of direction abilities now, it does not mean they can stop him. On this play the Vikings have Bridgewater under center with 12 personnel on the field. The St. Louis Rams have their base 4-3 personnel in the game showing Cover 1. Diggs is the outside receiver in the slot formation, matched up against Janoris Jenkins (#21). The rookie WR runs another deep out route:

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Diggs displays his ability to stop and change course on a dime here, beating Jenkins for a huge gain. The replay angle gives us a look at how the rookie structured his route and set up the defensive back for the cut and separation. Before the snap Jenkins is in press man alignment, shaded slightly to the inside of Diggs. The receiver uses a stutter-step at the start of the play, and when Jenkins looks to jam him, Diggs angles to the inside and is able to avoid the jam and establish inside leverage. The CB does a good job of staying on the receiver’s hip, maintaining contact on Diggs with his right arm. At a depth of 10 yards, Diggs angles to the inside for a few steps, showing Jenkins a dig route. When the cornerback turns the corner to try and maintain leverage is when the WR makes his move:

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After two hard steps to the inside, Diggs drives his left foot into the turf and snaps back toward the sideline. Jenkins does his best to try and change direction as well, but the quickness of Diggs allows the receiver to gain separation as he works back to the outside. Bridgewater hits him in stride and the rookie turns upfield with a big gain.

His change of direction ability is not limited to out routes. Against the Chicago Bears, Diggs played a big role on Minnesota’s game-tying drive. Here the Vikings trail by seven with just over 3 minutes remaining, and face 2nd and 9 on their own 29-yard line. The Vikings have 11 personnel in the game, and the rookie WR is the outside slot receiver on the left. Chicago has its 4-2-5 nickel in the game, showing Cover 1:

DiggsPlay2Still1

The Bears roll this to Cover 4 at the snap, blitzing safety Antrel Rolle (#26). Meanwhile, Diggs runs a deep curl route, working against cornerback Kyle Fuller (#23):

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Diggs releases vertically to sell Fuller on a deep route, then stops on a dime on the curl. The throw is late and high, but the receiver is able to high-point the football, secure the catch and turn upfield for additional yardage. Here is how he sold the CB on the deep route:

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Fuller begins the play in off alignment, so Diggs has a free release off the line. He presses his stem vertically, and the CB eventually buys into the deep route and turns his hips toward the sideline, intending to run with Diggs. That is the perfect moment to strike, and Diggs does just that, slamming on the brakes and working back to Bridgewater for the throw. Fuller tries to stop as well, but that extra bit of momentum is enough to carry him down the field an additional yard or two, creating the necessary separation for the completion.

Diggs is a very impressive route-runner, especially as a rookie. His ability to change direction, sell defenders on routes and gain separation on breaks has made life much easier for his quarterback. 

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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