Stefon Diggs vs. D.J. Moore: Maryland receivers lighting the NFL on fire

The Maryland Terrapins had two wide receivers drafted highly in the 2009 and 2011 NFL Drafts in Darrius Heyward-Bey (No. 7 overall) and Torrey Smith (No. 58 overall). These two had speed to burn but never really panned out at the next level. However, two wideouts that followed Heyward-Bey and Smith have been spectacular in the NFL. Minnesota drafted Stefon Diggs in Round 5 in 2015 and then traded him to the Bills in 2020. Meanwhile, D.J. Moore was selected in the first frame in 2018 by Carolina.

Stefon Diggs’ rise to glory

The Vikings got one of the biggest NFL Draft steals of the 2010s with the selection of Diggs. Diggs missed 10 games over five seasons in Minnesota but still caught 365 passes for 4,623 yards and 30 touchdowns. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his final two campaigns with the Vikings. He averaged a whopping 17.9 yards per catch in his final year before being dealt to the Bills for their first-round pick and a few later draft choices.

In Minnesota, Diggs was an excellent player. But in Buffalo, with Josh Allen throwing him the ball in a pass-happy offense (59% pass rate and 37 pass attempts per game), Diggs took his game to an all-new level. In his first year with Allen, Diggs enjoyed one of the best seasons at his position in all of football.

He played 1,137 snaps which were more than any wide receiver in the league in 2020. Additionally, he led the NFL in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving yards per game. He is a complete receiver that can put a passing game on his back and is as good of a route runner as there is in the NFL right now.

Diggs’ Maryland career

Looking back, it is a wonder that teams didn’t draft Diggs higher after a stellar career at Maryland, although injuries were an issue for him at the college level. Still, he had an excellent showing at the 2015 NFL Combine. But that receiver class, led by Amari Cooper, did see six players at the position drafted in the first round and eight receivers selected on Day 2.

So many teams already drafted their wide receiver during the first two days and were out of that market when Diggs’ time came. That sure worked in Minnesota’s favor, and with the possible exception of Cooper, it looks as though Diggs is the best receiver from that 2015 NFL Draft class. Actually, he is the top receiver in that draft and is almost assuredly a top-five player at his position in the league as we enter the 2021 season.

D.J. Moore’s path to the NFL

Moore was the first receiver selected in his draft class, just ahead of Calvin Ridley. They were the only receivers drafted in the first round, although six were selected in Round 2. As for Moore’s performance at the NFL Combine, he was lights out. Moore is 6’ 0” exactly, and some might not realize that he weighed in at 210 pounds with a thick and sturdy frame.

He is so explosive and athletic that it is easy to overlook his body mass and strength. But he plays big, especially in contested-catch situations and as a tackle breaker. He ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds with exceptional agility and jump numbers to boot. Moore is an elite athlete, and you see that quickly translate to the football field with explosive movement and sudden change-of-direction ability.

Moore’s NFL career thus far

After a decent rookie year, Moore blew up in 2019, catching 87 passes for 1,175 yards in 15 games. He showcased vastly improved ability against man coverage and refined his skills as an overall route runner. Moore accumulated slightly more yardage last year — also in 15 games — but caught 19 fewer passes. Over the past two seasons, he has been incredibly consistent and reliable, even with different quarterbacks and coaching staffs.

In fact, even with the conservative Teddy Bridgewater, Moore’s average depth of target and yards per reception rose significantly from 2019 to 2020, averaging 18.1 yards per catch last year. And when you watch the tape, you see that Moore was open deep downfield much more often than Bridgewater actually pulled the trigger. Say what you want about Sam Darnold, but he isn’t shy about letting it fly. 2020 was Moore’s best season as a pro despite Bridgewater holding him back. If his first three seasons are anything to go off of, he is only getting better.

Stefon Diggs vs. D.J. Moore

Moore only turned 24 years old a few months ago and continues to improve. Could he be poised for a blow-up year in 2021 like the one Diggs experienced last year? With his new quarterback, the second season in Joe Brady’s offense, and Christian McCaffrey back in the mix, it is certainly possible. But for right now, after the stellar season Diggs — who is now in his prime — just displayed for the world, he must get the nod as the superior player. That has a chance to change a year from now, though.

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