It’s difficult to overstate the significance of the Buffalo Bills having acquired Stefon Diggs.
Diggs is a legitimate #1 receiving threat. He’s one of those guys the defense has to account for on every play. You lose Diggs and you’re likely to pay.
But Diggs’s significance goes beyond the fact that he’s a good player. By acquiring Digg’s, Brandon Beane made the Bills better at three positions. I’m not talking about indirect benefits, like he’ll draw double teams and thereby create space that other players can take advantage of. I’m saying that on the Bills’ depth chart, three positions now actually have better players than a year ago.
Brown and Beasley both were playing out of position last year, in that both were asked to fill roles they weren’t suited for. John Brown never has been the guy to take over a game when the team needed it, and he wasn’t that guy last season. And Beasley never has been the guy to carry the load you’d expect from a #2 receiver. He’s an excellent player, but he’s a role player, and his role is in the slot, complementing a pair of quality wideouts.
Ask yourself this: rank the following players in order of the guy you’d like as your #2 receiver. That is, assuming you’re happy with your #1 guy, and you could choose any of these three, which would it be? Robert Woods, Cole Beasley, John Brown.
For me, it’s Brown in a heartbeat, and that’s from someone who always admired Woods. John Brown is a devastating #2 receiver, with excellent route running skills and great deep speed. Beasley is a distant third as a #2, but he’s now going back to what he’s best at: being the pesky little guy who threatens to sting you on every play.
The Bills suddenly have a top ten #1, a top ten #2, and a top ten #3. Last season they weren’t better than top 20 at any of those positions.
It sounds crazy to talk about an offense being explosive when it was as weak as the Bills’ 2019 offense, but it’s true. With one move the Bills accomplished what they wanted – they now force opponents to defend the entire field. With Diggs and Brown on the field, the defense has to defend the bubble screen, the slants, the outs and the ups, every play. They have to defend Beasley and the tight end underneath from sideline to sideline. They have to defend the screens, swings and wheel routes to Singletary. They have to defend everything. It’s what the Rams did to defenses two years ago, and it’s what the Chiefs did last year.
What might this offense look like? Look back to 2015. John Brown, in his second NFL season, was the Cards’ #2 receiver, paired with Larry Fitzgerald. Michael Floyd was their #3 guy, at least in the stats. Carson Palmer throwing. Cards went 13-3. Cards were second highest in yards passing per game, 5th in passer rating. Chris Johnson and David Johnson shared the ball carrying. The offense was first in yards per game, second in points per game. By the way, the Cards were 5th in yards per game defense and 7th in points per game defense.
Fast forward five years. Brown seems to be in his prime, probably a better receiver today than he was in 2015. Stefon Diggs isn’t Larry Fitzgerald, but he’s damn good. He’s a better deep threat than Fitzgerald, and he’s no slouch running underneath routes. Beasley is a perfect complement to the two deep guys.
Allen is a QB with the arm and the body that Palmer had, and he’s more mobile. Coincidentally, Palmer’s brother is Allen’s coach. Admittedly Allen has some growing to do.
I’m predicting nothing, but the comparisons show what this offense could become.
The move for Diggs was significant in another way – it’s a major statement from Bills’ management. Brandon Beane is saying to everyone “we’re here now. 2021 may have been the target year, but we’re ready now.” It’s a statement to Josh Allen, a challenge. It says “We have everything we need, so it’s up to you.”
It’s a statement and a challenge to the offensive line. It says “We’re all in on you. We didn’t sign any high level offensive line help, and we traded out of the first round because we don’t need to replace any of you.” It’s a statement and challenge to Brian Daboll. It’s a statement to the fans, and to the owners. It’s a statement that says to everyone “we can win now. We aren’t done getting better, but we can win now.”
Not having made the deal and getting the best player available with the 22nd pick would have said “We’re still building,” because that guy at 22 quite likely was not going to transform the offense in 2020. He might play, and he might have a future, but he was not going to make a transformative difference in 2020. Diggs makes a difference; the deal says McDermott and Beane think they don’t need to wait any longer to win big.
The moves on the defense say the same thing. Free agency began and BINGO! The Bills didn’t just plug holes, they upgraded their talent with solid guys in their prime. The message is “all we needed to be really good was to get some guys in here to plug some holes in the front seven.”
What the Bills did this week screams at the team, the league and the fans: “We’re ready!”
Editor’s babble: Amazing how plugging in the right player changes this offense. Thanks, as always, to Mark Korber for his contributions to our blog. You won’t find Mark on Twitter but you can find him posting on twobillsdrive.com’s Stadium Wall message board.