To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 8 on our list is wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
With excellent short-distance burst and separation ability, wide receiver Stefon Diggs in his first two NFL seasons proved that he was a steal as a 2015 fifth-round pick. But he has yet to establish himself as a star despite teasing the Vikings by occasionally terrorizing defensive backs.
The 191-pounder has battled injuries and inconsistency during his young career — the two of those things perhaps tied tightly together.
Diggs in 2016 missed one game due to a groin injury, one to a knee injury and another to a hip injury. He was listed as questionable or doubtful on the official injury report in six of the team’s final 12 games.
This spring, months after Diggs came up short of the 1,000-yard mark in part because he had to sit out the 2016 finale, he placed the blame for those injuries on himself, saying, “Stuff like that is on me, staying healthy,” and vowing to take steps to avoid soft-tissues injuries going forward.
When healthy, Diggs has at times looked like the next Antonio Brown.
In Week 2, the first real game in U.S. Bank Stadium history, Diggs punked the Packers for 182 yards and a touchdown. In his return to his home state of Maryland in Week 10, Diggs caught 13 passes for 164 yards in a loss to the Redskins. It was his second straight game with 13 catches.
The next week, though, Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson made him invisible. (To be fair, Peterson does that to most receivers.) Then more injuries came and Diggs totaled only 156 yards after Week 11.
For Diggs to become the star wide receiver the Vikings have lacked since trading Randy Moss away the first time, he has to be able to bring it most weeks. And to do that, he needs to be relatively healthy most weeks.
If that happens in 2017, the 23-year-old is a good bet to become the first Vikings player to top 1,000 receiving yards since Sidney Rice in 2009.
And maybe, just maybe, the Vikings for the first time in the Mike Zimmer era will have a passing attack opposing defenses might actually fear.
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
11. Trae Waynes, CB
16. Pat Elflein, C/G