Any football fan knows that the outcome of a game can hinge on a single play. A tipped pass or broken tackle can mean the difference between a win and a loss. Sometimes a single play can even define a team's entire season. Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs has demonstrated a knack for making game-changing plays during his brief career in College Park. The explosive junior is known for his dynamic, big-play ability, but it was a broken fibula suffered against Wake Forest in Week 7 that ultimately defined his 2013 season and helped seal his team's destiny. Now on the mend, the speedy receiver is poised to achieve great things in what could be his final collegiate campaign.
It's not surprising that Diggs has been an impact player in college, but it might be surprising that he picked Maryland as the place to do it. The Gaithersburg, Md. product was a five-star recruit and rated as the No. 2 WR prospect in the 2012 class by Scout.com. Diggs had scholarship offers from all over the country, but passed up the opportunity to join a traditional football powerhouse such as Florida State or Ohio State for the chance to stay local and play for the Terrapins. Diggs was the marquee signing in Maryland's 2012 class and paid immediate dividends, amassing 1,896 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns as a receiver, return man and occasional rusher. He continued to shine as a sophomore, averaging 86.7 receiving yards over six full games.
With the electric Diggs leading the way, Maryland stormed out of the gates en route to a 5-1 record through those first six games of 2013. The Terps seemed destined for a banner year. Then one unfortunate play changed everything. Diggs broke his fibula in Week 7, depriving Maryland of its best offensive weapon for the remainder of the season. The loss of its game-changing superstar proved to be a season-changing moment for Maryland. The team limped to a 2-4 record over its final six games, going out with a whimper in a Military Bowl defeat to Marshall.
The night-and-day difference in the team's fortunes with Diggs out of the lineup reflects his tremendous importance to Maryland. No one player is completely responsible for his team's win-loss record, but Diggs is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Terrapin offense. With him out of the lineup, the team struggled mightily. The good news for the Terps is that Diggs is back. After missing spring practices during his lengthy recovery from the broken leg, the junior playmaker has deemed himself fully fit for the upcoming 2014 season. If he can avoid lingering effects and additional setbacks, Diggs should reclaim his place as one of the best receivers in the country.
Diggs may not be a prototypical No. 1 wideout at just 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, but he has an extremely versatile skill set. He possesses good speed, leaping ability and body control to come up with difficult receptions downfield. He's an explosive route runner who can consistently gain separation. His best attribute might be his elusiveness with the ball in his hands. Diggs has the vision, quickness and agility needed to evade tacklers and create big plays out of thin air. His career 26.9 kickoff return average and his numerous highlight reel catch-and-run plays are a testament to his dynamic ability as a ball carrier.
Overall, Diggs combines many of the best traits of current NFL receivers such as Paul Richardson, Marqise Lee and Randall Cobb. He has the downfield ability and ball skills of Richardson, the fluid athleticism of Lee, and the open-field, yards-after-the-catch ability of Cobb. His slight frame might keep him out of the first round of the NFL Draft whenever he decides to declare, but he's an exceptional talent with a great combination of athletic traits and innate football skills.
Diggs and Maryland put together one half of a great season last year. This time around they'll look to duplicate their early success of 2013 and sustain it over the course of their entire schedule. There's no telling exactly how things will work out for the Terps, but if Diggs plays up to his usual standards then you can bet that it will be fun to watch.