Welcome to the art of drafting.
During my annual February visits to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I would line up breakfasts, lunches and dinners with NFL GMs, personnel directors, scouts, head coaches and assistant coaches. My annual Sunday breakfast at the combine was with Norv Turner, whom I covered with the Cowboys in the early 1990s and would later serve as head coach of the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers.
Norv started to bring along his son Scott to our annual breakfast in 2011 after Scott broke into the NFL as an assistant coach. Our breakfast in 2015 stands out.
I asked the Turners for a sleeper candidate in the draft and Scott, now the quarterbacks coach of the Vikings, said, “I’ve got one for you.”
It was a player Scott recruited when he was an assistant coach under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt in 2010. Turner and Pitt didn’t land the player, the top prospect in the state of Maryland, but the younger Turner didn’t lose track of the five-star wide receiver. And when that player opted to skip his senior season at Maryland to turn pro, Scott wanted the chance to coach him with the Vikings.
Ten weeks later, the Vikings drafted that player – Stefon Diggs.
Turner explained to me Diggs wouldn’t be a high pick. He was suspended for a game in his final college season in 2013 and missed two other games with a lacerated kidney. He also suffered a broken fibula that cost him the final six games of the 2012 season. But Turner loved his speed and big-play potential. Dynamic, was his one-word description.
“I brought him up to anyone (on the Vikings) who’d listen,” said Turner of the draft process.
The Vikings drafted Diggs in the fifth round of the 2015 draft with 146th overall pick. There were 44th underclassmen and 19 wide receivers taken ahead of him.
Diggs put “dynamic” on display as a rookie with a 129-yard game against Kansas City and a 108-yard game against Detroit, the only two 100-yard games by Minnesota wideouts that season. He followed that up in 2016 with three more 100-yard games, including a 182-yard effort against the Packers and 164-yarder against the Redskins.
“You knew a little bit of his makeup and his skill set,” Turner said, “but, honestly, his skill set was even better than I thought it was. Couple that with his drive and a passion for the game that is really unmatched. He plays so hard and gives everything he has. That helps you win football games.”
Both Turners left the Vikings in 2016 – Norv as offensive coordinator midway through the season and Scott as wide receivers coach at the end of the year. But Diggs stayed and delivered one of the most electrifying plays in franchise history on Sunday – that 61-yard touchdown reception as time expired to give the Vikings a 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, sending Minnesota to the NFC title game against Philadelphia this weekend.
“For him to have that moment was awesome,” Turner said.
And for the Vikings as well.