ORCHARD PARK — Stefon Diggs no longer needs to worry about whether he’ll be accepted in Buffalo.
If the record-setting production the receiver put up last year in his first season with the Bills wasn’t enough, whatever lingering apprehensions Diggs might have had were put to rest Tuesday, when he arrived for practice and learned he had been voted one of team’s eight captains.
“I was kind of taken back a little bit because I’ve never been in that role,” Diggs said, noting he doesn’t recall ever earning that distinction even in high school, where the best player is named captain usually by default.
“It means even more now just as far as being acknowledged by your peers,” he added, with Buffalo preparing to open its season hosting Pittsburgh on Sunday. “The fact that they trust you in the biggest moments and they trust you on a daily basis that you’re going to do the right thing on and off the field, yeah, I was happy.”
Numbers, apparently, don’t mean everything for a player coming off a season in which he became Buffalo’s first to lead the NFL in yards receiving (1,535) and catches (127).
What mattered just as much to Diggs was validation in pursuing his fresh start upon being acquired by Buffalo in a trade with Minnesota. Even before learning of the trade, Diggs had begun a concerted effort to break from his past — he referenced reading “Leadership For Dummies” — to evolve from the mercurial player he was during his first five seasons with the Vikings.
There were times he’d sulk because of a lack of targets, leading to talk a rift between Diggs and quarterback Kirk Cousins. He was disciplined by Minnesota for skipping practice following a loss and amidst speculation he wanted out a month into the 2019 season.
Diggs worried his reputation for being a diva would follow him to Buffalo by saying, “I was scared to be the red-headed stepchild.”
His concerns couldn’t have been further from the truth in how his new teammates, starting with quarterback Josh Allen, immediately embraced him.
“I tell him all the time, he’s my favorite No. 1 receiver I’ve played with,” said fellow receiver Cole Beasley, who played alongside Dez Bryant and Amari Cooper during his first seven seasons in Dallas.
“I love everything about the guy. He’s been nothing but spectacular since he’s been here on and off the field,” Beasley added. “I don’t know why he would think he would be a stepchild here. He came right in and fit right in.”
Coordinator Brian Daboll put aside any preconceived notions about Diggs upon his arrival in an effort to get to know him personally.
“I love the guy, I love the player, but really it was more about relationship and getting to know one another, building a level of trust,” Daboll said.
“He’s a man of integrity and loyalty,” he added. “He bonded well with the coaching staff and the players, and we let him be him. Then his talent took over and he’s got some high energy out there that a lot of the guys feed off of, so I can see why he was voted captain.”
Diggs was never going to be the featured player on a Vikings offense in which the offense revolved around running back Dalvin Cook, with receiver Adam Thielen the established target.
Not so in Buffalo, where the Bills gave up a first-round draft pick in believing Diggs was the missing piece in Daboll's up-tempo, pass-heavy offense being built around a strong-armed, developing quarterback.
Despite the lack of a preseason because of the coronavirus pandemic, Allen and Diggs developed instant chemistry in setting numerous single-season records. The Bills in turn won their first AFC East title since 1995 and made their deepest playoff run in 27 years, ending with a loss to Kansas City in the conference championship game.
Diggs deflects credit by saying everyone on offense — from Daboll to Allen to the line — played key roles.
“It’s a tribute to everybody,” Diggs said. “For me, I was just doing my job.”
NOTES: Diggs laughed when asked about a knee injury which forced him to miss a portion of the preseason. “A little worried, huh?” he said with a wink, before referring to the Steelers. “Tell them I’m hurting and I can’t go.” ... Starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei missed his second straight practice with what the Bills revealed to be a calf injury. ... CB Taron Johnson, who has his hand wrapped in protective tape, and WR Emmanuel Sanders (foot) were listed as limited in practice.