Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly didn’t spare the praise Monday when asked what he noticed about the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night.
"Stefon Diggs is a beast!" Kuechly said of the Vikings’ emerging star at wide receiver. Based on the numbers so far this season, Kuechly has a point.
A former fifth-round pick out of Maryland, Diggs leads the NFL in receiving yardage after two games with 285. He’s second in the league in catches with 16. He might be the Panthers’ biggest defensive concern Sunday when matched against the 2-0 Vikings at Bank of America Stadium.
"He looked explosive, he looked fast, he looked like he was having a lot of fun. That’s a guy who we’ve got to always know where he is," said Kuechly, after watching Diggs go for nine catches, 182 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the Vikings’ 17-14 win against the Green Bay Packers.
"You just can’t let him run in the middle of the field like this. You’ve got to make sure we have someone on him. The guys upstairs (Panthers coaches) do a great job with that."
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had just started breaking down video of the Vikings when he met with Charlotte media Monday afternoon. But the snippets McDermott saw of Diggs on television Sunday night were head-turners.
"A dangerous receiver. You’ve got to know where he is every play," McDermott said. "Certainly, he has a nice little connection with (new Vikings quarterback Sam) Bradford, it appears. He’s carved out a nice little career for himself so far."
Diggs was anything but a star-in-the-making coming out of Maryland. He lasted until the 146th overall pick in the 2015 draft. Due to that draft spot, he now looks like a remarkable bargain: He has two more seasons left on a contract that pays him $2.5 million over four years. His original signing bonus was $227,000.
It took him four games his rookie season to even be activated but, partly because of injuries to more experienced players, he led the Vikings in both receptions (52) and receiving yards (720).
Diggs’ prospects this season were seemingly hurt by a season-ending leg injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. But the Vikings made a preseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire Bradford.
It didn’t take long for Bradford to catch on that Diggs could be something special in this offense.
"He’s always getting separation. He seems to be always finding a new way to get open," Bradford told Minneapolis media following Sunday’s victory against the Packers. "He was pretty much unstoppable out there tonight."
The Vikings needed Diggs to take on a big role against the Packers after losing running back Adrian Peterson to a knee injury. The Vikings say Peterson’s injury is a torn meniscus, and it’s yet to be determined if he could play against the Panthers.
The Vikings have had Diggs learn all three wide-receiver positions – split end, flanker and slot receiver – to optimize matchup opportunities.
"They seem to be able to get him in space a lot," said Panthers safety Kurt Coleman. "They allow him to work the middle of the field. He seems like a quick and very sure-handed guy. He makes a lot of explosive plays."
Diggs seemingly came out of nowhere to star in a nationally-televised game Sunday. But that’s not how Coleman sees it.
"That’s probably the perception for everyone, but I’m sure he’s always believed in himself," Coleman said. "He’s a good player."
Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell