Barnwell: Stefon Diggs is favorite to break receiving yards record in 17-game season

By , Audacy Sports

The NFL record books could see a whole lot of shaking up in the next year. That's what's going to happen, of course, when you add an extra game to the regular season. Even if there aren't record-breaking performances on a per-game basis, the extra matchup on the schedule will obviously lead to the accumulation of more stats and allow us to see numbers we've never seen before. Should there be an asterisk? That's up for debate... but I don't see any asterisks in the MLB record books after the 154-game season turned into a 162-game season, for instance.

Either way, it's inevitable that at least one or two counting statistics — like sacks or rushing touchdowns, for instance — will be shattered. But who's going to be the guy to do it? That's an even more fun question to answer.

ESPN senior writer Bill Barnwell took a stab at it, going over eight of the statistics that he thinks are most likely to be broken, or at least approached, thanks to the extra game in the schedule. One of those was receiving yards, a statistic that every fantasy football lover can appreciate, and he had a favorite in mind with a lot of reasoning to back it up:

Forming an instant connection with breakout quarterback Josh Allen, Diggs led the league in targets (166), receptions (127) and receiving yards (1,535) a year ago. The Bills have shown a propensity to be pass-happy when necessary, and with a 2.4-win gap between their expected record and actual record a year ago, Allen & Co. might have a reason to throw even more frequently if the Bills are in more competitive games this year.

Diggs had a 30.2% target share without John Brown on the field last season, and Brown is now on the Raiders. There's the chance for an even bigger season here in 2021.

He's almost selling Diggs' debut season in Buffalo a little bit short. There's a very real chance that it was the single best campaign for a pass-catcher on a new team... ever. Here's how he compared to some other notable wideouts in their first years with new teams:
Stefon Diggs (2020 Bills): 127 receptions, 1,535 yards, 8 TD
DeAndre Hopkins (2020 Cardinals): 115 receptions, 1,407 yards, 6 TD
Randy Moss (2007 Patriots): 98 receptions, 1,493 yards, 23 TD
Terrell Owens (2004 Eagles): 77 receptions, 1,200 yards, 14 TD
Terrell Owens (2006 Cowboys): 85 receptions, 1,180 yards, 13 TD
Brandon Marshall (2012 Bears): 118 receptions, 1,508 yards, 11 TD
Brandon Marshall (2015 Jets): 109 receptions, 1,502 yards, 14 TD

His 127 receptions ranks sixth all-time for an individual season, though Michael Thomas's record of 149 was still a ways away. And though 1,535 receiving yards is a far cry from Calvin Johnson's record 1,964 yards in 2012, we have to keep in mind that Diggs had just joined the Bills in the middle of a tumultuous, unprecedented offseason. The fact that he could form a connection with Allen, who is still potentially getting better, so quickly is a reason for excitement going forward. And, as Barnwell mentioned, the Bills' expected win-loss record was 10.6-5.4, according to Pro Football Reference. If that means anything, it might indicate that the Bills lucked out a little bit with some blowout wins (and losses) last year, and might need to throw the ball a little bit more often for the 2021 season.

It's a lot of speculation and projection, but the sky is truly the limit for Allen and Diggs' production this year. Pro Football Focus ranked Diggs as the No. 8 wideout entering 2021, though his 90.0 receiving grade ranked fourth behind just Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson and A.J. Brown.

Bills fans' expectations for Diggs are extremely high entering 2021. But, if you're of the same mindset as Barnwell, maybe they should be even higher — like, the 2,000 yards type of expectations.

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