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Stefon Diggs' moves after catch put him on NFL radar

Stefon Diggs' size and speed rivals those of many draft prospects, and his creative moves after the catch at Maryland separated him as one of the most elusive players in the college game.

After spending the past three years as a star wide receiver and kick returner for the Terps, Diggs' next move will be to the NFL.

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As the NFL draft approaches Thursday, the former blue-chip recruit from Good Counsel has been projected as high as the second round and as low as the fifth round by analysts. An NFL executive told The Baltimore Sun that his team has assigned a solid third-round draft grade to Diggs.

"My bags are already packed, once I get my phone call and find out which team I'm going to play for," Diggs said. "I'm a dominant competitor. I can separate very well. I can do everything I need to do as a player. I'm not the fastest guy always, or the strongest guy, or the biggest guy, but I always get the job done. I'm a workaholic."

It's difficult to predict where draft prospects will go, but Diggs' potential has intrigued NFL teams.

The second-team All-Big Ten Conference selection is regarded as an ascending player, particularly since he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. Diggs' combine time was nearly as fast as New York Giants standout wide receiver Odell Beckham's 4.43 last year.

"Diggs ended up being my 18th-highest rated wide receiver," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., a Jarrettsville resident. "If eight receivers go in the first round, he could end up being a third-round draft choice."

Diggs' ability to run after the catch, body control, knack for making contested catches and special-teams skills are among the most frequently cited pluses about him.

There are concerns about Diggs' durability — he broke his leg and suffered a lacerated kidney during his final two college seasons — his size (6 feet, 195 pounds), which might be an issue against larger NFL defensive backs and if he'll become more of a student of the game.

"Diggs is definitely very much on our radar because of what he can do after the catch; that's what makes him special," an NFC personnel director told The Baltimore Sun. "We've got him on our draft board as a potential third-round draft pick. How high he goes will just depend on if there's a run on wide receivers in the first round. We've got seven wide receivers with first-round grades on our board.

"Diggs can get open and catches the ball very well. You just want to see him consistently produce and stay healthy, but I like him. He has a lot of confidence and you can see that he just has fun out there on the field, but is serious when he needs to be."

Diggs never played a full season in College Park, but finished with 150 career receptions for 2,227 yards and 14 touchdowns before declaring for the draft after his junior year.

Diggs led Maryland with 62 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns last season despite suffering a lacerated kidney that sidelined him for two games before he returned for a bowl game against Stanford.

"You can see that Stefon is explosive and can get upfield in a hurry once he touches the football," said Oakland Raiders scout Raleigh McKenzie, a former NFL offensive lineman and the brother of Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie. "What I like about him is he loves to compete. You can see that the game is important to him and that he doesn't back down from a challenge. You've got to have a little swagger to play in the league, and he's got plenty of that."

Diggs has visited the Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers, met with New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and worked out for the Ravens and Washington Redskins during their local prospect days, according to NFL sources.

As a freshman, Diggs had 1,896 all-purpose yards and finished second to Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder for Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year. At Good Counsel, Diggs was the consensus top-ranked recruit in the state and the second-ranked wide receiver in the nation as he chose the Terps over Florida, USC and Auburn.

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"Stefon Diggs is intelligent with the ball in his hands," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said. "I think he's probably going to go in the fourth or fifth round. Obviously, the key for him is finding him touches, whether it's in the return game or the passing game."

The Ravens are in the market for a wide receiver after Torrey Smith signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers this offseason. Although he would welcome remaining near his family, Diggs' main goal is to be drafted as high as possible.

"I've had conversations with the Ravens," Diggs said. "Everybody knows I would love to stay home. I would love to play for one of the hometown teams."

At his pro day, Diggs had a 35-inch vertical leap, a 4.11 in the short shuttle, an 11.46 60-yard shuttle and bench pressed 225 pounds 11 times. Although Diggs' workout metrics aren't regarded as freakish, his athleticism is considered well above average.

"Any time Stefon touches the ball, you expect him to make a big play," Maryland defensive tackle Darius Kilgo said. "With his type of personality, he expects to do that every time. His mentality is confident, not cocky. He believes in himself and knows what he's capable of doing."

Diggs averaged 14.84 yards per catch in his college career and had two returns for touchdowns. Diggs typically lined up as a slot receiver, which is where most analysts predict he'll be used in the NFL.

"I think he's a slot only, but I like him," said former Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams scout Russ Lande, a draft analyst who's also the Montreal Alouettes' director of college scouting. "I don't see him as a No. 1 wide receiver. I think he's a complementary player.

"I didn't think he would run that fast, but that pushed him up for me from the third round to the middle of the second round. He's an interesting guy. He's got good hands and run-after-the-catch skills. You can tell he's been well-coached."

Diggs' position coach at Maryland was former NFL wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who caught 883 career passes for 11,373 yards and 63 touchdowns before retiring after 17 NFL seasons.

"Stefon's got great instincts," McCardell said. "His ability to make people miss is unbelievable. He's a very dynamic guy with the ball in his hands."

Diggs remained in the game against Penn State when he lacerated his kidney while trying to stretch for extra yards. He missed six games in 2013 with a broken right fibula suffered against Wake Forest.

Can Diggs' body hold up against heavy-hitting NFL defenders?

"The two injuries that I did have were a fractured fibula on a third down that I tried to convert, and I had a lacerated kidney against Penn State where I was trying to score," Diggs said. "Both plays were me trying to compete and trying to put my team in the best position to win. I think I play a lot smarter now."

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In the NFL, Diggs will need to prove that he can muscle through press coverage when big cornerbacks attempt to jam him at the line of scrimmage. He'll also need to absorb an NFL playbook.

"Press coverage is nothing different," Diggs said. "I mean, you win off the line, you win. It's that simple. I believe in my ability and my mental toughness. I know I can pick up a playbook. I can compete with anybody. I'm a true competitor. I'm a winner."

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