Bills WR Stefon Diggs shows Bears exactly what they need for QB Justin Fields

Fields needs the advantage of knowing a defense’s attention is diverted in many directions rather than narrowed solely on him.

SHARE Bills WR Stefon Diggs shows Bears exactly what they need for QB Justin Fields
Stefon Diggs has 329 catches, 4,059 yards and 28 touchdowns in less than three seasons with the Bills.

Stefon Diggs has 329 catches, 4,059 yards and 28 touchdowns in less than three seasons with the Bills.

Nic Antaya/Getty Images

It’s always the right time to get a No. 1 wide receiver.

The Bills were essentially two years into a rebuild when general manager Brandon Beane traded a first-round pick for wide receiver Stefon Diggs. They were coming off a promising 10-6 season, and quarterback Josh Allen had shown signs of improving.

The Diggs trade ignited everything. The Bills’ offense vaulted from the bottom third of the NFL to No. 2 in 2020, and they’ve been a perennial Super Bowl contender. They’re the favorites to win the championship heading into their game against the Bears on Saturday.

Diggs is hardly the only element the Bills have gotten right, but what he did for Allen and their offense is instructive for Bears general manager Ryan Poles when it comes to properly supplying quarterback Justin Fields. Impatience is a virtue in this case.

Fields is the only player on the Bears’ offense that requires special attention from a defense. Wide receivers Darnell Mooney (out for the season) and Chase Claypool (in doubt with a knee injury) haven’t risen anywhere near Diggs’ level, and neither would be realistically projected to make that ascent.

It’s undeniable that Poles must find an elite receiver. It changes everything.

“You affect the way a defensive coordinator calls the game,” said offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, who had Davante Adams with the Packers last season. “Justin affects the way defensive coordinators call the game, and the more players you have on the field that are like that, that makes it really challenging.

“When you have dynamic people, it makes it really hard for a defensive coordinator to dial in on anything. So having that upper-echelon receiver obviously creates more opportunities for everybody.”

Diggs is third in the NFL in catches (99), yards (1,299) and touchdown receptions (10). He has done it in only 14 games. The Bears haven’t had a receiver with numbers like that for a full season in nearly a decade.

And they need one. There was a play in the loss to the Eagles on Sunday in which Fields dropped back, faced immediate pressure, saw a spy ensuring he couldn’t take off running and had no open receivers. That just doesn’t work.

Listen to how Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams described trying to keep track of Diggs this week and imagine a defense having to worry about that type of talent in addition to Fields next season.

“It’s ‘Where’s Waldo?’ [because] you have to know where he is at all times,” Williams said. “It just puts a lot of stress on me. I stay up late at night.”

There aren’t any “stay up late” receivers in the upcoming free-agent class, so Poles must be proactive. Diggs, Adams, A.J. Brown, Calvin Ridley, Tyreek Hill, Amari Cooper and DeAndre Hopkins got traded in the last three years. Deebo Samuel and D.K. Metcalf were thought to be available this year.

Lining up anyone on that level, with Claypool and Mooney behind him, gives Fields the advantage of knowing a defense’s attention is diverted in many directions rather than narrowed solely on him.

The Bears likely will assign standout cornerback Jaylon Johnson to shadow Diggs, which will be the most compelling one-on-one matchup in this game.

“He’s top three, for sure,” Johnson said, putting him in a class with Justin Jefferson and Hill. “And it helps having a quarterback that can throw the ball a million yards.”

Then there’s everyone else. Bills No. 2 wide receiver Gabe Davis has 752 yards — far more than any Bear — and tight end Dawson Knox and wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie each have 40-plus catches. Devin Singletary has roughly the same rushing production as either of the Bears’ running backs, and Allen has run for 705 yards.

There’s simply too much to manage.

Like Allen, Fields presents a unique challenge for any defense. The difference in the Bills’ favor is that Allen isn’t alone.

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