When Dalvin Cook and Stefon Diggs watch the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense on Sunday, they hope to be looking into the future.
The Steelers have ranked in the top 10 in total yards and points for the past three years on the back of a Hall of Fame quarterback and two of the best skill players in the NFL. Running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.
Bell is widely considered the NFL’s most versatile running back. So much so that he tried to negotiate a new deal with the Steelers this offseason as a running back and wide receiver. Over the past three seasons, he averages 1,499 yards rushing, 756 yards receiving and 86 catches per 16 games.
When Cook was starring at Florida State, he name-dropped Bell as a player that he was trying to emulate.
“Jamaal Charles, Le’Veon Bell, guys that run with patience, and, you know, just know when to do things at the right time — just know the knowledge of the game,” Cook told Campus Insiders.
In Cook’s opening game, he flashed a little bit of Bell or Charles, using his vision, quick cuts and explosiveness to gain 127 yards on 22 carries. He only caught three passes for 10 yards, but the Vikings’ second-round pick is expected to play a big role in the Vikings’ passing game.
“I have a lot of respect for his skills, his perimeter speed is exceptional,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Wednesday. “I don’t know that he’s given enough credit for his inside picking vision. I’m really good friends with his college coach Jimbo Fisher, so I’m very familiar with his skill set and what he’s able to do.”
In Week 1, Antonio Brown reminded the NFL that he’s one of the elite players at his position – and so did Stefon Diggs.
Brown caught 11 passes for 182 yards in a win over the Cleveland Browns, while Diggs grabbed seven passes for 93 yards and two touchdowns.
Diggs said this offseason that it’s his goal to reach the echelon of which Brown has established himself. The Steelers’ top receiver has twice led the NFL in catches with 129 in 2014 and 136 in 2015. He’s also gone over 1,000 yards in four straight seasons.
After a strong rookie season in 2015, Diggs elevated himself last year by ranking 16th in the NFL in receptions.
Diggs and Brown have something in common: They dropped to the late rounds on draft day.
The Vikings picked Diggs in the fifth round, while Brown went in the sixth.
Neither player is known for their size. Diggs is listed at 6-foot, 190-pounds and Brown is 5-foot-10, 180-pounds.
Tomlin was asked Wednesday how the two long-shot receivers have risen to the top of their craft, residing along the likes of first-round picks Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, Mike Evans etc.
“That’s the beauty about our game,” Tomlin said. “There is an element of will that is in our game that goes above and beyond measurables. Often times people are drafted because of measurables and potential, but when the ball gets snapped, those things go out the window and what you’re willing to do is probably more important than what you’re capable of doing.”
Of course, Diggs is flanked by receiver Adam Thielen, an undrafted free agent from Mankato. Thielen had 157 yards against the Saints.
“You see a lot of guys who rise above their draft status in terms of how they play,” Tomlin said. “I’m never surprised by that. As a matter of fact, that’s one of the things that I love about the game.”
While Bell and Brown have reached the superstar status that Cook and Diggs are chasing, the Vikings’ defense will be focused on slowing them down. Mike Zimmer’s run defense held Adrian Peterson, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to 60 yards rushing. Top receiver Michael Thomas gained just 45 yards on five catches.