When the NFL season wrapped last Sunday, Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver Stefon Diggs made big news for two reasons. One, he’d finished his first year in Buffalo with more receiving yards (1535) and receptions (127) than anybody else in the NFL. Two, because a camera caught him on the sideline, mid-game, flossing. (Not the dance! Cleaning his teeth.)
It was a rare 2020 Stefon Diggs highlight in that it featured none of his dynamic athleticism and no helpless defenders desperately trying—and failing—to cover, slow down, or otherwise contain one of the league’s best and most exciting receivers. It’s also perhaps not what people expected when, ahead of the season, he was traded to Buffalo from the Minnesota Vikings, who took Diggs in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Though Diggs spent five productive years in Minnesota, emerging as one of the game’s most elusive and dangerous deep threats, his tenure there ended somewhat acrimoniously. After becoming a Vikings hero in the 2018 playoffs by catching a game-winning, 61-yard touchdown as time expired—dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle”—Diggs signed a five-year, $72 million extension. But, in the last couple of seasons, Minnesota relied on a run-first offense (which meant fewer touches for receivers), Diggs fired off some cryptic social media posts, missed a practice and some team meetings, and rumors swirled that he wanted out. So, in March, Minnesota shipped Diggs to Buffalo.
If Diggs got what he wanted, Buffalo did, too. By pairing Diggs with stud quarterback Josh Allen, the Bills built the NFL’s most explosive offense outside of Kansas City. Now they’ve won six straight games (by an average of 20 points) and head into the playoffs hotter than any other team in the league. If long-suffering Bills fans end their Super Bowl drought, they’ll have Diggs, his explosive route-running, and his clean teeth to thank.
Earlier this week, GQ spoke to Diggs about vanquishing the ghosts of Minnesota, having too many cross-body bags, and reflecting on his incredible season.
So, first off: Why were you flossing?
[laughs] I was only flossing because we had oranges—you know, to keep from cramping. I had it stuck in my teeth. I was like, "I can't play in the game thinking about this." You know how uncomfortable it is to have something in your tooth.
I saw you tweeted, “You know how the oranges be,” but I didn't know you actually had oranges at the time.
Especially at halftime too. I get like a whole two boxes full. I love oranges.
So do you have them every game?
Heck, yeah. Every game. This was the first game that they got stuck in my teeth that bad where I couldn't even really do nothing.
Flossing's tough, man. I can barely do it once a day.
Nobody stays committed.
How did you catch wind that it had picked up traction on the Internet?
Right after the game. People were saying, "You know that everybody saw you flossing?" I was like, "Damn, why is it such a big deal? Nobody ever got something caught in their teeth before?" At least, we were winning. I wasn't losing and flossing. That'd be extremely bad.
At what point did it occur to you that you might end the season with the most receiving yards in the NFL?
I didn't ever really think about it. It wasn't something that was in my mind, like, “Oh, I'm trying to lead the league in receiving.” I was really just trying to win. And it just happened that my team liked to throw the ball a lot. I was getting a lot of targets. It shook out towards the end. Like, damn, I'm pretty up there with everybody else.
I guess that's the beauty of playing in the Bills offense, huh?
Especially right now, how Josh Allen is playing. A lot of my success comes from Josh Allen. So I can't really say much without him. He's over there chucking the ball around making plays. His job is a lot harder than mine.
Do you set goals at the beginning of the season?
No. I mean, I have my just regular life goals as far as what I do at the end of the season going into the new year: what I want in my life, what I want for my future. But when it comes to football, you just never know how things are going to shake out. I've been in past offenses where it was run-heavy, where you don't know how many targets you're going to get. So I try not to make any goals or anything like that. I just kind of let the sticks fall where they lay. This year they just laid in my favor.
Where were you when you heard the news about the trade?
I was at my Airbnb in Atlanta. I think I was with my little brother [Trevon, who plays cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys] when I first got the call. I called my mom right afterwards. She was screaming and yelling saying, "I'm excited for you." Then she said she wants some chicken wings. I was like, "I heard they're pretty good up there. So we'll have to get you some." It was a lot of good emotions.
At the end of last season, and heading into this season, how did you feel about how respected you were as a receiver?
In the football world, the guys that I respect as players, the guys that I go against on the regular, there's always been a mutual respect. I haven't really been concerned too much about the outside world because the outside world doesn't really know what goes on in between the lines at least. They're just watching or gauging off of fantasy or whatever. But I've always gotten the respect from my peers as far as my athletic ability and talent level. So it's not like I ever really felt disrespected, but I always wanted more for myself and to have more success and do everything that I can to be one of the top receivers in the league or to be the best receiver in the league. That's what I've always been chasing.
Are you playing for something different this year?
I've always been playing for respect. I've always been a competitor. I've always been chasing these things, trying to be great. It's just a different circumstance. When I came to the league my running back was Adrian Peterson, so we were a run-heavy offense and that kind of thing. So I've always been trying to… not so much prove it to other people, but prove it to myself. I feel like it shaped me as a player, how I was counted out early on. I didn't play the first three games in my rookie year. I was inactive and I got my chance and took advantage.
What was it, 18 receivers taken ahead of you in the 2015 Draft?
Yeah. I watched everybody that was taken in front of me. Everybody who knows me knows that I'm not a hater. I'm not a guy that says, "Oh, that guy shouldn't have been [taken]." I'm not that kind of guy. They earned it, they put themselves in that position. I didn't do enough obviously. I was looking forward to getting an opportunity where I could show somebody that I belonged in the league.
Where does that positivity come from? Have you always been that way?
Hell, no. [laughs] I feel like people are positive when they have no choice but to be positive. I've been through so much throughout my life—the good and the bad, you had to find a balance. You can't be a negative Nancy. You can't cry about it. That's not for me. I've just always been like, "What are you going to do to make the situation better?"
Do you think you got that from your mom maybe? Your dad? Your faith?
More so my faith, because my mom's the realest all the way around. And my dad was the realest. [laughs] So they weren't too much on the optimism. They were like, "We’ve got to figure out a way to make some stuff happen." For me, it’s just my faith and leaning on God. I started playing football when I was five years old. I didn't have my first real injury until college. Having injuries kind of shows you that you're not invincible. You're not Superman. So you should appreciate this game, love this game and carry yourself as such.
Your father passed away when you were 14. What do you think changed about you at the time?
Understand that I had to grow up fast, learn to make decisions not only thinking about yourself but thinking about your loved ones, thinking about your younger siblings. I had my mind set on going to the NFL long before that. When I started playing football, I knew I was going. I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I was going. You can ask my high school teammates. I said, "I know I'm going. I'm chosen." So I was always committed to that. Good things happened. Bad things happened. I got hurt in college. But I never let it sway my mindset.
And then you decided to go close to college close home, to Maryland, to be close to your family. What went into that decision?
We had lost our father. It was a time of growth for me. And my little brother was super young. So I felt like, damn, well, there's going to be a time when my brother would have needed a father just as bad as I did. So I wanted to be close to him. And also because my mom was doing it all by herself. I wanted to be that father figure for my little brother.
It was tough on him, of course, being young and losing your father. It's hard on everybody. But I will say he grew up fast as well. But he did have the right people in place like myself, my mom, everybody right there. He didn't need any extra guidance. He didn't need an example. I wanted to be the example for him. I wanted to be perfect, to have something for him to look up to or him to follow. So I always was trying to lead by example rather than just telling, "Oh, you can do this. You can do that." No. I want to lead by example and show you you can do it.
He’s a cornerback. You used to play cornerback. How did your corner game match with his corner game?
I used to lock his ass up! Man, I got videos to prove it. We got probably like a million videos of each of us like doing one on one and then going at each other like for real, not playing around. We were serious about it. [laughs] I felt in my heart that I wanted to be the first person to compete at a high level against my little brother. I didn't want him to go compete against somebody else, and that be his first time going against somebody else good or his first time experiencing not having success. I wanted to show him that it's not always going to be good. You're going to have to get better. You're going to have to develop those traits of being tough mentally. And he did that.
When did you first get into style?
I always wanted to dress nice, or try to dress nice, not necessarily having the means when we were younger. We were always trying to find a way to make things work. Middle school was more like the shoe era. Everybody loved shoes. Everybody was a shoe fanatic. But I always kind of liked clothes. Where I'm from a lot of people grew up wearing Polo and Tommy Hilfiger and North Face jackets, when we were super young. That's just my area. And the big thing was Foamposites.
It wasn't until I got into college where you're getting your little like your stipend and you’re getting a little bit of money so you can buy a couple more pairs of shoes, and you can kind of start figuring it out on what your style is. I didn't really get to figure that out until I got hurt my sophomore year. I didn't get to finish the season. So I started to develop new hobbies. And I always liked clothes but that's when I started learning about brands and started putting things together and seeing what works.
I bought my first pair of red bottoms in my first year in college. I put them on, I wore them for probably an hour, and I was like, "Damn, these are not that comfortable." They looked good! But this is my first pair so I was going to wear them. I had them on for like three days straight after that. And then I think I gave them away. I don't think I gave them away for free. [laughs] I think I sold them to my teammate.
What's something you’ve got too much of in your closet?
Brand-wise, or just like, “I got too many cross-body bags.”
I got at least 100 cross-body bags. I got so many jackets. I'm a huge jacket, hoodie guy. That combination will never get old to me. I just can't get tired of it.
Do you have a fit you look back on and think, "Man, what was I thinking?"
Hell, no. If I put it on, then it was the right shit. [laughs] I don't regret any fit. I look at all my fits like, "That was the time in my life when I felt like that was okay."
The precision with which you approach your routes is the same precision with which you approach your outfit.
100%. It takes me hours and hours to put together an outfit that I really love. And it takes me hours and hours of film to watch to know I'm going to run a route. I got to be creative.
What’s the best style advice you've ever gotten?
I think it was probably just, “Be you.” People see through people not being themselves, trying to be somebody else. There's nothing wrong with being inspired, because fashionable people are always going to be inspired by other fashionable people. But always be yourself. Put your own little spin on it. Find a way to make it you. I love being myself. If somebody said, "I wouldn't have worn those pants with that," well, you ain't wearing it! [laughs] This is how I felt comfortable. This is what I feel like went with it. This is what makes me happy.
I assume that's true of your approach to your game in some ways too?
100%! It carries over to me playing football, because I ain't trying to be like nobody but myself. I feel like I push myself enough. So when it comes to me and myself and just putting my clothes on, I'm going to be myself 100%. I don't care what it is anybody got to say.
What do you think it is on the football field that makes you stand out?
I would say it's opportunity over everything. Because if you're part of a pass-heavy team you'll have more opportunities as a receiver. But if you're part of a run-heavy team, you won't have many opportunities. And you need a lot of things to go right as a receiver to get the ball. Now, I'm just super thankful to be in a system that I can flourish as a receiver. Because when it comes down to your legacy, nobody's going to care about it more than yourself. They can't care about it for you. So I pride myself in being ready for opportunities.
You sound very grateful. Do you think it would have been different if you had had this sort of success right off the bat?
Yeah. I'm super grateful because I came through the back door. I came through the fifth round. You don't expect much on fifth round draft picks. You don't know how long they're going to be in the league, or how long they're going to be on the team. And I developed into an exceptional receiver just by training, working hard, being a student of the game and learning from the guys around you, learning from people around the league. So it kind of tailored me into this guy: working hard to get to where you want to go.
Being drafted in the first round is a huge deal. I always commend those guys. But you sometimes don't see those guys work out because they're under a different circumstance. They might have got drafted, got some money and not necessarily got complacent, but lost a little bit of hunger, lost a little bit of what got them there. My story was the opposite. I had to work for everything I got. So, now that I'm on the back end, I can't be nothing but grateful because I didn't come here with it.
Did getting drafted in the fifth round did that shake your confidence at all?
It didn't necessarily shake my confidence. But I would say it gave me my slice of humble pie. God gave me my slice of humble pie, a couple times for that matter. I felt as if I could have been drafted just as high as any of those guys. But I wasn't, and that was my story and I had to take that and really use that as motivation. Because sometimes that'll break guys. You don't feel like you're good enough. You ain't got it. But, for me, it motivated me to be like, "Shit, I know I can do it. I got to go prove it. I got to go prove it all over again."
I hear you as grateful and hungry. I'm thinking back to the last season, and the narrative of how you wanted out of Minnesota. It must be frustrating sitting there and not being able to really own your own narrative.
It's so easy to run with the narrative of a diva receiver. "This guy's a diva receiver. This guy wants the ball." It’s so easy to do that because we're in a profession where it's always team-oriented. I always looked at it as it's team-oriented when it's convenient. Because you see guys in situations where they're about to get traded or they're not good enough for this particular team and they get traded to another team. In those instances, they're always looked at as business decisions for the team, and what's in the best interest for the team. People don't really care about the player, even if the player was giving it everything he had. If you aren’t good enough, we're going to find another place for you.
I was just understanding my situation in its totality, understanding where it was headed. Was it going to be in the best interest of me and my legacy? And I didn’t feel like I would be wrong for that, because If the shoe was on the other foot, my team would quickly go in another direction. [laughs] They're not going to wait for you. It's the next man up. They draft every year to find a guy to try to replace you for cheaper. I just wanted the opportunity to do more and show that I could do more and I got it. The grass is usually greener where you water it. And I felt like I embraced my new role.
Yeah, I feel like the NBA is a little bit more that way, where guys can go where they want, and players are more empowered.
You see guys in the NBA go damn near wherever they want, or have more control of their life and their future. In football, guys are looked at as whatever they are. You can't really speak up for yourself. I couldn’t go out in the media and say XYZ. I just had to let people feel what they feel, and prove myself right on the back end, rather than trying to fight against the narrative. Because I say this all the time: I can't name one Hall of Fame receiver that didn't want the ball! [laughs]
The Minneapolis Miracle is a big part of your narrative. And that was sort of hanging on you as your defining moment. Do you feel like that’s changed now?
100%. I know it changed because a lot of people looked at the play like it was a lucky play. I forgot who it was. One of the big name reporters said, "Oh, I feel like that play was lucky. The guy missed his tackle." But it does take skill and athleticism and talent to do something like that. People were acting like it didn't require that. I was like, "Well, if it was lucky you'd be out here doing it." [laughs] Could you have done it?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
The Colts rookie is headed to the playoffs, and doing it in rec specs.
Originally Appeared on GQ