Bills receiver Stefon Diggs embracing leadership role and Buffalo community

Stefon Diggs on strengthening his ties to the Buffalo community: "It's just like a little bit of a heartwarming feeling, feel like you're doing the right stuff." Steve Roberts/USA Today Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Stefon Diggs is hard to miss.

During warm-ups for a Thanksgiving Day matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the Buffalo Bills receiver yelled, "It's back to being us. Get back to being us." The message was for his teammates, days after a blowout loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Diggs has also returned to many of the traditions he had in Minnesota. Thanks to relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, he can pass a football to fans in the stands before games and be out more in the Buffalo community. He also resumed his annual turkey giveaway to provide 500 families with meals.

When Diggs joined the Bills in March 2020 via a blockbuster trade with the Vikings, Buffalo players had heard rumblings that he was a self-centered player. The reality has been far from that, with Diggs stepping into a leadership role in Buffalo.

"I don't know. I hope that I'm not as bad as they say I am," Diggs told ESPN when asked what he hopes the takeaway is from his efforts in the community.

On and off the field, attention usually finds the receiver who self-describes as "adventurous and spontaneous." He especially enjoys traveling, jumping off a bridge in Tokyo during one of his trips.

While he's not on pace to reach the team records he set last season (127 receptions for 1,535 yards), he remains among the best wide receivers in the NFL with a team-leading 67 receptions for 847 yards. As the Bills enter their big Monday Night Football game against the 8-4 New England Patriots (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN), Diggs is tied for the team lead with seven TD catches -- six in the past six games.

"How fortunate [are we] to have Stef on this football team?" offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said. "Not just the talent that he brings on the field, but another highly competitive individual who wants to do whatever it takes for us to win, whether that be take a double coverage, make a few plays, catch a run, or get into the huddle with (quarterback) Josh (Allen) and help Josh however he needs to help him. I mean he does it with the linemen too, and he's a receiver. So, a unique guy for our football team."

This season, the offensive inconsistencies that have plagued the Bills -- the passing offense as a whole hasn't been quite as dynamic -- have impacted Diggs, but he is typically the player helping to keep Allen from being too hard on himself.

"He's able just to talk to me like a normal person," Allen said. "He's not talking to me from a wide receiver to a quarterback perspective. It's a friend to friend perspective. Like, 'Hey, we need you to get going. Hey, if you look at me on this route, I'm gonna do this.' And it's just that open line of communication that we have that there's no ego involved."

Along with Diggs' success, it's been notable to see interactions with teammates.

"Anytime Diggs gets in his little moods or in his little overcompetitive moods that you can automatically see immediately, we know it's gonna be a good day," left tackle Dion Dawkins said. "For any player, it's hard to be like that all the time, but when Diggs comes out and we know that Diggs is fired up, we always know that it will be a special day."

Wearing a "C" on his chest for the first time in his career, Diggs is clearly one of the Bills' leaders -- he and Allen are the offensive captains -- often seen on the sidelines motivating teammates. He's also adding to the burgeoning mental health conversation around the league with players like Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley taking time away from football to focus on his mental health. Diggs acknowledged earlier this season that he struggled mentally during a portion of his time in Minnesota.

"When you put in a lot of work in what you do and you invest in yourself, and you give it everything that you got and it doesn't pan out, people don't care about it as much," said Diggs, who turned 28 on Monday and remains under contract through the 2023 season. "... I was in that place, I was in a bad place at one point, and I felt like I had to kinda dig myself out of there, because it had nothing to do with you. Sometimes it's just like the situation, and you got to look big picture. ... All the effort that you put into yourself, trying to get yourself ready for the opportunity, sometimes the opportunity comes and sometimes it doesn't. ... I understand what it's like to be in not a great headspace, because I was there at one point."

Upon arriving in Buffalo, his production exploded. He was named to his first Pro Bowl and selected first-team All-Pro. And embracing his new team and community led to opportunities such as having his face on the bestselling hot sauce in the region with PLB Sports, as well as a bleu cheese.

Diggs believes the longer he is in Buffalo, the more creative ideas he'll have to get involved in the community. He would like to hold a coat drive, as he has in the past, but add a twist. Given the climate, he envisions holding a snowball fight in a large park with kids to make the drive more of an event. He has other plans, too.

"It's just like a little bit of a heartwarming feeling, feel like you're doing the right stuff," he said. "I just know that I'm extremely blessed, so I feel like the more I acquire, the more success, the more money, the more you got to pour back into other people, so I feel like it's a healthy balance and it's what I should be doing."