The Vikings have had a volatile few years at wide receiver. Strangely, their group has become spearheaded by a 5th round pick and a minicamp tryout from 2013. The two former first round picks on the team are battling for the third spot, and behind them, a bunch of misfits and red-headed stepchildren. While the top of the depth chart is largely decided, the bottom of it is incredibly fluid. From draft picks to cast-offs with checkered pasts, the WR room come September could look a variety of ways.
- Stefon Diggs – The young Maryland draft sleeper has worked his way into the upper echelons of the NFL. For as long as he’s healthy, he’ll be a starter and a heavily featured one. Not only that, but he’s grown into a leader off the field as well. Diggs won’t have much else he can conquer in the preseason other than solidifying his role as a leading face of this franchise.
- Adam Thielen – This time last year, Adam Thielen was being treated like a camp body by Bengals cornerbacks. Thielen’s 2016 was the definition of a breakout year. Now he has carved out a prominent role, emerging as a reliable and dynamic weapon. Thielen doesn’t have much to fight for in the preseason, outside of an informal battle with Diggs for regular season targets. But with wide receivers, that’s a moot distinction, as both will be heavily featured weapons throughout the season.
- Laquon Treadwell – Throughout training camp and preseason, the spotlight will likely be on the battle Laquon Treadwell is fighting for the third WR designation. After an utterly catastrophic rookie campaign, Treadwell has a lot of ground to make up. After his gruesome 2014 injury, Treadwell had plenty of maturing to do, and his work clearly isn’t done yet. Perhaps the injury hadn’t healed, or perhaps he simply struggled with the NFL transition. But the former 1st-round pick is now fighting for relevance on a roster that’s running out of room for patience. Complicating matters is the acquisition of free agent Michael Floyd, as well as draft picks Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley crowding the roster. Treadwell will stay on the roster through his rookie contract, but will have to springboard off his OTA momentum to become the functional weapon he was drafted to be.
- Michael Floyd – There are certain demons a person can never shake. Michael Floyd has a long, embattled history with alcohol, DUI arrests and responsibility. His time in Arizona was productive and largely successful until the infamous “extreme DUI” sent him into free-fall. In recent days, Floyd has dominated headlines, and it’s not as the chief competition for Laquon Treadwell at WR3. Kombucha-related relapses aside, he is technically still a member of the Vikings and appears to be here to stay. Floyd must be considered as a prospective member of the 53-man. Floyd is currently facing up to a ten-week suspension, adding a murky layer to his hopes of contributing to the 2017 Vikings season. If he does remain on the roster, he’ll have to be replaced for the weeks he’s suspended, opening up a theoretical 6th or even 7th roster slot.
- Jarius Wright – Minnesota’s forgotten man in 2016 was Jarius Wright, the former wildly productive Arkansas Razorback. Jarius quickly carved out a limited role with some memorable moments, and hovered in the same capacity for the first four years of his career, earning a contract in 2015. Since then, however, Adam Thielen exploded, Diggs and Treadwell were added, and Wright fell behind those like Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Wallace. While some are out of the way, Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley directly threaten Wright’s role on the team. While nothing has indicated that his skill set has eroded or regressed, Wright’s place on the team is in more jeopardy than it has been in some time.
- Rodney Adams – Everything changed in Rodney Adams’ life when his mother died in a DUI-related crash in 2013. That spurred a move from Toledo to USF, where he could be closer to his family. In such a circumstance, Adams could skip the usual redshirt transfer season and play right away for the Bulls via “hardship waiver”. Adams entered into high expectations, filling in for Andre Davis, a new Tampa Bay Buccaneer. Adams crushed those expectations, a powerful way to honor his late mother. An instantly cemented USF superstar, only USF’s underwhelming reputation could hold him back. But still, Adams was drafted in the 5th round, and will have a relatively easy time making the roster. As a kick returner and slot receiver, Adams has more big shoes to fill in replacing Cordarrelle Patterson. His spot on the depth chart is solid, aside from needing to win the KR battle. Adams will use the preseason to settle in his role.
- Moritz Böhringer – Many are familiar with Böhringer’s story, a German football newbie with incredible athletic gift who made a good YouTube video. To nobody’s surprise, after being drafted he lurked on the practice squad, largely staying out of the spotlight. “MoBo” now has a tall task in front of him. Making the roster isn’t technically out of the question, but with Adams, Floyd, and Stacy Coley ahead of him, MoBo will have to show incredible improvement. As if learning football wasn’t hard enough, MoBo is several years behind the curve and learning in his second language. He’ll have to supplant someone to sneak onto the roster, and he’ll have to truly excel to stay there. It’s arguable that nobody in football has more to prove.
- Stacy Coley – In high school, Stacy Coley admits he just didn’t care about football. His high school principal saw a kid with immense talent in a rough neighborhood and without motivation. So he sat Coley down for a heart-to-heart that spurred Coley to make it to the University of Miami and eventually the NFL. Coley played well enough to come out for the draft in 2016, but opted to learn for one more year in college. The decision paid dividends, giving Coley a more all-around skill set and adding to his reputation as primarily a kick returner. Coley will have a more uphill battle to the roster, as he’ll have to either prove himself as a pure wideout or beat Adams or Sherels at a returner position. But if there’s no roster spot, the practice squad is a near certainty.
- Isaac Fruechte – There’s always room for a hometown favorite. Isaac Freuchte came from Caledonia, MN and ended up on the Gophers in 2012. From there, he went undrafted. Similarly to Freddie Tagaloa, or Adam Thielen in 2013, Freuchte was invited to the Vikings’ rookie minicamp, and showed enough to earn a spot on the 90-man. While he didn’t make the team, he floated around on the scout team. In 2016, he also missed the mark, ending up on Detroit’s practice squad for a few weeks. Eventually, room opened up and Freuchte returned to Minnesota, eventually being activated for depth. This season offers Isaac Freuchte his best chance at a true roster slot thus far, with the departure of Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson (not to mention Michael Floyd’s issues). But he’ll have to usurp new rookies and promising athletes to get there.
- Cayleb Jones – Jones comes from a football family as the son of former Super Bowl champion linebacker Robert Jones. Another player whose college career was interrupted with a transfer, Jones moved to Arizona after a rough 2012 season in Texas. Part of that rough season was an aggravated assault charge similar to those of Joe Mixon and Caleb Brantley. Jones did his best to move on, becoming a prolific Arizona receiver and ultimately declaring early for the draft. Like so many before him, the decision backfired, and Jones went undrafted, settling in with the Philadelphia Eagles. While Jones didn’t make that team, he signed a futures contract with the Vikings for the 2017 season, and will try again to revive his football career.
- R.J. Shelton – After committing to Michigan, the Wisconsin native helped propel the Spartans to their magical 2015 season, even though the offense had been previously defined by Connor Cook and Aaron Burbridge. Shelton had to overcome poor size and athleticism to even be relevant, and overcome he did, showing enough versatility to earn Paul Hornug consideration in 2015. The Spartans used him as a runner, receiver and returner during his final two years as a Spartan. In the NFL, however, the bar raises. In the NFL draft, and R.J. Shelton wasn’t big enough or fast enough to earn any team’s draft capital. He’ll get his chance to prove everyone wrong in Minnesota after signing as an undrafted free agent. His versatility may come in handy, but he’ll have to achieve a whole new level of “overcoming athleticism”.
BATTLE TO WATCH: The wide receiver group would be relatively uninteresting were it not for Michael Floyd. His battle with Laquon Treadwell may be the most well-covered in all of training camp. Further, considering his looming suspension and checkered past, there could be an extra partial roster spot available for the likes of Stacy Coley, Moritz Böhringer or Isaac Freuchte. Perhaps lost in all that shuffle is a dynamic battle for backup slot receiver (assuming Diggs is used as the primary slot wideout). Coley, Adams and Wright will all be battling to be the slot receiver to use when Diggs lines up outside. Wright’s long-held role on the team is in great peril, with two young bucks seemingly hand-picked to compete with him. Whoever loses these battles will be at odds with Cayleb Jones and R.J. Shelton for practice squad space, though, both are long shots.
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