The 2023 Vikings Have a Shot at a Historic, Unprecedented Franchise Record

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
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How does a trio of 1,000-yard receivers in a single season sound? The 2023 Vikings have a shot, folks.

Upon first glance, the idea seems too good to be true. After all, the quarterback position has been decimated by injury. Kirk Cousins didn’t make it to the halfway point of the season. Nick Mullens had to be on the IR for several weeks and Jaren Hall even needed to get healthy following his Week 9 concussion. Generally speaking, that kind of QB turmoil would fully sink a passing attack.

Aug 3, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks Nick Mullens (12) and Kirk Cousins (8) talk during warm ups at TCO Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Go ahead and add on some more adversity. Justin Jefferson — the proud owner of 1,809 receiving yards last season — had to miss seven games due to his hamstring injury. Starting tight end T.J. Hockenson has been battling through injury but has still been able to get onto the field. Even K.J. Osborn needed to recover from injury, further hindering the passing attack as a whole (though, admittedly, Osborn won’t be climbing up to 1,000 yards).

Oh, and left tackle Christian Darrisaw has missed some time, as well.

Add it all together and the Vikings would have just about every excuse to not thrive through the air. And, to be sure, there have been some games when the passing attack has been silenced (hello, Week 12). Even still, there’s a good shot that the Vikings accomplish something historic in 2023.

The 2023 Vikings and The Shot at History

Minnesota’s first ever 1,000-yard receiver was John Gilliam.

He hit the mark in the 1972 season by turning 47 receptions into 1,035 yards. Even Tyreek Hill — who is sitting at 15.9 yards per catch in 2023 — would blush at the 22.0 yards-per-catch average. Keep in mind that Gilliam got to his receiving total in an era when passing wasn’t as emphasized and when there were only 14 games. Impressive stuff.

The first time the Vikings had a pair of 1,000-yard receivers was in 1981. Joe Senser put together 1,004 yards while Sammy White was good for 1,001 yards. Notably, Ahmad Rashad finished the season with 884 yards, so the ’81 season represents Minnesota’s best effort at getting three receivers to 1,000 yards (especially since fullback Ted Brown piled up 694 yards).

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Oct 3, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings mascot, Viktor the Viking, leads the team onto field before the game against the Cleveland Browns at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Fast forward a bit further and we get into the golden age of Minnesota Vikings receiving. From 1994-2000, the Vikings trotted a pair of 1,000-yard receivers onto the field. Initially, the terrific twosome consisted of Jake Reed and Cris Carter, who each surpassed the milestone from 1994-97. In 1998, Randy Moss arrived, quickly establishing himself as the main man. He and Carter carried on the elite receiving from 1998-2000.

At no point, though, did the Three Deep Era lead to a trio of 1,000-yard receivers. Maybe the best chance arrived in ’98 behind Minnesota’s historically-great offense. Moss cleared 1,300 yards and Carter cleared 1,000 yards, but no one else got close. Reed was limited to just 11 games and 474 yards.

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Sep 27, 1998; Chicago, IL, USA; FILE PHOTO; Minnesota Viking receiver Randy Moss (84) in action against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field . Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Since then, there have been moments of brilliance. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs accomplished the rare feat in 2018, Kirk Cousins’ first season in Minnesota. That year, though, isn’t remembered for the statistical accomplishment but for the friction between Mike Zimmer and OC John DeFilippo. Oh, and the thoroughly average Vikings team that fell short of the Super Bowl plans.

Bring things into the present moment and history has a chance of occurring. Minnesota has a reasonable shot at a trio of pass catchers who will hit (and maybe even exceed) the receiving mark. Take a look at where things stand:

  • T.J. Hockenson: 786 Yards.
  • Jordan Addison: 686 Yards.
  • Justin Jefferson: 571 Yards.

And, for clarity, let’s flip the numbers around. Minnesota is moving into its final five games. How many yards will each receiver need to get to 1,000? Take a peek:

  • T.J. Hockenson: 214 Yards.
  • Jordan Addison: 314 Yards.
  • Justin Jefferson: 429 Yards.
Oct 8, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Getting a trio of receivers to 1,000 yards isn’t assured. Of the three, Addison may be the most unlikely to hit the notable number, especially if the Vikings get similar QB performances to the one in Week 12.

Aided by a 17th game, Minnesota will take aim at history on Sunday, December 10th when they travel to Sin City to battle with the Raiders. The game begins at 3:05 p.m. CST. Some hearty receiving totals would go a long way in making the unprecedented accomplishment more likely.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.