Dynamic Vikings’ WR Facing Bust Theories

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2023 was a strange season for Minnesota’s offense, as the team heavily relied on Kirk Cousins, but that plan imploded when his Achilles tendon ruptured in the eighth contest. A mix of Jaren Hall, Joshua Dobbs, and Nick Mullens tried to keep the offense going, but their struggles couldn’t compensate for a horrendous rushing attack.

Dynamic Vikings’ WR Facing Bust Theories

Still, there were some positives. First and foremost, Justin Jefferson is still a generational player. Despite missing seven games and significant parts of two more, he cracked the 1,000 receiving yards for the fourth straight season. His presence opens up the field for his teammates.

Dynamic Vikings' WR Facing Bust Allegations
Nov 5, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) shown on the field prior to the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Those teammates include tight end T.J. Hockenson, who slowly became the team’s focal point on offense with Jefferson out. The other guy, of course, was Jordan Addison, the rookie wideout who had a pretty good season.

His year was overshadowed by Puka Nacua’s record-breaking campaign. After the numbers Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, and Nacua produced, it’s easy to forget that 911 receiving yards are a lot in a player’s first season. Adding 70 receptions and ten touchdowns, and those numbers are somewhat rare. In the Super Bowl era, only Odell Beckham Jr. and Chase exceeded all three totals in their debut season.

With Jefferson back in the lineup, everyone will primarily attempt to stop him, and Addison will draw less attention from defensive coordinators, at least in theory. More experience could also contribute to a second-year breakout. However, the folks from Footballguys.com don’t believe in a second-year step.

Apr 27, 2023; Kansas City, MO, USA; USC wide receiver Jordan Addison on stage after being selected by the Minnesota Vikings twenty-third overall in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft at Union Station. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The article is fantasy-driven, but their concerns surely are applicable to real life. Their analysts voted on Minnesota’s player with the most bust potential in fantasy football, and Addison drew the bleak label.

Justin Howe wrote: “I don’t dislike Addison, but his TD-heavy rookie season has him overdrafted. His volume wasn’t great (nine weeks with six or fewer targets) as a big-play No. 2 in the Will Fuller mold. The slender Addison tested below-average pre-draft, and we’ve likely already seen his touchdown peak.”

Indeed, his touchdown numbers were an outlier. His 911 yards aren’t nearly as high of a number, and a regression is possible, perhaps even likely. On the flip side, some wideouts just excel in the endzone and with Jefferson commanding the attention, Adam Thielen also averaged ten scores in his final three seasons with the Vikings. It might simply be the effect Jefferson has on his teammates combined with Addison’s strength.

The big plays make Addison what he is. He is explosive on the football field, more explosive than his 40-yard dash suggested. Head coach Kevin O’Connell used that to his advantage and sent his rookie deep. Cousins, a wonderful deep ball thrower, found him multiple times earlier in the year.

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Feb 5, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) is interviewed during Super Bowl LVIII Opening Night at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The QB’s departure is also cause for concern, according to Corey Spala: “Addison may not sustain the 10-touchdown rookie season production in year two. I do not see how a rookie quarterback or Sam Darnold will replicate what Kirk Cousins did for Minnesota’s offense.”

Julia Papworth added: “Addison would have had huge potential if Cousins had stayed, but not knowing who his quarterback will be makes me cautious about drafting Addison at his current ADP.”

In the eight games with Cousins, Addison produced 36 catches for 482 yards and seven touchdowns, while his numbers dropped to 34 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns in the nine games without the four-time Pro Bowler.

The QB carousel obviously hurt the wide receiver. It should be noted, though, that Addison’s yardage numbers stayed relatively consistent in the five games with Dobbs, but he failed to find the endzone. With Mullens, meanwhile, he registered 111 yards in Week 15, which was also Jefferson’s first full game following his injury. Curiously, Addison had three touchdowns in the final four games with both Mullens and Jefferson on the field.

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Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) catches a pass for a touchdown and celebrates with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) during the second half of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

His touchdown totals clearly rise when he is playing with a capable passer. The question is, will he play with one in 2024? Sam Darnold, a former third-overall pick, has never lacked arm talent but has failed to minimize mistakes. Throwing to the wrong team too often is not something coaches want to see. Still, solid production from the receivers is possible if O’Connell can help him uncover some of his potential.

Rookie quarterbacks generally struggle to generate huge numbers, and J.J. McCarthy didn’t quite light up the stat sheets in college. He enters training camp with talent but has a long way to go until he can help multiple receivers to decent statistics.

So, what are we doing with all of that now? The fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know. Jefferson’s presence might help him get more favorable looks but will also lower his target share.

Addison must improve fundamentally and come up with a better plan to combat any negative impact because of his surroundings. The good news is that the sophomore has been working on that element.

The 22-year-old stated in May: “My releases, that’s been the main focus for me, and I feel like it’s been paying off. My work is showing out there. Just having a plan once I get to the line (of scrimmage), being decisive and just making sure that I’m locked in on my releases. I feel like it’s going well so far. Last year, I wasn’t as confident in my releases, I wasn’t decisive, and I didn’t have a plan when I was coming up to the line. I was freelancing, trying to do what I could to make something work, but now it’s my focus (to have a plan).”

Aug 5, 2023; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell takes to wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) during training camp at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Regardless of the QBs and Jefferson, Addison has some untapped potential. Adding some weight (while keeping his explosiveness) and evolving from a skills standpoint could help him climb to the next level. However, there are some concerns, primarily because the passers could lower his ceiling in 2024.

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

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and prefers Classic rock over other genres. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt