The Vikings have arguably the best receiving duo in the NFL with Kendall Wright and Laquon Treadwell backing them up. That battle will dominate coverage of the WR room, so it’s worth looking at the new guy in town. After that, however, the final slot or two is a wide open competition between veterans and undrafted hopefuls.
Since his electric years at Baylor and being drafted in the 1st round, Wright’s career has sputtered. By the end of his time in Tennessee, he had fallen completely out of their rotation, and was exiled to a journeyman’s career. His divorce with the team that drafted him was messy, and he never lived up to his dynamic draft expectations. But Wright has a chip on his shoulder – he felt he didn’t have enough snaps in Tennessee. In Chicago, he was the team’s leading receiver, perhaps due in part to his ability to go off-script on routes. It remains to be seen whether that will fit in with the Vikings, or banish him to the fringes like it did with the Titans.
Wright and Laquon Treadwell are in a direct competition for the third wide receiver privileges. This isn’t as big of a distinction as it may be on other teams, since Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen figure to dominate the target share, but it’s the best available prize. Wright’s experience in the slot may dictate this – he didn’t take a single outside snap in Chicago. If the Vikings want to line Diggs and Thielen up in the slot, they’d put Treadwell, an outside receiver, at WR3. With Diggs and Thielen on the outside, they’d put Wright in the slot. How often they do one or the other will no doubt be influenced by this competition.
Last preseason, we told the story of Stacy Coley’s lack of drive in high school, and the heart-to-heart that kicked him into high gear. He won a competition with Rodney Adams and a few other bubble players for a low-end roster spot, and will be the only receiver from that battle to return for week one of 2018. Coley’s NFL dream is alive, mostly as a result of electric preseason play last season. But his 2017 was fairly anticlimactic, only dressing for 4 games taking 47 snaps. Regardless, he’s the incumbent WR6, and will defend that title this August.
A few preseason highlights can propel the careers of players with few opportunities elsewhere, but Coley hasn’t been anointed with anything. His 2017 didn’t afford him the opportunity to earn any sort of longevity in purple. This season, Coley faces another battle royale of competition for the final roster spot or two, but he has a lot more career momentum than at this point last year where his passion for football was in question. Instead, the question is simply if he can outdo his peers and make it to the 53-man again. If there were a favorite for the 6th WR spot, it’d be Coley.
King’s career as a Georgia Bulldog is defined by his relationship with his teammates. After fellow Bulldog Marlon Brown went down with an ACL injury, King wore his jersey en route to a 38-0 drubbing of rival Auburn. King stands 4th all-time in Georgia receiving, but his NFL career sputtered early. The team that drafted him, Denver, waived him by that October. Including the Broncos, he was on and off four different rosters before landing in New York, and even then, needed to wait for injuries to Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall and more before he saw significant playing time. He’d finally gotten his chance to prove himself, propelled by a memorable playoff reception, but a concussion derailed his final year in New York. This led to the expiration of his contract, but his momentum carried him to His next destination: Minnesota.
Tavarres King owes his NFL career to the Giants, the only team to give him a legitimate chance to prove what he can do in the NFL. He now squares off against Stacy Coley, a delayed Cayleb Jones and a number of undrafted free agents for a single roster spot, maybe two. King will have to draw on the only advantage he has, veteran experience, to hold off the youngsters and stay on the roster. Should he miss the roster, it could be difficult to see him gaining any new opportunities off of the successes in 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Last season, Jones was a misfit with off-field issues and the lesser of two brothers. After a failed rookie season in Philadelphia led him to be cut mid-season, he joined the Vikings’ practice squad late in 2016. An electric preseason in 2017 earned him some clout as he fought admirably against two drafted rookies for roster space. He lost the roster battle to Coley and now-retired Rodney Adams, but was kept on the practice squad again. His last few months in Minnesota have been a whirlwind. From being the first person to hug Stefon Diggs after the Minneapolis Miracle, to a bizarre and surreal moment with his big brother Zay to his recent PED suspension, Jones has had a heck of a time in purple. But mostly, he spent his second season on the Vikings’ practice squad, becoming a bit of a staple in developmental limbo.
Jones is part of the same free-for-all as everyone else, fighting for the 5th or 6th WR role. Like many of last year’s preseason stars, he’ll have to keep that up to keep his place in the franchise. While some may assume his suspension is a detriment, it relieves a little pressure on the room. Cayleb Jones, if he impresses, could get that final roster spot, but if he does, it gives the runner-up 4 games in his stead and a “last chance” of sorts. Of course, he could miss the team outright and remove this complexity altogether. He could also kick someone off of the practice squad after he returns from suspension if he fails to win the roster battle, but in his third season, his expectations are going to have to be higher. Practice squad “potential” can only propel a player so far.
Badet ended up at Oklahoma in thanks in large part to the courting of Baker Mayfield. After three years of starting at Kentucky, the quarterback surprised Badet, who thought Mayfield was declaring, by coaxing him to transfer to Oklahoma as a graduate student for one final hoorah. That season was high-profile enough to get Baker Mayfield drafted first overall. This highlighted Badet, but most importantly, allowed him to participate in Oklahoma‘s pro day. This put him in front of more scouts than what he’d have seen at Kentucky, and Badet ran a 4.27 40 in front of the bigger crowd. This was enough to put him over the top, and get the Vikings to sign him in post-draft free agency. Badet’s opportunity with the Vikings may not have been possible if Baker Mayfield hadn’t found the dynamic receiver looking to finish out his graduate school years.
Badet, and all the undrafted free agent WRs, will be gunning for practice squad real estate or perhaps a final roster spot if they show out. Badet’s speed gives him a nice floor – if he’s not good enough to kick someone else off the roster, his athleticism gives him “upside.” Should that show up in preseason play, he could earn a developmental practice squad honor. It would take quite the preseason to earn him a roster spot over Coley, Jones, and King, complete with dynamic receiver play against 3rd teamers and a major impact on special teams.
Transitioning from High School at Southern Miss was difficult for Korey Robertson. Faced with the uptick in intensity and conditioning, Robertson considered quitting altogether. He told his coach he has lost his love for the game, and wanted to be a firefighter instead. But his family helped him overcome that challenge, and he quickly blossomed into a superstar. So much so, he was able to declare early for the draft and attend the NFL combine. But for some, the combine is more curse than blessing. He was a mid-round prospect before a poor combine performance, which caused him to fall out of the draft. However, his pedigree wasn’t entirely erased as the Vikings paid him the highest signing bonus they’ve ever paid to an undrafted free agent. Even if football ends here for Robertson, that’s a solid kickstart to a career in firefighting.
Robertson’s athletic testing tanked what was otherwise high draft stock, but his career at Southern Miss points to as good a chance as anyone to sneak onto the roster. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the jump in intensity from college to the pros, considering his issues with the last spike in competition, but if he can avoid the same motivational hiccup, he has a leg up. Robertson’s fate will likely be apparent early – if there aren’t effort questions, he could make plenty of noise.
Wieneke’s been well-documented as a hometown prospect who grew up watching Randy Moss like most of us fans, and became a superstar for the SDSU Jackrabbits. Wieneke wanted to be a Minnesota Gopher, but a foot injury came at the worst time, and held him back in workouts. But he didn’t let that stop him from becoming a perennial All-FCS receiver and racking up mountains of yards for the Jackrabbits. A lot has been made of Wieneke meeting his childhood heroes and putting on a Vikings uniform, and now he has a chance to prove he belongs among the upper echelon of football talent. And he just got engaged!
Wieneke has an impressive college resume against FCS competition which would give him an off chance to make the roster. But with all FCS players, level of competition is enough of a concern to keep any team from investing in him. At 6’4”, he’s the tallest wide receiver on the roster. He’ll have to show out against power 5 alumni and NFL veterans to have a prayer of making the 53, which is a steep incline compared to what he’s dealt with in his college career.
Beebe is a blue blooded receiver with his father, Don, earning fame for this play in Super Bowl XXVII. Beebe may have bowed out of football at the sign of first contact, but Don mentored his son and supported him. Soon enough, Chad found his own way into a passion for football, even though Don made a concerted effort not to push his son To follow in his footsteps. He ended up playing receiver at Northern Illinois, and working toward his future. A lot of players in NFL buildings this time of year weren’t drafted, but got a contract afterwards. For Chad Beebe, he fell a tier even further, having to prove himself in rookie minicamp. But for players from off-the-radar NIU, that’s often as much as you can hope for. Sure enough, he outplayed Armanti Foreman (brother of Texans running back D’Onta) and earned a chance to earn a chance in the NFL.
Beebe would have to kick more established players out of their spots to make the 53-man roster, but if he can continue to be the quickest guy on the field, he has a shot. While his father was famously fast, Chad makes his way with quickness. That quickness and a frame built for the slot limits his flexibility, but also his competition. He won’t be directly competing with the taller, straight-line wideouts like Wieneke and Badet, giving him a less obscured path to possibly stand out.
Another home-grown prospect in Brandon Zylstra is looking at a chance to step his football career to a level it’s never touched. Zylstra comes from small town Spicer, Minnesota, played for two local lower-tier colleges, went undrafted, and started his professional career for the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. While the townspeople of Spicer would gather around for Zylstra’s Eskimos games, a chance at the Vikings’ roster would lift him to legendary height. It’s easy to get washed away in a sea of camp bodies when you don’t have much of a pedigree to work with, but Zylstra turned heads in offseason workouts. This gives him a unique momentum headed into the grind of his first NFL training camp.
Zylstra has more veteran experience than a lot of people competing for the final WR roster spot, but will have to overcome average athleticism and rely on his revered work ethic. If he can remind the Vikings’ decision-makers of another home-grown underdog, he may be able to pull an upset and stick in the NFL. And while CFL experience doesn’t go far for everyone, it will certainly help him shine above the bushy-tailed rookies.
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