Camp Battle Preview: The Wide Receivers
If you’re a follower of my work, you’ll know two things. I love talking about wide receivers, and probably my social security number as you’re one of my parents. Coming of age during the Cris Carter/Randy Moss era, it was hard not to be enamored by the position and the fireworks that duo created on a weekly basis.
That having been said, until a plucky local UDFA and mercurial fifth-round overachiever from a basketball school exploded onto the scene, things were pretty rough in that department for the Vikings between 2005 and Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs came to town.
Most of us, like the team itself, figured the Vikings were set in that area until at least 2023, as both Thielen and Diggs were locked into their deals until then. Sure, the team struggled to find a consistent third option, but that was a nit-picky gripe against an otherwise amazing on-paper, position-by-position roster.
Its funny how things change.
Diggs is now gone and the Vikings are left with Thielen and a lot of question marks at the position. The same could be said at almost more positions than not at this point, as the Vikings were up against the cap this off-season and decided to rebuild as opposed to limp their way through one final rodeo with most of the old roster.
While jarring and a bit scary at first, like eating Taco Bell, the made the right move as that roster clearly hadn’t shown the ability to get over the hump at full capacity. So why try again without a few major parts? Like Taco John’s.
Outside of the corner position, though, the receiver position is poised to be the most interesting and competitive this training camp. Coincidentally, sort of, the two positions are intertwined as the fate of a bubble corner or receiver might come down to not how they stack up to other corners or receivers, but also how they stack up to other receivers or corners.
With limited space on the final roster, those two spots and the question marks at each will be intertwined as we move forward and discuss the prospects of each. But today’s article is about the receiver group, so let’s hop right in!
It’s obvious that Adam Thielen is now the sole leader of the unit. With Diggs gone, Thielen is the only established option on the roster and really only one of two receivers on the roster currently who has even caught a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The other is fan favorite Olabisi Johnson, the sole bright spot on the Vikings seasons long quest to find a third option behind Diggs and Thielen. While he has shown some promise, the low bar set by other receivers like Laquon Treadwell combined with his limited in-season impact, make me much more skeptical of him than most Vikings writers or fans.
Another receiver who has yet to make an in-season impact is Chad Beebe. Beebe spent last off-season getting raves from Vikings coaches and players alike, with Thielen going as far as to say that Beebe ran the best routes of anyone he’d ever seen (which is saying something considering he’s seen Diggs and also himself).
Beebe had a ‘Meh’ pre-season, though, and then was injured for the regular season leaving his future with the team in limbo. But with Diggs gone, its safe to say that the Vikings not only are giving Beebe another shot, but that they really do need this pre-season wonder to evolve into a regular season contributor now more than ever.
The Vikings also drafted LSU slot monster Justin Jefferson in the first round of this year’s draft to replace Diggs. While many here at PurpleTERRITORY Media were underwhelmed by the pick at the time for a multitude of reasons. Not only did it feel like the Vikings reached for Jefferson, but that he was entirely too one dimensional to replace Diggs.
Diggs was the best down the field receiver in 2019, leading the league with catches of 40-plus yards. Considering that Jefferson caught over 99.5% of his balls from the slot in his last year at LSU, and that Thielen did most of his deep ball damage from the slot (and general damage, as one of the best slot receivers of the past decade), and it’s incredibly apparent and imperative that Jefferson diversify his game as soon as possible.
While many have pointed to the “rave reviews” that coaches have given Jefferson this off-season (which, of course they would as they drafted him, but thanks to COVID haven’t seen him practice or catch balls from Cousins).
The Vikings drafted another receiver in KJ Osborn who has played both primarily as a slot guy and an outside guy (depending on what school he was at) but has been labeled a primarily slot guy by NFL scouts and anyone with eyeballs. That leaves a log-jam at the slot position as clearly Thielen, Jefferson and Osborn will get a roster spot (unless Osborn implodes as a returner, which is primarily why he was drafted).
With the Vikings being a run first offense that also does a lot of two tight end sets, and are going to most likely do a lot more in 2020 with Gary Kubiak now fully in control of the offense, it’ll be surprising if the team carries more than five receivers in 2020.
That means that Beebe will compete with free agency addition Tajae Sharpe, Alexander Hollins, Dillon Mitchell and Davion Davis for that final roster spot.
Hollins, Mitchell and Davis have the advantage of seniority (each having been here a year). However, to me, the Vikings spent their limited cap space this off-season on one of the few players they deemed worth adding, on Sharpe for a reason.
He’s a big body guy who showed some potential during his time in Tennessee. More importantly, he’s also shown the ability to play on the outside and make short, intermediate and deep catches with some YAC ability, as well.
Essentially, he’s the best chance the Vikings have early behind Johnson to have a true receiver on the outside. That’s not to say that Jefferson can’t or won’t be that guy, but as you all know, receivers typically have a more difficult time than average acclimating to the strength and speed of the NFL.
It isn’t harping to think that if Jefferson couldn’t hack it on the outside in college and thus was moved to the slot where he never saw press coverage (or contact off the line), than it’d be a huge surprise if Week 1 he was schooling corners on the outside.
This does leave the Vikings without a burner on the outside, though. At least in terms of who we’ve discussed thus far. There is one super intriguing receiving prospect that the Vikings snagged as an UDFA this off-season.
That player is Penn State alum Dan Chisena.
Chisena had limited experience in college, playing in 16 games and amassing 66 yards receiving. However, he ran track during his time as whatever a Nittany Lion is, and put up a 4.32 40 before the draft. That, as VikingsTerritory.com editor Kirby O’Connor pointed out, makes him the fastest Vikings player as if the writing of this article.
Chisena is also a big receiver, measuring in at 6’3” and 202 pounds. While that does check some big need boxes for the Vikings, Chisena screams practice squad a la other physical specimens like my old camp crush, Moritz Boehringer.
Sigh. MoBo. How I miss thee.
So who do I think will be the final five?
Thielen. Johnson. Jefferson. Sharpe and …
Either Osborn or Beebe. Perhaps they keep both, but my money is on Osborn as he was a fifth-round pick and can do more than one thing. However, if Beebe has another amazing camp then the Vikings may cut Sharpe or keep six receivers and most likely one less corner.
Who do you think will be the final WRs on the Vikings roster?
Let us know!