Even Before Westbrook Addition, Vikings Top NFC North Rankings at WR

Adam Thielen / Justin Jefferson
Aug 28, 2020; Eagan, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) talk at practice at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Even before acquiring Dede Westbrook in free agency last weekend, the Minnesota Vikings owned the best fleet of wide receivers in the NFC North – per Vitro Chirco, who covers the Detroit Lions for SI.com.

Prior to Sunday, the Vikings possessed one of the most deficient WR3 situations in the NFL, occupied by a threesome of Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette. For most of the Mike Zimmer era, Minnesota tends to emphasize the usage of fullbacks, running backs, and tight ends in its passing game – rather than a bonafide WR3 as do most other NFL squads.

Based on the Westbrook addition, that should theoretically change, whisking the Vikings “closer to the times” with a defined WR3.

Per Chirco, though, if wide receiver supremacy inside the NFC North is up for the debate, it is the Westbrook-less Vikings that take the cake over the corps of the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, and Green Bay Packers. Chrico opined:

The best one-two punch at receiver in the NFC North belongs to the Vikings, with veteran Adam Thielen and second-year pro Justin Jefferson. Both are very capable of being No. 1 wideouts. Thielen posted 925 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns in 2020, while Jefferson, as a rookie, amassed 1,400 yards and seven scores. Sure, it can be argued that the Packers have better depth at the position.  However, Thielen and Jefferson are one of the most explosive receiving duos in the league. It’s why I had to place Minnesota ahead of Green Bay in my NFC North WR rankings.”

While this can be perceived as a testament to Thielen and Jefferson – and that is fair to a degree – Minnesota on top of Chirco’s rankings is more attributable to lackluster wide receiver play in the NFC North on the whole. The Packers witness a steep drop-off in talent from Davante Adams to Allen Lazard. The Lions one-two-three punch is Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and Kalif Raymond. No thanks. And the Bears employ the mighty Allen Robinson and less-mighty Darnell Mooney. Chicago traded away once-promising Anthony Miller to the Houston Texans over the weekend around the same time that Minnesota was signing Westbrook.

By default, that plops the Vikings in first place.

Jefferson amassed 1,400 receiving yards during his rookie season last year – the most in NFL history by a first-year player. Not bad for a fragment of the spoils from the Stefon Diggs trade.

Thielen became a full-time receiver in 2016 with a folklorish rise to power. In the last five seasons, he’s accrued the 12th-most receiving yards (4,959) in the NFL – notably more than Keenan Allen, Tyler Lockett, Odell Beckham Jr., Robert Woods, and the aforementioned Robinson. His game has transformed amid the last two years to snatch more touchdown passes (previously, he was a yards machine), tabulating 20 touchdowns in his last 25 games.

The paradoxical portion of SI.com’s WR rankings pertains to offensive philosophy. The Vikings run the football more than any other NFC North franchise, creating an interesting situation – the team with the best wide receivers throws the football the least. Figure that one out.

However, Minnesota has a new offensive boss in charge for 2021. Gary Kubiak, a Super Bowl-winning head coach turned offensive coordinator, retired from the Vikings in January. His son, Klint, takes command this week in Eagan for training camp.

Klint Kubiak’s utilization of Westbrook will be one of the most interesting storylines to monitor in September. Will he or won’t he?