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Josh Doctson Returning from IR Today

Recently acquired Vikings wide receiver Josh Doctson was, at least depending on who you ask, reportedly the receiver that they really wanted in the 2016 draft. The Vikings had the 23rd pick in that draft and Washington had the 22nd pick. Both teams were in need of a receiver, and the Vikings… Well, I’ll just let this article (that has aged really, really well) from before the draft by the Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel explain where the Vikings were at that point.

“The Vikings have been looking for a legitimate go-to guy since dealing Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders in 2005. They thrice drafted a receiver in the first round. Troy Williamson and Percy Harvin did not pan out for vastly different reasons, and Cordarrelle Patterson is heading in that direction too…”

Quick note; I just want to mention that there’s a common link that all of those receivers have and it’s not (solely) the fact that they were all essentially busts for a variety of different reasons. I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with “Sexy Tree” and is one of the two major college conferences that has it’s own television channel. The good news at the time was that the Vikings were as aware that I was at the time that these SEC receivers weren’t panning out and went with Laquon Treadwell with the 23rd pick who played his college ball at… Ole Miss.

The Vikings, again, reportedly wanted Josh Doctson out of Texas Christian University (which is a Big 12 school). TCU was at its peak at the time and was known for running a very successful spread offense that gave Doctson a ton of targets. After spending his freshman year at Wyoming and having a mediocre sophomore year over a year later thanks to the NCAA’s rules on transferring, Docton exploded for TCU in 2014 with 65 catches for 1,018 yards (with a healthy 15.7 yards-per-catch average, a long of 84 yards and 11 receiving touchdowns).

He topped that his senior year in every possible way, grabbing 79 balls for 1,327 yards (for a 16.8 yards-per average and 14 receiving touchdowns). He didn’t just have down the field speed (and the ups to go along with it). He also had, as current Raiders general manager Mike Mayock says in this clip, “Great body control and a natural hand-snatcher”:

The second part of the above-quoted article from Vensel at the Strib continued to say:

“Despite their recent struggles attempting to draft and develop wide receivers, the Vikings seem more likely than not to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater another pass-catcher in the first round. They specifically need one with size and the ability to make contested catches from the split-end receiver spot.”

Keep in mind that while Adam Thielen was on the roster at this point, the Vikings had yet to see the Adam Thielen that we all know and love. They also had Teddy Bridgewater helming the offense, and he had yet to adjust his throwing motion. ‘Morning Joes’ co-host Joe Oberle and I had Vikings legend Tommy Kramer on our then Podcast ‘Three Deep’, and he pointed out that because Bridgewater had a slight side-arm throwing motion that he’d continue to struggle with his down the field throws as he tended to throw line drives, which are not ideal for passes down the field (as then Vikings receiver Mike Wallace essentially attested when he said he needed a “good quarterback” as he was leaving the Vikings for the Ravens and Joe Flacco (who immediately responded, “SOMEONE SAID I WAS GOOD!”).

The long and short of it is that the ‘Skins ended up taking Doctson before the Vikings could and because of that the Vikings ended up with Treadwell, who was considered by some to be the most “Pro Ready” receiver in that draft. Things with Treadwell didn’t really work out and while no one could’ve seen that coming… Or wait, I saw that coming. Sure, I also wanted Moritz Boehringer either later in the draft or as an undrafted free agent, but I was a pretty big fan of Doctson at the time. I didn’t think he’d be available, though, as most people saw both Doctson and Treadwell going by the 23rd pick, as the final part of Vensel’s article shows:

“Three first-round prospects fit that profile. The Vikings, who enter the draft with eight selections, likely will have to trade up if they want Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell. TCU’s Josh Doctson could be gone before their pick, too. Ohio State’s Michael Thomas doesn’t seem as desirable as the other two but would be a better fit than Baylor’s Corey Coleman or Notre Dame’s Will Fuller.”

Ah, the power of hindsight.

Point being that the Vikings most likely had Doctson as the best receiver both in terms of what they needed but also in terms of overall talent. For a second in that draft, it felt like the Vikings might get him, as there was only one receiver taken after 20 picks (in Corey Coleman from Baylor who was selected by the Browns). The Texans had the 21st pick and they selected a receiver in Will Fuller IV. The ‘Skins then took Doctson leaving the Vikings with Treadwell as the only receiver left that they (most likely) had a first-round grade on. Which, considering how well Thomas’ career has started, is borderline infuriating (because I wrote multiple articles pointing out that Thomas was the best receiver in that draft).

The Vikings ended up releasing Treadwell the same week that the ‘Skins released Doctson and the Vikings then grabbed the receiver they wanted all along and all was well in the world. Doctson suffered a leg injury shortly thereafter and was placed on Injured Reserve (with the designation that he could return after Week 8). Shortly after that injury, Doctson said that he was eyeing a Week 10 return, which is the week of the Cowboys game. Considering Doctson’s former team is the ‘Skins’ biggest rival, that made sense.

Whether or not Doctson will play this week remains to be seen. Just because he’s able to return doesn’t mean that he will practice or play this week. The word is that the team will assess how healthy Doctson is in practice this week, eyeing a possible return for the Cowboys game next week. His potential return should excite Vikings fans as while obviously the Vikings have the best one-two punch in the league at wide receiver, the addition of someone like Doctson could really add another wrinkle to this high-powered offense that might make them damn near unstoppable.

Even the most ardent Cousins supporters like myself have been fearing/waiting for his return to earth after a four-game span in which he essentially is playing as well as Patrick Mahomes, the league MVP, did last season. Don’t believe me? Let NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport explain:

Even with Thielen out against the ‘Skins, Cousins was lethally efficient. Adding a viable third-down receiver of Doctson’s size and speed could cause all sorts of problems for opposing defenses. Don’t believe me? Let’s check out this touchdown grab of his from a quarterback that might look familiar:

Doctson might not be as fast as Diggs and Thielen (running a 4.55-ish 40 vs. their 4.45s), but he’s a big target that has excellent body control. In fact, that was what people labeled him as in Washington, a deep threat that hadn’t really fleshed out the rest of his game. That might be exactly what the Vikings need from him, think Aldrick Robinson from 2018 but six inches taller. The idea of adding another 6’2″ receiver should excite people as well, as Chad Beebe is tiny and Olabisi Johnson is a full two inches shorter than Doctson.

It’s also not fair to call Doctson a bust, at least on the level of Treadwell. Doctson is coming off of back-to-back 500 yard seasons, which isn’t good but it’s also not Treadwell levels of ineptitude. He also had eight touchdowns and 79 grabs over that two-year span.

The Vikings could run a lot more three-receiver sets now that they have a receiver that’s big, relatively fast and familiar with Cousins. We saw what familiarity did with Robinson last season, who almost had a touchdown on every catch in 2018. With Doctson lining up next to Diggs and Thielen, the sky could be the limit for him and this Vikings offense. It could also be the spark needed for Cousins and company to continue the success they’ve had, especially as they start to play better defenses.

Either way, it looks like the Vikings finally have their mand and man, is it going to be (even) hard(er) to stop the Vikings come Week Ten (and beyond).