I recently came across yet another glowing assessment of the 2020 Minnesota Vikings, this time on Bleacher Report. Now, I really don’t want to become the Vikings media’s wet blanket. I don’t. But, I also consider myself a realist and usually don’t take issue with what other writers say, that is unless they essentially continue to write off my takes as “crazy” or hyperbole for effect when my concerns have repeatedly ended up being based in a pretty obvious and the continued reason why this very promising team has not reached it’s full potential.
Also, when I see a disconnect between someone’s initial reaction (like most everyone’s reaction to the pick of Justin Jefferson and what they have written since), and then because I’ve been consistent about those same things, I’m negative for the sake of being negative.
So let me get this out of the way. There are few things I want more in this world than a Vikings Super Bowl. I take no pleasure in pointing these things out.
But I also know that the team reads a lot more of our stuff than you’d think and while that may explain why the team has refused to give non-traditional media access the past two seasons, I really just want positive change for the team I love so much that I dedicated my life to ignoring comments to my work.
As I explained in part 1 of this series, the solution really wouldn’t require that much in terms of draft capital or actual capital (at least as compared to signing tackles to play guard (especially when they’ve never played guard and you end up eating their dead cap space after you’ve ruined them).
That brings the second paragraph of BR’s 2020 assessment:
“The offensive line is improved but still far from elite across the board, and there are natural questions about receiving depth with rookie Justin Jefferson trying to fill Stefon Diggs’ shoes. But Cousins, Cook and top receiver Adam Thielen are stars, Jefferson, Kyle Rudolph and second-year second-round tight end Irv Smith Jr. all have elite potential, and this offense also deserves credit for how it finished 2019. “
There’s a lot to unpack there but luckily for you, I did most of the heavy lifting about the line already. The line is not improved. Outside of drafting TACKLE Ezra Cleveland (who will compete for a guard spot despite never playing the position and seeming super uncomfortable with the transition per Kubiak’s own words), and cutting Kline, nothing has changed.
I’d argue that the line is worse off than it was last season as Kline is gone and now there are two gigantic holes on either side of Bradbury.
When it comes to the passing game, it obviously remains to be seen how the team acclimates without Diggs. The fear there is that Diggs was essentially not only the only true deep threat on the roster but also the best deep threat in the league in 2019.
Thielen can catch most anything you throw his direction, as we’ve seen time and time again. But my main point of contention with the selection of slot receiver Justin Jefferson (of a few) is that Thielen did most of his deep ball damage from the slot, and unless Jefferson quickly acclimates to playing on the outside, the Vikings may run him solely out of the slot like LSU did in 2019 out of necessity and in the process hurt their already drastically reduced ability to stretch the field in the process.
Most draft experts, local and national, called the pick of second-tier receiver Jefferson a reach at 22. He’s widely considered a second receiver at best, which is fine and what the Vikings need. At the same time why use the 22nd pick on a possession/slot guy who at best would be a number two on most NFL offenses when the 2020 Draft was historically deep at the position? Especially when you could get the same thing from guys like University of Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson, who was taken in the 5th round and who at least has been successful against press coverage during his time in college?
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has had great success via the draft on the defensive side of the ball. However, when you look at what he has (and hasn’t (see above)) done on offense the picture becomes much murkier. Outside of the neglect of the interior of the line, which is additionally maddening because it doesn’t even require a day on (or two) pick most years, the wide receiver spot has to be the most damning position on Spielman’s resume.
I’ve written at length about Spielman’s success, or lack thereof, drafting receivers in general but especially in the first few rounds of the draft. When you look at those players, as I pointed out in my most recent piece purplePTSD piece titled ‘We Officially are living in Groundhog’s Day [pt. 2] – SEC Receivers Galore!’, a strange pattern emerges.
Every receiver taken in the first round by Spielman (either as VP of player personnel or as general manager) come from the SEC. You’d think that especially after Troy Williamson (who obviously was drafted before Spielman’s arrival) imploded like a space shuttle with an elementary teacher aboard, the team would at least avoid South Carolina until his teammates had graduated and gone on to disappoint other NFL teams.
I know that people hate the SEC theory, as I’ve been discussing this since before the team drafted Laquon Treadwell outta Ole Miss. Outside of Percy Harvin, maybe, the other connecting fiber is that these receivers all seem to be reaches for one note receivers.
Percy wasn’t by any means a number one receiver but was going to make up for that in the run and return game. Second rounder Sidney Rice, also from South Carolina, did have that amazing 2009 season, but also didn’t make it beyond his rookie deal in Minny as he botched his 2010 injuries and was also not deemed the money he thought he was due thanks to that magical Favre lead season.
Cordarrelle Patterson was brought in to be the new, better Percy Harvin after he was traded to Seattle. Patterson had, like Williamson before him, limited experience in college but was looked at as a potential guy who could help in the passing, running and return games. I’ll let you remember which of those three he actually did anything of note in and ask you whether that was worth a first-round pick.
Then came the era of the “Pro Ready” one-dimensional reach that also was a “slam dunk pick” somehow. As you can tell, I am used to being on the outside of popular opinion. It is actually why I started purplePTSD to begin with, as my measured take of Teddy Bridgewater was deemed as essentially treason by those on Reddit who both controlled the Vikings sub at the time and who also thought Teddy was the second coming.
I have never felt more that way than after this years draft, one that I deemed not only not as great as everyone was saying but also a sign that Zimmer and Spielman had learned nothing from their time here. That was the main point of my angst then, and while time will prove me right and those that mocked me on Twitter will wash their hands of their bad takes, the reality is that we’ve seen all of this already.
Laquon Treadwell was deemed a reach initially when the Vikings selected him 23rd in the 2016 Draft. I had written multiple articles leading up to that draft imploring the team to take Ohio State’s Michael Thomas (who I haven’t followed much since, how’d his career turn out?), who was a second round pick that year but to mainly NOT take Treadwell. I also was enamored with Moritz Boehringer at the time as a practice squad super boom or bust candidate (as I recently re-upped).
The knock I had against Treadwell was similar to that of Jefferson. He was a second tier guy that we didn’t need to grab then. Jefferson more so as the 2020 Draft was deemed historically deep at the receiver position and if you want to replace the leagues best deep ball receiver with a slot/possession guy, you can wait? But with both, as Treadwell proved, drafting one trick pony receivers in the first round is just a waste.
Treadwell was known as a contested catch master, despite his combine results showing neither the vertical jump nor upper body strength you’d think one would have. Had Bridgewater not been injured perhaps Treadwell’s career would’ve been different as Teddy threw mainly short/intermediate button hook balls at that time.
Jefferson ran over 99.5% of his 2019 routes out of the slot, which means he ran uncontested off the line. Acclimating to the NFL as a receiver is hard enough, but when you have to overcome something you didn’t (in general but also as of his senior year at all) in college, I am skeptical.
Jefferson, like Treadwell before him, is deemed the most “Pro Ready” of any receiver in the draft. While that makes sense as Jefferson ran a pro system at LSU, and has a more varied route tree than Treadwell did, he also ran out of the slot and thus will have to learn outside routes while dealing with corners hitting him off the line.
I’m sure the Vikings saw his route running and compared it to what Diggs did best, but for a guy that was deemed physically weak by even the most glowing scouting reports, I wonder if the trifecta of press coverage/lack of strength and lack of experience outside the slot will be too much for someone expected to buck the typical development process of young NFL receivers and develop outside of his comfort zone quickly.
Considering that he called dealing with 1-on-1 matchups on the outside as “killer” before the 2019 season (let alone the double coverages Diggs dealt with), I again have my doubts.
I do believe that second year tight end Irv Smith Jr. has elite potential and as a new era tight end who plays more like a receiver can help pick up the slack in the passing game, but considering everything above with the offensive line and how the unit has arguably gotten weaker since last season, all of this could be much ado about nothing as I can’t imagine Cousins having to throw balls from outside the pocket to move the chains for another full season. At least in terms of doing so successfully.
The next part of the quote goes, infuriatingly in terms of fans who still deem Cousins an overpriced failure for a team that hasn’t had the same quarterback start back-to-back seasons since the late 70’s until Cousins (although he also technically doesn’t count as he was rested along with most starters for the Week 17 Bears game in 2019).
“After a rocky September, Cousins completed more than 70 percent of his passes, averaged an NFC-best 8.3 yards per attempt, threw 23 touchdown passes to four interceptions and recorded a 112.8 passer rating.”
Cousins deserves a tremendous amount of credit for what he has done in Minnesota both seasons. Considering the lack of help upfront, he has done an amazing job distributing the ball. The Vikings have had amazing skill-position players and still do with Diggs being gone.
It just feels like those players together won’t match what Diggs did down the field and that’s why it’s extra frustrating that the team reached for Jefferson when there were legitimate X receivers like Denzel Mims available who combined size and speed in ways rarely seen.
Cousins is one of the most accurate down the field passers in the game and as much as the Vikings may want to dink and dunk while running the ball, you can’t discount having a receiver like Diggs on your roster. Look at how long it took to replace Moss. Not that I’m comparing the two, but when your best deep threat is now Thielen but you’re hurting his ability to do that (by clogging the slot with Jefferson and fellow 2020 draftee KJ Osborn), I clearly don’t see how this unit will be in the top 6 or 7 in 2020.
That brings me to the final part of the quote:
“They were the league’s sixth-highest-scoring team during that stretch, and they should be in that range again thanks to talent, continuity and an upward trajectory heading into 2020. “
I clearly don’t agree with the objective parts of this quote. The trajectory isn’t upward as the line isn’t improved, and they lost Diggs and have struggled to even find a third receiver to pair with Diggs and Thielen but now need not only two functional receivers to develop quickly (at basically a 100% success rate after arguably having near a 100% failure rate) but need two players who couldn’t crack the starting line up on one of the league’s worst offensive lines to step up.
Sure, they have Cook but look at his numbers when Kline was hurt. Sure they have Thielen but he can only do so much, especially if he isn’t running out of the slot as much or at all. Sure Bisi Johnson and Irv Smith showed promise but what did they really do outside of not implode like the other options the team tried outside of Diggs/Thielen and Rudolph?
If the team was the 6th best scoring unit while Cousins was matching Mahomes’ 2018 numbers in 2019, with Kline/Diggs (and without Thielen, I know) and Cook playing his best ball… How are they going to be the 7th best unit in 2020?
But that’s just me…