Note: This is part two to my late night realization about the state of the Vikings in 2020. For part I, CLICK HERE.
I had one hope before the Minnesota Vikings draft this season. With a year left on both head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman’s contracts, and Zimmer’s longtime mini-me George Edwards gone, I thought maybe, just maybe they had learned from the successes and failures of the last six seasons.
Earlier today I was writing a Jaws’-esque soliloquy about the state of the Minnesota Vikings. Namely their offensive line, and how Gary Kubiak’s presser which is the same thing we’ve heard from… Deep inhale… Norv Turner, Pat Shurmur, John DeFilippo, and Kevin Stefanski about the state of the Vikings’ offensive line.
Granted, things weren’t always this blah. We once had Joe Berger, for example. Nick Easton also wasn’t terrible. That’s why it was apples to oranges when people were comparing, angrily, Case Keenum’s season with Kirk Cousins.
It’s a good read.
One aspect of this off-season as we get closer to launching our new Minnesota sports site and app, UFFda.MN and UFFda! respectively, is to enhance my individual brand as a writer. Why? I don’t know. I’m a humble guy, and I feel like those that spend their time analyzing the purple and gold with their protractors don’t respect my hustle.
I could spend an hour pulling up the response to my response to this year’s draft in which the same people who told me before the 2018 season that I needed to relax because the team had “a plan” and that it was impossible that I “knew more than the team d[id]”.
I am not claiming to know more.
They have a bigger staff, a bigger budget (at least after they cleared up that 2019 cap space). The thing is, it really isn’t that complicated and sometimes people are too close to things to see the forest through the trees.
Speaking of which…
Recently extended Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is considered one of the best general managers in the game. Especially when he has partnered with head coach Mike Zimmer, they’ve had consistent regular season success and starting in 2015, playoff nightmares every other season.
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the COVID pre-season/training camp or lack thereof. But, the recent Gary Kubiak presser and subsequent Riley Reiff interview that the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson covered got me to thinking…
… Haven’t we seen all of this already?
I’ve covered what that means for the offensive line in part 1 of this piece. The neglect at the guard position is a persistent issue that people are at least coming around to in Vikings media.
What did the Vikings do then, instead?
This article is about the other big off-season Vikings narrative. The recently jettisoned receiver that shall not be named forced the Vikings to nab another receiver in the first round even though many said that the draft class at receiver was deep enough to not require a pick in the 20’s.
But these are the Vikings, and they were already over their every third draft quota for first-round SEC receivers somewhere between the 20th and 30th pick. Again…
… Haven’t we seen this already?
I covered this topic in an article titled ‘The Vikings need to stop drafting receivers from the SEC way back in February of 2017.
Since the Vikings traded away Randy Moss the [Vikings have] drafted 19 wide receivers. Again, that’s 19 receivers in 15 years. Of those 19, guess how many of them came from the SEC. Not only that, those receivers that were mostly drafted in the first or second round. So, before we delve into this madness, let’s break down the wide receivers the Vikings have selected since Spielman came aboard…
Every receiver taken to be an immediate impact player has been from the SEC. Troy Williamson was before Spielman’s time but was such a disaster than he should’ve forced the Vikings to avoid South Carolina receivers like Williamson avoided using his thumbs, not going back to draft Sidney “My Bones are made of paper mache” Rice a couple of seasons later.
Laquon Treadwell. Percy Harvin. Cordarrelle Patterson. Sidney Rice. Jarius Wright. Greg Childs. All SEC.
Then you have the vast majority coming from SEC-junior schools like Rodney Adams (South Florida), Stephon Burton (West Texas A&M), Jaymar Johnson (Jackson State), Chandler Williams (Florida International), Aundrae Allison (East Carolina),
Of the 18 receivers drafted since Spielman’s arrival (as VP of player personnel), the team has drafted receivers as follows.
- Sidney Rice (2nd Round) South Carolina
- Aundrae Allison (5th Round) East Carolina
- Chandler Williams (7th Round) Florida International
- Jaymar Johnson (7th Round) Jackson State
- Percy Harvin (1st Round) Florida
- Stephon Burton (7th Round) West Texas A&M
- Jarius Wright (4th Round) Arkansas
- Greg Childs (4th Round) Arkansas
- Cordarrelle Patterson (1st Round) Tennessee
- Stefon Diggs (5th Round) Maryland
- Laquon Treadwell (1st Round) Ole Miss
- Moritz Boehringer (6th Round) GFL
- Rodney Adams (5th Round) South Florida
- Stacy Coley (7th Round) Miami
- Dillon Mitchell (7th Round) Oregon
- Olabisi Johnson (7th Round) Colorado State
- Justin Jefferson (1st Round) LSU
- KJ Osborn (5th Round) Miami (FL)
That makes 18 receivers since Spielman joined the organization as the VP of player personnel.
- Four were first-round picks all of which were from the SEC, another in the second round (Rice) also from the SEC and a tight end in the second round who runs receiver routes in Irv Smith Jr. who also was from the SEC.
- Three of those four were busts (Treadwell, Harvin and Patterson), none of which were offered a contract after their rookie deals or were traded. Same goes for Rice.
- The jury is still out for Irv Smith Jr. ans Justin Jefferson, KJ Osborn, etc.
- 14 of those 18 receivers were from Southern schools.
- Six of the 18 were from the SEC.
- The best of the SEC bunch was arguably Jarius Wright.
- The ones that have panned out? Stefon Diggs, UDFA Adam Thielen, Olabisi Johnson, and Jarius Wright. That’s three Northern players to one Southern one.
While I have a theory that Big Ten players like Diggs have better pro careers because the academic standards and how that implies a work ethic that SEC schools don’t have… I don’t think it’s that simple.
The Vikings have had a pretty good regular season record, especially under Zimmer. That means that they’ve had a lot of picks in the late teens and early-to-mid 20’s.
That means that some of the more “sure thing” receivers are already gone by then. On top of that, when the Vikings draft a receiver in the first round, they’re essentially desperate for a receiver and thus they typically have a bad mix of need and draft position.
That could be why the Vikings end up hearing that they either reached for a receiver (Jefferson, Treadwell) or ended up with the most “Pro Ready” receiver (Jefferson… Treadwell). That’s where all these ‘A’ grades came from after April’s Draft (despite the initial reactions to the Jefferson pick being far from ‘A+’ level).
Regardless, we’ve seen this before:
If you recall, Treadwell was brought in to be the ultimate possession receiver for Teddy “Button Hook” Bridgewater. The Vikings pass offense at the time was essentially predicated on Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs or Mike Wallace running 2-5 yards beyond the sticks and turning for a nicely delivered ball.
Treadwell was known for his ability to bring down contested catches, and so he felt like the perfect fit for Teddy and Minny, especially as the offense back then ran through Adrian Peterson and really only needed ~ 200 yards through the air to win most games.
The problem was, as I pointed out at the time, Treadwell’s measurables that you’d think someone who was good at contested catches (vertical jump, upper body strength, quickness etc.) were AWFUL.
To me, for a 6’2” athlete to put up 12 reps on the bench press (of 225 pounds), to me, screamed that Treadwell didn’t spend a ton of time in the weight room.
With the rule of thumb being that a healthy man should be able to bench their body weight ten times (and “advanced” lifters should be able to do the same at 130% of their body weight), this raised red flags for me.
To me, this screamed that Treadwell was a one-trick pony whose trick wouldn’t work in the NFL against men who can bench their weight more than the average man in his 30’s.
Treadwell, unlike Jefferson, didn’t have the speed to really compensate for his trick not working. Jefferson has good speed and route running, the issue will be how he acclimates to press coverage in the NFL when he didn’t face it in his final season at LSU.
But if he can do some damage out of the slot, what’s the problem?
Well, the biggest thing that the Vikings will miss from Diggs is obviously the damage he did down the field (and the subsequent coverages he drew). So, when you’re clogging the slot with receivers like JJets and KJ Osborn and you realize that Adam Thielen does most of his deep ball damage from the slot and you’ll forgive me for not being super enthusiastic.
But I know what you’re thinking, I haven’t said anything specifically about Jefferson outside of what a defense attorney would call circumstantial evidence. Where he went to school and the pattern of failure that preceded his arrival here?
You’re not wrong.
Let’s look at what people said about him before he arrived here as many in local sports media went from calling him a reach to suddenly loving the pick (which is what happens so often that it is the literal impetus for this site in the first place. People on Reddit bemoaned Trae Waynes’ links to the team before his Draft, then suddenly loved the pick only after the Vikings selected him).
TheDraftNetwork.com recaps their three star review of Jefferson by saying: “In the NFL, I do not see a starter for most teams and therefore will have to increase his value in the kicking game make himself more of an asset.”
Or: “Jefferson is likely a No. 2 or 3 option in an NFL passing game but he should be productive if paired with the right quarterback and a system that accentuates his strengths. “
Or: Summary: Justin Jefferson is a Day 2 candidate looking to add a consistent option from the slot. Jefferson is lacking in elite physical traits and must answer key questions about his ability to release off of tight coverage if he’s ever to grow out of his slot deployment.
“He struggles when going up against tough, physical corners. He struggles with their press coverage and even in the middle of his route, he can be pushed off his spot. If he adds some strength and learns how to be physical back at corners, it will be easier for him to be successful.
Partially because of his lack of strength, Jefferson isn’t the best blocking wide receiver. The effort is there at times, but he doesn’t have the strength to sustain blocks. He also lets defenders get around him and to the ball carrier too easily.“
Or this from USA Today, which starts by saying the following under his strengths (which goes against the narrative that he’ll acclimate quickly to the outside): “Jefferson fits the prototype of the “big slot” receiver that has seen an uptick in popularity in recent years.”
Also: “While Jefferson proved to be capable of separating at the collegiate level, one has to wonder how much of that was related to scheme. He’s a good athlete, but his technique as a route runner could use some cleaning up. His footwork can be a little sloppy at times, and he can struggle to sink his hips into his breaks and make sharp cuts.
He was a reliable target coming out of the slot, but Jefferson doesn’t offer as much value lined up wide. He doesn’t do a great job of using his hands to separate from tight man coverage, and his ability to break press isn’t all that great. His profile is certainly one of an NFL contributor, but he doesn’t necessarily have “No. 1 target” written all over him.”
I’m willing to be that a lot of you haven’t heard most of those things, that is unless you saw live coverage of the draft. That’s not to say that Jefferson is bad. I’m sure he will carve out a role in the NFL. But the Vikings yet again used a first-round pick on a seemingly one note receiver that most objective draft prospect analysts have called a possession receiver at best.
If they were going to end up with a decent possession receiver, especially to replace deep threat Stefon Diggs, why use a first round pick?
they could’ve traded down, amassed more picks, and drafted someone like the Gophers’ Tyler Johnson way later. Then they could’ve used their first pick to shore up the line and offset the loss of Diggs with a better line (and improve the running and passing game in one fell swoop).
I mean, this was a draft titled “historically deep” at the wide receiver position. The linked article in the sentence before this has Jefferson listed as the 10th best receiver in the 2020 Draft, which considering that 13 receivers were taken in the first-or-second round, means he wasn’t too much of a reach but a reach none-the-less.
Considering who he was replacing, in Stefon Diggs, and the impact Diggs had on this offense AND the fact that Denzel Mims was drafted 59th overall… and you may start to see why I’m frustrated here.
“Denzel Mims is a strong Day 2 candidate for a team looking to develop a starter at the X or Z receiver position. Mims has a catch radius the size of Mars, with unfathomable leaping ability, tremendous concentration and body control in the air, and the hand strength to snag and secure balls at the very extent of his considerable frame. While he doesn’t have amazing vertical push in his routes, it is more than sufficient to threaten man coverage and regularly open up back-shoulder windows outside of the numbers. Mims’ impressive athletic profile also lends itself to flashes as a route-runner and in releases against press coverage, though a continued increase in upper body strength as well as route discipline will iron out the existing kinks. Mims is a candidate to contribute in Year 1 and start in Year 2 as his route tree expands and flourishes.”
I could be wrong (and if you think I am, follow me on my new NFL Twitter account, @vtPTSD), I really hope I am. But my hope then was that the Vikings had learned from their mistakes with the (initial) 12 picks that they had going into the draft after Zimmer’s sidekick George Edwards fell on the post-49er sword.
That was pretty large message from the owners that the status quo wasn’t good enough, they had the most Zimmer/Spielman draft ever, and my hope for the future went wide left like a 27-yard field goal.
Another SEC receiver that many called a “pro ready” reach, another first round corner, and the line is yet again worse off than it was the season before despite it being a gigantic liability the season before.
But in the mean time I’ll be inundated by comments on social media I’ll ignore. Then when the team goes sub-.500 and Cousins is running for his life week after week, I’ll be sitting here saying I told you so because as I said in my Riley Reiff piece, we need to stop acting as if the same exact behavior will produce different results at some point.