2014 Minnesota Vikings: Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen Make Their Case

Throughout training camp, the wide receiver battle seemed to have settled early. The first four receivers, in some order, were going to be Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson. To that, Adam Thielen nearly solidified himself, as concretely as one can early in camp, as the fifth receiver, with a bevy of players behind him. With Rodney Smith’s performance in camp as of late, he may be able to make the case as the sixth receiver—or even unseat Thielen’s hold on the fifth spot.

Rodney Smith Touchdown

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They say you can’t teach size. That’s true, but there are of course a number of players who were on nearly every team’s practice squad with height and length—even more cut from teams without even the shot the practice squad can provide. Rodney and Adam were both on the practice squad last year, but it seems like Rodney’s height saw him get called up above Adam.

Outside of the combine, Rodney Smith had a lot of questions to answer about his on-field play. Though evaluated by Matt Waldman in thorough fashion, Rodney didn’t make Waldman’s top 45 receivers coming out of the 2013 draft. He argued that Rodney didn’t play with power that befits his size, had poor vision as a YAC threat and was one of the worst blocking receivers in the draft. Beyond that, he highlighted Smiths’ tendency to drop passes after contact and placed Smith as one of the poorest route-runners in the draft.

Adam Thielen, of course, wasn’t even evaluated by him or nearly any draft service.

Both have made enormous strides over the past two years, and both have surprised people with their play, especially as of late. Though Thielen has been making waves in camp and has caught a number of passes from Teddy Bridgewater, the prospect of Rodney’s size in the red zone has fans salivating. The fact that there’s excitement about the fifth receiver on the roster implies a lot about the strength of the receiving corps that simply didn’t exist two or three years ago.

If it were a box score battle, it would be a tough decision. Both had four receptions and they were one yard apart—Adam with 54 and Rodney with 55. The touchdown sweetens the pot for Rodney, but neither was he perfect.

On plays not targeted, Adam was consistently more open more often. Beyond that, he showed better hands technique and approached the ball better. His consistent play throughout camp has been good, and though his mistakes have been highlighted, Rodney’s mistakes in camp have largely been kept quiet.

More often than Adam falling in route to allow an interception (twice) has been Rodney misaligning and drawing the ire of the coaches. Rodney started out the first week of camp in rough shape because of this, and only recently improved his game. That doesn’t mean he ended camp on a perfect note, either. He’s had his mistakes then as well, and his route-running hasn’t improved as much as Thielen’s have, despite the fact that they both entered the 2013 camp as raw prospects overall. There’s little question that camp performances point to Thielen’s inclusion on the roster, but every part of the evaluation process counts.

Thielen should be the clear fifth receiver, but Rodney’s assets and performance should give him ammunition to argue that a sixth receiver spot be made, and specifically for him.

There are a lot of things that have to happen first, but the unlikely Florida State prospect may end up doing more the Vikings than he ever did for the Seminoles.

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    1. Why is this such a popular idea? Simpson is clearly a better receiver. There isn’t a question about this from the staff, either.

      1. Simpson is a speed/jump guy who physical presence to hold space. He is the tip ball interception guy on slants and weak in red zone. His softness does generate interference calls as any bump redirects his body and path. Pro-occasional big plays & Con tip ball ints and drops. Character issues and arrests? Guy doesn’t stink, but there is a reason nobody wanted him and he is playing another show me year for small money and may be suspended again. Wright is better. Thielen, Smith or Simpson even. Individual choice shows what the selector values. Consistency, toughness reliability for me.

      2. I think it’s popularized by some who believe we’ll keep 6 during Simpson’s suspension.

  1. Because Simpson has been a very inconsistent receiver. He will make a spectacular catch then drop several easy ones.

  2. Let’s get something straight here fellas, Simpson is easily the 3rd best WR on the roster. Wright I love and is improving year to year but he’s not at this time better than Jerome. Jerome has as much speed, higher-wider catch radius, better body positioning and just as good of hands. Not as much lateral cutting speed as Wright but again I love Wright and his place on the 53 is set. To even think Smith or Thielen will unseat Jerome on the roster is nonsense. Jerome not playing special teams is a complete non factor, he’s a pure long lean WR who’s proved his value playing offense only unlike Smith or Thielen. Yes Jerome’s off the field history is irritating and he’s possibly facing a short suspension but no way no how does he not make the 53.

  3. Both Thielen and Smith are great up-and-comers – The team is rebuilding with youth and these 2 fit the team’s plans for the future beautifully – that said, Turner will get the most out of Simpson and he will be a solid contributor. I think the ideal situation would be to keep all 3 and to look elsewhere for a cut, perhaps OL as we seem to be pretty solid for depth there.

  4. Simpson can’t stay out of legal trouble and imo we should let him go. But obviously he will stay. Hope he stays out of trouble with the law.

  5. How does this affect Kain Colter? Does he have an ST shot at making the roster? He’s the key to my plan for the Vikings to cut Ponder, but not if he’s not showing he deserves to be a prospect.

  6. Is Blair Walsh going to be ok? Missing extra points..He seems half as good as he was.

  7. I really hope we don’t keep Thielen over Smith just because he’s a better backup punt returner. Why does everyone love him so much? Is it just because he’s from MN?

    How much did Mr. and Mrs. Thielen pay you to write this one?

    1. Better hands, better blocker, better football iIQ, better returner, better on special teams, better route runner. Sure Smith is better in the red zone due to his size but I’d easily choose Thelein over Smith for now.

  8. Simpson is an important player for this offense, he stretches the field better than any other receiver including Patterson. He’s also pretty cheap. Looking for more from wright, maybe camp he’s shown his stuff, he’s been playing with backups in the games. I want Smith to continue to develop, but I don’t see starting caliber until he embraces the little things. He still seems to think jump balls will do it. I’d rather run Adrian up the middle. Theilen is closer because you can see he is getting very precise. Precision makes for quarterback pets. I can always throw to where he’s going. The thing not discussed in any posts anywhere has been lining up Rbs at the Z and using them for quick pops, screens and stretching the secondary. When I saw McKinnon make a downfield block I knew nobody could turn a wheel route that deep off the snap.. Then Williams looked really good catching the ball out there later. I think the RB2-4 spot is tougher to judge than the WR5 and 6.

  9. I agree 100%, Banyard is multi demential, catches, runs and blocks well and he’s the 4 best RB. I think it will be AP, McKinnon and Asiata only though. Thielen makes the 53 as the 5th WR, that’s it. Defense is going to carry the majority of the extra position players.

  10. Both these guys have long term potential…..and are very cheap for several years. Simpson is certainly more seasoned and ready for this year. I’d like them to keep 6, give Thielen and Smith some good exposure….and get them ready for next year.

  11. I think they might end up with a surprise RB. If not, midseason we could see a call up or pickup. Norv uses personnel in these alternative ways to get a matchup advantage in coverage. If he has an RB out there, or a two back set and sends the scat out he ends up with an LB covering someone too fast. I don’t know if Jerrick is going to immediately contribute more than a guy who is a real threat between/off tackle out of the backfield. Asiata isn’t the matchup threat spread out, so you end up with a need.. As we have known for some time, for an alternate back who can do the things Adrian is miscast doing. Adrian is a terror, he’s the definition of downhill. But if we lighten his load and extend his career even a year I’ll be thankful. More importantly it diversifies our offense so that preparing is a headache.

      1. Do you see him being successful enough as a runner to warrant leaving your base D on the field? Because I don’t.

        1. I agree CM1,think RB is where the bigger arguments will be approaching cut down day.You could make a case for a number of different RBs to have a spot,and having Adrian & either McKinnon,Williams or Banyard would really open up the offence.I’m not a fan of Asiata,but if they cut him and Adrian goes down then you are left without a big bruiser.Having said that McKinnon has looked better running between the tackles than trying to get outside from what I have seen.
          The good news with all this debate is that for once we can actually have a debate, because there is reasonable depth on the roster,unlike the past few years.

          1. I don’t hate Williams or Banyard, but I think you have to be realistic, right now there are about 5 guys headed for our 53 man that probably should be reserves. Some are vets, some are 1st and 2nd year guys. We won’t be able to upgrade all of those guys but .. While McKinnon is getting a good look, there are going to be cuts out there that we might be able to find a place for. McKinnon clears wavers and lands on the practice squad. Watch for tight end, corner, and running back. I don’t know if anyone will get cut elsewhere at safety that will be able to compete for Zimmer. Beyond that, it’s not unheard of to trade for a player that is burried on a depth chart. If you didn’t notice, Zimmer is not interested in losing pre-season games. He is not waiting around for a rookie who is “part of the future”. Fans tend to get attached to what they feel are their players. I see all the thumbs down on the Theilen comments and shake my head. Get over it. You should want him to make it because he proves it, not because he went to Mankato. Marcus Sherels never got handed anything, he just stayed fairly healthy and stuck long enough for the game to slow down. If he gets cut people aren’t going to cry and neither will he. He’ll go looking for a job and keep trying to get better.

  12. Keep Thielen and Smith… Cut Wright…Talk of Wright’s upside has come and gone. He lacks the versatility of playing on the outside and slot… and can’t be used on special teams to the extent that both Smith and Thielen can. I suggest keeping Colter or Jordan on practice squad if they make it through. Williams and Banyard have no chance to make roster and should not even be in the conversation. You have 3 rb’s who are set in stone with AP,Asiata,and Mckinnon. 1 or 2 fullbacks (hopefully 2) with Felton and Line. Don’t be shocked if Felton is cut… not much difference in talent, huge difference in salary. Zimmer has already said publicly that he plans on carrying lots of extra defensive backs.

    1. I don’t see them carrying 2 FBs,and I’m not convinced that Asiata has his spot “set in stone”

  13. Smith will end up on the Practice squad. Theilen has more to offer on special teams and I believe he is the better receiver. If they do get rid of Simpson it will be to send a message but it will not have anything whatsoever to do with Smith being a better receiver than he.. that is not even close..Three years down the road, maybe, but not this year.