Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from www.purplePTSD writer and editor of purplePTSD and VikingsTerritory, Joe Oberle.
When a team spends $84 million dollars on a quarterback, they should want to protect that investment with a great offensive line. That is Thing 1 to do for the Vikings after signing Kirk Cousins (but the line is another story for another time since it is in such a state of flux currently). Thing 2 to do for the expensive QB is to have someone decent for him to throw the ball to, and the Vikings have a pretty tough battle going on in training camp to see who that is going to be.
For the starting wide receivers, there isn’t much of battle going on. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are the incumbents and that isn’t about to change (save for an injury—knocks on wood) The Vikings wide receiver core was recently rated the number one pass-catching unit in the league by Pro Football Focus. Here is what they said:
“The Vikings 1-2 punch is simply unrivaled across the NFL at the moment. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs are both top notch route runners with exceptional ball skills. Both finished among the top 10 in contested catch rate a season ago with Diggs actually leading the league. Now throw Kendall Wright in the slot – the Bears most productive receiver a season ago – and you have a complete receiving corp.”
So, it would take a player such as Antoino Brown or Julio Jones coming here in a trade (and head coach Mike Zimmer recently addressed trading rumors) to unseat either one of those two players, and I wouldn’t be happy with either. Perhaps one of the best things about this starting unit—aside from their speed, route-running, catching radius, work ethic and desire to improve—is the fact that they are friends and competitors and constantly push each other to the next level. They might just be better together (for a number of reasons) then they are apart—and changes to that mix might upset the apple cart.
“It’s crazy, I think it goes from not only when we’re here in the building, I think it starts in the offseason and how we work off the field,” Thielen said when asked if he and Diggs push each other. “I see him doing stuff on Instagram and things like that. It makes me think, man I better get my butt out there and be doing the same things. When we’re in the building in meeting rooms, we hold each other accountable. Diggs is the first one to tell me I ran a terrible route. That’s how you want it to be. That’s exactly how you want it to be. You want a guy that’s going to push you and, like I said, hold you accountable.”
Some folks conjectured that Diggs’ recent signing of a big-monied new contract might have that affect (since Thielen signed previously for far less money), but it doesn’t sound like when you talk to the parties involved. Thielen says that is what he has an agent for, and Diggs likes what the dynamic duo has going for them.
“He’s stuck with me,” Diggs said of Thielen. “As far as what we build here, working in tandem is going to happen for a little while longer. I’m excited, I’m looking forward to working with him. Camp has been a heck of a time as far as spending time with the guys and building something. We’re all working towards a goal and it takes day-by-day—we take it day-by-day and try not to get ahead of ourselves. Everybody wants to be perfect on this team.”
So, those two guys are lock-solid as starters—and Cousins is pretty happy about it. But after that it gets interesting, as Laquon Treadwell and Kendall Wright are battling for the third receiver spot, and an even larger group of pass catchers duke it out for a roster spot. Those players include Jeff Badet, Chad Beebe, Korey Robertson, Jake Wieneke, Tavarres King, Stacey Coley, Brandon Zylstra and Caleb Jones. A couple them are young returning vets (Jones and Coley); a couple are talented Minnesota products (Wieneke and Zylstra) and a couple of them recently got injured (Beebe and King).
Treadwell started out the offseason facing a pivotal year. His underwhelming production to after two seasons has left many wondering if the former first-rounder will stick and be offered a contract extension after his final year in 2019.
“You have all these goals, and when you fall short, you kind of stress yourself out,” Treadwell told Vikings.com. “Sometimes it takes time. Now, I feel like I’m coming into my role. I just want to relax and have fun. That’s the biggest thing for me.”
Something has been happening thus far this season for Treadwell; he’s had a great OTA, minicamp and, so far, training camp. He has created some decent chemistry with Cousins, has found a way to get open more often and is making all the catches. Last week, he beat Trae Waynes down the right sideline to the surprise of many observers (although Waynes looked to the ref for a flag after the play).
“I’m really proud of [Treadwell],” offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “He has worked his butt off to really improve. I think from what I’ve heard, he has matured. You see a young man having some success and not letting that success go to his head.”
Meanwhile, Wright has been trying to make his case for the slot receiver position, but has to build his chemistry with Cousins with fewer opportunities on the first team. He comes in as a veteran after a successful season in Chicago in 2017, but has his work cut out in 2018. He led the Bears in receiving, but has to impress from the second group. As a veteran, he spends time teaching some of the younger players, but he is also watching Diggs and Thielen to see what he can pick up. He understands that there is a line to walk.
“It’s kind of the best of both worlds,” Wright said. “I can give anybody in [the room] advice, or I can just soak it in and learn from them. “I’m not selfish, I want everybody to be better and to be successful—that’s part of the game. I would love for everybody to be better, get better every day and work on their craft.”
Even if they’re after your job?
“I’m after people’s jobs, too,” Wright said. “That’s just the nature of it. Everybody has to compete.”
This battle will go down to the wire. There is room for both on the squad, but as a seven-year vet, Wright knows that time is on the side of the younger players. Someone such as 25-year-old Brandon Zylstra, who led the CFL in receiving yards in 2017 with 1,687 yards on 100 receptions. Zylstra has impressed in camp with his size and catching radius and is a definite threat to those above him on the depth chart. With players such as Jones missing the first-four games of the season due to a suspension, the opportunity is there for one of these new receivers to stick on the squad.
King and Beebe have hurt their chances with the early camp injuries. With a crowded receiver room that boasts plenty of talent, any missed time can quickly morph into a missed opportunity for a spot or the roster or at least the practice squad.
So, the battle rages onward. Every camp rep is an opportunity and every target is a must reception. Stay tuned to see what the Vikings do with this talented position group—which is a good problem to have and not something that could be said about Vikings wide receiver just a few short years ago.