With the news that trusty and vastly underrated and overlooked Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright was moving on to the Carolina Panthers after six seasons in purple and gold, the question of just who is going to be catching passes for the Minnesota Vikings and their new $84 million dollar man has suddenly rocketed up the list of off-season questions and also my list of reasons for this soul-crushing anxiety. That question has now surpassed questions like what sort of offense new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo will run, what nickname we should give DeFilippo as COACH FLIP IS TAKEN PEOPLE and most importantly, what the results of Victor the Vikings MRI were (Spoiler Alert: Early reports are that he’ll never be able to terrify a child again). If you’ve followed VikingsTerritory.com’s sister site, purplePTSD.com (or at least my pieces, or listened to me on WCCO Radio last Sunday) at all you’ll know that my main jam is the wide receiver position as a child of the Randy Moss/Cris Carter and to a lesser extent Jake Reed era(s) and so I thought I’d stop by to chat a bit about the current state of the Vikings receiver corps(e) and to mostly remind everyone that I wrote an article titled “Forget Treadwell, the Receiver I want the Vikings to Draft is…” while also refusing to admit which receiver that actually was (Hint: It rhymes with FloJo and he comes from the land of chocolate). All jokes aside, I was very heavily pro Michael Thomas (and I did want Boehringer, with a late round or UFA pick) back then, and considering that the Vikes could’ve snagged Thomas with a second-round pick, could’ve meant even better things than I originally predicted.
On Kirk Cousins:
Now, despite what the Cousins nay-sayers are saying (and naying), Kirk Cousins can actually propel the football through the air with his arm. Beyond that, he’s also one of the better quarterbacks in the league in terms of doing that in the direction of a multitude of receivers. According to Courtney Cronin of ESPN:
Cousins is one of four quarterbacks to throw to at least five touchdowns to eight different receivers since 2015
Add DeFilippo’s typical offense to the mix, one in which (also according to Cronin/ESPN):
The top three-pass catching threats in Philadelphia had similar outputs, in tight end Zach Ertz (72 catches, 824 yards, 8 TDs), wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (57 catches, 789 yards, 9 TDs) and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (62 catches, 768 yards, 8 TDs).
On Laquon Treadwell:
That means that someone has to step up at the wide receiver position (beyond the obvious), or the Vikings need to acquire or draft that someone (or perhaps look at some of the guys they drafted that are no longer on the team or at least it’s 55-man roster from last season). The idea of Kirk Cousins throwing the ball to Michael Floyd still makes me interested (as his suspension last season seemed to really ruin his chances of getting into any sort of rhythm with this offense), and considering he was outplaying damn near everyone in training camp, you’d think that if he had a full off-season and pre-season to gel with Cousins, Thielen and Diggs, that that trio would give the rest of the NFL all sorts of fits (just like this sentence is giving our editor Joe Oberle or managing editor Sean Borman the same). However, at this point, it’s not looking like Floyd’ll be back which means that the Vikings will be looking at 2016 first-round pick Laquon Treadwell to hopefully emerge as their third receiver after two underwhelming seasons. Now, like I mentioned, I was always against the Treadwell pick as I felt like he was basically a one-trick pony whose one-trick wouldn’t work in the NFL (and who didn’t have the other intangibles that’d help him evolve and become a complete reciever (in terms of not only his speed (he’s really slow), but also in terms of his strength (based on his weight lifting results at the combine) and his vertical jump (also from the combine, which was surprising as his “one trick” was that he was really good at coming down with jump/contested balls)) and another ) for good measure.
Just take a look at his workout results from the combine (with the numbers representing what percentage was worse than him at that particular drill, in his position, that draft):
Now, keep in mind that Treadwell was drafted before now-former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was injured and also that Treadwell actually would’ve fit in nicely with the type of offense that the Vikings/Norv Turner ran with Teddy as essentially every pass play was a 15-yard button hook (My main concern at the time was how receivers would’ve fit into Norv’s air coryellian style). I understand that it sounds like I contradicted myself as I said that Norv ran an Air Coryellian style, which requires a lot of down the field passes but that also the Vikings only ran 15-yard hooks. That was because while Norv wanted to run those plays (and often did, unsuccessfuly, with Mike Wallace (Which is a story for another rant)) but didn’t have the personnel to make that happen so they/he decided to run an ultra conservative offense with the hopes that they’d land a deep threat receiver that Teddy could connect with in that draft. Either way, with a guy like Treadwell who was relatively quick (as in fastest from 0 to 10 yards) and who could more often than not come down with those balls (in theory, not in practice), it made sense to draft him in the early 20’s during a draft in which the Vikings yet again ignored the offensive line position group as a whole in the early rounds, something they’d done since 2012 and up until the 2017 draft after it became apparent that you need offensive lineman to win in the NFL. Treadwell was a panic move, though, as the team wanted Josh Doctson for the above mentioned role but after the run on receivers before the Vikings pick, with Will Fuller and Doctson going right before the Vikings picked at 23, Spielman took the most “pro-ready” receiver on the board.
Maybe it would’ve worked out but after Teddy went down and the Vikings traded a first round pick for Sam Bradford and especially after Norv Turner eventually gave up and Pat Shurmur took over (and Thielen developed into a beast), the Vikings went from a run, run, pass offense to one that attempted more actual plays that required receivers to run more than eight routes (something that Treadwell did at Ole Miss), especially before the Bye Week (Which was still running the Air Coryell style that Norv apparently can’t stop forcing down teams’ throats with some success thanks to Thielen and Bradford the type of “real” quarterback that Mike Wallace mentioned on his way out) and during this past season that only got worse, in terms of what Treadwell could offer, at least.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer discussed Treadwell and continued his style of being brutally honest about players to the media, something that he said he was working on after the whole Rhett Ellison(‘s dad) incident after the 2016 season and also something that was apparent last season in how he talked about Case Keenum (Who couldn’t wait to get out of here and down to Denver, it seems). During a presser at the Combine in Indiana last week Zimmer said that Treadwell essentially “needed to get out of his own way” and that means that Treadwell, at least as far as Zimmer sees it, is stuck in his own head and is being hyper negative about his role and his play. Not in terms of being angry with the coaches for playtime, but rather in terms of blaming himself for his situation to the point that the coaches think it’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of all that, the problem still remains that you can’t teach speed and while Treadwell had to learn a lot of things when he came here (like more expansive route trees and what a weight room looked like (seriously, I’m sweating while writing this and could lift nearly as many reps on the bench as he did at the combine)), again, there are certain things that you just can’t teach and when a guy is as slow as Treadwell is, it’s going to be hard for him to find a way to contribute to this offense especially when he is still struggling to do what you’d think he’d be good at (and not taking advantage of the limited opportunities he’s had).
On What Pryor Means, as a Concept (and Decker, Too!):
So, where does that leave the Vikings? Well, luckily for them they hit paydirt on a 5th-rounder in Stefon Diggs and an undrafted free agent in Adam Thielen, who worked his way through the ranks to become one of the better receivers in the league. There were rumors that the Vikings may target Terrelle Pryor, a receiver that the Vikings offered a multi-year deal to last season for what would look like a king’s ransom compared to what Pryor is going to receive this season in what is going to go down as one of the better examples of how “betting on” oneself can backfire (with that having been said, good luck Sheldon!). However, the team that Pryor ended up going to on a one-year deal was Kirk Cousins’ old squad, the Redskins, and for whatever reason Pryor and Cousins never ended up on the same page which is probably why the Vikings didn’t show him any interest. So, Pryor, who is reportedly going to sign with the Jets, is still worth talking about as a concept because he’s exactly what this Vikings team needs in terms of the type of receiver that he is. He matches what the Vikings need most and while Pryor, for example, would be the third best receiver on this roster, he’d actually be the WR1 in terms of where the receivers’ line up and what role he’d have in the passing game. The Vikings need a third receiver, sure, but they need a big-bodied true deep threat type receiver who’d be able to basically run deep routes allowing Diggs and Thielen to get open either across the middle or on slant routes (same but different) that’d most likely leave them wide open as two of the best route runners in the league and force defenses to decide who to double while attempting to stop their nosebleeds.
That leaves another Big Ten guy and a guy who’d be nearly a carbon copy of Adam Thielen in terms of them both being from Minnesota. However, Decker was easily the best receiver that the Gophers had in my lifetime and because of that he was a high draft pick (at least as compared to Thielen), but both had to fight to earn their spots. Now, I know that you’re thinking that I’m mainly saying that they’re redundant players because they’re both white guys, but I truly do mean that they’re redundant because they’re essentially the same player with Decker being older but with both being 6’3″ and running between a 4.45 and 4.54 in their combines. But really, the reality is that it’s also not a bad thing to have two Thielens. Diggs is similar to Thielen in terms of speed and route running ability, however I believe that Diggs has a better average yards after the catch, something I should verify, (so I did and they both had around 4.5 yards after the catch average in 2017 and it’s between four and five a.m. as I write this piece so I refuse to go back any further as you get my point) but Thielen has become the teams number one by taking advantage of the games that Diggs has missed and by also taking advantage of every opportunity he’s had (as he’s discussed recently in the media) and also just being an absolute beast that catches nearly everything thrown his way (his catch radius is insane). Decker has done the same on a different level, and could bring some deep ball (or at least red-zone, “nose for the endzone”) cache to this offense.
Decker visited with the Oakland Raiders who appear to be the landing place of every free agent alive this off-season, at least in terms of visits, but he left the Bay Area without a signed contract so who knows, perhaps he’ll feel like it’s time to come home to live out his dream… of being a third receiver on his favorite team. Like I said, Decker has been a down the field guy in his career and to be honest… Thielen tends to get wide open down the field fairly often as well, so with Cousins coming in to replace Case Keenum, who often overlooked a wide open Thielen at least once or twice each game, perhaps he’ll be known as the new Jordy Nelson of the NFC North and all of this talk of needing a “true outside” receiver will be for not. The Vikings could also look at the two receivers they drafted last season in Rodney “YouTube Rich” Adams and Stacy “Don’t call me Stace” Coley, with Coley being the more realistic choice as Coley was on the practice squad last year while Rodney Adams was vlogging. Coley also would be the only receiver on the Vikings to have run a sub 4.4 40-yard dash, as he put up a 4.39 during his combine (an improvement from the 4.4 he ran at the Miami prom day). Coley is also a decently sized guy at 6’1″ and also left Miami with the second-most catches in team history, which is saying something. With Marcus Sherels still unsigned the Vikings could look to Coley to both return kicks/punts and to fill in as the de facto third receiver. Adams attempted to find a niche as a kick returner during the pre-season last year but struggled mightily and fumbled during a pre-season game, so that could also be a reason that Coley could be promoted (despite the fact that both seemed to do well as receivers in the pre-season with Keenum and other back ups throwing them the ball).
On the Draft:
Beyond that, obviously the draft is also coming up in about a month and the Vikings could look at add some talent there (while also looking for a pass catching change of pace guy that the Vikings would bring in as a replacement for Jerick McKinnon). You’d have to think that the team would be looking to first and foremost improve the offensive line and so the receiver pick might fall to the later rounds like it did with Coley, Adams, Diggs and sort of Thielen (who wasn’t drafted at all after coming out of Mankato as the best player that school will ever have, ever). Awhile back, I wrote a piece for www.Eduzaurus.com, laying out how many receivers from the SEC that the Vikings have taken since Randy Moss was traded in 2004 and while it was largely ridiculed, the fact remains that Jarius Wright was the best of over ten SEC receivers this team drafted, with at least two coming in the first round of the draft (Percy Harvin, Cordarelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell), and some in the second (Sidney Rice is one).
The only Big Ten guy they’ve taken is Diggs who is the best-drafted receiver this has had since Moss and he’s from the Big Ten in the fact that he played for Maryland, which sounds redundant but needs to be pointed out as they weren’t in the Big Ten until his final season (still counts as the school met the academic standards the Big Ten needs in order to join, hence why Missouri was rejected). The reason I believe that Big Ten players excel really is because the Big Ten actually has and enforces its academics and because of that you’re going to get players that are smarter than those in the SEC and because they have to work towards their academics they can’t simply just get by on their talent alone. That shows that they’re also able and willing to work towards something, unlike players in the SEC who do often get by just on talent (see Treadwell’s weight room related numbers at his combine, which showed that he hadn’t been lifting or working on his vertical (those things can be improved upon, especially by a guy that’s 6’3″) and then get to the NFL only to realize that everyone there is talented and often it’s too late for them to correct their problem(s). While Treadwell has been an incredibly hard worker, it might be too late for him to do anything about the fact that he’s slower, weaker and unable to jump as high as most of the guys who are covering him.
So, which receivers do I like in the draft? I’d say that you should stay tuned as we get closer to the draft but that D.J. Moore and DaeSean Hamilton are two that immediately jump out at me as one is from Diggs’ alma mater and the other had a great combine that surprised a lot of people that thought he’d run Treadwell like numbers in the 40-yard dash but instead ended up running between a 4.47 and a 4.51, which are Diggs/Thielen numbers. D.J. Moore also surprised with his performance at the Combine, clocking in (unofficially) in the lower 4.4 range, something that wasn’t expected by anyone. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m solely going to promote Big Ten receivers, though, as I’m sure there are some decent ACC, Big 12 and Pac-10 receivers out there as well as some decent MAC guys, as well. Just steer clear of the 15th SEC receiver that this team will end up cutting, please, especially anyone from South Carolina. That’s all I ask… Besides that the team draft Billy Price with their first pick!
On the Big Ten:
I wanted to expand on my Big Ten “bias” because it’s something that comes up fairly often on the purpleJOURNAL Podcast and that I don’t really defend beyond implying the above or by saying that this is Big Ten Country. I’m working on a post that’ll break down, analytically, how this theory actually has real-life implications. Draft picks are always a risk as you can analyze all the numbers you want, but at the end of the day, the move to the NFL by someone in their early 20’s is one of the, if not the, most difficult moves in all of professional sports. While conferences like the SEC do have a lot of talent behind their players, and I hate to insult people’s intelligence as I respect the hell out of the players on the field, the point is that the SEC has significantly less stringent standards academically and despite the lazy stereotypes to the contrary (and I understand the irony of me calling the stereotype that NFL players are “stupid” while I’m calling SEC players, stupid, essentially), you have to be relatively intelligent to play any position in football, especially in the NFL (Look at how many blue chip quarterbacks fail in the NFL partially because of the complexity of the offenses as well as the complexity of the defenses). Have you ever seen an NFL playbook? A perfect example of this is SEC product Cordarrelle Patterson, who is physically about as talented as a human man can be, but hasn’t made it as a receiver in the league because he can’t run routes. Literally. As in, he struggles to fluidly run routes while not slowing down to count the yards he’s running to ensure he’s 10 yards out on a 10 yard out. Paul Allen of KFAN mentioned on his show back during the “Flash” days that Patterson would run seven, eight, twelve and fourteen yards on those plays, something that obviously causes issues when quarterbacks throw the ball based on where a player is (or is supposed to) going to be.
Beyond intelligence in terms of how it helps on the field, it also shows that a player is willing to put in time/work for their craft. Regardless of talent, every player that comes into the NFL has to study their ass off and work their ass off to acclimate to the speed, strength and style of the NFL. If a player has only relied on their talent their entire lives, the NFL can be a rude awakening that can lead to the sort of flame outs players like JaMarcus Russell had. I’ll let you guess where he played in college and that’s not to say that the Big Ten doesn’t have busts, it’s just that when you’re looking for any angle in the draft to lower the risk that that player will be a bust, it seems like you’d look at the academic standards as a pretty big positive (as well as the quality of the competition, the pro style offenses and defenses, the size of the players, etc.) . There’s also the pressure aspect, which college players are accustomed to across each conference but when you play in front of over 100,000 people almost every week (like in Michigan), perhaps walking into an NFL stadimum isn’t so daunting.
Now, it might sound laughable that playing at a school like Michigan might mitigate the pressure of playing in the NFL (for a team like the Dolphins), but let’s take the current March Madness tournament as an example. The average asking price for tickets to this year’s NCAA tournament regionals on the secondary market are the second-highest of the decade (according to TicketIQ.com, a secondary marketplace with data from hundreds of secondary sites, including the official NCAA ticket exchange, powered by Primesport) At an average asking price of $432, only last year’s regionals, at $465, were more expensive. The highest asking price on the secondary market for a regional this year is $631 for the Midwest Regional in Omaha. That region, which features Kansas, is the second most expensive regional of the decade behind last year’s Midwest Regional at Kansas City’s Sprint Center. Tickets for that regional on the secondary market settled at $652. Data from the TicketIQ blog shows the average asking price on the secondary market for the Final Four is $804 and the national championship is $627 – the third highest of the decade. Those prices are up more than 10% over the first week of March Madness. All that attention, especially for teams that make the tournament, can help the day to day of a pro career way less daunting. Considering that the “power conferences” get prefernetial treatment when it comes to these tournaments (or Bowl games in football or especially the new four-team playoff), while that extends to all conferences you only have to look at the Rose Bowl (or at least what the Rose Bowl used to be) to see something that can feel as big as the NFL (at least an NFL regular season game, or especially a pre-season game). Kirk Cousins won the Rose Bowl while at Michigan State, which is a huge accomplishment and both shows and contributes to his poise.
So… What Can/Are the Vikings Do(ing)?!?
So, it really does look like the team is going to have to figure something out at the wide receiver position and while the cutting of Wright might signal that they’re confident in Treadwell, or that they’re going to draft someone (D.J. Moore/DaeSean Hamilton), promote someone (Coley) or keep someone (Michael Floyd). Either way, considering that they just invested all this money in Cousins you’d think that they’d want to have a full receiver corps, especially considering that Diggs is really only good for 13 or 14 games a year. So, I do hope that they bring back Michael Floyd, I’d be really happy if they were able to land Pryor or Decker but know that won’t happen. I don’t care if they didn’t have chemistry with Cousins last season or if they’re basically an older yet still redundant version of a player that’s already on the roster, having two Thielens out there would be amazing and you’d think would really terrify opposing defensive coordinators. One great thing about Decker is that he’s really used to being the second option, as he was in Denver and New York to good-to-great success. While that means he’s really never been the outside, down the field guy (at least not in the Randy Moss sense), the idea of DeFilippo working to put together plays for three guys of that caliber would still cause chaos as like I said, Thielen gets wide open down the field at least twice a game and that’s because he (and Diggs) run(s) some of the best routes not only in the league but as Zimmer said about Diggs after his rookie year, perhaps in the history of the NFL.
That means that it’s going to come down to either the draft or re-adding a player like Coley to the active roster. Considering the Vikings’ terrible record drafting receivers, again, since really Randy Moss left (and definitely since the beginning of Rick Spielman’s influence over the draft and then his full control over it), I don’t put a lot of faith into them finding a solution there. Luckily, as Cousins mentioned in his press conference he plans on including the Vikings running backs in the passing game a lot this season, something that should make Vikings fans salivate as they considering what Dalvin Cook could do with the ball in his hands an additional five to seven or eight more times a game. That isn’t enough, though, to compensate for a team that could very well see Thielen and Treadwell on the field together for multiple games at a time should Diggs’ tendency to miss two or three games end up happening again this year. Perhaps the problem with the Vikings in the draft comes from players they’re targeting in the first or second round, instead of the receivers they’ve ended up with who were simply the best player available later in the draft (like Diggs). So, hopefully a 6’3″ or 6’4″ receiver that runs a 4.3 and ups will end up falling to the fourth or fifth rounds. If not, get used to hearing the names Thielen, Treadwell and Coley a lot this year.
Stay tuned to see how this all shakes out! Lord knows I’ll be covering it!