Minnesota’s Pass-Catching Plans: Who is the Third Option?
Between the extension of Adam Thielen and the signing of Jordan Taylor, the Vikings have been somewhat active in amassing talent at the receiver position. The team may certainly add to its pass-catching corps with any of their eight picks in the NFL Draft later this month as well. With seven players now on the active roster, the Vikings have some decisions to make between now – through the draft, offseason training and the preseason – and the season opener.
What we Know
The Wide Receiver depth chart is solid at the top, with superstar receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen as surefire starters. These two will play all sixteen games assuming that there are no injuries to either. They should also be on the field as much as possible. In nearly all formations with two or more receivers, Diggs and Thielen will be playing. The few exceptions will be in goal-to-go situations which require more lineman, for example. But, given that five lineman and one quarterback will be on the field with the team’s two star receivers, three more players will have to be given starter status. On most snaps, there will also be a running back on the field, along with one tight end.
Here are the options for the last starting spot:
Find a Third Wide Receiver on the Roster
Aldrick Robinson was the closest thing the Vikings had to a third option in 2018, totaling 231 yards and five touchdowns over 14 games. With Robinson now off the roster, the Vikings will have to find another option. Laquon Treadwell looks like the presumed frontrunner for the spot, but has been disappointing since being drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Chad Beebe may also emerge as a potential option, with insiders like ESPN’s Mike Clay projecting that Beebe will out-produce Treadwell in 2019. The Vikings also have Brandon Zylstra, Jeff Badet, and now Jordan Taylor on the roster. All three are young receivers, and could potentially break-out of backup status during offseason practices. If this is Spielman’s plan, it is wise to amass as many low-cost guys as possible who could develop as an unseen talent.
Draft a Quality Rookie Wide Receiver
While the Vikings certainly have other needs at the top of their draft board, they could still grab a quality receiver to immediately fill the third wide receiver role. Andy Isabella, who proved his athleticism at the NFL Combine, could be available in the middle rounds of the draft. Other options include Deebo Samuel, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, and Miles Boykin – all of whom can be drafted in the second or third rounds of the Draft and have the talent to become a week one starter.
This option would take more of an investment than simply trusting an already rostered player to ascend, but it also comes with a higher payoff. If the selected player pans out, they could be a weapon in the Vikings offense for years to come.
Utilize more Two Tight End Formations
The Minnesota Vikings may also elect to simply forgo the third wide receiver option, playing with two tight ends on the field on a majority of their snaps. Such a base formation would be unusual, but not unprecedented. Most famously, the New England Patriots were able to utilize a two-tight end offense with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez from 2010 to 2012. In fact, once Kevin Stefanski took over as offensive coordinator last year, he began to use more two tight end formations with Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan.
Tyler Conklin also saw the field with a career high 53 yards against the Miami Dolphins. But, it seems unlikely that the Vikings will fully commit to this style of offense without an injection of talent into the position. This year, two dynamic Tight Ends – Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson – would be ideal to pair with Kyle Rudolph.
The Final Question
Of all the options listed here, switching to a two-tight end offense with Fant or Hockenson playing with Rudolph, Diggs, Thielen, and Dalvin Cook would give quarterback Kirk Cousins a plethora of options to throw to. It would certainly have the highest upside of any option the Vikings could pursue, but it would also come at a higher cost. Drafting Fant or Hockenson will surely cost the Vikings their first round selection if either drops to pick 18. At that point, the Vikings will be less able to fill up other team needs, most notably on the offensive line.
Will the Vikings play it safe, hoping someone will emerge from the depth chart? Will they invest more into the position once other needs are filled? Or, will the team swing for the fences with the high-risk high-reward draft selection of Noah Fant or T.J. Hockenson? Fans will have to wait to find out.