Coming into this season, there was a lot of talk about who would be the Vikings wide receiver three. I myself wrote some articles about it and how excited I was to see who would step up and play that role. However, with Adam Thielen’s nagging hamstring injury, which could keep him limited the rest of this season, we now must investigate the state of the wide receiver room as a whole. We can also explore the Vikings future at the position.
Hopefuls Who Never Made Their Mark
To start things off, let’s look at some of the players who have been rostered by the Vikings so far this season, or at least preseason, but will not be playing in purple the rest of the season.
Jordan Taylor was the hottest topic in OTAs and was receiving tons of praise from multiple sources. Reports were that he was taking all of the reps at WR3, and was essentially a lock for the roster. However, Taylor’s practice reps never materialized in-game and he was cut before the season began. This is my “I told you so” moment because I wrote a piece about how hard it would be for Taylor to make the roster.
One player that I was wrong on was Brandon Zylstra. I wasn’t high on Zylstra before preseason, but all the talk about him got me excited. Watching his film, he doesn’t have the quickness or speed, but he runs pretty clean routes and he was making tons of catches, against third string cornerbacks. Plus, he’s a Minnesota boy who kept finding his way onto teams and playing above what he looks like on film. I thought for sure he would make the team. Then again, I also thought the team would carry more than four receivers at a time.
What is there to say about Josh Doctson? Not much. He played seven snaps in purple and was just waived to make room for another linebacker. There’s a possibility that they keep Docston close enough that they can reach out to him, but it’s unlikely that he’ll see the field for Minnesota again.
The biggest blow on this particular category of player is Chad Beebe. We always wanted to see more from Beebe, and it looked like we might just get that this season. He played in the first three games of the season and had a couple catches and seven punt returns. Unfortunately, he also had three fumbles in those nine total opportunities. That means he fumbled the ball 33% of the time he had an opportunity. Now Beebe is on injured reserve and not coming back this year. He might be fully done in purple as this is the second year that he hasn’t been able to stay healthy.
The Four Who Remain
The Minnesota Vikings are currently only carrying four receivers on their roster. That’s pretty uncharacteristic in the NFL, but they also have been using Irv Smith Jr. more as a receiver. With how well Dalvin Cook runs the screen game, he is also a receiving threat, as long as you don’t expect to complete a swing pass to him.
Of the four receivers left, Stefon Diggs is having by far the most productive season. With 880 yards, and five touchdowns, Diggs has shown why he deserves a big contract and why he is the Vikings future at the receiver position. Diggs has been taking the top of defenses and helping Kirk Cousins turn around his season since that small hiccup where Diggs might have been angling for a trade. Since that little speed bump, Diggs has gone over 100 yards four times. With the imminent return of Adam Thielen, Diggs may be able to find even more space as teams try to pick their poison.
Speaking of Adam Thielen, the former Minnesota State Maverick has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since his insane first quarter catch in Detroit. Thielen did try to play against Kansas City, but re-aggravated his hamstring pretty quick and sat out against both Dallas and Denver. Despite his absence, Theilen still has 391 yards and six touchdowns and the Vikings have had victories in four out of the five games he’s either missed or played very little. Thielen’s potential return comes at a pivotal time for the Vikings as they are now tied for the division lead with Green Bay and need to win as many games as possible to try to get home field advantage in the playoffs. Hamstrings are tricky injuries and he may not be fully healthy for the rest of the season.
Olabisi Johnson may just be the best surprise of the Vikings season so far. The former seventh round pick out of Colorado State outplayed some stiff competition to make the roster. Johnson was helped into the WR3 role after Chad Beebe’s injury and elevated to the second wide receiver on the depth chart with Adam Thielen’s injury. Johnson has made the most of his opportunity so far and has 225 yards receiving and a couple touchdowns this season. He’ll slide back down the depth chart with the return of Adam Thielen, but he’s proven that he’s a viable option with soft hands.
Laquon Treadwell needed only to be cut and resigned for fans to give him the benefit of the doubt. The former first round pick found himself on the outside looking in to start the year, but he too benefitted from Chad Beebe’s injury and was brought back in due to his familiarity with the team. Treadwell still won’t set the world on fire, and he’ll never live up to his pick status, but now fans are excited to see him on the field and making the occasional catch. He’s the same guy he always was, but the expectations have gone way down and now he can just be himself. A good blocking receiver who should only see targets as a last resort.
The Future of The Receivers
The most important time for the Minnesota Vikings is right now, but if we take a peak into the future, we can see that the future is pretty bright for at least the receivers currently with the team on either the active roster or practice squad.
First, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are still one of the best tandems in the NFL. Many people will be down on Thielen after this season due to his injury and his age. He’ll be 30 next season, not exactly young by NFL receiver standards, but his game isn’t predicated and speed. He should retain his quickness for a couple more years, and outside of that he has a crazy big catch radius and some of the best routes we’ve ever seen. Stefon Diggs can continue to take some pressure off of Thielen if he continues to be a deep threat like he has been this season. Diggs is one of the best deep ball receivers, and he can prolong Thielen’s usefulness by giving Thielen the underneath routes and redzone.
After Diggs and Thielen it becomes a bit foggier. Treadwell, despite how much I love him, is a spot filler and would be gone if Chad Beebe were healthy. Olabisi Johnson looks like the real deal, but he may never be more than a WR3 and third down specialist. There is absolutely room for that in the NFL, but you can’t build a unit around it.
The team is carrying three receivers on their practice squad, but that is probably just a backup plan in case they have multiple injuries to the active roster players. It could be a good idea for the Vikings to target a big name receiver in the draft to fill out the receiving corps. Maybe Rick Speilman can talk to P.J. Fleck about how Tyler Johnson would fit into the Vikings system