Kubiak plans on 4 starting WRs, lots of 4 receiver sets in 2020
With the Minnesota Vikings finally off of Zoom and practicing *GASP* in person at Twin Cities Orthopedic Center in Eagan, we are finally getting a preliminary glimpse at the new look Vikings. That new look extends to more places than during any other time under the era of head coach Mike Zimmer and general Manager Rick Spielman, both of whom were recently extended beyond the final year of their contracts with the team.
While the duo has become accustomed to change at the offensive coordinator position, as often as a sign of success (Kevin Stefanski/Pat Shurmur) as failure (Norv Turner, John DeFilippo), all eyes have been on new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and his young cadre of wide receivers.
Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson is one of the traditional media members with access to the team this COVID-Camp, and while his article’s headline focused on rookie first-rounder Justin Jefferson starting camp with the second team offense (which, isn’t a huge shock as he is listed as the third receiver on the depth chart behind Adam Thielen and now veteran receiver Olabisi Johnson), there was a tidbit I also found interesting and worth delving into further.
“Jefferson did get some work with the first team Sunday in three-wide receiver sets. Kubiak expects the Vikings to regularly use four receivers and plans to consider “all of them as starters.’’ “
Interesting. If Kubiak is known for one thing, outside of bringing success everywhere he has gone, it’s his propensity to use heavy sets like 12 / 22 personnel. Both of those formations use two tight ends, and I recently wrote about second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. and the potential impact he will have on the Vikings passing game.
However, Kubiak has rarely actually thrown a ton of balls to two tight ends and while that trend wasn’t the case in 2019, with Smith Jr. breaking multiple rookie records for the squad, the idea of Kubiak’s two tight end prowess is a bit overblown (at least the way that people have used it). I wrote about that before the Vikings (rightfully) traded Stefon Diggs:
Which means that it’ll be up to a group of mostly young and unproven receivers to help the Vikings offense continue in 2020 where it left off in 2019. So, who will be the final four “starting” receivers come Week 1 against the Packers?
It’s pretty obvious who the top three will be, as they already are 1-2-3 on the depth chart as Thielen-Johnson-Jefferson (which sounds like an awful folk rock trio from the ‘60’s). That leaves free agent acquisition Tajae Sharpe, perennial pre-season hero Chad Beebe, and rookie KJ Osborn as those battling for the top four spots (if the depth charts floating around the internet are to believed).
Those of you that have read my thoughts on the Jefferson pick may know where I’m going with this one but there is only one receiver of the FIVE (excluding Bisi) that isn’t a slot guy first and foremost. Even Thielen does his best work out of the slot.
Tajae Sharpe may not be a sideline burner, and a ‘meh’ rapper, but he will provide a true outside receiver to play opposite Thielen and maybe I’m just being … Me, but I might be more excited about Sharpe than Johnson even.
Sure, Bisi was the first glimmer of hope behind Diggs and Thielen and Vikings fans rightfully embraced him. However, even though they’re about the same speed (with Bisi getting the edge 4.51 to 4.55), Sharpe has shown some flashes of field stretching ability during his time in the league.
Skip past his “freestyle” to see what I mean:
Outside of that, Beebe could’ve made his mark in 2019 but that was not to be despite the best off-season of any Vikings player. Beebe also was lauded by Thielen as the best route runner he’d ever seen, which was saying something as he played opposite Diggs and also is Adam Thielen. So, I could be wrong. Especially as while Beebe is 5’10” and Sharpe 6’2”, the trio of Thielen/Johnson and Jefferson are all 6’ or above.
I just find Beebe’s talents to be redundant on an offense with Thielen (arguably the leagues best slot receiver), Jefferson, Osborn (who will make the roster as a returner and fifth-round pick) and even Smith Jr. (who ran 30% of his 2019 routes from the slot).
Having the ability with Bisi and Sharpe on the outside and Thielen and Jefferson on the inside should be exactly what Kubiak needs to create and exploit mismatches in 2020.
If Sharpe especially can capitalize on some of the potential he showed as a Titan, then the pick of Jefferson could pay dividends sooner rather than later as he can focus on making an impact from the slot before focusing on or being forced to develop(ing) into a completely rounded NFL wide receiver.
Luckily the Vikings have just the guy in Kubiak to sort this all out, and a month to do it to boot.
What do you think? Who gets the nod as your Week 1 “starting” four? Let us know in the comments!