Don’t Go Too Far With The Dede Westbrook Hype
Vikings fans, by and large, were clamoring for WR3 help throughout the offseason. I’ve been among the minority who thinks it’s not that important, but I do get the rationale. Many of the league’s top offenses prioritize 11 personnel, so perhaps Minnesota ought to get three receivers on the field more. Being able to do so effectively requires a competent WR3. Alas, most Vikings fans have gotten their wish in Dede Westbrook, a player who has been getting his fair share of training camp hype.
Before I offer my reasoning for why fans ought to slow down the hype train, I’ll pass along a Dede Westbrook refresher.
Westbrook is 6’0, 178 and still only 27-years-old. He was chosen 110th in 2017. Statistically, his best seasons came in 2018 and 2019 when he had a combined 132 receptions, 1377 receiving yards, and 8 TDs. This averages out to 66 catches, 688.5 receiving yards, and 4 TDs over his best two-year stretch. Not bad at all for a team’s WR3, especially since he can contribute as a returner.
In 2018, Dede Westbrook averaged 14 yards per punt return.
Last year, K.J. Osborn averaged 3.9 yards per return.
— The Vikings Gazette (@VikingsGazette) July 24, 2021
With all that said, why am I offering this caution for the Dede Westbrook hype? Glad you asked.
First, we all need to remember that training camp is the time for misguided enthusiasm. Silly season always precedes the regular season.
The greatest asset the NFL has is fan hope. Every team wants to sell their fan base the hope that this year will be different. Part of how teams accomplish this goal is to hype up players, convincing us that these are the individuals who will finally help to get us over the hump.
Second, let’s not forget that he’s coming off a major injury and facing considerable competition. Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s blazing speed may be exactly what we need at WR3. K.J. Osborn has made at least a couple eye-catching plays so far (I know, I know, training camp hype and such; on occasion, the hype ends up being accurate). Moreover, Chad Beebe has shown that he can contribute to the Vikings’ offense, albeit in a modest manner. Westbrook, in other words, will need to show that he’s not only fully back from his ACL tear, but that he’s an upgrade to the players Minnesota already has.
Third – and most significant to my small football mind – is that Minnesota’s free agent receiver gambles rarely pay off. Last year, it was Tajae Sharpe. Before Sharpe it was Jordan Taylor. Before Taylor it was Michael Floyd. There are others. We might even include Mike Wallace, Greg Jennings, and Jerome Simpson in the list of receivers Minnesota has signed in free agency who really haven’t worked out. What we most often get from these signings is someone who is cut, a non-factor, or an underwhelming option.
Minnesota does well finding receiver talent in the draft (see Jefferson, Justin) and in undrafted free agency (see Thielen, Adam). There’s the occasional Laquon Treadwell, but there’s the aforementioned dynamic duo alongside Jarius Wright, Stefon Diggs, Johnson, and Beebe. Some are elite and some are contributors. All of them demonstrate that Minnesota does a nice job of identifying and developing young receiver talent, a reality that isn’t nearly as apparent when it comes to free agent signings.
Moreover, do we really want Westbrook taking away targets from a player like Irv Smith Jr?
The only thing limiting Smith Jr. is lack of opportunity.
I'm hoping that changes in 2021. https://t.co/lYTyXT5Tsy
— The Vikings Gazette (@VikingsGazette) July 29, 2021
The Dede Westbrook hype is understandable. Perhaps he ends up being a great addition to the offense. 11 personnel isn’t our primary offensive package, but it’s still one that gets used. Who knows, maybe Westbrook will make a difference here. All I’m saying is that fans shouldn’t take leave of their senses and assume that we’re suddenly going to morph into the Rams.
With that small caution, go back to enjoying the offseason hope.
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