The Menu for 2022 Vikings WRs
The Minnesota Vikings did not sign a wide receiver in free agency. We will evaluate the position group and try to determine if it’s a position of need and if there is enough talent in the room to have a successful 2022 season.
Rick Spielman found a gem in the 2020 NFL draft. As a result of the Stefon Diggs trade, the former GM used the first-round pick he received in the trade and instantly replaced Diggs with Jefferson, who he selected with the 22nd overall pick. Twenty-one teams passed on him, including the Philadelphia Eagles. They chose Jalen Reagor, just one pick ahead. The former LSU Tiger ended up as the fifth receiver selected in the draft.
‘JJ’ will enter his third NFL season and is as close to a superstar as a player can be. He reached a PFF grade of more than 90 in each of his first two NFL seasons and was second and fourth in the league. His 3016 receiving yards are the most of any player in NFL history in his first two seasons.
The most dangerous thing is that he still has room to grow. He rarely completes contested catches and can improve in the red zone, but his connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins is feared.
Jefferson is under contract for two more seasons, and the Vikings can pick up his fifth-year option. Most likely, new General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah will try to extend his contract and keep the phenom in the organization for a long time.
The Vikings are known for having one of the top wide receiver duos in the NFL. Thielen was part of both combos, first with Stefon Diggs and now with Justin Jefferson as his partner in crime.
Adam Thielen used not to have a single question mark. He was durable, and his production was consistent. But that’s no longer the case.
First, the obvious reason — his age. He is going to turn 32 before the season opener. Most receivers decline in their early 30s. The two-time pro-bowler should have a few years left at a high level because his game is not built around great athletic ability. His strengths are his route-running and catching skills. Father Time is still undefeated, and he will catch the Vikings’ fan favorite at some point in time.
His nagging injuries have been a problem in recent years. Thielen played in every single game in his first five seasons in the NFL, but in the last three seasons, he missed 11 games combined. In 2019 and 2021, he missed time because of a hamstring and ankle injury, came back too early, and reaggravated his injuries. As a consequence, he missed even more time. In addition to his injuries, he was absent for one game due to COVID in 2020.
His production, especially his touchdowns, is still at a very high level. The Minnesota native scored 30 touchdowns in the last three seasons in just 38 games. Thielen is ranked fourth in the NFL among wide receivers during that timespan, despite playing fewer games than anyone else in the top 15. However, Thielen had his last 1000-yard season in 2018.
More Than A WR3?
Justin Jefferson was not the only wide receiver Rick Spielman selected in the 2020 NFL draft. K.J. Osborn was a fifth-round pick. In his rookie season, the former Miami Hurricane did not play a single snap on offense, while he was an underwhelming contributor on a bad special teams unit and fans were already writing him off.
In his second season, in 2021, Osborn had a breakout campaign. He played in all 17 games and started nine of them. Fifty receptions for 655 yards and seven touchdowns were good numbers for a third wide receiver. His most memorable moments were the game-winning touchdown in overtime against the Panthers and the critical touchdown against the Steelers in an unnecessary close game. That touchdown turned out to be another game-winning score.
Osborn has cemented his position as the third wide receiver on the roster. He earned a PFF grade of 64.9, which was good enough to be the 76th of 115 wide receivers in the NFL. The question with Osborn is if he can be more than a WR3 and replace Adam Thielen in a few years.
The Man Who Started Over Jefferson
When Adam Thielen missed games in 2019 and 2020, and when the coaching staff for some reason decided to start him over Justin Jefferson, Olabisi Johnson started nine games for the Vikings. Johnson caught 45 passes for 483 yards and three touchdowns. Suffering a torn ACL in training camp led to Johnson missing all of the 2021 season.
His first three years showed that he is good enough to deserve a roster spot but not good enough to be a top-three wide receiver on the team.
The Dynamic Rookie Showed Flashes
Just like K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette was drafted in the fifth round. He played only on 86 offensive plays in his rookie season. Most of his production came when he dominated the Chicago Bears in week 18. Smith-Marsette had three receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown in that game. He seems to like to play against the Bears. The rookie caught his first career touchdown against the Bears in week 15. Smith-Marsette has undoubtedly shown enough to deserve more opportunities to contribute in his second season after showing flashes in his rookie campaign.
Other Receivers on The Roster
Trishton Jackson, Myron Mitchell, Dan Chisena, and Blake Proehl are the other wideouts on the Vikings’ roster. Chisena is a special team ace and is unlikely to be a part of the offense. Trishton Jackson never appeared in an NFL game. The undrafted Myron Mitchell was on the Vikings’ practice squad in 2021 and was elevated to the active roster for one game. He played one offensive snap. The undrafted receiver Blake Proehl missed the season with a torn ACL. Before his injury, he made a strong impression in training camp. He might be a dark-horse roster candidate.
Is It Enough?
The Vikings have a superstar in Jefferson, a good but aging receiver in Thielen, and a solid third option in K.J. Osborn. Olabisi Johnson and Smith-Marsette are the four and five at this point. After those five, the Vikings only have completely unproven players.
The new Head Coach Kevin O’Connell is expected to run more three-WR sets than the Vikings ran in the past. They certainly have to bring in another receiver to compete with Osborn for the third spot and who can be an upgrade over Johnson and Smith-Marsette. It´s not a pressing need, but If General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah selects a receiver early in April’s draft, the Vikings’ offense could be very explosive.