Vikings Receiving Corps Disrespected by PFF

VIkings WRs
Aug 28, 2020; Eagan, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) talk at practice at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

PFF’s Ben Linsey ranked the receiving corps of all NFL teams, and the Vikings ended up in a disappointing spot. A team with the top-two receivers, Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, has a good group automatically. However, Linsey’s first words of the article somewhat explain the positioning of the Vikings.

“The most challenging part of ranking NFL positional units is weighing elite talent against depth.”

Ben Linsey, about his rankings

Are the Top Teams Better than Vikings?

Justin Jefferson Not on the Radar of NFL's Top CB
Justin Jefferson

At the top of the list are the Bengals. The college teammates Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson are comparable, as both are elite receivers in the league. Tee Higgins is the Bengals’ number two receiver. At this point in their careers, he can be perceived as better than Adam Thielen because he is a more dynamic receiver with more upside. However, because of Thielen’s ability in the red zone, it’s almost a toss-up. Tyler Boyd is the remarkable third-best receiver on the team. He had 800 receiving yards in four consecutive seasons, two of them eclipsed 1000 yards. He is a better receiver than KJ Osborn until the Vikings receiver can get close to 1000 yards in 2022.

However, the Bengals don’t have any depth outside of those three, which doesn´t appear to be a problem for Linsey. Their top tight end C.J. Uzomah left in free agency. No other receiver on the team had more than a 100-yard season in 2021. Hayden Hurst is replacing Uzomah. The Vikings lost their top tight end as well, but Irv Smith Jr is a superior player than Hurst. It’s acceptable to rank the Bengals above the Vikings, but it should be way closer than the list makes it look.

Tampa Bay ranks second on the list, despite losing Antonio Brown, O.J. Howard, and Rob Gronkowski. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are one of the best duos in the league. In the last two seasons since Jefferson came into the league, he and Thielen combine for almost 700 more receiving yards and two more touchdowns than the two Buccaneers. Russell Gage, the free-agent addition, and Osborn have comparable numbers. The Vikings’ tight end Irv Smith beats out Cameron Brate or rookie Cade Otten. Once again, at the very least, it’s close between the Vikings and one of the top teams.

The third-best receiving corps belongs to the Miami Dolphins, per PFF. Trading for Tyreke Hill and drafting Jaylen Waddle in 2021 got them an elite duo. Once again, Jefferson’s production matches Tyreke Hill’s. The Viking even beats the new Dolphin, as he had almost 400 yards more in 2021, in addition to one more touchdown. Jaylen Waddle Thielen finished the year with about 300 yards fewer than Waddle but celebrated a touchdown four more times. Gesicki had back-to-back seasons of 700 yards and beats out Irv Smith. The third wideout option is Cedrick Wilson, a free agent signing from the Cowboys. His stats in 2021 are almost a carbon copy of Osborn’s. It’s really obvious that once again, the Vikings are truly comparable to the top receiving groups from PFF.

The Vikings Rank 15th

Now to the surprising part. The Vikings rank just 15th, despite having an elite receiving duo, paired with a solid third one in KJ Osborn and a talented tight end in Irv Smith Jr, even if it should be very close to the top teams on the list. Linsey explained his ranking:

“Justin Jefferson has already comfortably established himself as one of the league’s best wide receivers. He leads all players at the position in PFF receiving grade against press coverage since 2020 and has proven he can win against any type of coverage from both the slot and outside.

However, the Vikings don’t have a particularly deep group beyond Jefferson. Adam Thielen is turning 32 years old in August and coming off his lowest PFF grade since 2015 in a season limited by an ankle injury. Beyond those two, Minnesota will be leaning on the likes of K.J. Osborn, Albert Wilson, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Irv Smith Jr.”

Ben Linsey, PFF, explains his ranking of the Vikings

What is really surprising is the complaint about the lack of depth and not viewing Osborn as a good option. He recorded 655 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in 2021, good numbers for a WR3. Cedrick Wilson, for example, counted as a good weapon for the Dolphins. Smith-Marsette recorded over 100-yards in the final game of the season against the Bears. The Bengals, meanwhile, don’t have another receiver on the roster who had 100 yards in the whole season, outside of Chase, Higgins, and Boyd.

Albert Wilson, the Vikings’ latest free-agent signing, is a solid depth piece.

Jun 16, 2021; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports.

He had more than 200 receiving yards in every season of his career so far. Olabisi Johnson returns from his knee injury. He had 483 receiving yards in his first two seasons. Jalen Nailor was drafted in the sixth round of the last draft and is often called a potential sleeper. To sum up the long text, the Vikings have an elite duo, a good third option, and multiple depth receivers who all can add more than one hundred yards.

Other NFC North Teams Lack WR Talent

The Lions rank 21st. T.J. Hockenson is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the NFL, and teammate Amon-Ra St. Brown has shown flashes when he recorded over 900 yards as a rookie. The Lions didn’t only add D.J. Chark in free agency but also Jameson Williams in the draft after trading up with the Vikings.

The Packers and the Bears own the worst receiving corps in the NFL, per Ben Linsey. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers traded away their star receiver, Davante Adams. The top pass catchers are Randall Cobb, Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, and rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs.

The Bears have a solid tight end in Cole Kmet and rising star receiver Darnell Mooney but not much else. Byron Pringle, the former short-time Viking, Tajae Sharpe, Equanimeous St. Brown, and rookie Velus Jones Jr are Fields´ other weapons.

The Vikings were underrated in these rankings, but fans should be pleased about having the best group of receivers in their division, especially after looking at the pass catchers of the rival teams. Justin Jefferson is the big reason to be excited about the Vikings’ passing offense, as it seems like he is breaking records every time he steps on the field.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan with a fable for numbers and stats. He chose the Vikings as his favorite team, despite Christian Ponder being the quarterback at the time. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Arguing about the Vikings on Twitter is one of his favorite things to do. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt

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