It’s been a long time since the Vikings have seen stability at the receiver position, just like it has with their quarterback situation. Having gone through 18 different starting receivers since 2005 before landing on Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the Vikings have struggled to find a difference-maker who could last more than a year at the position. Now, they sport what is perhaps the best starting receiver duo in the NFL – a near worst-to-first situation in quick fashion. The big things to watch out for during the season will be the health of Stefon Diggs and how well they gel with their new quarterback. In camp and during the preseason, we’ll need to keep a particular eye on the depth behind those receivers, as they seem to be pretty thin behind their star duo.
[expand title=”STEFON DIGGS”]
One half of the most impressive and surprising receiving duos in the league, Stefon Diggs will be a big part of the reason the Vikings passing offense should explode. A fit for nearly any offensive system, Diggs is particularly well-suited for the West Coast offense that former coordinator Pat Shurmur ran and that new coordinator Jon DeFilippo will run.
Strengths: One of the best storytellers in the league as a route runner, with precision, deception and timing. Body discipline gives him the ability to execute high-level deception – keeps shoulders at the same level throughout the route until the last possible moment, for example. Eyes help tell the story. Produces at all three levels of the field. High football IQ in every sense, from in-route mechanics to an understanding of complex offenses. Can vary routes effectively in response to coverage. Agility gives him an advantage both as a route runner and as a YAC creator. Looks balls into his frame. Good body control with the ball in the air and phenomenal ball tracking ability. Can get skinny on contact or use release techniques to get clean at the line of scrimmage. Excellent use of hands at catch point to create extra space without drawing offensive pass interference. Strong hands, body control, ball tracking and jump timing all combine to give him excellent contested catch ability – previously a weakness of his. Ranks 14th-best of 124 receivers in drop rate between 2015 and 2017.
Weaknesses: Hasn’t finished a season with 16 games under his belt, and production drops off for the rest of the season after injury. Frame size is an issue despite excellent red zone reception rate (83.3 percent was fourth in the league last year, 50 percent touchdown rate was also fourth in the league last year) – expect regression. Though it hasn’t stopped him from catching balls deep, long speed is his weakest movement trait. Can get jammed off the line if technique isn’t pristine. Can get pushed off route in close coverage.[/expand]
[expand title=”ADAM THIELEN”]
Number 36 on NFL’s Top 100, Thielen’s story is familiar to anyone with a passing interest in the Vikings and a good deal more than that. The other half of the incredible receiving duo that some call the best in the league, Thielen’s talents are very similar to Diggs’, with some slight advantages in some areas and disadvantages in others – though with largely the same profile.
Strengths:. Excellent hands and good ball tracking ability, especially deep. Deep tracking ability is used well; can get open deep with both his speed and technique. Agility gives him YAC potential as well, and accentuates his route-running. Strength at the catch point and good body control gives him the same contested catch capability as Diggs. Strength also shows up in-route and he can maintain his route path despite physical play. Excellent hip and head fakes and a good understanding of storytelling as a route concept. Has improved significantly against press coverage with great hand usage and better footwork. Phenomenal double-move on deep routes, where he does best.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent route-running. Excellent deception and explosion out of his break sometimes, but sometimes rounds corners. Relies too much on release and not enough on deception at the break, though maintains solid body discipline necessary to sell deep route. Needs more explosive first step out of cuts—relying only on inherent quickness. Jack of all trades, master of none. No trump card like speed, on-field quickness (despite phenomenal agility testing), strength or route-running that places him in the top 10 percent of his class and can therefore be countered by a sufficiently well-rounded cornerback.[/expand]
[expand title=”LAQUON TREADWELL”]
Treadwell may never live up to his first-round investment, but there’s definitely a conversation to be had about whether or not he still provides value to the team as a depth receiver. Without any clear options behind Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Vikings need to be aggressive about finding and keeping receivers who can keep the ship afloat if one of them goes down due to injury – and Treadwell, historical expectations aside, might be the best solution to that problem. If he puts together a workmanlike season this year, don’t be surprised if the Vikings try to extend him despite how much his performance thus far may have disappointed them.
Strengths: Physical at the catch point, physical throughout the route and extremely physical as a run blocker. Demonstrates above-average route-running ability in terms of deception and timing, and has very good catch technique. He holds on to the ball through the hit. One of the most sudden route-runners I’ve ever seen and has underrated after-catch ability – to power through tackles and reach for extra yards. Can use his hands to generate extra separation at the route stem.
Weaknesses: Athletic deficiencies showed up during limited on-field work. When hip-to-hip with defensive back, couldn’t separate in what is almost always a win for a receiver. Speed issue at combine was not resolved late in season like some anticipated. Reportedly had issues running routes at correct depth. Must rely on catch-point ability to overcome other deficiencies; while better than average, did not demonstrate sufficient enough skill in college here to project going forward. Vertical lift issues limit red-zone effectiveness. Can miss assignments in the run game despite reputation as a run blocker. Least targeted receiver per route run – including other tertiary options like Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph, Jarius Wright, C.J. Ham, Latavius Murray and Michael Floyd; this probably cannot be explained by a stated preference for Diggs and Thielen, as those other receivers would have looked about as untargeted he did. Michael Floyd started Week 6 when Diggs was injured instead of Treadwell. Averaged 23.8 yards per games in games where he had over half the team’s snaps, 12.0 yards per games where he was designated a starter and 39.5 yards per game that Diggs missed due to injury.[/expand]
[expand title=”KENDALL WRIGHT”]
Should the Vikings give Kendall Wright the chance to be the third receiver, they may be in the odd scenario where all three starting receivers could be too similar to one another to really get good matchups across the board. That said, Wright might be the third-most talented receiver on the roster. A first-round pick out of Baylor, Wright’s career could never be characterized as a success. Nevertheless, he might be perpetually underrated throughout his career and could be a late bloomer.
Strengths: Despite ranking 49th of all receivers in yards per route run, Wright led Bears receivers in the category – and in total receiving yards. Great quickness at the release and in route. Does a good job underneath of using quickness to shake corners. Good at tracking the ball and completing the catch; 4.84 percent drop rate better than any Vikings receiver in 2017 and better than 70 other receivers in the NFL. Good extension and ability to look ball in. Good at keeping clean off the release.
Weaknesses: Can be pushed around his routes. Dials back too early in route to prepare for stem, giving away route. Doesn’t always use quickness to generate crisp routes; prone to rounding them off. Though deception at release is good, doesn’t practice much of it at route stem. Though he does a good job preventing catches from being contested, he loses when they are contested. Long speed not all there to be a deep threat. Despite excellent quickness, has trouble stopping for comebacks when running full speed. Only really asked to run underneath routes in Chicago.[/expand]
[expand title=”STACY COLEY”]
Though he couldn’t secure the open kick return spot from Jerick McKinnon in 2017, Stacy Coley may have an outside shot at the spot once more this year – though with another first-round pick at the kick return position, his odds were much better last year. Nevertheless, being invited to another camp is a good sign for the former seventh-round pick and he could make waves with a cleared out depth chart behind the top two receivers.
Strengths: College tape shows good deep speed and great acceleration. On vertical routes, shows an understanding of spacing and intuitively stacks defensive backs to create room for himself. Natural agility allows him to use that speed as a screen receiver. Great ball tracking and moments of fantastic sideline awareness. Quickness and economy of motion can give him phenomenal separation at times. Hands technique is pretty good and drops typically came from physicality, not form or small hands. Does a good job creating separation at the stem of the route.
Weaknesses: During the preseason, seemed to play too deliberately; didn’t look natural and played as if from memory instead of by instinct. Biggest issue was coming off the line of scrimmage – didn’t show explosiveness necessary to play the position, likely for mental rather than physical reasons. Needs to be more decisive when transitioning from receiver to runner. Similar issues in kick return. Has issues beating the jam and can get tossed around in press. Loses contested catches more often than not. Does not run through tackles. Has some issues with deception in route-running and cannot leverage inherent quickness into the ability to manipulate defensive backs. Has difficulty turning from receiver to runner and missteps often—doesn’t make the first defender miss.[/expand]
[expand title=”BRANDON ZYLSTRA”]
Brandon Zylstra led the CFL in total receiving yards in 2017, as well as yards per reception – and finished fourth in total receptions, as well. When any CFL player 25-and-under does something like that, they tend to draw NFL attention – the same thing happened to Cris Carter’s son Duron as well as former Viking Emmanuel Arceneaux. Given that Zylstra is a Minnesota native, it seemed all but inevitable that the Vikings would give him a call.
Strengths: Great ball tracking, especially deep. Excellent catch radius. Solid awareness; works to find holes in zones and create space on scrambles. Good strength; can assert his route or power through tackles.
Weaknesses: Poor catch technique. Tends to cradle the ball to his chest instead of full extension. Repertoire of route-running moves is limited. Can get a little lazy on those routes, occasionally showcasing precision but often rounding his routes. CFL doesn’t expose him to any press coverage and college exposed him to very little. Despite being a deep threat in the CFL, ran a 4.64 at his pro day, with poor agility and explosion athletic scores as well.[/expand]
[expand title=”JAKE WIENEKE”]
Wieneke is one of two skill position players to come from South Dakota State, the other being second-round pick Dallas Goedert, a tight end who – despite his position – led the team in receiving yards. Wieneke, however, ended up with a higher share of the touchdown total even though the more coveted player has red zone skills to spare. It’s not surprising to see why, though – Wieneke is built like (and tested very similarly to) Kelvin Benjamin, and may hope to reprise that role in the NFL.
Strengths: Like Cayleb Jones, Wieneke has a fantastic ability to hold on to the ball through contact and could turn into a reliable tough possession target if he makes the team. His suddenness allows him to create space at the last moment that gives him more room to maneuver and should make him a contested catch magnet. His strength at the catch point also appears at the line of scrimmage and after the catch, where he can barrel through defensive backs. Can sell vertical routes and maintains consistent speed upfield.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t have a full route tree. Even though he displays some storytelling talent, he doesn’t have an array of skills to sell other routes well enough. Needs to clean up his releases and do more than simply overpower DBs. Overall long speed is a big issue, as is quickness. Doesn’t have route-running skills, like loading his hips at the stem or planting the opposite foot, to generate the explosiveness out of the stem to make up for his issues with quickness.[/expand]
[expand title=”KOREY ROBERTSON”]
With 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final year at Southern Miss – half of the team’s receiving touchdowns and 35 percent of their receiving yards – Robertson set himself up well statistically for an NFL look. His metrics from that perspective look much better than the other UDFA receivers, but his athletic limitations and lack of technical refinement may keep him off the roster.
Strengths: Great catch technique, appropriate to situation. Can look ball in when necessary and also knows how to adjust frame and when. Great body control with the ball in the air. Doesn’t have many drops on film. Extremely physical – would be a tight end prospect if just a little bit taller. Solid release at line of scrimmage with a good variety of release moves. Very willing and able blocker. Strength gives YAC opportunity.
Weaknesses: Exceptionally straight-line as an athlete, and not a particularly fast one at that. Like Thielen, doesn’t have a specific trump card, but unlike Thielen does not have his upper-tier athleticism to supplement his overall skillset. Agility issues impact route-running and can lead to small mistakes that tip off the route as well as larger problems that prevent separation at the break. Poor deceptive capability as a route-runner. Difficult to make his way as a strength receiver without some vertical lift to complement contested catch ability.[/expand]
[expand title=”TAVARRES KING”]
It is kind of surprising that Tavarres King is still on a team, given his path – a fifth-round pick who was cut from three separate teams before finding himself on the New York Giants’ practice squad, and then cut from the Giants after making the full roster after a number of injuries hit their team. With only 0.96 yards per route run, which ranks 85th of 93 receivers – as well as 0.33 yards per route from the slot, 62nd of 63 receivers – there’s not a high likelihood he’ll help the team.
Strengths: Smooth mover and can use this to wiggle free, especially when starting from the slot. Solid precision in routes. Will adjust route spacing to account for zone defenders.
Weaknesses: Plays the same release off the line nearly every time, gets predictable and easy to read. Physical, but not strong – loses his intended route when challenged by physical CBs. Doesn’t seem to know how to create space on the sideline or at the catch point. Not enough speed to take advantage of mismatches or win on a variety of routes. Relatively high career drop point, which matches a high drop rate in college. Had miscommunication with Eli Manning, likely King’s fault.[/expand]
[expand title=”CHAD BEEBE”]
The son of Don Beebe, Chad is taking a different path to the NFL. It’s not just that he has a Division I scholarship to his name – Don had to feature at Chadron State – but Beebe is less of a big play machine than his father. To compare him to another Chadron State alum, Beebe is more Danny Woodhead than he is Don.
Strengths: Great suddenness on comebacks and whip routes. Great ball tracking. Fantastic vision after the catch – demonstrated both in his YAC and his punt return ability. Very good lateral movement ability. Good use of headfakes and hip fakes. Does a good job shielding the ball from defensive backs. Willing to play physically; knows when to power through or avoid contact. Good use of hands at the route stem to aid separation.
Weaknesses: Not explosive out of his breaks. Doesn’t demonstrate significant acceleration, and speed builds up slowly. Doesn’t always adjust landmark for opponent coverage zones. Reliant on big plays for yardage, with very little in terms of intermediate gains – and still only earned 417 yards. Very high drop rate (15.2 percent of passes dropped, per Pro Football Focus, one of the worst in the FBS). Despite good ball tracking, has limited catch radius and small hands. Didn’t see the field very often (only 183 snaps in-route, about 40 percent of his team’s passing snaps).[/expand]
[expand title=”JEFF BADET”]
The Vikings have certainly invested in potential kick returners, perhaps as a means of returning to the field position dominance they gained with Cordarrelle Patterson and Percy Harvin. Jeff Badet didn’t catch a ton of passes at Oklahoma – maybe a product of a promising receiving corps – he showed good kick return potential, supplemented with a blazing 4.34 40-second dash.
Strengths: His speed isn’t just a workout trick; it shows up in-game and he has a lot of deep-ball capability. He also had an explosive workout, and that has translated into vertical lift in game for balls that should be outside of his catch radius. Once the ball is in the air, he showcases good body positioning as well as the ability to create exclusive real estate – stacking defensive backs and protecting his hands. Also has good vision on screen passes and can be a home-run threat from the line of scrimmage. Good hands technique to catch ball outside of body.
Weaknesses: Route-running skills are mediocre and ability to beat press coverage at the line is lacking – needs to be an off-LOS deep threat like Mike Wallace or T.Y. Hilton. Unfortunately, doesn’t have the nuance of Wallace or Hilton as a receiver or the agility of either. Limited on route breaks, can’t sink hips or generate explosion at the stem. Stop-start needs work too, making simple comeback routes difficult as well. Not enough awareness of zone coverage, poor understanding of space against man coverage.[/expand]
[expand title=”CAYLEB JONES (suspended four games)”]
The Jones brothers have made offseason headlines for the wrong reasons, and though a college-era arrest made Cayleb the bigger risk between he and his brother Zay, it seems as if Cayleb for now represents the more stable option – even with a PED suspension. Despite being brothers, Zay and Cayleb don’t share many on-field characteristics, though both can thrive in the right circumstances.
Strengths: A big receiver with a massive frame and long arms, he knows where he wins and imposes it on smaller defensive backs. Good understanding of coverage concepts and can find holes in zones. Great sideline awareness and body control. Surprising agility for his size and can move in and out of breaks with more ease than other big-bodied receivers. Had issues breaking tackles in college but did a good job of it in the preseason as a rookie. Phenomenal at holding on to the ball through contact and a surprisingly reliable possession option. Large catch radius. Strength is an obvious asset.
Weaknesses: Lack of speed shows up immediately – deep-threat capability can only come from technique or size. Though “quick for his size,” his inherent limitations still put a damper on his route tree and overall effectiveness. Seemingly demonstrated solid hands technique in college, but in the preseason had poor hands technique on a number of occasions. High drop rate in college might confirm a cause for concern, but he was involved in a number of contested catches. At NFL level, contested catch capability needs to incorporate better body positioning and jump timing.[/expand]
Check out the rest of the training camp guide:
Sam Ekstrom’s Position Battles
Sitting Brian O’Neill: Have “Developmental” Day Two Offensive Linemen Succeeded?
Pay Attention to Tryout Players
How to Watch Training Camp Drills
Can Kirk Cousins Be the Savior? (COMING SOON)