The Minnesota Vikings entered the 2020 offseason in need of wide receiver depth.
Outside of proven stars Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, Minnesota’s wide receiver corps featured almost zero NFL experience. Bisi Johnson played a larger role than many expected last season and did so admirably, exceeding his expectations as a seventh-round rookie. However, an upgrade there would make a significant difference in the passing game for quarterback Kirk Cousins.
And this was all before the Vikings traded Diggs.
Now, Minnesota’s receiver group consists of Thielen, Johnson and that’s virtually it. It’s also important to note that, historically, Thielen’s production has dipped quite a bit when he’s on the field without Diggs. Who will take some attention away from Thielen and allow him to win 1-on-1 in the slot?
Take a look around at the NFL’s best offenses — they all have star receivers who consistently create separation against defensive backs. Kansas City won a Super Bowl thanks to a plethora of speedy, shifty playmakers and the rocket arm of Patrick Mahomes.
The list goes on and on. Every successful offense includes multiple receivers who win at a high rate.
Right now, Thielen is the only trustworthy receiver on the Vikings roster. Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith Jr. are effective options at tight end, while Dalvin Cook certainly presents a threat out of the backfield.
With that said, an offense becomes quite easy to scheme against with only one threat on the perimeter. Additionally, Cousins has shown a tendency to hesitate when his receivers haven’t created separation. If his top receiver doesn’t clearly separate, he’ll refrain from trying to fit the ball into a tight window and instead check it down. This was clearly frustrating for the Vikings’ fan base last season.
So how do the Vikings fix the receiver position?
It would be easy to suggest the Vikings should use the first-round pick they acquired from Buffalo in the Diggs trade on a receiver. And that’s not a terrible idea. But given the incredible depth of this wide receiver class, it might be better to use that pick to improve one of the other many weaknesses on the roster.
In the meantime, there are several free agents available that Minnesota could likely afford. Breshad Perriman has been a popular choice among Vikings fans throughout the entire offseason, before and after the Diggs trade. Perriman blossomed in 2019 as the third receiving option with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, showing a versatile route tree and a consistent ability to get open when lined up outside or in the slot.
Robby Anderson is another intriguing name. The speedy receiver from Temple has been a New York Jet since 2016, which has perhaps limited his potential. He still nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2017 and has averaged 15 yards per reception over the last three seasons.
In 2019, Diggs was featured primarily as a deep threat within the Vikings offense. Anderson has the skill set to fill that void, and we know how accurate Cousins is throwing the deep ball.
According to Spotrac, the Vikings have a little over $12 million in salary-cap space after restructuring Danielle Hunter‘s deal to allocate more of his 2020 salary into a signing bonus. Minnesota will spend anywhere from $8 million to $10 million or so on its draft class depending on how many picks are made.
This leaves room for perhaps one free-agent addition to be made, and wide receiver is the biggest need for the Vikings right now. Perriman and Anderson are the best options. At any rate, relying on Johnson or a rookie to be the No. 2 receiver is not the best plan of action for Minnesota. Sure, the Vikings can — and should — use at least one draft pick on a receiver. But let’s also remember how the last receiver the Vikings picked high in the draft turned out.
Minnesota’s passing game has been inconsistent since Cousins joined the team in 2018, and that’s with Thielen and Diggs both playing a majority of the time. Diggs’ absence will create a significant strain on this passing attack that needs to be addressed immediately.