The Minnesota Vikings have struggled to find a third wide receiver that fans can get excited about for years. The Vikings almost play like a 1990s team, using 12 personnel as their base and only utilizing two wideouts until they get into obvious passing situations.
This year their No. 3 wideout was Chad Beebe, who logged 201 yards, 44 of which came in a meaningless Week 17 game in Detroit.
Looking at the Vikings’ prior history with third wideouts, I started to question if this team is looking for the right kind of receiver to complement their two superstars. Their last two No. 3 wide receivers, Beebe and Jarius Wright, both primarily played out of the slot. Beebe recorded 217 of his 304 snaps in the slot last year, and Wright lined up in the slot for 183 of his 254 plays in 2017, his final season in Minnesota.
Usually, it wouldn’t be a big deal where the third wideout operates but having a pure slot wideout as their WR3 puts them at a disadvantage. In Justin Jefferson’s final season at LSU, 98.2% of his yards came from playing inside. Thielen also has proven to be a capable slot receiver, causing mismatches with whoever lines up opposite him. By having the third wideout so dependent on the positioning, the Vikings lack the flexibility to capitalize on mismatches.
They would benefit from ditching their current mold for a third wideout and taking Sage Surratt from Wake Forest.
Standing at 6’3″, 215 lbs., Surratt isn’t afraid to use his physicality. He shows excellent body control and can make contested catches, using his height and strong hands to his advantage when making plays over defenders. He showcased his ability to go up and grab it over defensive backs throughout his time in Winston-Salem.
He complements his physical play with an astute understanding of the game. A former valedictorian at East Lincoln High in Denver, N.C., he uses his awareness in conjunction with his physique to put himself into positions where only he can make a play on the football.
Surratt also is a crisp route runner, wasting little to no motion getting into his routes, and his efficient releases allow him to get into his route as quickly as possible. He is an absolute menace against zone coverage, frequently finding the gaps and making adjustments to beat the coverage.
He snagged 11 touchdowns on 66 catches in his redshirt sophomore year, totaling 1,001 yards in just nine games. Surratt was the first wideout in any of the Power 5 conferences to eclipse 1,000 yards.
So, with all of these impressive accolades, why isn’t he poised to go in the first round?
Despite being very productive the last time he played college football, that was around a season and a half ago. His 2019 season ended with a shoulder injury vs. Virginia Tech that forced him to miss the rest of the season, and last year he chose to opt out.
While he runs routes well, Surratt sometimes struggles to get separation against man coverage, especially when the opposing corner presses him. He lacks the acceleration to win with speed alone. In college, he relied on his superior athleticism to bail him out, out-jumping corners he couldn’t shake.
The weaknesses in Surratt’s game are somewhat reminiscent of first-round bust Laquon Treadwell, but they aren’t similar players. Surratt uses his strong hands to reel passes in, avoiding drops — something Treadwell wasn’t known for. Surratt also attacks jump balls, trying to grab them as soon as possible. Treadwell seemed to have a very laissez-faire attitude with these passes, waiting for them to fall to him.
Even with his shortcomings, Surrat would share a locker room with Thielen and Jefferson, two premier wideouts known for their separation skills. Draft experts project him to be taken on either Day 2 or early Day 3, where Minnesota already has six picks and could end up with even more when compensation picks are allotted. Surratt could be a high-floor player in this round, providing the Vikings with a significant upgrade at third wideout.
You’re going to see some growing pains at the NFL level with Surratt as he learns to adjust his game after not playing football for a year and a half. If he shows a willingness to learn and grow at the next level, he could become a premier outside-the-numbers wideout and serve as a complement to Thielen and Jefferson’s skill sets.