Per Josina Anderson, the Minnesota Vikings are planning on signing former Oklahoma Sooners and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook to a one-year deal on Sunday.
Westbrook was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft by Jacksonville and has shown plenty of flashes throughout his four-year career. It wasn’t too long ago when Westbrook was on the precipice of becoming a breakout receiver in this league. But suspect quarterback play spearheaded by Blake Bortles, Cody Kessler, Nick Foles, and Gardner Minshew threw a wrench into those plans. And unfortunately for Westbrook, he missed 14 games last season due to a torn ACL.
Westbrook has also proven to be an explosive threat as a punt returner on special teams, having returned 47 punts in 40 career games.
Circling back on the former 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist’s first three years in Jacksonville, Westbrook operated primarily out of the slot. Per Pro Football Focus, Westbrook had 88.4% and 82.7% of his snaps from ’18 and ’19 out of the slot. It’s important to note that Westbrook was on the receiving end of 101 targets during both of those seasons. Westbrook was Jacksonville’s most-targeted receiver in ’18 — his second season in the NFL.
The Westbrook signing is mutually beneficial for the Vikings offense and the 27-year-old receiver. Last season, Minnesota and Gary Kubiak‘s offense was a very distant last place in the NFL when it came to 11 personnel (three-wide receiver sets) — per Sharp Football Stats.
Considering that Westbrook has made his NFL living out of the slot, the Vikings now have the necessary personnel to resemble a 21st-century offense. First-year offensive coordinator and play-caller Klint Kubiak will be responsible for innovating this Vikings offense, as it seems highly unlikely now with Westbrook in the fold that Minnesota will find itself with only 29% of its total plays with 11 personnel. For context, 26 of 32 NFL teams had at least 50% of their total plays with three receivers last season.
The addition of wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell to Mike Zimmer’s staff played a big role in Westbrook signing with the Vikings, as the two spent the past four years together in Jacksonville.
Per PFF, Westbrook was one of the highest-graded receivers in short, intermediate, and deep passes in 2019 — his last full, healthy season. Receivers with grades of 90-plus in all three types of targets past the line of scrimmage don’t grow on trees, and the Vikings may have just landed the big-play threat that takes this offense to the next level — as long as Westbrook’s recovery from last year’s torn ACL continues to progress.
With general manager Rick Spielman spending the entire offseason making free-agent splashes on the defensive side of the ball, the Westbrook signing is fairly substantial for Kubiak’s offense. The Vikings have playmakers all over the field with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Irv Smith, and now Westbrook. Opposing defensive coordinators will undoubtedly have their hands full defending the Vikings sideline-to-sideline with the addition of Westbrook’s vertical and horizontal speed.
Health permitting, Westbrook should have every opportunity to carve out a role in this offense. With defenses still prioritizing the Vikings run game, Westbrook’s field-stretching abilities will certainly come in handy off play-action, where Kirk Cousins had a passer rating of 122.3 last season, which was fifth-best among all quarterbacks per PFF.
Don’t look now, but Spielman might have saved his best free-agent signing of the offseason for the eve of training camp — as long as Westbrook recovers from his ACL injury from last year.