After a disappointing 7-9 season, the Minnesota Vikings go into the draft holding the 14th overall pick. There are plenty of holes that the Vikings could try and fix this offseason. They could address the offensive line and the guard position after Dakota Dozier had a horrendous season, finishing with a 44.6 grade from PFF. Another hole they could fill is at pass rusher. The Vikings sack leader was Yannick Ngakoue, who got traded to the Baltimore Ravens during the bye week.
Despite all of these issues, I believe that they are justified in drafting a wide receiver in round 1.
I get it: Failing to upgrade the offensive line on Day 1 and adding a wideout in the first round in back to back years might send the fan base into a tizzy. But hear me out. Rick Spielman has made it clear through his draft history that he will always take the best player on the board even if it doesn’t fill an immediate need. He has also shown a willingness to address a potential contention spot in the future earlier rather than later.
Take, for example, the 2018 draft class. Despite the entire fanbase clamoring for Will Hernandez to fill a guard spot, Spielman took what he believed to be the best player in cornerback Mike Hughes, who would hopefully succeed Trae Waynes and Xavier Rhodes and give the Vikings some flexibility at that position.
Though this pick did not pan out as well as the Vikings would have hoped due to Hughes’ horrible injury luck, I believe that the thought process was correct. While many fans will be clamoring for any quick fix plug-and-play player on either side of the trenches, I think that Spielman should stick to how his board pans out and take a top-end wideout should Jamarr Chase or Devonta Smith end up falling to the Vikings at No. 14.
The main point of contention around this thought process is that Minnesota had been a run-first team under Mike Zimmer, and the only offensive coordinator who aired the ball out got fired just 14 weeks into his job. However, I believe that the news around the potential retirement of Gary Kubiak, and with how successful the Vikings were when they decided to move to a more pass-heavy offense, could convince Zimmer that it’s time for a bit of an update in the offensive play calling. I also believe that the diminished role of a WR3 in the offense might be more of an indictment on the available options more than anything else. Chad Beebe finished with 201 yards, which was far behind Justin Jefferson (1400) and Adam Thielen (925).
This season Beebe primarily worked out of the slot, playing 217 out of his 314 snaps there. His dependency on playing out of the slot limits what the Vikings can do. Both Jefferson and Thielen excel working out of the slot, using their height to cause mismatches against slot corners. Think back to the Monday night game in Chicago where Thielen and Jefferson both beat slot corner Buster Skrine on several occasions in the 19-13 win.
Adding a wideout in the first round of the draft would be very beneficial in the long term because Thielen will be 31 by the start of next season. And Jefferson was able to have such an incredible rookie season due to the attention and respect Thielen commanded. Defenses could never truly take both of them out of the game.
As Thielen gets older and starts to lose a step, however, defenses won’t have to key in on him as much and will focus on eliminating Jefferson from the game plan entirely. If the Vikings can grab a versatile wideout who isn’t confined to a slot-only role, they can maximize Jefferson and Thielen’s ability and take advantage of the mismatches all across the board.
Drafting a wideout early also allows for them to sit behind Thielen for some time, understanding what it takes to be successful at the NFL level from two of the best route runners in the league. Eventually, he will be ready to take over the WR2 spot in a couple of years, allowing Thielen to gracefully finish his career in a diminished role, leaving no real transition period where Jefferson ends up triple-teamed.
Now, I am not saying that the Vikings should reach for a wideout who doesn’t suit what they want to do. However, if the opportunity to land a Devonta Smith or Jamarr Chase presents itself, the Vikings shouldn’t think twice about making the pick.
A logical argument to this would be for the Vikings to use a later round pick at wideout, where they have had success in developing players such as Stefon Diggs, and instead use the first-rounder to fill a more imminent need. However, despite Diggs panning out after being a 5th round pick, he should be viewed as the exception and not the standard.
For every Stefon Diggs, the Vikings also have had their fair share of players like Rodney Adams and Stacy Coley who haven’t panned out. I know that the Vikings have missed on first-round wideouts by selecting players like Troy Williamson and Laquon Treadwell. Still, the first round gives them the best chance to find another Pro-Bowl caliber wideout who they can pair with their already stellar core to help Kirk Cousins further and take even more attention away from game-breaking running back Dalvin Cook.
While conventional wisdom dictates that the Vikings should strengthen the trenches for next year, adding another explosive offensive piece may help them update their offensive philosophy and complement their elite weapons — which wouldn’t be such a bad thing.