Two Undrafted Receivers Could Become Impact Players For the Vikings

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

K.J. Osborn and Ihmir Smith-Marsette did not participate in practice on June 1 due to injury, which created a temporary hole at wide receiver that the Minnesota Vikings needed to fill. Third-year wideout Olabisi Johnson and newcomer Trishton Jackson reaped the benefits as they took reps with the first-team offense.

Jackson was an undrafted free agent in 2020, a developmental prospect coming out of Syracuse. However, Jackson has connections with the new coaching staff. He spent the last two years with the Los Angeles Rams, where he practiced under the tutelage of Kevin O’Connell and Wes Phillips.

Yet, the fact that he’s already getting first-team reps this early in the offseason is notable. Some people may call it nepotism to have a former Rams player get preferential treatment from his previous coaches. But I’d argue that Jackson’s pre-existing knowledge of the playbook and the coaching staff’s faith in his ability allowed him to get those first-team reps. If that’s the case, Jackson may have an advantage over players like Jalen Nailor, Albert Wilson, Blake Proehl, Myron Mitchell, Dan Chisena, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. He’s in the mix at WR5/WR6 ahead of training camp.

Furthermore, the Minnesota Vikings don’t have that many field-stretching Z receivers on the roster who could play the Aldrick Robinson role. Smith-Marsette and Dan Chisena are the only pure speed demons. Reporters saw Smith-Marsette wearing a walking boot, and he isn’t expected to start practicing again until training camp. Dan Chisena has yet to receive first- or second-team reps at wide receiver.

That creates an opportunity for Jackson to make an impact, albeit in a niche role as the guy with plenty of straight-line speed. At the very least, he’s a lock to make the practice squad. However, he could make the 53-man roster if Smith-Marsette misses more time than anticipated.

Thomas Hennigan is also a UDFA receiver who could make an immediate impact. Hennigan is a certified tone-setter in his approach to the game who prides himself on running crisp routes and leading by example, saying:

“I’m confident in my abilities when I go out there because I know I’m not going to be outworked, and while things may not go our way or go my way especially, I know I’m never going to stop working and definitely not quitting. That’s just kind of been my DNA, and that’s what I told the guys. If you give me a chance to be on your football team, I’m going to be a guy that’s very hard to let go.

I’m going to do whatever I got to do, along with all the other ten guys on the field, to do whatever it takes to win, I’ve always been a ‘lead by example’ kind of guy, so if I do the right things on and off the field, naturally I think the younger guys will follow.”

Hennigan left Appalachian State after his senior year in 2021 as one of the most productive receivers in the school’s history. He set the school record for most receptions (242), is tied for first in receiving yards (3,124), and ranks fourth in receiving touchdowns. He signed with the Vikings as a UDFA this offseason.

For Hennigan to have any chance of making an impact, it will need to come on special teams. He will be in the mix, competing as a punt returner along with Smith-Marsette and former Miami Dolphins WR Albert Wilson, who the team just signed to a one-year deal. Hennigan is far and away the most experienced return man on the Vikings’ roster, having returned 64 punts for 487 yards (one touchdown). During his collegiate career, he also returned 22 kickoffs for a total of 464 yards (21.1 average).

Hennigan is the stereotypical lunch-pail kind of guy from a small school. Therefore, people are naturally going to compare him to Adam Thielen. However, it is irresponsible to compare the two receivers. Thielen is taller and more athletic than Hennigan, who ran a 4.7 40-yard dash at his pro day. Still, having a guy in the locker room like Thielen who knows what it’s like to need to continually prove yourself is undoubtedly an asset to any undrafted free-agent wideout looking to earn playing time.

Although the Vikings have good depth at WR, they have a lot of players whose skills overlap with each other. As you go down to the bottom of the depth chart, it becomes clear that this team doesn’t need another wide receiver who can do many things at an average level. Sometimes they need a guy who excels at one particular task. Trishton Jackson and Thomas Hennigan may be considered longshots to make the roster in a traditional sense, but they each excel at one particular thing that this team sorely needs. For that reason alone, they have a slightly greater chance of carving out a roster spot for themselves.

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