Were the Vikings Right To Pass On Receiver Early In the Draft?

Photo Credit: Gary Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Instead of standing pat and selecting the electrifying Jameson Williams out of Alabama in this year’s draft, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and the Minnesota Vikings had other ideas. As we all know by now, the first-year general manager opted to defend Williams twice a year by trading the 12th-overall pick to the Detroit Lions. With Adam Thielen entering his age-32 season and having missed 12 games since 2019, spending a premium pick on Justin Jefferson‘s long-term sidekick generated a ton of buzz locally in the 11th hour as the draft approached. And the thought of inserting a dynamic field-stretcher with blazing vertical speed to take the top off the defense sure was tantalizing.

Let’s not forget that the Vikings also passed on a surplus of quality receivers in the second round. With Christian Watson, Wan’Dale Robinson, John Metchie, Tyquan Thompson, George Pickens, Alec Pierce, and Skyy Moore all available to them at either 34th or 42nd overall, Adofo-Mensah decided to hit the “more” button on Minnesota’s secondary by trading up for former Clemson cornerback Andrew Booth.

Spending a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on receiver would’ve made sense for Kevin O’Connell‘s receiver-heavy system coming from the Los Angeles Rams. But what if the Vikings displayed the proper amount of discipline by allocating their top resources to the secondary and offensive line ahead of their receiver room?

It’s no secret that Minnesota needed to address a secondary that ranked 28th in defending the pass last season — especially with top corner Patrick Peterson about to embark on his age-32 season on a one-year contract. Booth provides much-needed stability and depth for Minnesota’s biggest weakness coming off of last year. And Lewis Cine is a far more talented option than the incumbent starter Camryn Bynum. Although the Ed Ingram pick at 59th overall is more than puzzling — especially given his serious off-the-field concerns — he fills a desperate need on the interior of the offensive line. This is the same offensive line that Pro Football Focus graded as one of the worst units in pass protection last season at 26th.

Even with the multiple trade-backs to accumulate as many Day 2 picks as possible to fill these voids, the Vikings still had serious holes that went unaddressed with their Day 2 picks. One could argue that shoring up their 26th-ranked run defense from last season by adding to the defensive line was a bigger need than selecting a receiver to compete with K.J. Osborn for the No. 3 role. The new regime must feel pretty confident about free-agent acquisition Harrison Phillips‘ ability to do just that. After all, PFF had Phillips graded as the sixth-best run defender among defensive tackles last season.

Suffice it to say, it would’ve been fairly irresponsible to neglect Minnesota’s basement-dwelling defense and offensive line with their Day 1 and Day 2 picks.

But what happens to the Vikings’ offense if/when Thielen misses more time this coming season? Can Minnesota really expect to win with Osborn operating as Jefferson’s Robin? In that scenario, can Ihmir Smith-Marsette be counted on as the No. 3?

Since joining the Vikings in 2018, quarterback Kirk Cousins has fared surprisingly well without the Detroit Lakes, Minn. native in the lineup.

2019 (six games)

  • 140/199
  • 1,562 yards
  • 11 TDs
  • 1 INT
  • 109.7 passer rating
  • 1 FL

2020 (one game)

  • 34/45
  • 307 yards
  • 3 TDs
  • 0 INT
  • 115.7 passer rating
  • 1 FL

2021 (five games)

  • 97/155
  • 1,208 yards
  • 10 TDs
  • 4 INTs
  • 97.5 passer rating
  • 1 FL

Total (12 games)

  • 271/399
  • 3,077 yards
  • 24 TDs
  • 5 INTs
  • 105.6 passer rating
  • 3 FL

In fact, Cousins has a higher passer rating in the 12 games without Thielen (105.6) than the 51 games with No. 19 to throw to (103.0). And that was with a head coach who was quite adamant about playing 20th Century football.

Would the Vikings have posed a bigger threat to opposing defenses by adding another playmaker to the offense? No question.

But considering that Jefferson could realistically stake his claim as the Best Receiver On the Planet in Year 3, the need for ancillary receivers paled in comparison to the other holes on the roster. After all, when the Vikings had Randy Moss for seven years, the highest they ever selected another receiver was in the third round, back in 2003 for Nate Burleson. Granted, the game has changed drastically over the past 20 years. And don’t get it twisted, Jefferson is nowhere near the player of Moss’ caliber, despite his gaudy statistics.

Point is, a receiver at this stage of the game would’ve been the definition of a luxury pick for the Vikings. And this franchise is in no position whatsoever to have any of those after consecutive nine-loss seasons. Remember when the Kansas City Chiefs were fresh off a Super Bowl victory in 2019 and opted for the luxury of former LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire with the 32nd pick in 2020? By neglecting their below-average defense for a dime-a-dozen position like running back, general manager Brett Veach missed a golden opportunity to help shore up a KC run defense that ranked 26th during their championship run. Over the past two years, the Chiefs have remained a below-average run-stuffing unit by ranking 21st in back-to-back seasons.

With the sheer volume of high-level receivers entering the league these days, it should be relatively easy to scoop up another mismatch for opponents to worry about, possibly as early as next offseason. But with the existing holes on defense and up front on offense, Adofo-Mensah made the correct decision by prioritizing Minnesota’s weak spots in his inaugural draft.

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