The NFL Scouting Combine kicked off this week with player workouts beginning on Thursday afternoon. One essential component of the combine is that it sets the table for the soon-to-be-open market. Myriad conversations take place that will set the table for the first wave of free-agent contracts.
The Minnesota Vikings are heading into free agency $23 million over the salary cap, which will significantly affect their process. How the Vikings view each position will make an impact in turn with the cap space. One position that the need to focus on is wide receiver. Why do they need to do that with Justin Jefferson on the team? Quite frankly, he’s the only truly good wide receiver on the roster, and they need to find him a solid complementary wideout.
The first question that people will be asking is, What about Adam Thielen and K.J. Osborn? This past season, they were average at best and forced the Vikings to try and look elsewhere for help. That ended up translating into the T.J. Hockenson trade.
Thielen was able to get open with some semblance of regularity, but due to his age and lower-leg injuries throughout the season, he wasn’t able to get it done quickly. He also fell out of favor in terms of being high on the list of progressions. He is currently 32 years old and not likely to show any sort of improvement moving forward.
Osborn is a solid WR3. He wins with some savvy and technique but mostly does so with effort more than pure athleticism. Plus, Osborn is set to be a free agent in 2024 and finding someone who can stretch down the field is essential.
The best way to stretch the field is to find an X-receiver. An X-receiver is a big-bodied player who can attack you deep and win contested catches. Guys from the Sean McVay coaching tree tend to prioritize receivers with outstanding vertical- and broad-jump abilities.
In a similar way to how Adofo-Mensah has prioritized the 10-yard split, if you jump well, that leads to explosiveness on the field both with speed and leaping ability. Will those two schools of thought mesh well?
D.J. Chark fits all the criteria above. When he came out of LSU in 2018, he finished with a Relative Athletic Score of 9.94. His testing was off the charts:
- 40-yard dash: 4.34 seconds (98.7th percentile)
- 20-yard split: 2.54 seconds (94.7th percentile)
- 10-yard split: 1.51 seconds (96.8th percentile)
- Vertical jump: 40” (95.6th percentile)
- Broad jump: 10’8” (94.7th percentile)
Due to his incredible traits, the Jacksonville Jaguars ended up selecting Chark with the 62nd-overall pick in 2018. He spent his first four seasons in Jacksonville and found success. His best season was in 2019 when he caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns. In that season, he was explosive in attacking down the field and looked like he might a future No. 1 receiver for the Jaguars.
This play shows highlights Chark’s significant talent:
He’s running a slot fade here out of a bunch formation. Foles lays it up just short of the back pylon, and Chark fights through the contact, tracks it well, and hauls in a touchdown.
It isn’t just about him winning at the catch point with physicality. Chark can also win as a route runner.
This play is also run out of a bunch formation, something that Jacksonville liked to do when he was there. He runs a post-corner, and the way he dips his hips creates separation with ease. A good throw makes this an easy touchdown.
Unfortunately, Chark never quite became Jacksonville’s WR1. Injuries played a big part in that. He missed 21 of a possible 65 games, and that led to the Jaguars not re-signing him. He joined the Detroit Lions this past season and caught 30 passes for 502 yards and three touchdowns but missed six games with an ankle injury.
The injury history could very well end up hurting his chances for a big contract. Pro Football Focus has Chark projected to receive a three-year, $35 million contract this offseason, and that is with a very weak receiver free-agent class headlined by Michael Thomas and Robert Woods. Considering he is about to enter his age 27 season, coming to Minnesota on a team-friendly deal could help him get a larger deal before he turns 30.
The route tree that Chark is most comfortable with fits very well with what Kevin O’Connell likes to run in Minnesota. Crossing routes, digs, hitches, and go routes are all tools in his toolbox, and he would rarely be matched up against the top cornerback, which would make things much easier for him. If the price is right, the Vikings should make Chark a priority this offseason.