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The future of the Vikings, part 3: Wide receivers

Following their loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game, the Minnesota Vikings are now officially in offseason mode. Throughout the coming weeks, we will look at the future of each position, what changes may come in free agency, the draft or trades and which direction players are trending. For Part 1, we looked at the quarterbacks, for part 2, the running backs and part 3, the wide receivers…

The Minnesota Vikings’ receiving corps played a huge role in the team overcoming the loss of starting quarterback Sam Bradford. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen emerged as the best receiving tandem in the NFL. Will they stay at the top? Could the Vikings add even more talent to their group of weapons? Let’s have a look…

The results

Stefon Diggs

Vikings WR Stefon Diggs ranks No. 1 on ‘tight-window’ catches

From a fantasy football perspective, Stefon Diggs had a down year. But fantasy football isn’t a good way to judge whether a player had a strong season. Pro Football Focus ranked Diggs the eighth best receiver in the NFL this season. He was No. 1 in completion percentage and QB rating on contested catches.

The Vikings’ third-year receiver increased his yards per completion from 10.8 to 13.3, increased his touchdown catches from three to eight and grabbed 67.4 percent of throws in his direction.

Football Outsiders ranked Diggs fourth in their stat Defense-Adjusted Value Above Average, which factors in his catch rate, yards per reception and five penalties drawn for 105 yards.

To add to his value, Diggs was rated 27th of 108 run blockers by PFF.

So, while his catch total was not as high as last season, Diggs proved that he belongs among the elite wide receivers in the NFL.

Adam Thielen

How versatility is making Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen unstoppable

Did you know Adam Thielen went to Mankato?

Yes, it became a weekly broadcast cliche, but Thielen earned all the attention he gained from the national media this season. His 91 receptions rank in the top 10 seasons in franchise history.

Thielen became Case Keenum’s favorite target, finishing with 142 targets, a 64.1 percent completion percentage and a strong 14.0 yards per reception. Pro Football Focus rated him as the 10th best receiver in the NFL.

The 27-year-old receiver caught 20 passes that traveled over 15 yards in the air, ranking sixth in the NFL. He also had the seventh best completion percentage of receivers with more than 20 “deep” targets (52.7%).

In the Vikings’ playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, Thielen caught six passes for 74 yards while being shadowed by Marshon Lattimore, a top shutdown corner.

It’s safe to say the Vikings got the most out of the first year of Thielen’s four-year, $19 million deal.

Laquon Treadwell

The Vikings gave Laquon Treadwell many more opportunities to prove he was worth a first-round draft pick in 2016 by putting him on the field for 500 snaps (44.8% of total Vikings offensive snaps). Of those 500 plays, only 35 went in his direction. On those targets, he caught 20 passes for 200 yards (57.1 percent catch percentage). Case Keenum had  a 47.8 quarterback rating when targeting Treadwell and Pro Football Focus rated him 100th of 116 wide receivers.

Jarius Wright

Mike Zimmer has high praise for Jarius Wright

The veteran wide receiver was only targeted 25 times, but made the most of throws his way. He caught 18 passes, 12 for first downs and Keenum had a 124.7 rating when passing to Wright. Of his 25 targets, 17 came on third down, 10 of which became first downs. He also added two touchdowns.

Michael Floyd

Michael Floyd finished with 10 catches on 17 targets for 78 yards.

The options

— The Vikings could have a tricky situation down the road with Thielen and Diggs. This offseason the Vikings should be seeking to sign Diggs to a contract extension. His current deal runs out after next season. But if he signs a big-money deal, Thielen could (rightfully) ask the Vikings to rework his deal. After a top-10 season, he’s easily worth far more than his current salary. At least for next year, the Vikings know they will have the best tandem in the NFL again.

— Outside of trading Laquon Tredwell, there’s no other option for the Vikings than to wait and see. And the trade market would be slim to none. The difficult part about Treadwell is, unlike Cordarrelle Patterson, there isn’t a ultra-specific role that fits his skillset. Unless he makes big strides in the offseason, he could end up farther down the depth chart than this year.

— It would be surprising if Michael Floyd returned to Minnesota.

— As always, there will be a large number of free agent receivers on the market. The Vikings likely won’t be looking to break the bank on top names like Sammy Watkins or Jarvis Landry (though Landry is close with Teddy Bridgewater), but they may add a veteran. Players like Kendall Wright, Marquise Lee, Taylor Gabriel, Dontrelle Inman, Donte Moncrief and Kamar Aiken could be in play.

— It wouldn’t make much sense for the Vikings to draft a receiver in the first round, but a later-round pick is possible. Oklahoma State’s James Washington will be an intriguing name to watch. He averaged 20.9 yards per catch, but may lack some physical tools to end up at the top. Other receivers in the mid rounds to keep an eye on include: Jordan Lasley (UCLA), Javon Wims (Georgia), Cedric Wilson (Boise State) and Deon Cain (Clemson).

— The Vikings have three young receivers that could make noise next year in Stacy Coley, Rodney Adams and Cayleb Jones. The Vikings drafted Adams and Coley in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively, last season. Coley showed flashes in the preseason and was part of the active roster all year, while Adams was released and signed to the practice squad. Coley has explosive speed and some route running skill while Adams has been pegged as more of a playmaker. Jones’ height and go-up-and-get-it talent gives him a chance to make noise in camp.

The bottom line

The Vikings couldn’t ask for a better pair of top receivers, but there is room for improvement beyond Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings will very likely add one more player to the mix this offseason.





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