There are different ways to define depth.
Some teams have multiple players with similar skill sets who can handle the same assignments, so if one player gets hurt, the team doesn’t lose as much as others might. There’s also depth provided from key role players.
In the Vikings’ case, nobody can replace Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They are two of the top 10 rated receivers by Pro Football Focus. None of the next men up have their all-around skill sets. But the Vikings’ offense has role players who make it challenging for defenses to focus on just Diggs and Thielen. And those role players tend to show up when they are most needed.
At the top of that list is tight end David Morgan and receiver Jarius Wright.
Morgan is rated by PFF as the seventh best tight end in the NFL and the fourth best run blocker. The 6-foot-4, 260-pound tight end has been targeted 12 times in the passing game, 10 of which have been catches including three first downs on three targets on third downs. He caught a 24-yard pass on a rollout from Case Keenum against the Green Bay Packers on a scoring drive and also turned a short pass on fourth-and-short into a 14-yard gain against the Cleveland Browns.
Morgan also has a touchdown catch to his name at the goal line in Washington.
“Tight end in general, we’re asked to do a lot of things,” Morgan said Friday. “We’re run blocking, we’re pass protecting, we’re going out and catching the ball. It’s a position where you’re asked to do a lot, but we’ve done a great job and we have a great coaching staff that gets us prepared every week.”
One important role for Morgan that doesn’t end up in the box score is in play-action. He’s rarely the intended target, but his presence alone forces opponents to be wary of a Latavius Murray power run.
Against the Saints, there’s a good chance he will be used as an extra pass blocker on such play-action plays as the Vikings look to slow down PFF’s No. 1 ranked pass rusher Cameron Jordan. Morgan is preparing for every type of situation.
“I am studying film seeing what types of things he likes to resort to, what types of moves he likes to do,” Morgan said of a matchup with Jordan. “A lot of comes down to technique on yourself. Everyone you face in the NFL is a great player. Obviously he’s definitely better than the average guy. You have to have an idea of what he’s going to do, then play your balls off.”
With starting tight end Kyle Rudolph slowed by an ankle injury over the final three weeks of the season, Morgan played between 60 and 75 percent of the Vikings’ total offensive snaps. On average, he’s been near the 50 percent mark, a high rate for a No. 2 tight end.
“Over the course of the year, it’s been my biggest thing, getting those reps, being in a lot of different positions and seeing a lot of different things,” Morgan said. “Not just practicing them but seeing them 100 miles per hour and seeing them in a game. Nothing can really compare to getting a look like that in the game…I would definitely say that’s grown my confidence and my trust in myself and my teammates.”
Receiver Jarius Wright played a lot of snaps early in his career and hardly any last year. This season, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has found a role to fit what he does best: Convert third downs.
Wright isn’t big, but he is savvy, often finding holes in the opposing team’s defense in big situations. Of his 18 receptions this year, 10 have been on third down and eight of those have turned into first downs, including a touchdown catch in Cleveland. Wright says experience has helped him find openings and make plays, even when he’s coming in only a few times per game.
“That’s definitely a big part of it,” Wright said. “I’ve been here six years, I understand football, I watch enough film to understand what teams are trying to get done and I’m pretty good at being in the right place at the right time.”
Keenum also knows when he targets Wright, he’s going to bring the ball in. Over the last four years, he’s caught 105 of 151 throws in his direction (69.5 percent) and under Shurmur, he’s caught 29 of 39 (74.3 percent).
Anyone who’s watched the NFL playoffs can attest to the fact that role players can become legends when they make plays on the biggest stage. If the regular season trend carries over, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Morgan or Wright come through in an important situation.