Previewing the Minnesota Vikings Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Vikings Wide Receivers
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 16: Stefon Diggs #14 of the Minnesota Vikings catches the ball for a 13 yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 16, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings wide receivers and tight ends are the clear-cut strength of the offense. The pass-catchers are incredible in Minnesota with a handful of quality contributors. They have talent on the outside, in the slot, and at tight end. Here is a preview of the Vikings wide receivers and tight ends for the 2019 season. Stick around for breakdowns of each player at the end.

Taking a Look at the Minnesota Vikings Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Vikings enter the season with a great group of weapons in the passing game. Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen both return after taking the league by storm. It is easily arguable that they are the best wide receiving tandem in the National Football League. The duo combined for 2,394 receiving yards on 215 receptions last season. They also hauled in 18 touchdowns in 2018. In 2017, the pair racked up 2,125 receiving yards on 155 combined catches. That was good for an average of 13.7 yards per reception. Their 2018 average was 11.1 yards per reception. Their targets jumped from 237 in 2017 to 302 in 2018. Over those two seasons, Diggs and Thielen had a catch rate of 68.6 percent.

The battle for the third wide receiver spot is up for grabs as camp nears. Former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell will once again have to fight for an opportunity to start. His competition this year includes Chad Beebe, Brandon Zylstra, and Jeff Badet. All three were on the roster last season. Newcomers Jordan Taylor, Dillon Mitchell, and Olabisi Johnson also join the fight.

The tight end room is a little stronger this season as well with the addition of Irv Smith Jr. through the draft. He joins Kyle Rudolph in the passing game. Also returning are David Morgan and Tyler Conklin who can help in other aspects of the offense. Morgan is an excellent blocker in the run game. He can contribute as a receiver, but they should focus on getting the ball to the other playmakers.

What to Expect in 2019

Head coach Mike Zimmer has made it no secret that he wants to run the ball more next season. He brought in offensive mastermind Gary Kubiak to help out for that reason alone. Kubiak is known for his zone run scheme that has worked for so long. The Vikings drafted according to that as well, finding two offensive linemen who can be forces in a zone run with a nice blend of speed and power down the field. Garrett Bradbury and Dru Samia have a chance to be special in Minnesota. Dalvin Cook has the talent to be a star, but the Vikings haven’t run the ball enough during his young career. Minnesota also drafted running back Alexander Mattison to help out the run game in the third round.

Still, Kirk Cousins was given a lot of money to throw the football. After a lackluster first season in purple, Cousins will be expected to deliver in 2019. He has the best pool of talent of his career. If things don’t come together, he is going to be in some big trouble. Kevin Stefanski is now the full-time offensive coordinator after filling in at the end of last season. With a full summer to work with Cousins, the Vikings offense should expect a big jump forward.

Diggs and Thielen will be the leaders as usual. They will enter the season as the top receiving threats. Both are capable of being number one receivers, but they also complement each other well. Both are arguably in the top 15 at the position in the NFL, which is impressive coming from the same team. Even without a true third receiver, the passing game is able to live because they are so incredible at everything they do. But who will step up and help them?

Treadwell continues to promise to improve. His time in Minnesota is quickly running out after three poor seasons. He finally caught his first touchdown pass last season. In three seasons, Treadwell has played in 40 games and accumulated just 56 catches for 517 yards and one score. He says he wants to stay in Minnesota, but he needs to prove it. Treadwell consistently drops crucial passes but has shown promise in camp and practice in his time as a Viking.

The tight ends have a chance to play a huge role in 2019. Rudolph has been a good piece across the middle, but age is catching up to him. Smith showed a ton of promise at Alabama and projects to be a great receiving threat in the NFL. He could be slowly integrated into Rudolph’s role before taking over in the not-so-distant future.

So, what exactly to the Vikings have in their offensive weapons? Here is a look at the possible contributors for the 2019 season.

A Closer Look

Stefon Diggs

Let’s get one thing straight right now. Diggs is the best route runner in the NFL. A lot of talented guys want to make that claim, but Diggs proves it over and over again. He creates so much space with his quick feet and head fakes. You will not find a wide receiver who makes defenders look foolish as often as Diggs. It does not matter how good a defensive back is, Diggs can make anyone look lost out there.

The Vikings know they can rely on Diggs when they need a big play. He wins at all levels of the field. His stop and go ability is outstanding, and it has been since he entered the league. He has embarrassingly quick feet that allow him to cut in and out of breaks better than almost anyone. Diggs flips his hips and changes direction almost effortlessly. Watch here as he keeps the defender guessing and finds the end zone.

When Diggs is covered, he is still a threat. He is one of the best in the league at catching contested balls. Diggs wins over the top of defenders with strong hands and great leaping ability.

If all else fails, the Vikings can look to Stefon Diggs. However, his counterpart is equally as amazing.

Adam Thielen

We all know the story of Thielen by now so I won’t bore you with the details. Since he started getting routine action in 2016, Thielen has evolved into one of the best receivers in the game. He is a technician and student of the position. His wide skill set allows him to line up anywhere and create for himself. It doesn’t hurt that defenses focused on Diggs, and rightfully so. That allowed Thielen to dominate one-on-one man coverage. He won with strong hands, great footwork, and an insane catch radius.

Adam Thielen was remarkable at the end of the 2017 season and into the 2018 campaign. He is strong in traffic with no fear of being lit up by defenders. This catch last season against the Packers was absolutely astonishing. He went up in double coverage and brought the ball down with ease. We can also see his excellent concentration as the ball is dropped between two defenders with their hands up.

It would not be an embellishment to say Thielen has some of the best hands in the NFL. He hauls in acrobatic catches almost routinely at this point in his career. His catch last season against the Saints was just another example of his great concentration and catch radius. He climbed over PJ Williams, reached behind Williams’ back, and finished the play. His hands have bailed his quarterbacks out of some iffy throws.

These final two plays give more evidence of his unfair concentration. In both cases, Thielen is falling down but is able to stay focused on the ball in the air. As he falls to the ground, he keeps his eyes fixated on the target and adjusts his body to make the catch. Even with great coverage, Thielen seems unstoppable at times.

Laquon Treadwell

The career of Treadwell has been underwhelming by almost all standards. He was selected in the first round back in 2016 but has failed to live up to that hype. His numbers have been remarkably low through three seasons. Wide receiver is a difficult position to adjust to in the NFL as route trees grow and play-calling becomes more complex. There is some reason for optimism with Treadwell, but time is running out.

He has shown some promise despite his poor performance. Treadwell made an unreal one-handed catch back in 2017. That was a glimpse of what the Vikings expected on a consistent basis when they drafted Treadwell.

Treadwell has been a great blocker in the run game. That does not mean a whole lot for a wide receiver, but it is a bright spot to focus on. His ability to engage in blocks allows the Vikings to run the ball outside when he is on the field. It also shows that he cares about the team and is willing to block even when he is not getting targeted in the passing game.

The lows have been extremely low, however. His crucial drop last season against the Packers should have cost the Vikings the game.

There are far too many times where Treadwell fails to haul in easy passes across the middle. He also struggles to create separation, especially against press coverage. This is probably Treadwell’s final chance to prove himself as an NFL receiver.

Chad Beebe

Beebe picked up some experience at the end of the 2018 season. He joined the team after time with the practice squad. His father, Don Beebe, was also an NFL wide receiver. Chad is a smaller option that can be a good weapon in the slot. He has nice footwork and a small body that allows him to sneak between the defense. As the roster deals with a ton of moving pieces, Beebe will look to compete on offense and on special teams. Marcus Sherels is no longer on the roster, and Mike Hughes is coming off of a torn ACL. Expect Beebe to make a name for himself as the new return man.

Jordan Taylor

The Vikings also picked up former Denver Bronco Jordan Taylor. He is a bigger target for Cousins, standing 6’5” and 195 pounds. Taylor is a tremendous athlete for his size. He has pretty solid hands and can jump out of the building to grab jump balls. While he has the traits to succeed, he has not shown up much in the stat sheet. In two seasons, Taylor has just 29 receptions for 351 yards and two touchdowns. He can compete for the third wide receiver job, but he will have to blow the competition out of the water to cement himself.

This catch of Taylor’s went viral a few years back. He shows off his great hands, tracking ability, and athleticism to haul in the pass.

Brandon Zylstra

Zylstra was once a star in the Canadian Football League. He led the CFL with 1,687 yards on 100 receptions back in 2017 with the Edmonton Eskimos. He is a Minnesota product, coming out of Concordia-Moorhead. Zylstra was a member of the Vikings practice squad before cracking the roster during the 2018 season.

Zylstra is a 6’2”, 215-pound wide receiver that is a possession fiend. He projects as a safety net at best that can play situationally for the Vikings. He has the potential to be a great red zone and short-yardage threat.

Jeff Badet

If the Vikings want speed, look no further than Badet. He was a deadly weapon for Kentucky and Oklahoma before entering the NFL. His speed is outstanding down the field and with the ball in his hands. This first play didn’t count, but you can see his pure speed and quick acceleration on the end-around.

This end-around did count. Once again, Badet flies in space and hits the gap before the defense can even react. Badet can play a similar role to Cordarrelle Patterson in the Minnesota offense. Teams are looking for more gadget guys and Badet is that type of weapon for the Vikings.

Dillon Mitchell

Many analysts expected the Vikings to target a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft. Instead, they landed Oregon product Dillon Mitchell in the seventh round. Mitchell is one of the better athletes to come through the NCAA ranks recently. He was a star basketball and football player out of high school and was also a stud on the track. His speed shows up on the field. Mitchell can score from anywhere. His speed gets him behind the defense in the blink of an eye.

Mitchell also has some marvelous footwork that allows him to stop and start with the best of them. This play is a simple drag underneath, but Mitchell slams on the brakes and makes the would-be tacklers look senseless. He turned a five-yard gain into a touchdown. Mitchell will be a fun weapon for the Vikings as he progresses.

Olabisi Johnson

The Vikings spent another seventh-round pick on wide receiver Olabisi Johnson out of Colorado State. Johnson was a decent receiver in college. He caught 125 passes for 11 touchdowns in four seasons. Reports from mini-camp suggest that Johnson has impressed, along with Dillon Mitchell. He can play the slot if given a chance. This summer will be a great opportunity for Johnson to stand out and earn a roster spot. If not, expect him to land on the practice squad until he is more polished and ready to play at the next level. This play here shows the potential of Johnson in the slot. Good feet at the line open up the passing lane for Johnson to score.

Kyle Rudolph

Rudolph came to Minnesota via a second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He busted onto the scene with an incredible start to his career. Since 2011, Rudolph has 41 receiving touchdowns. That is good for the franchise record by tight ends. However, this off-season has been filled with questions of Rudolph’s future with the team. He has a large cap hit that was not restructured. The Vikings selected tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round, sparking more questions. Rudolph is a reliable target for Cousins as he has the best catch rate of any NFL tight end. The concern comes with his playmaking ability after the catch.

Father time has caught up to Rudolph. He is nowhere near the athlete he was when he entered the league. Rudolph will turn 30 this November. His speed is pretty much gone. Once he catches the ball, the play is essentially over. Still, Rudolph is a good option in the passing game. His almost perfect hands are any quarterback’s best friend. For instance, Rudolph pulled down this improbable Hail Mary last season without any problem.

Rudolph is a vital piece of the offense as the top safety net across the middle. He can be a mentor to Irv Smith Jr. while he adjusts to the speed of the NFL.

David Morgan

Tight ends are more than receivers. David Morgan is the perfect example. He does not receive many targets in the passing game, but he contributes elsewhere. He is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. In fact, Morgan is so good at blocking that there was a brief period last season when fans wanted him to fill in at offensive tackle. Watch here as Morgan (#89) picks up the linebacker and opens a huge hole. These types of plays do not show up on the stat sheet, but they are the reason teams win.

Aaron Donald is one of the best interior linemen to ever play football. Morgan stood firm in front of the future Hall of Famer to set up a huge gain. He seals blocks well and is a good enough athlete to move to the next level of the defense if necessary. Morgan will be an important contributor in 2019, you just have to look for him in the run game.

Tyler Conklin

Conklin was drafted by the Vikings in 2018. He is a receiving threat more than anything else, but he has shown promise as a blocker as well. This play shows Conklin pull back inside and seal the gap from the interior rusher. The block propelled Dalvin Cook into space for a big run. If he continues to perform as a blocker, Conklin can earn himself a roster spot again in 2019.

Conklin was drafted to catch passes on the outside. He is a good athlete for his size, giving him positional flexibility. He can play on the line, in the slot, or outside as a receiving threat. Conklin dominated the Senior Bowl practices in 2018 with catches like this one.

Irv Smith Jr.

The Vikings decided to add to the tight end unit in the second round by selecting Smith. The Alabama product has the tools to be a dangerous receiving threat. He reeled in 58 passes for 838 yards and 10 touchdowns in two seasons at Alabama. He has the speed to run by linebackers and the size to win over defensive backs. Both are on full display in this clip.

The Vikings desperately need a creator at tight end. An athletic tight end can go a long way in an offense as potent as Minnesota’s. When the defense focuses on the other weapons, the tight ends can sneak under the radar and have an enormous impact. Smith is a sensational athlete with the ball in his hands. He turns this short pass into a long touchdown reception with his speed down the sideline. A player like that has been missing for the Vikings.

Last Word on the Vikings Pass-Catchers

Minnesota has a solid group of tight ends with a wide array of talents. They can find contributions in all phases of the offense in 2019. The pass-catchers as a whole are an outstanding unit. The veterans in place have proven their worth. Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, and Kyle Rudolph are reliable targets. Laquon Treadwell has one more shot to earn a role in the NFL. The young talent is exciting. The 2019 Minnesota Vikings will look to run the ball more, but the weapons in the passing game are far too impressive to leave alone. Kirk Cousins just has to step up for this team.

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