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The Third Wide Receiver Could Play A Big Role in 2018

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Kirk Cousins has targeted his third wide receiver a lot while he was in Washington. Will it continue in Minnesota?

Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

When Kirk Cousins was in Washington, he led a pretty diversified passing attack, and spread the ball around a fair amount. In the three full years Cousins was the Redskins starter, Washington finished 12th, 2nd, and 11th in total passing yards, with Washington winning the NFC East and making the playoffs in 2015. In 2014, the year he split starts with Robert Griffin III and Colt McCoy, the Redskins passing offense was 11th.

And through it all, the third wide receiver spot was a big part of the Washington offense. I’ll include 2014 just to get a wider body of work, but let’s look at some numbers. I’m also going to include catches by the top receiving tight end and running back, just because I expect the Vikings offense to really incorporate those two positions in the passing game as well, and it gives us a more rounded look at how Cousins distributed the ball. Although that’s not really the focus of this post, you’ll see that Kyle Rudolph and a combination of Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray are more than likely going to be targeted a lot by Cousins.

A caveat: I labeled the top three WR’s for Washington based on mostly statistics, not necessarily how they shook out on the depth chart for that particular season. So in 2015, Jamison Crowder was probably WR3 on the depth chart, but had more receptions than DeSean Jackson due to injuries to Jackson. Which forced Crowder in to the WR2 role, making him the defacto WR2. Cool? Cool.

One thing that jumps out is this statline:

42 receptions, 583 yards, 13.9 avg., 5 TD

That’s the four year average that the third wide receiver spot tallied in Washington since Kirk Cousins became the quarterback for the Redskins. And for 2018, the projections for Cousins seem right on par with his career averages: 4,200+ yards passing, 27 TD’s, and I’m going to modify his projected interceptions to zero, haha.

Joking aside, if Cousins hits those numbers, and he should, the third WR in the Vikings offense should be a big contributor, and therein lies the rub—WR3 hasn’t contributed a whole lot to the Vikings offense the last few seasons. Granted, there’s a key difference between the Redskins offense and the Vikings offense over the last four years (for the most part), as the Vikings offense has been a lot more run oriented during this time frame. Let’s take a look at the WR3 stats for Vikings receivers over the same time period:

If you compare those numbers to the aggregate statline of WR3 in Washington, we see that Vikings WR3’s have exceeded the average number of catches once, and have never matched the yards in a single season. That said, I don’t think it’s necessarily due to a huge talent gap as opposed to differing offensive philosophies during this time period. For example, over this four year period, the Redskins top two receivers have been targeted over 100 times a season six out of eight times, while the Vikings top two receivers have been targeted over 100 times just twice.

Is there anyone on the roster who can step up and do it? The two main candidates are Treadwell and Kendall Wright, who was signed away from the Bears in the off season. Because, you know, federal law mandates that the Vikings must sign a former Bears wide receiver a minimum of every three years of NFL free agency. We know about Treadwell’s unfulfilled expectations so far, and last season was his best. Let’s look at Kendall Wright’s time in Chicago:

What isn’t shown is Wright’s 2013 season, when he caught 94 passes and had 1,079 yards receiving. Up until this point in his career, Wright’s biggest issue has been staying healthy, though. He missed two games in 2014 due to a broken bone in his hand, six games in 2015 for broken ribs and a sprained MCL, and the first three games in 2016 due to a hamstring injury suffered during training camp ( I couldn’t find out why he didn’t play the other two games). So when he’s healthy, Wright can flat out play.

Either way, something’s gotta give. Someone not named Adam Thielen or Stefon Diggs is going to step in to the WR3 role, or Rudolph and Cook/Murray are going to have monster receiving numbers.

Whether it’s Wright, Treadwell, or another receiver that has yet to emerge, well, we should start getting some answers in just a couple weeks.