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Football Outsiders on the Minnesota Vikings receivers

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They’re really good, but where do they work best?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings-Training Camp Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

We conclude the offensive portion of our Minnesota Vikings preview with Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders, celebrating the release of the Football Outsiders 2018 Almanac. Since we’ve talked about the quarterback position and the offensive line, we’re going to take a look now at the wide receiver corps. We know that the Vikings’ receivers have had a great deal of praise heaped upon them since last season, and with good reason. They may have the best 1-2 receiver punch in the league, and the battle for spots behind them this offseason has been one of the best battles of camp thus far.

So, what does Scott think about the Vikings’ receivers and where their best fit in the offense is? Let’s find out.

Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs have developed into what might be the best 1-2 wide receiver tandem in the NFL. From what you’ve seen from them, is there any reason to fear that they might be in for a regression even with what (in theory) should be an upgrade at quarterback?

I wouldn’t fear regression. I would just be curious to see how Laquon Treadwell and Kendall Wright are used in conjunction with Thielen and Diggs. Treadwell hasn’t shown any slot value, and really no value period in his first two seasons. Wright is a devoted slot receiver who could be a good fit for this team there. Kirk Cousins’ favorite target in Washington last year was Jamison Crowder, who mostly worked the slot.

Our numbers on where receivers lined up on their targets (slot or wide) show that Thielen has been better in the slot than out wide in each of the last two seasons. It was significantly better in 2017 when he was at 27.1% DVOA on wide passes compared to -2.1% DVOA on slot passes. Diggs excelled in the slot last year (29.1% DVOA), but he only had 35 slot targets compared to 83 for Thielen, a real role reversal from 2016. So that is something I’d be watching this year to see if the Vikings are getting max value out of their wideouts. Personally, unless Treadwell has a great preseason, I would use Wright and Diggs often in the slot and try to keep Thielen out wide more.

It’s interesting to see the disparity between Diggs and Thielen when it comes to the number of targets that each had from the slot. We’ve seen that both of them are talented and versatile enough to be successful in either role, whether it’s in the slot or out wide, but it would appear that Diggs is much more successful from the slot than Thielen is.

It makes sense when you look at Diggs’ traits. He possesses such great quickness and route-running ability that if he lines up off the line of scrimmage where a defensive back can’t get an initial jam on him, he could well be totally uncoverable. . .I think that’s a word, despite what my spell checker tells me.

When Kacsmar talks about the Vikings’ two primary options as the #3 receiver. . .or, at least, the guys that were the primary options when I first submitted these questions. . .they both offer quite different skill sets. Treadwell, as he mentions has just about no slot value and is pretty much exclusively an outside receiver, while Wright likely wouldn’t offer much on the outside and should be used primarily in the slot.

Of course, this doesn’t take players like Brandon Zylstra (who will make his preseason debut on Friday), Cayleb Jones, Stacy Coley, or any of the other receivers that are fighting for spots. Whoever comprises the rest of the wide receiver depth chart behind Diggs and Thielen will certainly have earned their spots and should find themselves as the recipient of quite a few targets.

We’ve got two more questions that we’ve thrown Scott Kacsmar’s way about the Vikings, and they both concern the Minnesota defense (though nothing about new acquisition George Iloka, who was not a part of the equation when I sent my questions in). Stay tuned tomorrow to find out the question and answer, and check out the Football Outsiders 2018 Almanac if you’re so inclined.