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Vikings Off-Season Evaluation Part V: Wide Receivers

The future is bright but depth could improve too

Minnesota Vikings v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

In the fifth installment of my Vikings Offseason Evaluation series, I’ll breakdown the Vikings’ wide receiver position group. Previous installment links are here:

Part I: Offensive Overview

Part II: Quarterbacks

Part III: Special Teams

Part IV: Defensive Overview

Wide Receiver Group Evaluation

Keenan McCardell coaches the Vikings wide receiver group, with Tony Sorrentino as his assistant. McCardell is a former NFL wide receiver with a 17-year career in the league before getting into coaching and is well respected and has earned the praise of the receivers he coaches. He has talked about wanting to be a head coach last year, attended the NFL Coach Accelerator program, and interviewed for an offensive coordinator position last year as well. The issue for McCardell is that at age 54, he’s about 15-20 years older than average for a first-time coordinator these days. That may limit his opportunities to get a bigger coaching role in an offense with another team. However, it’s conceivable that Kevin O’Connell could offer him a bigger role in some way. But currently TE Coach Brian Angelichio is the passing game coordinator and Ryan Cordell is pass game specialist in addition to being game management coordinator, so it’s unclear what additional role would be available. In any case, McCardell has done a good job developing young receivers- and hopefully that will continue.

Wide Receiver Depth Chart

Now that the season is over, the Vikings have just four wide receivers on the roster: Justin Jefferson, Jordan Addison, Jalen Nailor, and Malik Knowles. N’Keal Harry was signed to a futures contract (i.e. 2024 practice squad) while Brandon Powell and K.J. Osborn are free agents.

Of course the big issue in this group is extending Justin Jefferson, who is elite and the best wide receiver in the NFL when healthy. The Vikings and Jefferson were not able to reach a deal before the season started, but most likely will do so sometime early in the new league year that begins in March. At that point Jefferson will have a near $20 million salary that can be turned into a signing bonus as part of a mega-deal that will likely average around $30 million/year. Spotrac has estimates his market value at $28.2 million/year, but I’d be surprised if Jefferson didn’t at least equal Tyreek Hill’s $30 million/year deal, even if that one was backloaded and not likely to be completely paid out. The length of the contract, based on comparables, would likely be four years, but we’ll have to see what gets hammered out in the end. I don’t think there’s much chance that a deal doesn’t get worked out in time, and the Vikings always have the franchise tag to fall back on if a deal remains elusive. My guess is that at least part of what Jefferson is looking for in signing an extension is some assurance that the team will remain competitive. Jefferson has been steadfast in saying winning is what matters most to him, and he hasn’t shown anything different in his actions either. I suspect knowing he’ll have a competent quarterback throwing him the ball is something of a requirement, otherwise the team’s and his performance will likely suffer. He’s advocated for Kirk Cousins more than any other player except maybe Brian O’Neill, but whether extending Cousins is a dealbreaker for him remains to be seen.

Beyond Jefferson, Jordan Addison has secured the WR2 spot for the foreseeable future. Addison had a very promising rookie season, even if he didn’t eclipse 1,000 yards receiving. He led all rookie wide receivers in touchdowns (10), was third in receiving yards (911), and 9th in yards per route run among rookie wide receivers with at least 50 targets despite some subpar quarterbacking the last half of the season. There is room for improvement for Addison, who has proven to be a deep threat and playmaker in the league, but with greater mastery can be a more versatile threat on more routine plays as well.

Overall, the Vikings are set to have one of the best wide receiver duos in the league next season and arguably the best for the Vikings since Moss and Carter.

What remains for the Vikings is to shore up the WR3 spot. KJ Osborn is a free agent, and he hasn’t performed well enough to deserve an extension, despite the high praise from Kevin O’Connell and Kirk Cousins at times. The reality is that he has the lowest overall PFF grade (53.9), the lowest PFF drop grade (35.7), the highest drop rate (12.7%), the 6th lowest contested catch rate (25%), and the 3rd-lowest yards per route run rate (0.97) among all wide receivers with at least 70 targets this season. Those are all declines over his previous two seasons, but his yards per route run, the most comprehensive measure for wide receivers, was 5th worst last season, and 7th worst the year before that. In more qualitative terms, Osborn simply has trouble gaining separation, doesn’t have the speed to be a deep threat, and has a small catch radius. That makes it difficult for him to be effective. He gets all the credit for being a good guy on and off the field, a good teammate and positive in the locker room, but he simply hasn’t produced enough on the field to warrant a WR3 spot.

Moreover, the Vikings have other guys that have performed better and have more upside in Brandon Powell and Jalen Nailor. Powell is a free agent as well but makes sense to extend on a cheap contract where he can compete for WR3 duties along with punt returner. Jalen Nailor impressed during the offseason by all accounts, but suffered a hamstring injury- like Justin Jefferson- that caused him to miss most of the season. Nevertheless, he has the upside in both his traits and the limited action he’s seen to earn more reps and compete for the WR3 spot as well. Nailor has also been a significant contributor on special teams.

Beyond that, there is room for the Vikings to experiment with another veteran acquisition or Day 3 draft pick to improve depth and/or develop role players. N’Keal Harry is one option the Vikings have signed to a futures contract and effectively the 2024 practice squad, but there is no shortage of other possibilities. Mecole Hardman is one inexpensive free agent option that’s produced at a higher rate than Osborn and Powell, and is younger, but there are several others. And there are always plenty of Day 3 fliers the Vikings can take knowing they’ve got a pretty solid and young lineup ahead of them if they don’t work out.

The Vikings used 3WR sets at near a league-low rate of 40% this season, although they had some 4WR sets too that put 3 wide receivers on the field about half the time, but the preference to use more 2TE sets or 2RB sets makes the WR3 a bit less important than it is for some other teams. Nevertheless, improving depth for the inevitable times when Jefferson or Addison are not available is a smart move and can be done for not a lot of resources.

Bottom Line

The Vikings are set with one of the best wide receiver duos in the league next year with Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison. The Vikings need to get a monster extension deal done with Jefferson, which will be a salary cap burden, but Jefferson has proven he is a difference maker on the field and commands that type of deal.

But the key for improvement this off-season for the Vikings is bringing in competition for the WR3 position and upgrading it over KJ Osborn this season. Whether it’s Jalen Nailor or Brandon Powell or a new veteran acquisition or a draft pick, there is plenty of opportunity to upgrade that position and also develop the bottom half of the depth chart to include a role player or two and special teams contributors.


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