The Minnesota Vikings will go into the 2016 NFL Draft with a major need for a wide receiver.
Their most productive 2015 receiver, Stefon Diggs, averaged just 33.4 yards-per-game over the final nine and caught just two touchdowns in that span. Their second-best receiver, Jarius Wright, caught zero touchdowns last year and averaged just 13 yards-per-catch.
Charles Johnson, the man most qualified by virtue of physical ability to provide a second outside threat along with Diggs, participated in only 21% of the team’s offensive snaps last year partly due to a broken rib. The man once called by Norv Turner “far and away the team’s best receiver” has outside of a five-game stretch in 2014 done almost nothing on a professional football field.
2013 undrafted free agent Adam Thielen is known primarily for his special teams exploits and for his inspirational backstory. 2013 first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson is a dangerous return man who in 2015 participated in only 5.7% of the team’s offensive snaps, being targeted just twice.
That’s a snapshot of the Minnesota Vikings’ receiver corps going into the 2016 NFL Draft.
Nevertheless, there are some who think the Vikings should use their #23 overall pick on an offensive lineman. Even though they already have potentially solid starters and backups at all five positions.
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Matt Kalil, for all his faults, was an adequate left tackle on the whole in 2015. Alex Boone was acquired to play left guard at the cost of $10 million guaranteed over four years.
Veteran Joe Berger was the Vikings’ best lineman in 2015 and will return to play center in 2016, if former starter John Sullivan is unable to return from a back issue. If Sullivan starts, Berger returns to his role as top-flight backup center/guard.
The Vikings are loaded with options on the right side of their line. Former solid starting right guard Brandon Fusco will flip back from the left to compete with 2016 starting RG Mike Harris. At right tackle, the Vikings figure to have a three-way competition between 2015 starter T.J. Clemmings, former starter Phil Loadholt and former Cincinnnati first-round pick Andre Smith.
Training camp will be a process of sifting for new Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano, but at least he has options to sift through.
The Vikings were bad in pass protection last year and addressed that issue via aggressive changes on the coaching staff and in personnel. The hope is that they can put together a strong unit up-front that can give Teddy Bridgewater more time to find open receivers down the field and make more big plays.
But if Bridgewater lacks receivers who are able to get open, it won’t matter how much time he has. If the Vikings have no receivers who can threaten a defense with big play ability, teams will have no reason not to blitz early and often.
The Vikings’ lack of receiver talent is such a dire issue that it may push them to drastic and unusual measures, like pulling off a draft-day trade to acquire a veteran. Arizona’s Michael Floyd is believed to be available via trade and the pieces could be in place for the Vikings to pick him up.
Floyd is 26-years-old and entering the final year of his contract, a contract that is set to pay him around $7 million (or about $4 million less than what Minnesota paid Mike Wallace last year). Floyd has averaged 910 yards-per-season over the last three years and caught 17 touchdown passes over that span. Last year, Floyd averaged 16.3 yards-per-catch with six touchdowns.
Acquiring Floyd may be as simple for the Vikings as swapping spots in the draft with the Arizona Cardinals, who are currently slated to pick #29 overall. If the Vikings could in fact acquire a viable veteran receiver who is not making an unreasonable amount of money and still remain in the first round, I don’t see why they would not at least consider that possibility.
The Vikings figure to have multiple options if they desire to remain at #23 and pick a receiver. Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell are both physically gifted players who showed big-play ability in college and could become dangerous outside receiving weapons. Corey Coleman and Will Fuller are both fast players who could threaten defenses deep, opening up underneath routes. Michael Thomas has a versatile skill-set and with grooming could become a big-time target for Teddy Bridgewater.
If the Vikings go the trade route, it would likely put them out of the running to draft a Doctson or a Treadwell, but other interesting receiver prospects might still be available to them either late in the first or in later rounds. A trade for a veteran like Michael Floyd would have the advantage of giving you immediate help at receiver, while drafting a rookie comes with the usual questions of initial impact.
Whatever the Vikings decide to do Thursday night, they must leave day one with a new receiver. Other positions of need have already been sufficiently addressed.