If the Minnesota Vikings lack star power, or at least star production, in their receiving corps, they don’t lack depth.
To date, no Vikings receiver has a 100-yard game. Two – Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs – have put together performances in the 80-yard range – and the highest number of receptions by a single Vikings is eight by Wallace.
“We have six very good receivers. The depth at receiver is the best, I think, since we’ve been here,” general manager Rick Spielman said.
So far, it hasn’t been much of an issue deciding which receivers are active for game day and which receiver – the Vikings have six on the 53-man roster and usually deactivate one on game day – is inactive. For the first three games, that one was rookie Diggs. He was active last Sunday against the Denver Broncos only because starter Charles Johnson was out with a rib injury and Jarius Wright was dealing with a hand injury that limited him to only one snap.
But Diggs ended with a season-best 87 yards for the Vikings and it would be difficult to send him back to the bench after that performance.
“He was productive in his first opportunity to get out there and play, but I think that carried over from everything that you’ve seen in the preseason,” Spielman said when asked about Diggs’ future after he tied a franchise record for receptions by a wide receiver in his first active game. “He made a lot of plays in the preseason and a very talented football player. Everybody stepped in – Cordarrelle (Patterson) had a nice catch along the sideline. Adam Thielen filled in for Jarius Wright and did a nice job in the slot. Mike Wallace got going a little bit this week. Last week we were able to win the ball game predominantly running the football. This week we got behind, but I think it showed signs of Teddy (Bridgewater) and the receivers and our ability that once we get a little more consistent that we can put the ball in the air and we’re going to have to win some games that way as well.”
All totaled against the Broncos on Sunday, the Vikings’ wide receivers caught 21 passes, only the sixth time in team history that happened on the road, and it was the first time it happened without Cris Carter. It was almost 16 years since that happened.
It shows the Vikings’ depth at the position, but it also creates a conundrum. Wright and Johnson should both be ready to go when the Vikings return to action on Oct. 18 against the Kansas City Chiefs. So what will Diggs’ role be, if any? How about Cordarrelle Patterson who, with a healthy stable of receivers, has been limited to mostly kickoff returns?
“He’s made so, so, so many strides from where he was a year ago and he’s continuing to make strides, Spielman said of Patterson. “… Cordarrelle, you couldn’t ask for a kid who’s working as hard as he can. And there are specific packages that he may be involved with.”
Spielman said the decisions on which receivers play when are based on the personnel packages the coaching staff believes will work best against certain opponents and at certain points in a game.
Johnson is considered a starter and a player offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes, but he has only six catches in the three games he played. Is he getting separation from the defensive backs consistently enough?
“Charles hasn’t picked up where he was a year ago,” Spielman said, “but Charles is a very good receiver and, like I said, we have six very good receivers that any of them could step out there and I don’t think we lose much when any of those guys are out there.”
Diggs is now the wild card. He produced a season-high 87 yards among the receivers this season in his only game of the season. Will that mean Patterson or Thielen is moved to the bench when all six of the receivers are healthy enough to play again? Thielen is a key player on special teams; Patterson remains the team’s kick returner.
“This coaching staff, it’s them identifying who we’re playing against and what we have to do to win the game,” Spielman said.
But if production is the name of the game, it would be hard to explain a return to the bench for Diggs.