The Minnesota Vikings made some big steps in their passing game during the 2015 season, yet still have a long way to go. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater became the first Vikings quarterback to throw for over 3,000 yards since Brett Favre broke that mark in 2009.
The team also saw fifth-round draft pick Stefon Diggs emerge as a playmaker in his first four games of the season, recording 25 receptions for 419 yards and two touchdowns over that span. His production tailed off after that, however, as he only recorded 27 receptions for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings final nine games of the regular season.
The team also brought in Mike Wallace in 2015, after trading with the Miami Dolphins, in hopes that he would give Bridgewater a true No. 1 receiver and a threat deep down the field. That experiment did not work out as planned, however, as he recorded 39 receptions for 473 yards and two touchdowns, all of which are career lows or tied for a career low.
Wallace still has two years left on his contract and is owed $11.5 million in each of them, but there is no dead money left on his contract, so the Vikings can cut him if they wish and not take a hit to their salary cap. That will likely be their course of action this offseason as it is difficult to justify paying him like one of the top receivers in the NFL when he isn’t even the leading receiver on the team.
The Vikings will more than likely be looking to bring in a big-bodied, No. 1 receiver that can give Bridgewater a true threat deep down the field and in the red zone. Having a player like that, where Bridgewater can throw the ball up and trust the receiver will come down with it, will give him more confidence than ever and help bring his game to the next level.
The 2016 free agent class does not possess a lot of big, talented receivers who are entering into the prime of their career, but there are still some the Vikings should consider looking at.
Alshon Jeffery – The first, and most obvious choice, is going to be Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. He has been in the NFL for four seasons now and the Vikings know all too well what kind of player he is on the field.
The 6-foot-3, 216-pound receiver has totaled 252 receptions for 3,728 yards and 24 touchdowns in his career. He has also been able to put up big numbers against his division-rival Vikings, recording 40 receptions for 612 yards and six touchdowns in the seven games he has played against them.
Jeffery was injured for a good chunk of the 2015 season and was only able to play in nine games. Still, in that short span he was able to record 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns. If he played in all 16 games with that production he likely would have set career highs in both receptions and yards.
The problem with Jeffery, however, is that he probably will never even be able to test the free agent market. The Bears are going to want to sign him to a long-term deal, and if they can’t they will more than likely slap him with a franchise tag.
After the 25-year-old Jeffery, there are not really any elite receivers in this year’s group of free agents that are in the age range that the Vikings will likely be targeting as they continue to build a team meant to sustain long-term success.
Rueben Randle – One player that has shown the ability as a playmaker, a downfield threat and a red zone target is the New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle. The 24-year-old receiver measures is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and has continued to be a key part in the Giants offense, despite the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. and playing with a healthy Victor Cruz before that.
Having a player like Beckham lining up next to him on every play means that Randle is going to get a lot less passes thrown his way than he might otherwise, but he was still able to post a career high in touchdowns (eight) last season. He also recorded 57 receptions for 797 yards in 2015, both the second-highest marks in his career, following the 71 receptions for 938 yards he posted in 2014.
Randle has yet to miss a game in his four-year career, which is always a desirable trait when teams are looking at players. He has amassed a total of 57 receptions for 2,644 yards and 20 touchdowns in his four years in the league, but if given the chance to be a team’s No. 1 receiver he could be a player that flourishes.
Marvin Jones – Another player that the Vikings could look at in hopes of being able to emerge as a No. 1 receiver is the Cincinnati Bengals’ Marvin Jones. Like Randle, Jones has had to play alongside an elite receiver his entire career, this time in A.J. Green. But, when healthy, Jones has proven to be able to provide plenty of production on the field.
He looked as though he was about ready to break out following a 2013 season in which he posted 51 receptions for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns, but his career was put on hold for a season as the Bengals placed him on the injured reserve for the entirety of the 2014 season with an ankle injury.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound receiver was able to bounce back in 2015, though, recording a career high in receptions (65) and yards (816), while also adding four touchdowns.
Jones is just 25 years old and should still have his best years a head of him. He has shown plenty of potential on the field and could be a player the Vikings could get at a relatively cheap price because of the past injury and the average numbers. There is also a very good possibility that those numbers will increase when he doesn’t have to compete with a player like Green for targets.
Marlon Brown – Another option for the Vikings is Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marlon Brown, but there are a few things that could turn the Vikings away. The first is that he is a restricted free agent, which would make it more difficult for the Vikings to sign him, especially since the other receivers listed are unrestricted free agents.
The second thing that could turn the Vikings away is that there has been a steady decline in his production since the Ravens signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013. That season he posted 49 receptions for 524 yards and seven touchdowns, which dropped to 24 receptions for 255 yards and zero touchdowns in 2014, and then to 14 receptions for 112 yards and zero touchdowns in 2015.
The final thing that could turn the Vikings, and any other potential suitors, away from Brown is his history with injuries. He suffered a torn ACL as a senior in college, which caused him to fall out of the 2013 draft, and then suffered a back injury in Week 11 of 2015 that caused the team to place him on the IR, ending his season early.
Still, Brown measures in at 6-5, 214 pounds, a very desirable size for any wide receiver and it could cause a team to take a chance on him. He may never develop into a true No. 1 receiver, but that size indicates he could be a great red zone threat, which is what the Vikings really need.
Justin Blackmon – One last player that the Vikings could look at, but will more than likely stay away from, is Justin Blackmon. He was the No. 5 overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012, but the NFL suspended him indefinitely for his third violation of the league’s substance abuse policy in 2013.
He has not played since Week 8 of the NFL season but he is listed as a free agent this season if the NFL chooses to lift the suspension. Even if the suspension was lifted, though, there is no doubt that many teams would be turned away by the multiple red flags surrounding him. Still, there is a chance that the talent he showed during his short time in the NFL could be enough for a team to take a chance on.null