There seems to be a growing sentiment that the Minnesota Vikings are going to be looking at offensive line in free agency, the draft or both as their top priority. The rumor mill has the Vikings cutting Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt to open up a treasure chest of salary cap room. Apparently that line of logic doesn’t take into account that getting rid of both starting tackles without replacements already in place defies NFL thinking.
Where the Vikings need help as their top priority is landing an elite wide receiver. By any measure, as the Vikings made their run for the playoffs, they did so with a minimum impact from the top end of their wide receiver corps.
Teddy Bridgewater’s numbers improved in the second half of the season. In his first eight games, Bridgewater completed 149 of 232 passes for 1,670 yards (64.2 percent) with six touchdowns and six interceptions. In his final eight games, he completed 143 of 215 passes (66.5 percent) for 1,561 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
The number of his passes went down, but he completed a higher percentage and had a far more impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio.
But, no matter how you look at Bridgewater’s numbers, they are pedestrian. While Vikings fans were looking through the microscope at Bridgewater’s improvements and setbacks, the rest of the NFL world was putting up numbers of their own.
Bridgewater ranked 21st in pass attempts and completions among NFL QBs, 22nd in yards, 26th in touchdown passes and 22nd in passer rating.
Yet there were signs of improvement and better management of third-down situations and forcing the ball into places where it shouldn’t go in the second half of the year.
But where were the top end wide receivers? The only player who thrived in the Vikings late-season run was slot receiver Jarius Wright. In the first eight games, Wright had just 12 catches for 192 yards. In the final eight games, he caught 22 passes for 250 yards. To say they’re both modest numbers is being generous. To say that a wide receiver with 22 catches for 250 yards is your leader is something that needs to be changed.
Wright wasn’t supposed to be very high in the pecking order for an offense that typically uses two wide receivers in order to have a fullback or an extra tight end on the field. Nobody excelled for the Vikings, but the wide receiver numbers consistently waned down the stretch when the Vikings offense needed them most.
Stefon Diggs was inactive for the first three games. In the next five games, he took over the team lead for reception by the midway point of the year. In those handful of games, he caught 28 passes for 461 yards and two touchdowns. He had become a player defensive coordinators needed to account for. In his final eight games, he caught 24 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns. He held on to lead the team in receiving but his totals (52-720-4) are deceiving.
Mike Wallace was paid to be a go-to receiver. In the first half of the season, he caught 27 passes for 296 yards and one TD. In the second half, he caught 12 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown.
Charles Johnson caught nine passes for 127 yards in the first eight games. He didn’t catch a pass and wasn’t even targeted in the final eight games and was inactive for the final three.
Cordarrelle Patterson caught one pass for one yard in the opener against San Francisco. He caught one pass for nine yards in Week 4 against Denver prior to the Vikings’ bye week. In the 12 weeks after the bye, he was never targeted with a pass and finished the year with two targets, two catches for 10 yards and leaving many questioning why a first-round talent doesn’t have a place in a Norv Turner offense.
There can be arguments made that the Vikings offense would operate better if it can improve the consistency of the play of its offensive line. The fact that the Vikings were able to make the playoffs with an offense that got drastically diminished returns from the wide receivers they were touting as the players who would be instrumental in leading them makes the defense look even better. Things got worse for the receivers when the wins meant more.
A lot of Vikings fans will be steering their gaze during the Combine at the elite offensive linemen in the draft. But perhaps they should be much more trained on the wide receivers because a game-changer is needed. The NFL is a league based on numbers and those numbers scream for change.