Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

Assessing metrics for Minnesota Vikings’ receivers

The Minnesota Vikings have some big decisions to make with their receivers not named Stefon Diggs. We look at playing time, metrics and grades from 2016 to help you assess their value.

Following one of Adam Thielen’s big games during the 2016 season, quarterback Sam Bradford was asked if he had even heard of Thielen before Bradford came to the Minnesota Vikings via trade in early September. No one could blame Bradford if he hadn’t and the quarterback smiled and declined to answer the question.

Thielen, who made his way up the ranks from an undrafted tryout receiver at a rookie minicamp in 2013, didn’t start the first two games of the season, but he ended the season as the leader in receiving yards, finishing just 33 yards shy of becoming the first Vikings receiver since 2009 to hit the 1,000-yard mark.

Charles Johnson started the first two games of the season and played more snaps in those than Thielen, but by Week 3 Thielen had overtaken Johnson in the amount of action they saw on offense and by midseason it was a decisive advantage for Thielen, who continued to earn his bigger role.

The Vikings knew Stefon Diggs would be a starter, but after that the others had to earn their way there. Thielen did. Cordarrelle Patterson got more time than in recent years and the rest were relegated to bit roles.

With Diggs missing three games due to injury, Thielen played 94 more snaps than Diggs and those two dominated the playing time among the receiving corps. They also earned the highest grades among the receivers from Pro Football Focus. In fact, as much as coaches will sometimes dismiss PFF’s grading system, the top three in grades – Diggs, Thielen and Cordarrelle – were also the top three for playing time.

Among the Vikings receivers that played more than 15 percent of the snaps, the top three all had a positive effect on the running game by the NFL’s net yards over average metric.

For that statistic, the NFL uses the net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field over a rolling six-year NFL average factoring in field position, down and distance. Example: for the 2011 season the league average gain for first-and-10 on the offense’s 20-yard line was 5.99 yards. If the player participated in a play at first-and-10 on his own 20 that gained 8 yards he’d earn 2.01 net yards over the league average. The defenders on that play would each earn minus-2.01 net yards over the league average.

However, likely because of the Vikings’ propensity to rely on a short passing game in 2016, Patterson was the only receiver among the top four in playing time that had a positive net yards over average in the passing game. Jarius Wright, who played only 11 percent of the snaps, had the highest net yards over average in the running game in his limited action, and rookie Laquon Treadwell, who played only 80 offensive snaps the whole season, had the biggest impact in the running game, with the Vikings averaging 1.26 more net yards on running plays over the NFL average when he was on the field.

Big decisions await the Vikings in the next seven weeks before free agency. Should they re-sign Patterson, an unrestricted free agent? What kind of tender should they place on Thielen, a restricted free agent? Should they make an offer to Johnson, another restricted free agent? What to do with Wright, who was seldom-used but was re-signed to an extension through 2019 and averages more than $3.5 million over the next three years?

The amount of playing time they received, and their effectiveness during those plays, may help determine that. 

  Snap counts
  Off Off % Def Def % ST ST %
Players 1053   1035   429   Rush Diff Pass Diff PFF Grade
A Thielen 787 74.74% 0 0.00% 93 21.68% 0.52 -0.09 81.6
S Diggs 693 65.81% 0 0.00% 8 1.86% 0.17 -0.2 82.6
C Patterson 531 50.43% 0 0.00% 125 29.14% 0.96 0.07 67.2
C Johnson 406 38.56% 0 0.00% 128 29.84% 0.18 -0.71 59.9
J Wright 119 11.30% 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 1.75 0.36 60.2
L Treadwell 80 7.60% 0 0.00% 47 10.96% 0.6 1.26 55.7
I Fruetche 5 0.47% 0 0.00% 11 2.56% -5.06 -6.19 58

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