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Future of the Vikings, Part 5: Wide receivers and tight ends

The Vikings have a duo that matches up with the best of the best but still questions surrounding the receiver position this offseason

Welcome to Part 5 of our Future of the Vikings series. In this edition we dive deep into the receiver position, which answered a lot of questions going into the season, including whether they have a WR2 for the future and what is needed to fill out the depth. Let’s dive right in…

Justin Jefferson

Through the first five weeks of the season, no receiver in the NFL had more yards than Jefferson. In the final three weeks of the season, only CeeDee Lamb had more yards than Jefferson. Those were the weeks that he was healthy. In between, the Pro Bowl receiver missed seven weeks and then exited a matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders early after taking a big hit to the back. In the half season that he was at 100%, Jefferson still ranked in the top 20 in receiving yards, graded by PFF as the third best receiver in the NFL and Vikings QBs had a 109.8 QB rating when targeting him.

Even with the hamstring injury that robbed JJ of a significant portion of his season, nothing happened in 2023 that would take away from the fact the Vikings will need to make Jefferson the highest paid receiver in the NFL if they want to sign him to an extension this offseason.

What could that look like? In terms of average annual dollars, Tyreek Hill is No. 1 with $30 million per season. That is a number Jefferson will clearly want to top. In fact, he may look at Nick Bosa’s $34 million per year as the highest paid position player as the mark to beat. The key is going to be in guaranteed dollars and length. The highest fully guaranteed money for a receiver belongs to AJ Brown at $56 million. There is a huge gap between Brown’s fully guaranteed dollars and the top position player. Bosa pulled in $88 million fully guaranteed. Considering Jefferson’s age/value/accomplishments, he could argue that he is deserving of more than any other receiver by far.

The twist could be if Jefferson prefers a shorter term deal like the one DK Metcalf signed before the 2022 season. With QB uncertainty, Metcalf went with a three-year, $72 million contract. While the guaranteed dollars were only at $30 million, it was almost a complete lock that he would earn every dime of the deal and have more control over his future.

While there could be summertime drama with Jefferson’s deal and we may see a more aggressive approach to training camp than he took last year (he took every practice rep), the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement is set up to give teams a huge advantage in these situations. With JJ under contract in 2024 with the fifth-year option and two franchise tags in their pocket, the receiver would have to fight it out over years if he wanted to walk in free agency.

Of course, there is the option of trading Jefferson for multiple draft picks. Last offseason Vikings owner Mark Wilf said that he will personally be involved in making sure the team gets a contract done with Jefferson so it would appear very unlikely that they would consider moving him.

Jordan Addison

It was nearly a dream rookie season for the Vikings 2023 first-round pick, who gained 911 yards on 70 receptions and scored 10 touchdowns. In particular Addison rose to the occasion when Jefferson was out, racking up 35 receptions and 437 yards over the seven weeks that WR1 was missing. Among rookie receivers he finished third in yards, first in touchdowns and fourth in receptions. Addison was sure-handed as well with only three drops. The only area where he may improve is in fighting for the ball in the air. There were seven INTs in his direction and he only grabbed nine of 22 contested catches.

Addison, who will only be 22 years old at the start of next season, will have three more seasons on a rookie contract and room to continue to grow as a top-notch wide receiver. The importance of hitting on this draft pick can’t be understated for the future of the quarterback position. Not only do they continue to have an elite receiver duo post-Adam Thielen but one of the receivers will only cost $3.1 million on the cap next year, $3.7 million in 2025 and $4.3 million in 2026.

Jordan Addison, Justin Jefferson

Jan 7, 2024; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) catches a pass for a touchdown and celebrates with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) during second half of the game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field.

KJ Osborn

Coming out of training camp it looked like Osborn was set for a breakout season in which he might even hold Addison at bay as WR2. But that’s not how things played out during the year. Osborn had the fewest receptions and least yards since becoming a starter in 2021 and his lowest graded season by PFF. What was unexpected about Osborn’s 2023 was the sheer number of times he dropped the ball. After he only registered two drops by PFF’s standards between 2021 and 2022, he totaled seven drops in 2023, making up 12.5% of his targets. Only three receivers with at least 50 targets dropped a higher percentage of passes in their direction.

Osborn is a free agent. Had he put together another strong season then his price tag may have been higher but it’s not unfathomable now that the Vikings could bring him back at a reduced number. However, he may be a better fit elsewhere and the team should be looking for an upgrade considering how often they run personnel groupings with three receivers.

Brandon Powell

The Vikings brought Powell to Minnesota as a punt returner but he was forced into more duty as a receiver when Justin Jefferson went down. In previous stops Powell had only been used as a bit player who caught quick passes and screens but as a Viking he developed into much more of a route runner. His best game came against San Francisco when he grabbed four passes for 64 yards and seemed to be on the same page as Kirk Cousins. Overall he ended with 29 receptions for 324 yards and averaged 8.0 yards per punt return.

Powell is a free agent. Considering his fit with Kevin O’Connell’s offense, it would make sense to bring him back as receiving depth.

Jalen Nailor

Nailor entered training camp with high hopes for Year 2 but that didn’t last very long as he got hurt on the first day and missed nearly the entire camp and didn’t see the field until Week 2. Injuries continued to plague him throughout the season and he did not play again past Week 2 until Week 10. The speedster then suffered a concussion against the Raiders that ended his season. He ended the year with just three catches for 29 yards.

Entering the third year of his rookie deal, the Vikings will be hoping that Nailor is able to get healthy in 2024 and develop into a deep threat. But with his injury history they can’t count on that when making offseason decisions.

Trishton Jackson

One of the nice stories of camp, Jackson bounced on and off the active roster throughout the season. Unfortunately he missed his chance to grab a touchdown pass when called upon against the Falcons and wouldn’t get many other opportunities, finishing the season with two catches for nine yards.

Jackson was on the list of practice squad players signed to future deals so he will have a chance to compete for a spot again in training camp next season.

TJ Hockenson

At the beginning of the season it seemed the Vikings may have dropped the ball when they signed Hockenson to a huge extension in camp because, well, he kept dropping the ball. He was credited with five drops in the first six weeks by PFF but that number was probably higher if we included passes we would expect the highest paid tight end to make. But Hockenson turned his season around and finished second in the NFL in total receptions, second in PFF grade, fourth in yards per route run and he played a huge role in the offense continuing to tick when Jefferson was sidelined.

Hockenson, who will be 27 next year, missed the end of the year after suffered an ACL tear against the Lions in Week 16. It’s unclear whether he will be fully recovered by Week 1 next season. With his contract extension he will carry a $14 million cap hit next season. The Vikings can lower that number with a restructure.

Josh Oliver

It raised eyebrows when the Vikings added a run blocking tight end to a team that relied heavily on three-receiver sets. But Oliver did exactly what they wanted him to do, ranking fourth in the NFL in run blocking grade by PFF. He also added more through the air than ever before in his career with 22 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns.

For $2.5 million on the 2023 cap, Oliver was worth the price. Next season his cap number increases to $6.1 million, which isn’t quite as efficient if his strong run blocking isn’t part of an overall more effective rushing unit.

Johnny Mundt

As the No. 3 tight end Mundt was only occasionally used throughout most of the season. He only topped 10 snaps three times before Hockenson got injured in Week 16. The former Ram was a regular target in the last two games, totaling nine receptions for 97 yards. Overall he was on the field for 225 plays and caught 17 passes on 23 targets for 172 yards.

Mundt is a free agent. He could return but may receiver offers to take on a bigger role elsewhere.

Nick Muse

Following a strong camp the Vikings kept Muse on the active roster. He only appeared in one game and caught one pass, a 22-yard gain against the Detroit Lions.

The 2022 seventh-rounder has a chance to take the TE3 role if Mundt leaves in free agency.

Free agent options

The Vikings have lots of other areas to spend but they should be in the market for a high quality WR3 type to support Jefferson and Addision and be capable of bumping up to a WR2 spot in case of emergency. Here’s some of the best players who fit that description that are slated to hit the free agent market:

Buffalo, Gabriel Davis (45 catches, 746 yards, 7 TDs, 67.9 PFF grade)

Detroit, Josh Reynolds (47 catches, 715 yards, 6 TDs, 71.8 grade)

Arizona, Marquise Brown (51 catches, 574 yards, 4 TDs, 67.1 grade)

Chicago, Darnell Mooney (31 catches, 414 yards, 1 TD, 55.2 grade)

Atlanta, Van Jefferson (20 catches, 209 yards, 0 TD, 50.1 grade)

Carolina, DJ Chark (35 catches, 525 yards, 5 TD, 60.0 grade)

Baltimore, Nelson Agholor (37 catches, 393 yards, 5 TD, 62.3 grade)

Miami, Cedrick Wilson Jr. (25 catches, 333 yards, 3 TD, 65.3 grade)

Houston, Noah Brown (33 catches, 567 yards, 2 TD, 73.0 grade)

San Francisco, Jauan Jennings (24 catches, 326 yards, 1 TD, 70.7 grade)

Draft options

After picking Jordan Addison last year, it’s very unlikely that the Vikings would spend high draft capital on a receiver. But with a lack of development receivers in the pipeline outside of Nailor, we can expect mid-to-late round consideration for the position. A few players who had strong college seasons that are expected (per MockDraftDatabase) to be mid-round picks are Florida’s Rickey Pearsall, USC’s Brenden Rice, Michigan’s Roman Wilson, Washington’s Jalen McMillan and Louisville’s Jamari Thrash.

The bottom line

Addison quickly becoming a star has significant ramifications on the roster construction going forward. Because they can count on having a top-notch partner for Jefferson going forward, the Vikings only have to tidy up the rest of the spots in the receiver room rather than pouring major assets into that spot. Of course, that’s assuming they come to an agreement long term with Jefferson this spring/summer. That will be the leading headline from the receiver position until a deal is signed, sealed and delivered.