Assessing the Vikings' Receiver Group After Adding Tajae Sharpe
The Vikings made a much-needed move on Wednesday, bringing in free agent receiver Tajae Sharpe on a one-year, $1 million deal. Just over a week after trading Stefon Diggs, this was the team's first step towards filling the void left by its former star.
To be clear, this is only a small piece of the puzzle. Sharpe, a 25-year-old who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Titans, should not be viewed as anything resembling a Diggs replacement. But as the Vikings look to add multiple receivers who can collectively occupy the hole left by Diggs's departure, signing Sharpe is a solid start.
Rick Spielman watched and waited as a run on free agent receivers took place on Tuesday. The top receiver on the market, Robby Anderson, signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Panthers. Given their salary cap situation, the Vikings were never going to be involved at that price point. Then Anderson's former team, the Jets, signed deep threat Breshad Perriman to a one-year deal for $8 million. Low-cost options like Devin Funchess, Philip Dorsett, and Travis Benjamin also signed one-year prove-it deals.
Due to the depth and talent of this year's receiver draft class, the free agent market had been relatively stagnant for over a week. But all of a sudden, the options were dwindling. And if the Vikings didn't sign a receiver – or trade for one – they'd be faced with the possibility of entering the season with just 2019 seventh-round pick Bisi Johnson (16 career games), oft-injured former UDFA Chad Beebe (six), and a rookie or two as options behind Adam Thielen.
So Spielman went out and got one.
As far as bargain-bin options go, Sharpe is a solid player with some theoretical upside. He can get open on short and intermediate routes against a variety of coverages, he's got Thielen-like size at 6-foot-2, and he can be counted on to catch the ball when it's thrown his way. Sharpe didn't drop a pass last year, and QBs had a 120.0 passer rating on his 35 targets. The former fifth-round pick out of UMass is somewhat limited from an athletic standpoint, but he appears to be a very capable secondary or tertiary pass-catching option. Sharpe caught 41 passes for 522 yards as a rookie, and will now play with the best quarterback he's ever had in Kirk Cousins.
It's not a splashy addition like signing Perriman would've been. But even though this was a minor move, it's one that makes the Vikings' wide receiver group both deeper and better. Sharpe has four training camps and 47 regular season games of NFL experience to his name. That, in addition to his size, likely gives him a leg up on Johnson, Beebe, and a host of other receivers (Alexander Hollins, Dillon Mitchell, Bralon Addison) on the roster. The Vikings hope that Johnson can continue to develop after breaking out for 31 catches, 294 yards, and three touchdowns as a rookie. They hope that Beebe, who entered last season as the WR3 behind Diggs and Thielen, can stay healthy and compete for playing time.
But they knew they couldn't rely on that duo too heavily. Adding Sharpe should make for excellent competition in training camp, and it raises both the floor and the ceiling of what the non-Thielen receivers on the roster can provide in 2020.
They key element here is that the Vikings can't be done. Another pre-draft receiver acquisition, via free agency or a trade, seems unlikely. But adding Sharpe doesn't mean the Vikings shouldn't still be looking to draft a wideout early on in April. In this lauded 2020 class, there are considered to be as many as 25 receivers worthy of being taken in the first three rounds. The Vikings have five picks in that range. Use one on a receiver, and suddenly, the depth chart looks like this:
- Early-round rookie
- Beebe/late-round rookie
For a run-heavy team that also has pass-catching options in Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., and Dalvin Cook, that's nothing to sneeze at. It won't make the Vikings forget about Diggs anytime soon, but it has the potential to be an above-average unit if everyone stays healthy, Thielen re-establishes his top-ten receiver status, and Spielman hits on the early-round selection with an immediate contributor.
At the very least, the situation is less dire than it was before Sharpe was added to the mix.
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