Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and DeVonta Smith in the same receiving corps? It's a longshot, but that's what NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah has happening in his latest 2021 mock. Smith falls to the Vikings at 14, and perhaps against Mike Zimmer's wishes, Minnesota snatches up an elite wideout from the SEC for the second straight year.
Is it unlikely? Very much so. But is it fun to imagine and discuss? You bet it is.
After winning the Heisman trophy with an utterly ridiculous 2020 season (1,862 yards and 24 total TDs in 13 games), Smith is firmly in the discussion to be the first wide receiver drafted in April. With his otherworldly separation and route-running abilities, he has the potential to be a game-breaker in the NFL. Smith could be an option as early as No. 3 overall to the Dolphins, if they don't trade that pick.
But there is also a legitimate chance that Smith falls because of concerns about his size. He was listed at 6'1", 175 pounds at Alabama, and that thin frame is going to scare some evaluators in the same way that Cameron Dantzler's frame scared people last year. Personally, I think it's a classic case of the NFL overthinking things, because Smith's weight (which he'll add to, at least slightly) doesn't mean much when he's sprinting past defensive backs or making acrobatic catches above them. But it's a real apprehension that some scouts have.
In Jeremiah's mock, LSU's Ja'Marr Chase is the first receiver off the board, going to Miami at No. 3. That makes sense to me; Chase is a spectacular all-around receiver who was better than Jefferson on the Tigers' 2019 national championship team. The Eagles pass on a WR at 6, taking Florida TE/athlete/superhuman Kyle Pitts instead. The Lions also pass on a receiver, going with Micah Parsons. Those two teams are commonly linked to the top trio of receivers (Smith, Chase, and Smith's teammate Jaylen Waddle). The Giants take Gregory Rousseau instead of a wideout at 11, and suddenly both Bama receivers are falling.
After the 49ers take Rashawn Slater, the Chargers snap up Waddle with the 13th pick. That leaves the Vikings to take Smith one pick later. Here's Jeremiah's explanation:
The Vikings have holes to fill on defense, but they could give Kirk Cousins a heck of a trio by adding Smith to a receiving corps that already includes Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen.
I love it. The Vikings can recreate the "Three Deep" receiving corps they had in 1998 and 1999 with Cris Carter, Randy Moss, and Jake Reed. It would be an example of taking the best player available and continuing to invest in the offense. In 1997, both Carter and Reed had 1,000-yard seasons and combined for 19 touchdown receptions. Wide receiver wasn't a need. But Moss fell to the Vikings at 21, they selected him, and the rest is history.
This situation is a bit different. Both Carter (32) and Reed (30) were veterans at the time the Vikings drafted Moss. Thielen is 30, but Jefferson is still just 21 years old. Smith is actually seven months older than Jefferson. Regardless, it still makes sense. You'd have at least a few years of the best WR trio in the NFL, and if Thielen starts to decline, the two young guns would take the reins for the foreseeable future.
Imagine Smith and his long strides running down bombs from Kirk Cousins. He might be more of a pure deep threat than Jefferson, which is saying a lot. But both players are incredibly well-rounded and versatile receivers, and Thielen should still play at an extremely high level at age 31. Thielen would also be a fantastic mentor for Smith, just like he was for Jefferson last year, and new receivers coach Keenan McCardell is the perfect person to guide two young star wideouts. Smith could potentially be used as a punt returner, too. He would add another dimension to Minnesota's offense.
Here's the catch: it's not very likely at all. Two things would have to happen for the Vikings to land Smith (or Chase or Waddle, for that matter). One of those players would have to fall to 14, which would surprise me with so many receiver-needy teams (MIA, PHI, DET, NYG, and a couple others) in the top 13. And then the Vikings would actually have to pull the trigger. Would Zimmer and Rick Spielman do it, or would they play it safe and draft an OL/DL/DB instead? Of Jeremiah's next five picks, four would make sense for the Vikings: South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn, USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye, and Virginia Tech OT Christian Darrisaw. Perhaps Spielman would use the leverage of the WR on the board to trade down and get back into the second round.
If the Vikings did draft a receiver, they'd have to change their offensive philosophy and personnel groupings to maximize the output of all three players. Instead of remaining one of the league's most run-heavy teams, with minimal use of 11 personnel (three receivers on the field at once), they'd have to slash their usage of C.J. Ham and two tight ends and modernize their attack. And it's not a question of whether new offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak would do it, it's a question of whether or not the old-school Zimmer would allow it. He has the ultimate control over how the offense operates, as we saw in 2018 when he fired John DeFilippo for not running the ball enough.
Smith joining the Vikings would be remarkably fun, but don't get your hopes up.
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