The Vikings are hosting free agent wide receiver and punt returner Dede Westbrook for a visit and workout on Saturday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapaport. If all goes well, the team is expected to sign the former Jaguars wideout.
Westbrook arrived in Minnesota on Friday, posting pictures on his Instagram and Snapchat stories. His Snapchat post is a picture of the Vikings' TCO Performance Center facility with the caption: "Almost that time again."
The Vikings and Westbrook have been connected since early May, when ESPN's Josina Anderson reported that the two sides had engaged in preliminary conversations. A deal always made sense due to Minnesota's needs at WR3 and punt returner and the connection with wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell, who held that position for Westbrook's entire four-year career in Jacksonville.
Westbrook, 27, had his best season in 2018, when he caught 66 passes for 717 yards and five touchdowns and recorded a 71.3 PFF grade. He followed that up with another 66-catch season in 2019 but had fallen down the Jaguars' depth chart last year before tearing his ACL in October. It's unclear whether or not he'll be fully recovered from that injury in time for the start of training camp next week.
Prior to his NFL career, Westbrook won the 2016 Biletnikoff Award as the best receiver in college football. With future No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield as his QB, Westbrook racked up over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 17 touchdowns for Oklahoma in his senior season. He fell to the fourth round in the 2017 NFL Draft primarily due to off-the-field concerns. Westbrook was arrested for domestic violence in 2012 and 2013 and for trespassing in 2016, but hasn't gotten in any trouble since entering the NFL.
Assuming Westbrook ends up signing with the Vikings, it'll be a big addition for both Minnesota's offense and special teams. Westbrook would likely become the immediate favorite to win the No. 3 receiver job by beating out Chad Beebe, Bisi Johnson, and fifth-round rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette. The 6-foot, 180-pound veteran has taken over 72 percent of his career snaps from the slot, which makes him a good fit. Westbrook is a good route-runner with some impressive wiggle after the catch.
Perhaps just as important is that Westbrook would almost certainly take over as the Vikings' primary punt returner. Minnesota got absolutely nothing in that department from Beebe and K.J. Osborn last year, finishing dead last in punt return average (4.3), 31st in total punt return yards (69), and tied for 30th in longest punt return (13 yards). Westbrook has a career average of 9.8 yards per return, including a 14-yard average in 2018 that was helped by this 74-yard score.
Westbrook shouldn't cost much, is familiar with McCardell, and helps the Vikings in two areas. They'll have to make sure his medicals check out, but it sounds like he'll be signing with the team this weekend. That's a strong pickup right before the start of training camp next week.
Update: per Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press, the other three teams interested in Westbrook are the Seahawks, 49ers, and Bengals. If the Vikings don't sign Westbrook after his workout, he'll fly to Seattle on Sunday.
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