When the Vikings drafted wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the first round in April, it put the writing on the wall for Cordarrelle Patterson.
(Actually, to be honest, the writing had already been on the wall for the 2013 first-round pick. This traced over it with a permanent marker.)
Yet Patterson is not the Vikings veteran who got the most pressure put on him by the Treadwell selection. That would be Charles Johnson.
Because Patterson is perhaps the NFL’s most dangerous kickoff returner, it would be a pretty big surprise if he did not make the team out of camp. Johnson, meanwhile, could be in jeopardy of getting caught in a numbers game at the position with Treadwell and Moritz Boehringer around.
Johnson entered the 2015 season as the starting split end. But he caught just six passes for 46 yards in two and a half games before breaking his ribs in the Week 3 win over the Chargers. He was sidelined for three weeks, long enough to lose his starting job to rookie sensation Stefon Diggs.
Johnson returned in Week 7 and remained on the injury report for a few more weeks after that. But he was a healthy scratch in the final month of the season, partially because Patterson and Adam Thielen contributed more on special teams. His last catch of the season came in Week 9.
This spring, Johnson is back with the first-team offense at split end with Diggs shifting over to flanker to replace Mike Wallace. Treadwell, perhaps being given the rookie treatment, has started off as a second-stringer.
“He’s actually done good,” coach Mike Zimmer said of Johnson earlier this week. “You know he’s smooth. He runs good routes. He catches the ball good. I think Teddy [Bridgewater] and him have a good rapport.”
But there is still a long way to go until the Vikings must decide whether to carry five or six wide receivers and who those wide receivers will be.
Treadwell, Diggs and veteran slot man Jarius Wright are locks to make the team. The Vikings don’t seem ready to pull the plug on Patterson quite yet. And while Thielen isn’t the flashiest of receivers, the former Minnesota State Mankato standout has the look of a Marcus Sherels type, stiff-arming a slew of younger players every summer to hang on to his roster spot.
Throw in Boehringer, who faces a long learning curve after arriving from Germany this spring but is a unique athlete, and you’ve got a crowd.
“We’ll just let all of these guys fight it out in camp,” Zimmer said.
Despite the increased competition, it would be foolish to write off Johnson, who overcame a torn ACL as a Packers prospect and toiled on the Browns’ practice squad before becoming Bridgewater’s go-to guy late in 2014.
Johnson stormed onto the scene to steal the starting job from Patterson by making six catches for 87 yards in a Week 11 loss. The next week he scored his first career touchdown. Two games after that, he had 103 receiving yards and another touchdown. He had 72 yards the following week.
If that guy resurfaces this summer, the Vikings must make room for him.