Enter new quarterback Sam Bradford, the leader for the Vikings’ mostly unproven talents at receiver and tight end.
An offseason goal of fielding a more balanced offense was dealt a blow when Teddy Bridgewater was lost for the season. Bradford will eventually step in as the starting quarterback with a three-receiver set that primarily features Charles Johnson, Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen.
The Vikings used their first-round draft pick (No. 23 overall) on Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell and hope to work Treadwell’s size and strength into improving their passing game.
But of all the possible changes at receiver, the one many didn’t see coming was Thielen’s prominent preseason role. He, not Jarius Wright, was the Vikings’ third receiver through training camp and exhibitions.
“The more you make plays, the more you get to play,” head coach Mike Zimmer said.
Thielen, in his fourth NFL season after going undrafted, did just that with five grabs for 83 yards this preseason. However, it’s hard to see the Vikings shelving Wright, who just signed a four-year contract extension last summer and leads the team with 76 receptions since 2014.
The Vikings again kept six receivers on the roster and could use that many on game days, though they’ve traditionally suited up only five. Either way, Wright remains confident in his role after three years as the slot receiver.
Diggs looks to build off an impressive rookie campaign that started with four consecutive 85-yard games and ended quietly leading the team with 720 receiving yards. Could he fill the Vikings’ void and be the go-to receiver? Treadwell may be that guy eventually, though he’s expected to start the season as a reserve split end.
Only one Vikings receiver (Sidney Rice) has eclipsed 1,000 yards in the past decade.
“I don’t think there needs to be a No. 1 guy,” Wright said. “A lot of teams look for No. 1 guys, but they don’t have Adrian Peterson in the backfield to lean on like we do. I feel like our No. 1 guy is Adrian and we’re his supporting cast.”
An improved offensive line could free 6-6 tight end Kyle Rudolph to become more involved downfield after a season in which the tight end was often asked to help pass protection. Rookie David Morgan, a sixth-round pick, has impressed and could be involved early as Rhett Ellison eases back after a serious knee injury last January.
“For us to take a next step as an offense, it’s on us to be more consistent in the passing game — make bigger plays in the passing game,” Rudolph said. “Take advantage of eight-man fronts, become more balanced.”