This is the third in a series of position previews for the 2020 NFL draft, which runs April 23-25. Today: receivers and tight ends. Read them all here.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
WR Justin Jefferson, Louisiana State: Assuming the top names in a deep receiver draft (Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III and Jerry Jeudy, as well as Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb) are gone by the Vikings’ pick at No. 22, Jefferson could be the best of the group that’s left. His hands, ability to run after the catch and capacity for contested catches could entice the Vikings if he gets past Philadelphia at No. 21. The depth in the receiver class, and the presence of Adam Thielen still on the roster, could lead the Vikings to wait on picking a wideout, but Jefferson might be one of the players that causes them to rethink that strategy.
WR Tee Higgins, Clemson: He could be available with either of the Vikings’ picks late in the first round, or could slip into the second round if teams are inclined to wait on receivers. Especially if Higgins is available with the 58th overall pick, he would add a different dimension to the Vikings’ group of receivers, with a 6-foot-4 frame that might turn him into a red zone favorite for Kirk Cousins. He will need to work on beating physical corners in the NFL, but the Vikings haven’t had a receiver of his stature in recent years.
WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State: The senior had core muscle surgery earlier this month that isn’t expected to hinder his rookie season, but it could lead to Aiyuk slipping into the second round, where the Vikings might be especially inclined to take him. He was a dynamic punt returner with the Sun Devils, and he could fill a need there while he develops as an NFL receiver; the former junior college player could need some time to learn how to handle corners that play him aggressively at the line of scrimmage.
WR Tyler Johnson, Gophers: Concerns about Johnson’s athleticism could push him to the third day of the draft, but his hands and refined route-running could make him attractive to the Vikings if they are looking for a receiver who can step in and play relatively quickly. Johnson had planned to run for scouts at the Gophers’ pro day; that plan was scuttled when coronavirus concerns led the U to cancel the event. At a time where teams could have to rely more on college production than workout stats, though, Johnson’s tape with the Gophers could help.
The Vikings netted three picks by trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills last month, parting ways with a receiver whose desire to leave Minnesota “wasn’t a mystery,” as quarterback Kirk Cousins put it Tuesday. They will count on Adam Thielen to return to his Pro Bowl form after missing most of seven games because of a hamstring injury that frustrated the receiver as it dragged on, and look for Bisi Johnson to take a step forward after a promising rookie season. The team added Tajae Sharpe on a one-year deal in free agency to put another experienced player next to Thielen. At tight end, the Vikings are in stable shape with Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith and Tyler Conklin, though they could look to add a blocking tight end at some point.
VIKINGS' LEVEL OF NEED
Medium: Trading Diggs to Buffalo means the Vikings need to fortify their group behind Thielen, but the development of tight end Irv Smith in Year 2 could help offset the loss, and the Vikings use enough heavy personnel sets that they will spend less time with three or four receivers on the field than most teams. An option to take attention away from Thielen could help, but the Vikings hope the addition of Sharpe and the development of Johnson could offset the loss of Diggs to some degree. It wouldn’t be a shock to see them spent one of their five picks on a receiver in the draft’s first two days, but they might pursue other needs in Round 1 before returning to a deep receiver group.