The Vikings are getting closer to playing football. Training camp ramps up this week with the start of an eight-day strength and conditioning program that features some on-field work (rookies started earlier). We’ll preview the key points at each position until practices are scheduled to begin Aug. 12. Practices in full pads start Aug. 17.
WRs: Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Tajae Sharpe, Bisi Johnson, Chad Beebe, K.J. Osborn, Dillon Mitchell, Quartney Davis, Alexander Hollins, Dan Chisena, Bralon Addison
TEs: Kyle Rudolph, Irv Smith Jr., Tyler Conklin, Brandon Dillon, Nakia Griffin-Stewart
In: Jefferson (first-round pick); Sharpe (1-year, $1 million); Osborn (fifth-round pick); Davis (undrafted); Griffin-Stewart (undrafted)
Out: WR Stefon Diggs (traded); WR Laquon Treadwell (free agent); TE David Morgan (free agent)
Trading Stefon Diggs to the Bills in March fixed some short-term headaches, while creating a big-play void in the Vikings offense. Adam Thielen can win anywhere on the field, but he rose to prominence alongside Diggs, so his seventh season will be a new experience as a standalone No. 1. The Vikings’ front office was shocked to see Jefferson fall to No. 22 in the draft, allowing one of their top draft scenarios to play out, but how will a shortened camp and no preseason impact rookie performances? Jefferson started camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. Tight end Irv Smith Jr.'s receiving share is expected to grow in year two. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, the team’s longest-tenured player entering his 10th season, will maintain a significant role in Gary Kubiak's offense. At receiver, Sharpe, the former Titans draft pick, provides reliable depth but not the game-breaking skill expected from Jefferson. K.J. Osborn, the fifth-round receiver from Miami, will compete at punt returner. Quartney Davis, undrafted from Texas A&M, starts camp on the active/non-football injury list. Bisi Johnson leads returning contenders, including Chad Beebe, Dillon Mitchell and Alexander Hollins.
The No. 2 receiver job is expected to be Jefferson’s, even as the rookie gets a truncated training camp and no preseason. His suddenness on underneath routes, which helped him lead the national-champion Tigers in catches as a slot receiver, and long speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash) give him the tools to get onto the field right away. Jefferson’s ability to win as an outside receiver has been questioned, but Kubiak’s two-receiver offense will give him chances to prove doubters wrong. Sharpe and the second-year Bisi Johnson are in the mix for No. 3.
Player to watch
Smith. The second-year tight end showed growth last season as Vikings coaches steadily gave him more playing time as a rookie. He’s expected to take another step forward in year two, when a lot of passes are freed up after the Diggs trade. Smith has a chance to really thrive in a two-tight end system that will continue to deploy him as the more evasive “move” tight end.
635 yards. No NFL receiver gained more yardage on deep passes last season than Diggs, who especially excelled when Kirk Cousins threw farther than 20 yards downfield. Diggs also led the league with six touchdown grabs going deep, so the Vikings need big plays from somebody else in 2020.