One position some thought the Minnesota Vikings could address this offseason was a third wide receiver to go behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, especially after letting Kyle Rudolph go. With Rudolph now on the New York Giants, the targets he would have received will now go to another player.
There isn’t an obvious WR3 option right now on the Vikings roster. Some candidates exist yes, but most would agree, nobody’s name should be written in ink on the depth chart just yet.
Down below, we identify six players who could assume the role behind the top two wideouts in purple.
Minnesota Vikings haven’t had a legit WR3 in years, why bother now?
When Irv Smith Jr. was drafted, the idea was Rudolph and Smith Jr. could coexist in an offense featuring frequent use of multiple tight ends. Now that Rudolph is out of the picture, a second tight end will likely pick up some share of that workload. By all appearances, Tyler Conklin is ready to step into that No. 2 tight end role.
Still, having a legitimate No. 3 wide receiver would allow a wider variety of lineups and formations to keep defenses on their toes.
Imagine, JJ, AT19, Irv Smith, and a decent third wideout all on the field at the same time, along with Dalvin Cook out of the backfield. It would be tough to double anyone while covering most of the playmakers on the field for any defense.
Though the Klint Kubiak offense likely won’t feature a ton of three-receiver sets, more may be incorporated. In obvious passing situations on third-and-long, lining up three receivers is nearly a necessity. When the game calls for a big play, having more speed on the field never hurts.
The West Coast offense utilizes a lot of two and three tight end formations. While the Vikings still have Conklin as the second option, the comfort of having a big, reliable target with great hands such as Rudolph is gone.
Adding another offensive weapon could provide quarterback Kirk Cousins with another player who can win one-on-one battles, endearing himself to the quarterback in clutch situations, as Rudolph did so frequently.
With that, we finally delve into who those six Vikings WR3 candidates might be.
Minnesota Vikings’ best outside options to fill WR3 role
Larry Fitzgerald Jr.
This entire article explains why the Vikings should bring Larry Fitzgerald Jr. home. It’s a move fans have been wishing on for. Fitz may not offer the most potential of the other players on this list, yet he undoubtedly would sell the most jerseys — and be the best mentor available.
Despite hoping for it to happen, I don’t expect Fitz to be the player Rick Spielman brings in. Most likely, Minnesota is looking for someone who can also contribute to the roster on game day in other ways, such as special teams.
Coming off a torn ACL in Week 7 of last season, Dede Westbrook hasn’t generated a ton of interest on the open market until recently. Expected to be healthy by August, Westbrook’s skill set can help a lot of teams looking to add to their receiving corps.
During his second season in the NFL, Westbrook led the Jaguars in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches. Not only does Westbrook have 25 starts in four seasons, but he also has plenty of experience returning both punts and kicks. In 2018, Westbrook ran back a punt 74 yards for a touchdown.
Scoring via a kick or punt return is something the Vikings haven’t done since 2016. Obviously, that needs to change. Even if Westbrook doesn’t win the job as the top return specialist, his experience could go a long way toward teaching the Vikings’ younger options on the roster.
To go along with recent rumors, he also has the connection with new receivers coach Keenan McCardell from their Jaguar days, dating back to Westbrook’s rookie season in 2017.
Continuing to learn from a two-time Super Bowl winner may provide Westbrook with the kind of familiarity he’s looking for as he embarks on his next journey. The 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner likely has plenty left in the tank and could be a steal in free agency this late in the process.
Trade for Jamison Crowder
Currently on the New York Jets, Jamison Crowder likely profiles as Zach Wilson‘s slot receiver as is. But they also signed Keelan Cole in the offseason, another target the Vikings likely had their eyes on.
Not only did they add Cole, but the Jets also threw big money at Corey Davis to go along with last year’s second-round selection Denzel Mims. Then, with the 34th pick, the Jets drafted Elijah Moore. With all the newfound competition at receiver in the Big Apple, it’s possible Crowder is let go altogether or could be had for a late-round draft pick.
Crowder would be an ideal trade target for Minnesota to fill their slot receiver role. He’s a six-year veteran with 47 starts in his career, set to make just over $10 million amid a contract year. The Jets can avoid paying him with just $1 million of dead cap money.
On the open market, Crowder wouldn’t command anything close to that amount. That’s why he may be willing to renegotiate for a better chance at having a significant role on Sundays — not to mention, reuniting with Cousins.
Crowder entered the league in 2015 as a draft pick for the Washington Football Team. During his time there, Cousins and Crowder formed a strong connection which led to an average of just under 750 yards per season.
The former Duke Blue Devil could be the reliable slot receiver the Vikings may need in 2021 at a relatively low cost. Having Captain Kirk already on the roster to vouch for him probably won’t hurt Crowder’s case either.
Minnesota Vikings’ in-house WR3 options
As the incumbent option, Chad Beebe may very well be the in-house leader to repeat as the team’s No. 3 receiving option. Some fans may not like this idea as Beebe has been with the team in some capacity since 2018 and has yet to break out.
However, Minnesota fans shouldn’t be so quick to rule out the son of Don from elevating his game to another level. For example, Adam Thielen signed with the Vikings in 2013. He didn’t break out until his fourth season in 2016 when he had 967 receiving yards.
Sure, Beebe doesn’t have the size of a player like Thielen that allows him to be an outside receiver, but his athleticism makes up for it in other ways. A shifty, high-IQ football player, Beebe showed true grit late in the season. He even hauled in two touchdowns in clutch situations to help propel the team to victory in two games against the Lions and Panthers.
As the roster stands entering the 2021 season, there is no reason why Beebe shouldn’t be first in line to take the field behind Justin Jefferson and Thielen when lined up with three wideouts.
In many ways, Olabisi Johnson was seen as a disappointment last season. After the former Colorado State receiver was practically hand-selected by Gary Kubiak in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Bisi had a productive rookie season. After trading Stefon Diggs in the offseason, some (me) thought Johnson would break out starting opposite Adam Thielen.
Then, Justin Jefferson happened. After playing 53% of the offensive snaps as a rookie, Johnson saw the field on just 22% of total offensive snaps during his second season. While it’s doubtful Johnson would suddenly reclaim the top job behind the Vikings’ two star receivers, at just 24 years old, it’s possible Bisi has used his offseason to refine his skills in an effort to get back on the field.
With plenty of competition entering training camp, Johnson will likely have to be head and shoulders above both Beebe and all incoming rookies to get his career trending up again.
As possibly the most exciting player in consideration for the job behind JJ18 and AT19, Ihmir Smith-Marsette has the potential to develop into an eventual starter. The Vikings’ fifth-round selection not only adds to the receiver room, but he also brings plenty of ability as a returner on special teams. Reported to have run a 4.43 40-yard dash, the former Iowa Hawkeye excels on kick returns, bringing two back to the house as a Junior.
In college, Iowa also used Smith-Marsette on jet sweeps and end-arounds to take advantage of his ability to make defenders miss in open space. When lined up as a receiver, his sharp route-running skills help him get in and out of breaks, shedding coverage to get open downfield.
Whether Smith-Marsette finds an immediate role within the offense on Sundays remains to be seen. At the very least, he should be seen as a top competitor for the lead-return role in the Twin Cities.