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Despite Sharpe signing, Vikings must still find NFL-ready receiver in draft

On Wednesday, the Minnesota Vikings signed receiver Tajae Sharpe, who flashed potential in his rookie season with the Titans by grabbing 41 passes and then settled into a depth role over the last two years.

While Sharpe, who inked a one-year deal worth $1 million per the Star Tribune, has an opportunity to reignite his career, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to fill the very large shoes of Stefon Diggs. There isn’t a clear candidate to reproduced back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on the current roster either as only receivers Bisi Johnson, Chad Beebe and Alexander Hollins have any NFL experience.

In order to maintain the same level of passing success in 2020, it appears the Vikings will have to target an instant-impact receiver in the draft.

Who might they be focusing on with the 22nd or 25th overall pick? Would they move up? Is there a second-round gem with the ability to step into the limelight as second-round pick Deebo Samuel did last season? Let’s have a look at the candidates to watch…

Alabama, Jerry Jeudy 

The chances of Bama’s impressive receiver being available at 22 are very low but the Vikings could use their excess draft capital to move up and take him. Jeudy made 77 catches for 1,163 yards and caught 10 touchdowns last season. That’s following a 2018 that saw him average 19.3 yards per reception with 14 touchdowns. Per PFF data, he played a good deal in the slot last season, catching 49 passes lining up on the inside. His versatility and playing for a high-level college program could help with a quick translation to the NFL game. wrote: 

“Jeudy can play inside or outside but offers a unique ability to both widen or lengthen the field from the slot. His transition from deep threat to volume target in 2019 should help sell teams on his ability to become a pro-Bowl caliber WR1 who can help his offense on all three levels.”

Oklahoma, CeeDee Lamb

The Sooners’ explosive receiver was a one-man highlight reel, averaging 21.4 yards per reception and scoring 14 touchdowns last season. Like Jeudy, he was effective lining up all over the field, picking up 25 slot receptions for an impressive 605 yards. Lamb was unstoppable after the catch, forcing the second most catches in the country (per PFF) and averaged 11.0 yards YAC per reception. While he might need more development than Jeudy, Lamb could be an instant playmaker with the ball in his hands. But many other teams might feel the same way, again likely prompting the Vikings to trade up if they want his services. wrote

“Explosive, three-level playmaker and vital cog in one of the most potent offensive machines in college football over the last three seasons. Lamb uses speed and separation quickness to dominate competition in a scheme that frequently created open throws in space.”

Baylor, Denzel Mims

Credit: USA Today

Both Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm and ESPN’s Mel Kiper have the Vikings selecting Mims. He greatly increased his draft stock at the NFL Combine, running a 4.38 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, 207-pounds and ran a blazing three-cone drill. Per PFF, Mims was rarely used as a slot receiver, which may make the development curve slower than the other top receivers but he was the second best in the country at making contested catches. wrote: 

“Mims is a long-striding outside target with excellent height, weight and speed and an insane catch-radius. He’s a touchdown threat anytime he’s near the red zone, with the focus and body control to finesse and finish catches above the rim. He struggles to release and separate from physical press corners, and he doesn’t consistently compete and outwork opponents for positioning on contested catches. If the route work and intensity catch up with his natural athletic ability, he could become a dangerous “Z” receiver in a vertical offense, but the floor might be lower than some teams are comfortable with.”

USC, Michael Pittman Jr.

A breakout 2019 put the 6-foot-4 receiver on the map. He caught 101 passes on 133 targets and scored 11 touchdowns. Pittman’s hands are his calling card. Per PFF he dropped just five passes on 176 catchable passes in college. And at the NFL Combine he confirmed the hype with impressive testing for his size, running a 4.52 40-yard dash. He isn’t a slot receiver but could draw plenty of attention on the outside right away because of his size/speed/hands combo. wrote

“Big, smart and reliable, Pittman falls into the “possession receiver” bin, but has top-notch ball skills that allow him to bully and best cornerbacks down the field. Improving release quickness against press will be an early focal point in an NFL camp, but his frame and physicality should create work space underneath even with close coverage. He lacks the speed and separation quickness teams covet from WR1 candidates, but he comes from NFL bloodlines and plays with a pro demeanor. He should be a productive plug-and-play talent at WR2 early in his career.”

LSU, Justin Jefferson

Credit: USA Today

The No. 1 slot receiver in the nation per PFF, Jefferson did nearly all of his damage from inside. While the Vikings use two tight ends often, they still mix three receiver sets and condensed formations that would allow a receiver like Jefferson to get free releases. He played a major role in the rise of LSU’s offense, catching 111 passes and 18 touchdowns. Jefferson also had one of the nation’s best contested catch rates. wrote:

“A quarterback’s best friend, with the contested-catch focus and extreme ball skills to boost completion percentages. Jefferson failed to stand out as an outside target but saw his stock soar with a monster season from the slot. He has decent speed and separation talent, but he needs to improve as a route-runner, as he’s less likely to see the same freedom in space that LSU’s offense helped create for him.”

Florida, Van Jefferson 

If the Vikings are looking in the second round for a receiver who might be able to help them in 2020, Jefferson is one of the under-the-radar players of this class. He did not have overwhelming production, catching 49 passes for 657 yards but that could be pinned on a poor quarterback situation at Florida. wrote

“Versatile, skilled receiver who has played all three receiver spots but is likely to do most of his damage from the slot. Jefferson has average size and won’t run away from quality man coverage, but he will separate from it with premium route-running and unique looks and angles that keep cornerbacks on their heels. He needs to prove he can deal with NFL size and strength banging on him at the catch point. Jefferson is a pro-ready receiver whose skill level and competitive nature outweigh average explosiveness and he should find quick work as a WR3/WR4.”

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