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Monday Morning Mailbag: Pundit Hype Train in Division & Vikings Receiving Options

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Don't look now, but the mile marker on the Vikings offseason highway has fewer than 100 days remaining before Minnesota opens its 2023 regular-season slate by hosting Tampa Bay.

View photos from the Vikings OTA practice which took place on June 2 at the TCO Performance Center.

Minnesota's offseason program is quickly advancing, with players and coaches set to participate in the final week of voluntary Organized Team Activity practices before a mandatory minicamp next week.

Kudos to Team Defense for winning the Thielen Foundation Charity Softball Game that was hosted by Harrison Smith and will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities.

It was also cool to see Vikings Legends — from near and far — reconnect while playing The Meadows at Mystic Lake in the Minnesota Vikings Foundation Golf Tournament, which raised more than $250,000 to help fund food security and educational programs. We'll have more on that this week.

I believe that the most hyped team in the NFL this season is the Detroit Lions. I don't understand how the prognosticators can predict the Lions as the NFC North Champions over the Vikings. The Vikings clearly have the better offense. [Kirk] Cousins is better than [Jared] Goff. The Viking receivers, [Justin] Jefferson, [Jordan] Addison, [K.J.] Osborn and [T.J.] Hockenson are better than and deeper than Detroit's. The Vikes have a better running backs group, even if [Dalvin] Cook goes and while some may wonder about the O-line, the Vikes line finally looks solid, particularly at tackle, and Detroit has some interior line injury problems. The Vikings had problems on defense, mostly scheme, which they appear to have fixed, but Detroit finished DEAD LAST in total defense and was particularly bad in run defense, giving up 320 yards to the Panthers at the end of last season. … The defending division champion Vikings should be considered the front runner to win the division. What do you think?

— Jerry Carrier in Lakeville, Minnesota

Detroit's strong finish to 2022 by winning eight of 10 games definitely inflated expectations for the Lions in 2023. It's not incredibly common for a team to start 1-6 and finish a season 9-8. The Lions played well against the Bills but lost on Thanksgiving and then closed the campaign with everyone watching their efforts to keep the Packers from making the playoffs.

The showings in those nationally televised games could be driving some of the sentiments.

The Lions defense improved as time went on after some big changes, but Jerry is correct that Detroit allowed 320 rushing yards at Carolina in Week 16.

The pundit buzz — as well as sentiments of some Vikings fans — was that Detroit was playing better football at the end of the season than Minnesota. While some could make the argument down the stretch (the Lions also won the head-to-head game at Detroit), the Vikings had an insurmountable lead and were one of four teams to win a division by at least four games (along with the Bills, Chiefs and 49ers).

The Lions and Dan Campbell have been building up and have caught a lot of love this offseason, for Detroit's first nine-win season since 2017, after which they fired Jim Caldwell and went 14-33-1 over the next three seasons.

Detroit's next division title will be its first since 1993. Minnesota has logged more success since then but has struggled to maintain it, having not made the playoffs in consecutive seasons since 2008-09.

Inferring from the league's scheduling of 2023 games and placing the Vikings-Lions matchups in two of the final three weeks, it seems the NFL believes a showdown between the squads could be in full effect.

Hi, I am wondering if Justin will wait and see who will be the Vikings starting quarterback in 2024 before he signs his extension? What is your opinion? Thanks!

— Steve from Chino Hills, California

This is an interesting framework. For starters, Jefferson is under contract through 2024 via the fifth-year option exercised by the Vikings.

Jefferson's incredible productivity with Cousins usually at quarterback positioned him to earn the equivalent of a receiver who had been franchise tagged while on that fifth-year option. Minnesota's leadership has said repeatedly that they want to work out a deal to keep Jefferson in Purple a lot longer than that.

While Jefferson doesn't mind some of the fun things that can come along with being such a talented player, he also is driven to win and wants to chase history.

This season will be an opportunity for Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell and Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips to show what Jefferson can do in his second season in the system and how they might help reduce some of the double (and triple) teams Jefferson faced last season.

I'd imagine the phenom will have multiple factors to evaluate, but he wants to feel good about the Vikings position to consistently win and be a major contributor to the team's success. In one season with O'Connell, the Vikings won the division, and Jefferson set single-season franchise records for catches and yards.

Cousins is entering the final year of his current contract and focusing on this year. He and the team will be able to discuss what happens beyond.

Do you think the Vikings will have two players with 1,000 yards receiving and if so, who will it be?

— Dustin Fritz

Enjoyed seeing this question.

Jefferson has exceeded 1,400 yards as a rookie, 1,600 in his second season and a franchise single-season record 1,809 in 2022.

Another season of four-digit receiving yardage seems about as certain as anything gets, and some media members believe he can take a run at becoming the NFL’s first player with 2,000 receiving yards in one season. He's expected to have a high volume of targets, but will it be so high that other players might not have an opportunity to reach 1,000 receiving yards?

Osborn totaled 650 receiving yards on 90 targets last season; Hockenson posted 519 yards on 86 targets in just 10 games after joining Minnesota for the final 10 games of the regular season.

A potential wildcard could be Addison, the 23rd overall pick of 2023.

Adam Thielen's 107 targets from last year are up for grabs this year, but that number might get spread around among players not named Jefferson, who finished with 128 receptions on 184 targets in 2022.

Hockenson, Osborn (650) and Thielen (716) put up balanced receiving yards for the Vikings. Cousins will put the ball where his reads take him. His first season with the Vikings (2018) marked the last time Minnesota had two players with 1,000 receiving yards, but that was in a throw-heavy scheme under former Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo.

We've talked about Osborn quite a bit this offseason. I personally believe people sleep on/underrate him. The fourth-year pro had multiple big catches down the stretch last year, including his 63-yarder that gave the Vikings a needed spark against the Colts. Osborn, who will turn 26 Saturday — happy early birthday! — finished with 10 catches for 157 yards on 16 targets.

If Osborn joins Jefferson as a 1,000-yard receiver, it will probably be helped by a few more big plays.

If Hockenson does so, then it will probably stem from a tremendous volume of catches and a few big ones.

If Addison does, then the league will put itself on notice about the Vikings future at the position.

If no one else does, then it might mean Jefferson has made history or that the football distribution was spread across multiple receiving threats.

View home and away photos of the Vikings 2023 regular season schedule.

Soooo, with the release of DeAndre Hopkins from Arizona, and the Vikes having roughly $10 million in cap space, could adding the veteran receiver be an option? Also taking into consideration how much positive impact he could have on Addison and Osborn from a developmental perspective???

— Bear Hackett

Well, we've seen the Vikings sign a receiver in each of the past two weeks as the position group has been a bit shorthanded this offseason (Jefferson has not been at the open OTA practices, and the Vikings are being cautious with Addison). The first receiver Minnesota added was Lucky Jackson, and the second was Garett Maag.

Teams usually try to have about a dozen receivers every offseason because of how much running is required at the position.

Hopkins' accomplishments are impressive (853 receptions for 11,298 yards and 71 touchdowns), but the five-time Pro Bowler will be turning 31 tomorrow.

O'Connell was complimentary last week of the added leadership role Osborn has taken after the departure of Thielen.

View photos of the Vikings 2023 coaching staff.

I've read a lot of comments in this forum recently about how bad a job our GM has done in the draft or in trade negotiations, not getting the right people or enough value, but I wonder if those critics realize what a mess he has been asked to clean up? The salary cap situation on this team (created through the [Rick] Spielman and [Mike] Zimmer years), left this team with almost no room to maneuver, and it seems he is strategically making that room in order to build the team his coaching staff wants. I realize that process isn't flashy and looks like missed opportunities, but start looking into the future once the Cousins contract isn't weighing us down, or Harrison Smith retires or we don't have an overwhelming RB salary to pay, then this team can go after top end FA's we always seem to pass on in areas of need.

Some people are still mad about trading back in the first round of the 2022 draft, but had we drafted our player at 12, it would only make our money problems worse. Players like Jameson Williams and Kyle Hamilton drafted around No. 12 got (approximately) four-year/$16M deals with $9M signing bonuses. It's simply money we didn't have to spend that would have hurt us elsewhere.

I think the decision to move back was a strategic economic one that got us new talent but didn't make the money problem worse. I think the process continues this year with the Dalvins (Cook and Tomlinson), Za'Darius [Smith] and others.

I say give our GM a chance to get out from under the contract problems of the old regime and then judge the result based on what they build. Next year will start to show what they can do.

— Mike in Arden Hills, Minnesota

If a draft class needs multiple years to be accurately evaluated, I think the same could be said for a general manager.

Mike brings up some interesting points about Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's approach in his first year-plus on the job and some of the multidimensional chess that GMs must play involving the salary cap.

Coming off the 2017 season with 13 wins, an NFC North title and appearance in the NFC Championship Game, it made sense for the Vikings under Spielman and Zimmer to try to push their chips in to capitalize on a championship window. The plan never really came to fruition, but it did lead the Vikings to be able to maintain several players for extra seasons.

The Vikings are usually competitive, finishing in the middle of the league or higher, so that's not conducive to drafting high. Throw in some cap limitations, and that's a scenario with numerous problem-solving opportunities.

So far, we've seen Adofo-Mensah try to optimize value, either through free agent signings or trades. We've also seen him exercise patience and the willingness to trade down while occasionally moving up in a draft if the value and player available motivates him to do so.

In light of other QB contracts that have been signed, Cousins' financial amount on his remaining year isn't quite the anchor that it has been categorized.

There was no way the Vikings could keep Tomlinson at the rate he was offered by the Browns.

Some thought the Vikings would just be resigned to letting Za'Darius Smith walk, but Adofo-Mensah found a way to recoup some value.


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Let me predicate my comment by acknowledging that when the Vikings hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as general manager, I compared it to the Herschel Walker trade in 1989.

I have never been so excited to be so wrong before in my life!

My comment is on my amazement of the level of thoughtlessness of many Viking fans. I don't mean that in a derogatory tone, but in a "too close to the forest to see the trees" sense.

Like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, I am very analytical. I would like your assessment on a thought I have on wide receivers.

K.J. Osborn is in his last year of his contract. Because of the money it will take to keep J.J., there is no real expectation that you will be able to resign K.J.

So why not find his replacement now, and if that player happens to be game ready when the season starts, trade K.J. for a much-needed defensive player.

K.J. will never reach his full potential as a Viking, so give him a chance to be a number one receiver, because I believe he can be.

— David in Rochester, Minnesota

It's OK for people to form initial opinions. It's even better when people allow incoming information to evolve opinions. The human experience is a dynamic process.

The Mailbag is geared to be a place where people can express opinions and ask questions — and ideally create a more complete understanding of the approaches by Vikings leaders.

I haven't correlated to see if people who are still upset over the 2022 NFL Draft and Detroit selecting Williams were equally as frayed by Minnesota drafting a receiver in the first round this year.

The Vikings expect Osborn to continue to deliver as he has the past two seasons and maybe even add more. That's the type of production that generates suitors. If Osborn's market exceeds what the Vikings can allocate, then Addison could be prime for an expanded role with three or four seasons remaining on his contract and with the benefit of having played a rookie season.

The Vikings took Addison with the 23 pick. Right after us was the Giants who picked a top-five cornerback. Why would we pick up a small wide receiver when we could have picked a top cornerback? The Giants have to be laughing at us! I believe we did have one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL last year. Our draft pick is extremely puzzling to me.

— Terry Abram

Terry is correct that the Vikings selected Addison, but instead of viewing him by his physical dimensions (that may have prompted some to downgrade him), they saw a player capable of playing beyond his height and weight, a skilled route runner and natural talent.

It just so happened that Addison, whom the Vikings highly like, was the fourth consecutive receiver drafted.

The Seahawks selected Jaxon Smith-Njigba before the Chargers tabbed Quentin Johnston and the Ravens chose Zay Flowers.

That left Addison on the board when the Vikings went on the clock. Remember the seconds ticking down on the opening night of the draft? Adofo-Mensah was taking calls for trade offers but the Vikings opted to stay where they were at.

Might the Giants being the next pick have had something to do with that? New York did take Deonte Banks after the run on the receivers. listed top draft needs for every team, and went with WR, OL, CB for the Giants.

After going cornerback in the first round, New York drafted former Gophers offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz in the second round and receiver Jalin Hyatt in the third round.

I've also pointed out in previous Mailbags, that Minnesota's decision could have been impacted by what they think they have available at cornerback in free agent signing Byron Murphy, Jr., as well as second-year pros Andrew Booth, Jr., and Akayleb Evans.

Do you think we will have the No. 1 defense with the new defensive coordinator?

— Mr. Jackie Jackson in Arlington, Texas

That might be a bit of a reach to go from near the bottom to the top, but it is my belief the Vikings defense will look considerably different than last year (not just because of more personnel changes) and be able to improve its statistical showing.

There are some tough matchups, but ideally the defense can disrupt passers more instead of having them get in rhythm.

Seeing that we have a stable full of talented running backs are we going to have a run-by-committee offense now instead of 'Let's hand the ball off to Cook 20-25 carries and now Mattison is only getting 3-4 carries a game'? To me, that's not sufficient football when you have workhorses ready to go!

— Corey Alexander in Richmond, Virginia

Sorry for folks who don't enjoy baseball as much as me, but I often draw parallels between it and football results.

A lot of people equate a long touchdown to a home run, but I like to extend it further to think of various run lengths as different types of hits or strikes.

Note: This is not an analytical take. This is more conversational.

Run for a loss on first down: equivalent to two strikes

Run for 0-2 yards on first: equivalent to one strike

Run for 3-5 yards on first: equivalent to reaching first base (hit/walk/hit by pitch/reached on an error)

Run for 6-10 yards on first: equivalent to a double (or single with an extra base because of an error)

Run for 11-plus yards at any point (but not a touchdown): equivalent to a triple

Touchdown: plating a run

Touchdown run of 20-plus yards: home run

All that to say, I think the Vikings are trying to hit more singles and doubles with their run game this year and avoid as many two-strike counts — and that's not a dig at Cook, by the way. Instead, it's about run efficiency that Minnesota would like to elevate.

I equate the doubles and triples because of the increased pressure having a man on second or third adds to a defense.

Cook has been so good that it's been hard to take the ball out of his hands. He also has shown plenty of ability to create something great from nothing.

Part of his fiber is wanting the ball and a hand in doing as much for his team as possible. If he is back, then maybe they can sprinkle in a few more committee runs to try to keep Cook as fresh as possible.

If he is not with the Vikings, then Mattison has had some really strong games as the featured back and the Vikings can try to keep him fresh with more of a committee approach.