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Camp Rewind: Vikings Have Strong WR Depth Behind Thielen


EAGAN, Minn. — We've officially reached September, which means the countdown is on to the Week 1 Border Battle between the Vikings and Packers.

Minnesota has been hard at work in recent weeks at Verizon Vikings Training Camp, as players looked to solidify starting roles and carve out playing time for themselves.

And while they are still practicing this week, those sessions are now closed to the media at the start of team drills.

So let's take a look at where four key positions are at after being able to watch 13 practices, including one at U.S. Bank Stadium.

We started our Camp Rewind series with a recap of cornerbacks, and we'll continue with a look back at the performances of Minnesota's wide receivers.

Pre-camp chatter

For the past few seasons, Minnesota had one of the league's top receiving duos in Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. But that changed in March when the Vikings traded Diggs to the Bills for a package of draft picks.

With Thielen now the clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver, the Vikings aimed to develop a host of young players behind him.

Minnesota added veteran Tajaé Sharpe, who spent the past four seasons with the Titans.

The Vikings also returned Bisi Johnson, who impressed as a rookie and wanted to work his way into a larger role, and Chad Beebe, who missed the majority of the 2019 season due to an ankle injury.

First-rounder Justin Jefferson headlined a strong draft class, which also included fifth-rounder K.J. Osborn. Quartney Davis, meanwhile, was added as an undrafted free agent.

Second-year players Alexander Hollins and Dillon Mitchell arrived at camp trying to take the next leap. Hollins caught two passes in four games, and Mitchell spent last season on the practice squad.

View photos of Vikings players from Verizon Vikings Training Camp practice at TCO Performance Center.

Where are they now?

Thielen was his usual, steady self as he helped bring the youngsters along. He also proved he's still among the league's best wide receivers, as evident by his big performance in the lone practice at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Johnson is among the team's most-improved players and consistently earned meaningful reps in camp. While many expected Jefferson to be the No. 2 guy immediately — and there's plenty that the first-round pick has shown — but Johnson's emergence gives the Vikings strong depth with their pass catchers.

Jefferson, too, has drawn praise from plenty of coaches, including Vikings wide receivers coach Andrew Janocko.

"I think he's a really hard worker. He comes to work every day," Janocko said. "He's a kid that wants to learn, wants to learn from the older guys, wants to learn from Adam and some of the guys that have been here. That's been exciting and encouraging.

"He loves football. He loves to run routes. He loves to learn how to run routes," Janocko added. "It's just been exciting getting him in the building and taking some of his knowledge of football, the people he's been around and get him with our guys and get him in our system."

Sharpe, who consistently earned first downs in Tennessee, and Hollins have both made plenty of plays throughout camp, as has Osborn, who received plenty of work as a returner at U.S. Bank Stadium. Beebe also offers versatility as a wide receiver and a returner.

Davis and Mitchell are young players who are developing, but they certainly have potential.

Standout player

Johnson filled in admirably in 2019 when Thielen missed nearly half the season, finishing with 31 catches (on 45 targets) for 294 yards (9.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns in 16 games (six starts).

But the 2019 seventh-round pick seemingly took his game to a new level in the offseason. He credited his training regimen with fellow NFL players in Colorado, including Broncos QB Drew Lock, with helping him hit the ground running upon his return to Minnesota.

Even with the Vikings offense expected to focus heavily on the run, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins will still need an array of playmakers at his disposal.

One of those options could be Johnson, who appears poised to take a big leap from Year 1 to Year 2.

"The things that maybe last training camp [he wasn't] doing, now [he's] flourishing in them," Thielen said. "And [he's] almost mastering them and creating teach tape.

"It's been really fun to watch, and again, it goes back to that mentality in our room," Thielen added. "It's been really fun to be around and it definitely keeps me young being around those guys."