EAGAN, Minn. — The calendar has flipped to March, which means the 2021 edition of free agency is quickly approaching.
The 2021 league year officially begins at 3 p.m. (CT) on March 17.
Over the next two weeks, Vikings.com will provide an in-depth look on where each position stands entering free agency. We'll look at which Vikings are scheduled to become free agents, where potential needs might be and note players from other teams that are set to become free agents.
We are continuing the series with receivers.
View the best wide receiver photos from the 2020 season from Vikings photographers.
Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson, Bisi Johnson, K.J. Osborn, Dan Chisena
2020 Stats: 15 games (15 starts); 74 receptions for 925 yards (12.5 yards per reception) and 14 touchdowns on 108 targets; 4.9 receptions per game and 61.7 yards per game; 68.5 catch percentage; generated passer rating of 119.0
The 30-year-old bounced back from missing six games because of injuries in 2019 and finished third in the NFL with 14 touchdown catches, which included 13 when Minnesota was in the red zone. Virtuoso route running from refining his craft, short-area bursts that Thielen develops through training and chemistry with Kirk Cousins all helped Thielen serve up that baker's dozen.
2020 Stats: 16 games (14 starts); 88 receptions for 1,400 yards (15.9 yards per reception) and 7 touchdowns on 125 targets; 5.5 receptions per game and 87.5 yards per game; 70.4 catch percentage; generated passer rating of 112.7
Few rookies at any position make the kind of splash that Jefferson made in 2020. He set a Vikings franchise rookie record for catches and broke Anquan Boldin's NFL mark for receiving yards. Jefferson's numbers exceeded the combined stats of the first two receivers drafted in 2020: Henry Ruggs III (26 catches, 452 yards and 2 TD) and Jerry Jeudy (52-856-3). Smooth on routes and strong after the catch, Jefferson brought big-play ability. He ranked eighth among qualifiers in yards per catch and caught at least 22 more passes than each of the players ahead of him in yards per reception.
2020 Stats: 16 games (3 starts); 14 receptions for 189 yards (13.5 yards per reception) on 19 targets; 0.9 receptions per game and 11.8 yards per game; 73.7 catch percentage; generated passer rating of 83.0
Johnson started the first two games of 2020 and later filled in for Thielen when he landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for a game. The savvy player has learned all the receiver spots in the Vikings system, adding to his value as he enters his third season.
2020 Stats: 9 games (0 starts); 0 targets as a receiver; 7 punt returns for 27 yards (3.9 yards per punt return); 14 kickoff returns for 303 yards (21.6 yards per kickoff return)
One could wonder how much the lack of a full offseason program hindered Osborn's opportunity to make a splash on offense, but with Thielen and Jefferson forming one of the top tandems in the NFL, Osborn's best opportunity to see the field is likely again as a punt returner for new Special Teams Coordinator Ryan Ficken.
2020 Stats: 14 games (0 starts); 0 targets as a receiver; 6 tackles and 1 fumble recovery on special teams
The Vikings incorporated the former track athlete at Penn State as a gunner, and he showcased his fleet feet, recording the two fastest speeds by a Viking in 2020.
SCHEDULED TO BECOME A FREE AGENT:
Chad Beebe (restricted free agent)
2020 Stats: 14 games (0 starts); 20 receptions for 201 yards (10.1 yards per reception) and two touchdowns on 30 targets; 1.4 receptions per game and 14.4 yards per game; 66.7 catch percentage; generated passer rating of 93.9
Beebe's health improved in his third NFL season, and he showed several hints as to why the Vikings have been high on the Northern Illinois product each offseason. He turned an all-lowercase goat moment into a GREAT finish against Carolina, bouncing back from a muffed punt to catch a 10-yard touchdown in the final minute of a 28-27 victory.
The position group will be led by Keenan McCardell, who has coached Jacksonville's receivers the past four seasons. McCardell is excited to direct efforts that will elevate Thielen and Jefferson even more. A member of an impressive Jaguars duo with Jimmy Smith is quite familiar with how one star can help another at the position.
Beyond that, there still seems to be plenty of opportunity for a returnee, a free agent or a draft pick.
Minnesota's recent forays into free agency have included signing Tajaé Sharpe last offseason and Kendall Wright in 2018. Sharp had 92 catches with the Titans from 2016-19 but was only targeted three times in the four total games. Wright, a 2012 first-round pick by Tennessee, hasn't played in the NFL since 2017 when he caught 59 passes for Chicago. The fact that neither Sharpe nor Wright were a special teamer likely decreased their potential to be active on game days or make the roster.
Receivers beyond Thielen and Jefferson likely need to find ways to contribute on special teams.
While Minnesota might prefer to use formations with just two receivers in its most frequent offensive set, one could say the Vikings have room for improvement in situations where more than two receivers are generally needed or advantageous (final two minutes of a half).
WHO'S POTENTIALLY OUT THERE?
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal recently released his list of the top 101 potential free agents, which includes the following 15 receivers:
3. Allen Robinson II, 6. Chris Godwin, 15. Kenny Golladay, 21. Will Fuller V, 24. Curtis Samuel, 25. JuJu Smith-Schuster, 32. Corey Davis, 47. T.Y. Hilton, 56. Nelson Agholor, 57. Marvin Jones, Jr., 60. Sammy Watkins, 64. Antonio Brown, 74. Cordarrelle Patterson, 85. Tyrell Williams and 100. Breshad Perriman
Those are some big names who have been primary targets, like Robinson and Golladay for NFC North foes Chicago and Detroit. NFL Media's Cynthia Frelund broke down the top three receivers (based on receptions in 2020) for each team ahead of free agency and noted that 45 of Robinson's 102 receptions occurred on first downs and 25 of those moved the chains.
Jones led the Lions with a career-best 76 receptions for 978 yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. He capitalized on increased opportunities because Golladay missed 11 games. He overlapped with Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer for two seasons in Cincinnati and has caught at least six passes in four of his past six games against Minnesota, including a four-score game in 2019 and a line of 8-180-2 in the 2020 finale.
Godwin, a 2017 third-round pick of the Bucs, and Brown, an in-season vet pickup from the suspended list, helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl LV.
Watkins has played in the past two Super Bowls but was coming off an injury in last month's game.
Fuller, Samuel, Smith-Schuster, Davis and Hilton each had more than 53 receptions and 762 yards last season. Smith-Schuster led that grouping with 97-831-9 for Pittsburgh.
Everyone in Purple knows Patterson well. The 2013 first-round pick is the best active kickoff return specialist and among the best ever. After a career-high 52 catches in 2016 in his final season with Minnesota, however, Patterson has totaled 31 (with the Raiders in 2017), 11 (with the Patriots in 2018) and 32 (with the Bears from 2019-20) receptions. Chicago moved him to the backfield a lot more last season, and he rushed 64 times for 232 yards and a score.
One aspect to keep an eye on regarding receivers is what teams decide to do at quarterback. Teams are likely to finalize their plans there — or take a leap of faith in a couple of instances — before figuring out what resources they can commit to receivers.