Skip to main content

News | Minnesota Vikings –

McCardell Aiming to Help Elevate Thielen, Jefferson Even More

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings know a thing or two about dominant wide receiver duos, and none were more lethal than the combination of Hall of Famers Randy Moss and Cris Carter in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But there was another pass-catching duo in Jacksonville during those same years — Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith — that struck fear into opposing defenses.

McCardell was recently hired as the Vikings wide receivers coach. And he's now ready to see the Vikings current duo of Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson take their games to another level.

In fact, McCardell said earlier this week that he's already brought up the topic with his new wide receivers.

"I had this conversation with Adam [on Tuesday], and I was just like, 'You guys are similar to myself and Jimmy Smith.' I think you guys push each other," McCardell said. "You guys have fun playing with each other. I said I want you guys to continue that, because I've been a part of that. I understand that.

"I said it's always a competition, but it's a friendly competition to make each other better," McCardell added. "One thing they've got to realize, and I know they already do know, when one has a good day, it's because the other is getting doubled or vice versa. So you got to take that, play it, and be a team player and keep playing."

McCardell played 17 seasons with five teams, catching 883 passes for 11,373 yards with 63 touchdowns.

And while McCardell helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl XXXVII, he perhaps is best known for teaming with Smith to help jump-start the Jaguars in their infancy as a franchise.

McCardell had at least 890 receiving yards and 64 receptions from 1996-2001, and helped Jacksonville make the playoff four straight seasons and reach the AFC Championship in 1999 after going 14-2.

And true to his words above, McCardell's presence helped Smith thrive on the other side with a minimum of 78 catches for 1,182 yards in that same six-season span.

McCardell said earlier this week that he sees the same situation in Minnesota.

Thielen is a two-time Pro Bowler who had a career-best 14 touchdowns in 2020. He's also recorded at least 925 yards in the past four seasons he's been healthy, falling shy of that mark during an injury-altered 2019.

"The fact that Adam is a guy that's continued to play at a high level, I just want him to, each and every year, from here on out, just keep reinventing yourself, because I've been in that situation," McCardell said. "I played 17 years, I've been where he's at — people starting to say, 'Is he getting a little old? Getting a little long in the tooth?' or something like that. You've just got to keep reinventing yourself and keep showing up.

"And how that happens, you go out and work every day, and you outwork the guy next to you," McCardell added. "You outwork the young guy, and make the young guy come up to your level of work. If Adam continues to do that, which I already know he will, it's going to continue to get better."

That young guy would be Jefferson, whose stock is on the rise after a historic rookie season. He broke a Vikings rookie record with 88 catches and a Super Bowl-era record with 1,400 yards. Jefferson caught seven scores.

McCardell said he initially connected with Jefferson at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine and tracked his stellar rookie season from afar.

But McCardell, who was Jacksonville's wide receivers coach from 2017-20, also got the chance to see Jefferson up close in Week 13 last season when he had nine catches for 121 yards and a score.

"To me, I felt like he was always a guy that was a game breaker, that could bust open a game at any time. Even in college," McCardell said. "You had limited snaps playing outside [at LSU], and a lot of people didn't think he could play outside.

"Me, being a former receiver, if he can play inside, you can play outside," McCardell added. "It's a lot easier to play outside than it is to play inside, so when he got his opportunity to start and play outside, I knew that game-breaking ability was going to happen. As you could see in Week 13, he had an unbelievable game against the Jaguars."

McCardell will be tasked with coaching all of the wide receivers on Minnesota's roster. And he has experience with a multitude of chapters in his career that he can pass along to all of the Vikings pass catchers in Purple.

"I think as I go through it and I talk to them and I explain the things that go on at this level, it's a lot different from college," McCardell said. "The biggest thing I tell them is I've sat in every single one of you guys' seats before.

From being the practice squad guy on the roster, the fifth guy on the roster, the fourth guy, the third guy who's trying to be the starter, the second guy and the No. 1 guy," McCardell added. "So, I can kind of tell those guys the stories of the obstacles that are coming so they can be ready for them. It helps out a lot. They believe me, and a lot of times, those things actually happen, and they're already ready for it."