The prospective battle between Bisi Johnson and Tajaé Sharpe was named one of the NFL’s top training camp battles in 2020 by Pro Football Focus.
Johnson, a Vikings seventh-round draft pick in 2019, is considered the underdog to the former Tennessee Titans transplant Sharpe. Sharpe, entering his fourth year in the NFL, was signed back in March to a single-year $1 million deal to add depth to the wide receiver corps.
Here’s how PFF analyst Ben Linsey sees the battle breaking down:
Johnson, a seventh-round rookie, saw the field a whole lot more than the Vikings would have hoped for in 2019 because of the injuries to Adam Thielen. Now, it is Stefon Diggs who is out of the picture, and Johnson will once again have a shot to earn a significant role in Minnesota’s offense. It wasn’t a flashy performance, but Johnson played relatively well last season. He earned a PFF grade of 63.7 and generated a passer rating of 116.8 on his 44 targets across the regular season and postseason.
Assuming Justin Jefferson takes over the WR2 role, Sharpe should be Johnson’s main competition for snaps in the passing game. From a PFF grading standpoint, the free-agent acquisition from the Tennessee Titans is coming off the best season of his four-year career — he earned a PFF grade of 72.3 in a low-volume role with the Titans, bringing in 25 of 35 targets for 329 yards, without any drops.
Tajae Sharpe Could Be Cut If He Doesn’t Stand Out
While Johnson’s emergence in his rookie season was a bit unexpected, Sharpe’s experience is projected to give the Vikings offense more versatility in 2020. PFF picked him to win the third spot in the Vikings wide receiver corps:
“He has played in both the slot and out wide throughout his NFL career ─ something that will come in handy with Thielen and Jefferson sure to rotate across the formation ─ and he performed better than Johnson did in 2019 from both a yards per route run and PFF grading standpoint. We project Sharpe to see 36 targets in 2020 (third among Minnesota wide receivers).”
However, if Sharpe doesn’t firmly prove himself as the better option over Johnson, he could be cut. Johnson’s success on special teams last year is what propelled him into an unforeseen role in the Vikings offense. He’s a proven contributor to the team in many ways.
Fifth-round rookie K.J. Osborn was drafted specifically for his return abilities as the Vikings attempt to move on from long-time returner and Rochester native Marcus Sherels, leaving even less room for Sharpe on the depth chart.
And given the uncertainties on defense this upcoming season, the Vikings may want to bolster their special teams options, potentially putting Sharpe in a must-win scenario. The franchise would eat $675,000 in dead cap money if that’s the case.
Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire