The Minnesota Vikings made a splash signing on Sunday by securing former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook to a one-year deal.
On Monday, the contract was made official when Westbrook visited TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minn., and put pen to paper.
“I’m just happy to be a part of this team. I’ve worked my tail off throughout the offseason,” Westbrook said at the time of his signing. “I’m just happy to be here and try to lead this team to a Super Bowl.”
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Westbrook Will Wear No. 89
There was confusion on Sunday when Westbrook’s agency leaked his signing.
Westbrook shared a fan-made jersey mockup where he was wearing No. 12 in purple and gold — currently worn by Chad Beebe, who was last year’s third wide receiver.
Westbrook will instead wear No. 89 for the Vikings and will compete for the third wide receiver spot behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. The 27-year-old veteran enters a competition for that spot with Beebe, Bisi Johnson and fifth-round rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette out of Iowa.
Westbrook missed nearly the entire 2020 season after suffering a torn ACL tear in Week 2, notching a single catch for four yards last season. He’s corralled 159 catches for 1,716 yards and nine touchdowns in his career so far.
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Westbrook Ready to Compete as Punt Returner
Not only will Westbrook compete for the third wide receiver spot, but he’s also a strong candidate to take on duties as a punt returner.
Westbrook has averaged 9.8 yards per punt return on 47 attempts in his career. Beebe and K.J. Osborn averaged 4.7 and 3.9 yards per punt return last year, respectively.
Another way to cut it: the Vikings produced just 69 yards on punt returns a season ago; Westbrook covered 74 yards on this single punt return in 2018.
That touchdown was more of a team effort than Westbrook alone. However, he becomes a welcomed addition to the special teams unit that hopes to bounce back after an abysmal 2020 season.
Westbrook told the Pioneer Press that he could be an “asset” returning punts and “definitely” could return kickoffs as well, per Chris Tomasson. Westbrook has averaged 18 yards per kickoff return across seven attempts in his career.
Vikings WR Corps Officially Deep
It’s been a perennial question of who will step up and be the third wide receiver in the Vikings offense. It’s not a role that gets many looks in the team’s run-heavy offense that figures to give running back Dalvin Cook a lions’ share of touches — but it is important, especially on third and long.
Jefferson and Thielen garner plenty of attention against opposing secondaries, while tight end Irv Smith Jr. is poised to take a step forward as a threatening fourth option in the offense. That trio of pass-catchers alone earned the No. 6 spot on Pro Football Focus’ (PFF) top receiving corps list.
Here’s what PFF’s Steve Palazzolo wrote on the team’s pass-catchers a week before Westbrook’s signing:
A year ago at this time, no one knew if 2020 first-rounder Justin Jefferson could replace Stefon Diggs, but he did just that and more. Jefferson posted the second-highest grade among receivers at 90.4 overall while ranking eighth in the league with 58 first downs. Jefferson made a smooth transition from college slot receiver to outside receiver in the NFL, and his emergence was the catalyst for Vikings receivers posting the league’s highest receiving grade.
Adam Thielen was his usual, dependable self last year, finishing the campaign with an 87.9 receiving grade that was good for seventh in the league. He tied for third with 14 touchdowns, and last year marked the third time in four years he finished with a top-11 receiving grade.
The Vikings have perhaps the top receiving duo in the league, but the third spot remains a question mark. Chad Beebe ranked third among Minnesota receivers with 201 yards last year, though he graded at just 57.4 overall. Olabisi Johnson has been solid, but the Vikings would like to see fifth-rounder Ihmir Smith-Marsette emerge as his 4.43 speed brings a good complement to Jefferson/Thielen.
At tight end, Irv Smith, Jr. earned a 75.4 receiving grade on 41 targets last season, and he’ll have even more opportunities now that Kyle Rudolph has moved on. Tyler Conklin will be asked to replace some of Rudolph’s production, but he’s graded in the 50s in each of his three years in the league.
The Vikings have one of the best groups of pass-catchers in the NFL, and they could be even more dangerous if a No. 3 option emerges.
Consider the Vikings receiving corps officially lethal.