Drafting a wide receiver early in the draft would have vaulted the Minnesota Vikings‘ pass-catching core among the top units in the league.
Turns out, the Vikings believe they’re already there.
The Athletic’s Chad Graff observed some insights from the first week of voluntary OTAs this week and revealed a vital reason why Minnesota opted to pass on spending valuable draft capital at wide receiver.
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Vikings Confident in 2nd Year WR
Graff unloaded his notebook from the Vikings’ first practice with head coach Kevin O’Connell and revealed that second-year wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette played into “part of the reason” why Minnesota didn’t chase wide receiver in the draft.
“Ihmir Smith-Marsette came down with an impressive catch during one drill,” Graff wrote on May 17. “He’s part of the reason the Vikings didn’t feel the need to add a wide receiver early in the draft. The Vikings are excited to see how the 2021 fifth-round pick progresses after impressing the previous coaching staff in training camp last year.”
Coming out of Iowa, Smith-Marsette impressed at training camp and in preseason practices with the Denver Broncos last summer. Mike Zimmer attempted to keep Smith-Marsette’s ego in check, touting that he’d have to continue to help in special teams.
“He’s very confident, very cocky,” coach Mike Zimmer said, per Graff. “Likes to jab a little, talk a little bit.”
His confidence carried him to making the 53-man roster his rookie year. He caught his first NFL touchdown in a 17-9 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 14. In his first start in a meaningless Week 17 matchup with the Bears, Smith-Marsette caught three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Graff’s report adds to a growing consensus that Minnesota is confident in its pass-catchers. Wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell made an impassioned plea for the organization to pass on a player in his position group for the betterment of the team.
The Vikings opted to use seven of their first eight picks on defense or offensive linemen before selecting its first wide receiver of the draft in Jalen Nailor.
“We’re at a certain pick, and he gives this impassioned plea to pick a different position than his, and there are some great options that are there at his position, and there’s no words that needed to be said,” Adofo-Mensah told local media in a pre-draft press conference on April 26. “Everybody felt the moment. And when you talk about selflessness and team and all those things in that moment, he showed everybody what it was about, and you know that’s the vibe that was in that room. I’m excited. I told them at the end of that meeting ‘We can’t control what happens this weekend, all we can do is prepare like crazy, move as one unit and move together.”
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Dalvin Cook Taking Reps at WR
Another note from Graff’s OTA observations could mean there will be another addition in wide receiver room meetings.
Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook was lining up as a wide receiver in OTAs, which tends to be when teams boot up the general install of their offense.
“Another potential wrinkle for the Vikings offense could mean Dalvin Cook gets more involved in the passing game,” Graff wrote. In multiple formations, Cook lined up in bunch wide receiver sets. That could be something the new staff is tinkering with in May, or it could be something they plan on unveiling in a bigger fashion come Week 1.”
Minnesota’s pass-catching corps appear stacked with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, K.J. Osborn, Bisi Johnson, who is returning from an ACL injury, and Smith-Marsette as the team’s top four receivers.
Tight end Irv Smith Jr. is also coming back from a meniscus injury last season and should figure to play a major role in his fourth season.