One of the most significant moves during the first day of NFL free agency was the Minnesota Vikings trading star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills. After years of rumors surrounding Diggs and his future with the Vikings, they finally pulled the trigger for a strong return of draft capital. Buffalo surrendered their first, fifth, and sixth-round picks in 2020, as well as their fourth-round pick in 2021 to acquire Diggs’ services. While that’s a fair return, Minnesota will need to address the WR position through the NFL Draft.
Minnesota still has Adam Thielen, one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. On top of Thielen, they have receiving weapons at running back and tight end in Dalvin Cook, Kyle Rudolph, and Irv Smith Jr. However, their wide receiver depth beyond Thielen leaves a lot to be desired.
Second-year player Olabisi Johnson figures to be in the rotation after producing 31 receptions as a rookie. Beyond Thielen and Johnson, there doesn’t appear to be a roster lock at the position.
We know that the Vikings will be targeting a WR at some point in the NFL Draft, but they have other roster holes to fill as well. Currently, their cornerback depth is just as weak as wide receiver and they’ll be in the market for an interior defensive and offensive lineman at some stage too. With those needs, the order in which they’re addressed during the draft could depend on how the board falls in front of them.
Here are options for Minnesota to fill their wide receiver need for each of their first five selections of the 2020 NFL Draft:
Round 1, Pick 22 or Pick 25 – Justin Jefferson, LSU
Throughout his career, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has paired best with wide receivers who can separate from coverage with their route running. Cousins’ accuracy and preference to get the ball out perfectly on schedule leads to him being more successful targeting receivers such as Diggs, Thielen or Jamison Crowder. With that in mind, LSU’s Justin Jefferson would match well with Cousins’ play style.
Justin Jefferson – touchdown, dance, repeat pic.twitter.com/vTM63aKeb0
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 15, 2020
Jefferson has outstanding footwork, especially for his size at the position. On top of that, he was able to consistently expand his catch radius and finish away from his frame. Jefferson caught 111 out of 134 targets last season, and his projection to an inside-outside versatile role would allow him to naturally slide into Diggs’ position.
Justin Jefferson has underrated play speed – and proved his athleticism by running 4.43s at the NFL Scouting Combine. Once the DB gets flat-footed, Jefferson uncovers vertically #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/bLK49YL27O
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) March 2, 2020
Round 2, Pick 58 – KJ Hamler, Penn State
While KJ Hamler doesn’t project as a natural replacement for Diggs, his skill-set would be an intriguing fit for the Vikings offense. Hamler’s speed makes him a field stretcher from the slot, and he caught 11 passes beyond 20 yards last season. His ability to pull safeties downfield would open up the intermediate for Minnesota’s tight ends.
Hamler’s quickness out of breaks affords him separation, and he can hit home-runs after the catch. If he can continue to develop his play strength and figure out a way to limit his drops, he has the potential to be one of the best wide receivers from the 2020 class.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 6, 2020
Round 3, Pick 89 – Van Jefferson, Florida
Similar to Jefferson’s projection into the Vikings offense, Van Jefferson (no relation) could make for a natural transition. Van Jefferson’s ability to beat press coverage and separate along the boundary makes him an easy projection as a complementary WR.
Van Jefferson’s route pacing is on a different level. When he’s facing off-coverage, he’s delaying his stem in order to accelerate before the break – gets the CB ready to open up and run while assuring Jefferson isn’t on top of the CB before his snapdown. pic.twitter.com/DbZoSYlivd
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 24, 2020
At the Senior Bowl, his consistent separation was impressive during the 1-on-1 periods. He found success on in-breaking routes and in the curl window, showing off a strong intermediate presence. Jefferson wasn’t able to test at the NFL Scouting Combine due to an injury but offers good size at 6’1 and 200 pounds. He should be an option during the third round of the NFL Draft.
Van Jefferson can really drop his weight to sell a route break and accelerate out of it. Deadly. pic.twitter.com/8nET86K7kg
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) February 25, 2020
Round 3, Pick 105 – K.J. Hill, Ohio State
Separation and strong hands. That’s the name of the game for K.J. Hill. Ohio State’s all-time leader in receptions, Hill was involved in the Buckeyes offense for nearly all of his collegiate career.
KJ Hill is always open pic.twitter.com/qvXFyHWNce
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 24, 2020
Both on his film and during his week at the Senior Bowl, Hill was arguably the most impressive route runner in the draft class. His specialty is accelerating through his route breaks, getting open and finishing reps.
KJ Hill is a true route salesman. He’s able to drop his hips and decelerate in an instant and create an easy throwing window pic.twitter.com/S9fLEAFJ75
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 21, 2020
While Hill doesn’t project as a plus athlete for the receiver position in the NFL, he has enough quickness to keep getting open at the next level.