StaTuesday: Vikings’ passing game primed for more in 2018
The Minnesota Vikings haven’t exactly been known for their passing game over the past decade and change.
Outside of a brief alliance with Brett Favre in 2009 (we’re ignoring 2010, and so should you), the Vikings have struggled to air it out since Randy Moss departed following the 2004 season.
Adam Thielen last season became just the second Vikings pass-catcher since the Moss era to rack up more than 1,000 receiving yards and the first since Sidney Rice in 2009.
This is not a particularly impressive group. A season of exactly 805 receiving yards would currently be enough to crack the top 10.
Vikings, receiving yards since 2005 (single season)
This is also not, it should be said, particularly unusual.
A dozen teams have had three or fewer such seasons since 2005 (the Vikings’ first post-Moss season), while many of the contenders in this category — the Falcons, Colts and Steelers, for example — have benefitted from singularly talented receivers.
Atlanta owes all eight of its 1,000-yard seasons over that span to either Julio Jones or predecessor Roddy White. Reggie Wayne accounts for five of Indianapolis’ eight. Antonio Brown is responsible for five of Pittsburgh’s six.
But while guys like sparkplug Percy Harvin and an aging Greg Jennings were once the best pass-catchers the Vikings had to work with, Minnesota finally has the personnel to join the party.
Thielen and Stefon Diggs combined for 2,125 receiving yards last season. Thielen ranked fifth with 1,276, while Diggs checked in at No. 25 with 849.
Minnesota was one of just five teams to place two players in the top 25, joining Pittsburgh (Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster), Detroit (Marvin Jones, Golden Tate), New England (Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks) and Kansas City (Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce).
NFL, receiving yards (2017)
Of those five tandems, just two return more-or-less unchanged.
The Vikings famously swapped out quarterback Case Keenum for Kirk Cousins, New England parted ways with Cooks and Kansas City replaced quarterback Alex Smith with Patrick Mahomes.
Cousins’ resume supports the case for Diggs and Thielen thriving again in 2018.
Washington produced two 1,000-yard receivers during his three seasons at the helm: Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, both of whom just cleared 1,000 yards in 2016, Cousins’ most productive season so far. Jamison Crowder nearly got there as well in 2016, finishing with 847.
His presence is clearly a net positive for the Vikings’ passing attack, but Cousins also adds a significant wrinkle to the Diggs/Thielen equation: The tight end.
Cousins’ connection with Washington tight end Jordan Reed was notable, but his affinity for the position goes beyond one player. His performance with two tight ends on the field was particularly impressive.
Cousins, per FiveThirtyEight, is among the league’s best passers in such formations, and averaged a league-leading 10.24 yards per attempt during his career as Washington’s full-time starter from 2015-17.
The Vikings are well-equipped to capitalize on that in 2018. New offensive coordinator John DeFilippo and the Eagles rolled out two tight ends frequently last season, while the Vikings have an established Pro Bowl talent at the position in Kyle Rudolph.