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)

Player Year Age G Tgt Rec Yds TD
Sidney Rice 2009 23 16 121 83 1312 8
Adam Thielen 2017 27 16 142 91 1276 4
Percy Harvin 2011 23 16 121 87 967 6
Adam Thielen 2016 26 16 92 69 967 5
Bernard Berrian 2008 28 16 95 48 964 7
Stefon Diggs 2016 23 13 112 84 903 3
Percy Harvin 2010 22 14 109 71 868 5
Stefon Diggs 2017 24 14 95 64 849 8
Kyle Rudolph 2016 27 16 132 83 840 7
Greg Jennings 2013 30 15 106 68 804 4

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)

Player Age Tm G Tgt Rec Yds TD
Antonio Brown 29 PIT 14 163 101 1533 9
Julio Jones 28 ATL 16 148 88 1444 3
Keenan Allen 25 LAC 16 159 102 1393 6
DeAndre Hopkins 25 HOU 15 174 96 1378 13
Adam Thielen 27 MIN 16 142 91 1276 4
Michael Thomas 24 NOR 16 149 104 1245 5
Tyreek Hill 23 KAN 15 105 75 1183 7
Larry Fitzgerald 34 ARI 16 161 109 1156 6
Marvin Jones 27 DET 16 107 61 1101 9
Rob Gronkowski 28 NWE 14 105 69 1084 8
Brandin Cooks 24 NWE 16 114 65 1082 7
A.J. Green 29 CIN 16 143 75 1078 8
Travis Kelce 28 KAN 15 122 83 1038 8
Golden Tate 29 DET 16 120 92 1003 5
Mike Evans 24 TAM 15 136 71 1001 5
Doug Baldwin 29 SEA 16 116 75 991 8
Jarvis Landry 25 MIA 16 161 112 987 9
T.Y. Hilton 28 IND 16 109 57 966 4
Marquise Goodwin 27 SFO 16 105 56 962 2
Demaryius Thomas 30 DEN 16 140 83 949 5
Robby Anderson 24 NYJ 16 114 63 941 7
JuJu Smith-Schuster 21 PIT 14 79 58 917 7
Davante Adams 25 GNB 14 117 74 885 10
Cooper Kupp 24 LAR 15 94 62 869 5
Stefon Diggs 24 MIN 14 95 64 849 8

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.