Two games into 2018, the Minnesota Vikings face the same conundrum they've faced for several seasons. Behind wide receivers Thielen and Diggs, who rank second as a duo in receiving yards (404) but are arguably the league’s top tandem, receiver depth is a problem in Minnesota.
Down 20-7 entering the fourth quarter at Green Bay, Kirk Cousins staged a comeback by relying on his top playmakers. Diggs’ two touchdowns came in the final 15 minutes of regulation, as did his two-point conversion to force overtime after Cousins hit Thielen for a 22-yard TD through a window so tight it defied the term "threading the needle" and might go down as one of the best throws of his career.
Cousins was forced into that position because the rest of his wide receiver corps came up short. After catching his first career touchdown, Laquon Treadwell dropped a critical catch on third down in the third quarter and tipped a pass that landed in the hands of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ahead of the two-minute warning. Similar to the way that interception played out, Stacy Coley let a ball go through his hands that was nearly picked off by Jaire Alexander with 1:08 to play in the fourth quarter.
To his credit, Cousins didn’t give up on Treadwell. He went back to Treadwell twice on consecutive plays in overtime, but the former first-round pick still didn’t deliver (three drops on six targets in Week 2). On the final drive in overtime, Cousins had to rely on his go-to pass-catchers to get the Vikings within striking distance: Diggs, Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph.
The Vikings had 12 wideouts in training camp and whittled down the position group to five before the start of the season. Minnesota is still trying to solve its lack of receiver depth by signing Aldrick Robinson, a move made in conjunction with kicker Daniel Carlson’s release, and releasing Coley on Tuesday.
Some will argue that Minnesota doesn’t need to place a big emphasis on finding pieces to slot in behind two of the game’s best receivers. After all, if Diggs and Thielen are going to get a majority of Cousins’ targets, with other passes spread to Rudolph and pass-catching back Dalvin Cook, how might a reserve receiver make significant contributions?
What happens if Thielen or Diggs gets hurt? A groin injury forced Diggs to miss two games last season. Right now, Minnesota doesn’t have the receiver depth to combat unforeseen circumstances.
What the Vikings hope to find is someone who can grab hold of the third receiver job, similar to what Jarius Wright did in 2017 (18 catches, 198 yards, 2 TDs), but in a more defined way.
Robinson might be the player to fill that role, and in the meantime, Minnesota will keep giving Treadwell and Brandon Zylstra (who has a considerable role on special teams) opportunities to see where they can contribute.
Minnesota brought in the sixth-year veteran Robinson for a workout two weeks ago in part because of the connection he had previously with Cousins. He was a teammate in Washington from 2012 to 2014 when Cousins was a backup to Robert Griffin III.
"Cousins was with him before, and he really liked him," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. "He’s a fast guy, makes some deep-ball plays. Kirk throws a great deep ball, as you saw the other day."
In Washington, Cousins didn’t have success by zeroing in on a single receiver, as one of four quarterbacks to throw at least five touchdowns to eight different pass-catchers since 2015.
If Diggs and Thielen are versatile chess pieces in the slot, outside and wherever else offensive coordinator John DeFilippo wants to line them up, Robinson might find his best fit as a speedy vertical threat who can stretch the field. A sixth-round pick in 2011, Robinson ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine and averaged a 17.3 yards per catch for three teams over six seasons, totaling 69 receptions for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns.
His sub-40 percent catch percentage in 2017 is lackluster given the 29 times he was targeted and didn’t come away with a catch. But if Robinson can build a rapport with Cousins and carve out a distinct role for himself in this offense, Minnesota might finally start building the depth it struggled to create for so long.