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Without Irv Smith Jr., It’s Time for Dede Westbrook to Emerge

Without Irv Smith Jr., It's Time for Dede Westbrook to Emerge

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Back in July, you asked for it – and you got it.

 

About a month after this unscientific poll, the Minnesota Vikings indeed signed Dede Westbrook, a pass-catcher with ties to new WR coach Keenan McCardell. Because of his resume with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he was thought of as the immediate WR3 the Vikings have long sought to end the drought. Ever since the departure of Jarius Wright from the franchise in the 2018 offseason, Minnesota has employed middling wideouts like Laquon Treadwell, Bisi Jonson, and Chad Beebe at WR3. The results are underwhelming.

After joining the Vikings, Westbrook has spent these seven weeks recovering from his ACL tear suffered last season. For now, his impact is slated for perhaps that of returning punts while he plots a way to intermingle in the Vikings 2021 offense.

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The time is now for Westbrook to seize the WR3 job.

He was not granted the WR3 title when the Vikings announced their unofficial depth chart before the first preseason game. That gig was given to K.J. Osborn, a second-year wideout who caught zero passes in 2020.

But on Wednesday, the Vikings worst fears materialized as tight end Irv Smith Jr. was lost for the season to a torn meniscus. The 23-year-old TE was supposed to act as a third receiver inside Minnesota’s offense – especially on third downs. Now, the team will pivot to a duo of Tyler Conklin and Chris Herndon, who general manager Rick Spielman traded for on Tuesday. Those two men might play fine and dandy in 2021, but that prognosis is a fat maybe.

Westbrook already proved on a few Jaguars teams he can toe the line of WR3. He must do it for the Vikings, too. This is why he was signed – to finally end the three years of misery regarding WR3 production. And if he can serve as WR3 with Blake Bortles, Mike Glennon, Cody Kessler, Jake Luton, and Gardner Minshew tossing him the pigskin, he can handle the assignment with Kirk Cousins, a quarterback that is markedly more consistent than that flock of Jaguars ex-QBs.

The hopeful emergence of Irv Smith Jr. before August 31st probably allotted the Vikings cover to say “who cares?” at WR3 like they normally do under this regime. But the stakes have changed. The Vikings cannot singularly target Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson all the time in 2021. That three-headed monster will need relief – and Smith is not available to provide it. It is a requirement for a non-Cook, non-Thielen, and non-Jefferson to rise. Westbrook is the most likely candidate because of his history. When healthy, he grabs about 700 receiving yards and four touchdowns per season. The Vikings need that. They don’t need the on-paper, best-laid-plans of it; Minnesota must see it actionize on the field.

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Of course, the aforementioned Osborn or maybe even Ihmir Smith-Marsette could bust out in light of Smith’s absence. Yet, those two have no documented history of doing so. Spitballing their rapid maturity is a bunch of hype. And hype is fine, but the Vikings need catches, yards, first downs, and touchdowns.

A healthy Westbrook is the obvious choice for it. Otherwise, he’ll join Michael Floyd, Tajae Sharpe, and others as players Minnesota could not develop as WR3s in its run-first offense.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday along with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).



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