Early in training camp, it looked as though there would be no debate as to who would occupy the 5th wide receiver position. Adam Thielen was the best player in camp for the first two weeks, and his routes were (and still are) a thing of beauty.
Rodney Smith, who was considered in the mix at the beginning of the summer for the 5th spot, has reinserted himself into the race as of late.
The 2nd year receiver out of LSU went undrafted last year. He spent 5 weeks on the practice squad before moving to the active roster, but was only active for 4 games last year. Smith made noise last week when he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater against Arizona. In total, he caught 4 passes for 55 yards.
Thielen had a perfect chance to catch a touchdown himself on a beautiful pass from Bridgewater Saturday night, but dropped the ball. He caught 4 passes for 54 yards. So, apart from the bad drop in the end zone by Thielen, the two wide receivers had almost identical games in preseason week #2.
These two are fighting for roster spots, and both seem to have impressed coaches. At first, Thielen had an edge, but Smith has been on a surge, highlighted by his performance against Arizona.
There’s also a distinct possibility that both Smith and Thielen could make the roster. The 6th wide receiver spot is not always a thing in the NFL, though. Norv Turner’s 2013 Browns kept only 5 receivers. It is important to note, however, that the Browns carried 4 tight ends, which is unusual in the NFL. The possibility of a 6th spot is aided by the fact that Jerome Simpson will almost surely be facing a 3-game suspension to begin the season. It would be dicey to go into Week 1 with only 4 receivers. Also, the Vikings only have two tight ends who can make plays with the ball, and one of them, Chase Ford, is injured.
Right now, I believe Thielen has the upper hand on Rodney Smith. Thielen, an undrafted free agent out of Mankato State, has defied expectations this year. Beat writers and others in the twitterverse have been saying he has looked good since OTA’s and minicamp. He might be the best route runner on the Vikings other than Greg Jennings. Thielen’s hands are sure, even if that didn’t show on Saturday evening.
Smith’s size could be the difference maker, though. The Vikings list him at 6’5″, 200 lbs., as opposed to Thielen, who is 6’2″, 195 lbs. As he showed in the preseason comeback, Smith has the ability to catch deep passes and catch passes over defensive backs.
In the end, the decision will come down to what the Vikings want in their 5th wide receiver; a shifty guy who runs crisp routes and catches the ball well, or an athletic specimen with the ability to make a big play. I think both are to valuable to let go, and that the Vikings will keep both.