One of the biggest draft day whiffs in Vikings history was the team's decision to pass on Michael Thomas in the 2016 NFL Draft. While the team settled on Laquon Treadwell with the 23rd overall selection that year, Thomas has gone on to become an All-Pro for the New Orleans Saints.
While it's too late to swap Treadwell for Thomas, Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak believes that he has his own version of Thomas in 2020 first-round pick Justin Jefferson.
"I know a lot of people that know the young man, but I also know what he was asked to do offensively," Kubiak said in an interview with the Vikings Entertainment Network. "He was basically used in a role at LSU, a lot like [Michael Thomas] who’s had so much success moving around and playing inside."
Something that has been well-documented after the Vikings' selection of Jefferson has been his explosion in the slot for the Tigers last season. Jefferson led the nation with 1,518 yards at the position, accounting for 98 percent of his production.
However, it was his ability to play all over the field which made Kubiak thrilled to get him on the Vikings.
"You don't catch 111 balls in a season be it pro football or college football unless you're a very bright player," Kubiak explained. "To do that, you have to have the ability to move around. You watch one play and [Jefferson] is in the backfield. He's been in the slot a whole bunch. The year before he played outside a lot. These are the things that get you excited as a football coach."
Thomas broke an NFL record with 149 receptions for the Saints last season, so it might be far fetched to see that happen. But Kubiak does seem to believe that moving Jefferson around is the best way to get production out of his 20-year-old weapon.
“I think that’s our job," Kubiak said. "We have to do what he does best. Obviously, him moving inside and doing those things was a positive for him, but I think he has the ability to play where we ask him to play."
Vikings to play "best five guys" on offensive line
One of the big storylines leading up to next season will be the formation of the offensive line. After being the downfall of another promising season, the interior guard spots are up for grabs, but Kubiak said the role isn't limited to the guards on the roster.
That competition should include second-round pick Ezra Cleveland, who Kubiak billed as a great fit either at tackle or guard next season.
"We’re going to play our best five guys, so he makes us very competitive the minute he walks in the building," Kubiak said of Cleveland. "But his brain gives us the ability to do a lot of things with him and settle him down where we feel best.”
Other players along the line include sixth-round pick Blake Brandell and seventh-round pick Kyle Hinton. While both players played outside at tackle, it's possible one of them also kicks into the inside and Kubiak mentioned that Hinton will start by learning at center behind Garrett Bradbury and Brett Jones.
"We’ll take it slow because we’re asking a lot of him, but we know we have a very good athlete who is very successful at his level," Kubiak said of Hinton. "We’re going to try to get him to succeed at our level.”
Osborn to make impact at returner?
Kubiak also lauded the character of fifth-round receiver K.J. Osborn, who spent last season as a graduate transfer at Miami after starring at the University of Buffalo for the first three seasons of his career.
While Kubiak praised his leadership, he also noted that Osborn should have a big role in the return game, where he averaged 15.9 yards per punt return with the Hurricanes last season, but also as a receiver.
"When I watch him play, I think there’s a big upside here," Kubiak said. "I think we can bring about his talents and what we ask him to do as a receiver, but I definitely think he’s going to help our team from a return standpoint."
Who hates Iowa? Certainly not Kubiak.
With one of the final picks in the seventh round, the Vikings selected Nate Stanley out of Iowa. While the quarterback meshes with what the Vikings already have in the quarterback room, Kubiak also noted that his connection to Stanley's alma mater played a role in bringing him in.
"Every player that I’ve had come play for me [out of Iowa], there’s something special about them," Kubiak said. They catch up to speed quickly. They’re going to give you everything they have.”
Kubiak called Stanley "a winner" for the Hawkeyes and felt fortunate to get him in the seventh round.
"There were a lot of people chasing him if he wasn't going to get drafted," Kubiak said. "The fact that [Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman] had all these extra picks late in the draft, is the reason we ended up with this young man."