While Adam Thielen’s status for Thursday night’s game against Washington remains murky, the Vikings are confident another pass-catcher can assume his role, rookie Olabisi Johnson.
Johnson took over the No. 2 spot in the offense after Thielen went down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter of a 42-30 win over the Detroit Lions last Sunday. The seventh-round pick from Colorado State finished with four receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown, the first of his career.
He was targeted a career-high eight times.
“He didn’t miss a beat,” Thielen said of Johnson. “He was running plays that I had run all week in practice, but he was running them successfully, getting open, making plays downfield and ultimately helping this offense move the ball and help this team win, which is really impressive for a rookie who doesn’t have a lot of experience.”
If Thielen’s streak of 87 consecutive games played comes to an end, the Vikings finally feel they have a reliable option, something that never quite panned out with the likes of Laquon Treadwell, Jarius Wright or Cordarelle Patterson. What plagued each of Johnson’s predecessors was a lack of consistency.
“Getting consistency is huge for anybody,” Johnson said. “I had some consistency the other night and hopefully it shows on Thursday, as well.”
Johnson’s role has never been as defined as it is now. The rookie spent most of the summer and training camp fighting just to make the roster. After impressing during the preseason, he was added as the fourth wide receiver behind Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Chad Beebe. His role has continued to expand through good play and injuries to Beebe (ankle) and Thielen (hamstring).
In two previous games, Johnson was on the field for only nine out of 113 snaps; against the Lions, he was on the field for 52 plays, 71 percent of the snaps.
“I kind of touched on it in the beginning of the season, as far as his preparation, he’s handled it really well. It’s showing,” Diggs said. “He’s stepped up in every opportunity he’s given. As far as taking everything in stride, he’s done that.”
While the Vikings roster is filled with top draft picks, including seven former first-rounders, Johnson is part of a receiving room that knows his journey. Treadwell is the only receiver in the group that was drafted in the first round. Diggs was a fifth-round pick, and both Thielen and Beebe were undrafted free agents.
“He didn’t need much teaching, he did everything he was asked, and he prepared the right way,” Diggs said. “I always have respect for guys who come in late (in the draft), but being a professional, he does his job. You can appreciate that more as a man than a player.”
If Thielen is ruled inactive, Johnson will almost certainly be tabbed as a starter for the first time in his career. Treadwell will be the third receiver, and expect a continued increase in receiving production from the tight ends. Even with Thielen out last Sunday, Treadwell was on the field for just 10 of the team’s 73 plays; tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Kyle Rudolph combed for 10 catches, 118 yards and a touchdown.
“We obviously have a few guys who are extremely special, but we also have a bunch of other guys who can make plays and do some special things as well,” Thielen said. “In this league, you have to have that and we’re going to have to continue to do that to win ballgames.”