It is one of the reasons why Minnesota selected USC wide receiver Jordan Addison in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. Addison, a very sudden and crisp route runner, perfectly complements the skill set of star wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The former Pittsburgh and USC pass catcher was one of the best pure separators in college football over the past two seasons.
Last year, within USC head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense, Addison averaged 2.78 yards per route run, which ranked No. 26 among FBS wide receivers with at least 32 targets, according to Pro Football Focus' tracking. Addison also averaged 2.94 yards per route run while playing within Mark Whipple’s scheme in 2021.
With Addison now on the Vikings' roster, head coach Kevin O’Connell will take advantage of how defenses are currently scheming for Justin Jefferson. If teams are bracketing Jefferson, tight end TJ Hockenson, Addison and receiver KJ Osborn will receive better matchups and more space. Next year, Minnesota can do so many different things from a formational standpoint because they have a diverse blend of receiving skill sets.
For example, Addison and Osborn can spread coverage resources out by aligning on the opposite side of the field from Jefferson. Minnesota can also stack Hockenson and Addison or run bunch sets with Jefferson/Hockenson/Addison. Not to mention, because of Addison’s versatility they can motion him all over before and at the snap (did this a ton at Pittsburgh) to set up leverage/matchups. Also, since Jordan is elusive after the catch, Minnesota will stress defenses laterally by throwing screens and motioning him into the flat for touches.
I’ve always viewed wide receiver rooms like toolboxes. Why? Well, every home improvement project requires a different mix of tools. The same thing can be said about football. Every offense faces different coverage structures and personnel each week. As a result, coaches must have the personnel to spread the ball around and create positive matchups/space. That isn’t possible if you don’t have a diverse mix of skill sets within your skill position groups. It helps you play multidimensional football, which I think is important in the modern landscape.
With Addison in the fold, Minnesota can spread defenses out, stress them vertically/laterally, create good matchups, passing windows and space underneath. Not only that, but a versatile, spatially-sound aerial attack generates room/lighter boxes for the ground game.
One other notable aspect of Addison’s game is his route running prowess vs. single coverage. Last year, Adam Thielen averaged 0.92 yards per route run vs. man coverage, which ranked No. 83 among receivers with a minimum of 12 targets, per PFF. Thielen also racked up the 17th-most man coverage targets (38) and second-most touchdowns (5).
Of course, college vs. the NFL is different, but Addison averaged 3.28 yards per route run vs. man coverage in 2022, per PFF's tracking. He also accumulated five touchdowns in those situations, which was the eighth-highest mark among FBS receivers. The trend was similar during his sophomore season at Pittsburgh as well. Addison led all wide receivers with eight touchdowns vs. man coverage, per PFF data. He also averaged 3.41 yards per route run in those situations (No. 17 in country).
Addison exploits man coverage because he is so sudden out of breaks. He accelerates/decelerates with ease and frequently gets defensive backs on skates. Addison’s footwork is very quick and detailed during the initial aspect of his release. I also really like how he varies the tempo of his routes. He sets defensive backs up and attacks leverage well. Addison’s field vision and understanding of angles, space and leverage are apparent too.
A few examples of attacking man coverage occurred in the red zone. Within the rep below vs. Tennessee’s Cover 0 look, watch how Addison set up the route. He gives the defensive back a subtle shake, keeps his head still and then angles the route off to put him on his hip. Kenny Pickett pumped the ball into the window and Addison did a great job of plucking it outside of his frame.
Another example of crisp route running occurred last season against Rice. The Owls were in Cover 0 as well, so Addison received another single coverage matchup. This time, he hit the cornerback with foot fire, planted his outside foot, drove inside, dropped his weight beautifully and got the defensive back off balance. Addison then set up a crisp whip route. The best part about this route is how he kept his shoulders square throughout the entire process, even while swiveling. So many wide receivers immediately lose position/control of the route because they dip their shoulder. Addison exploited the man coverage and picked up an easy touchdown because of it.
Addison also does such a great job of attacking leverage and hitting defensive backs in their blind spot on vertical routes. Although he didn’t get the ball in the rep below, watch how he attacks the defensive back’s leverage and gets him to open the gate. Addison puts his break foot in the ground, exploits the corner’s blind spot, transitions and then accelerates vertically. There were so many routes where Addison set things up because of his detail, nuance, suddenness and ability to swiftly drop his weight at the top of routes.
Accel blind spotAnother example of this occurred during a game vs. Georgia Tech. Addison received the mismatch vs. a safety and made him pay. Watch how he plants hard with his outside foot, gives a subtle head fake and gets the defensive back to open his hips. Addison then angled the route off, accelerated deep and Pickett dropped the ball in there for an explosive play.
He did the same thing in a game vs. Stanford the season. When teams rotate safeties into the box and Addison gets a matchup on a nickel or safety, he makes them pay. In the rep below, watch how he steps hard outside, slams in his outside foot, angles the route inside, gets vertical and then makes a play on the ball. Addison does an outstanding job of attacking blindspots and maintaining acceleration through the break point.
I thought Pittsburgh featured Addison very well. They aligned him all over the place, including in the backfield. This resulted in Jordan being hidden from defenders. During the rep below, Addison starts in the backfield, but motions out into the slot. Addison provided coverage diagnosis by motiioning and then the safety bracketed him vertically.
There were also times where Addison motioned across the formation and received a good matchup. Notice how the flat route and post created coverage conflict and hid Addison’s wheel route. The safety got his eyes looking in the wrong spot, so Jordan had space in the window. Pickett lofted it up and Addison showcased great body control while making the catch through contact. Pittsburgh's offense did a great job of setting up matchups and leverage through motion and alignment tweaks. Many of the ways Whipple featured Addison in Pittsburgh’s system fit well with what the Vikings want to do offensively.
While studying Addison, I also took note of his spatial awareness and field vision. He does a nice job of reading the coverage and finding zone windows. In the example below, Addison is stacked tight in a 2x2 formation. Pittsburgh ran a Mills concept (post and dig combination) vs. Cover 3. Addison initially stems outside, gets inside of the curl/flat defender and sees the underneath hook defender. He slides right past him, flattens off the route settles into the zone and then plucks the ball beautifully. This was a perfect example of his spatial awareness, field vision and coverage recognition skills.
The other thing Addison showcased was his yards after the catch ability. Lincoln Riley featured him off of tunnels occasionally. When he did so, Addison broke tackles and was elusive in space. Minnesota can feature him via tunnels, bubbles, etc. too.
Jordan Addison fits the Vikings’ scheme very well. He is a sudden, versatile and detailed route runner who knows how to get open. Minnesota can set up quality matchups for Addison through motion and alignment tweaks. O’Connell and the offensive staff have to be excited about all of the ways they can scheme open Jefferson, Hockenson, Osborn, Jalen Nailor and Addison.
Now, the Vikings must focus on adding defensive contributors and depth throughout the remainder of this draft.
A few players I’m keeping an eye for the Vikings during two (they currently hold pick No. 87 - we’ll see if they move around): CB Cory Trice (Purdue), CB Tyrique Stevenson (Miami), safety/nickel Jartavius Martin, EDGE Derick Hall (Auburn), EDGE Byron Young (Tennessee), LB Dorian Williams
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