MINNEAPOLIS — To fill a glaring hole at wide receiver opened by the departure of Stefon Diggs, the Minnesota Vikings have turned first to Tajaé Sharpe.
Whenever NFL teams are able to gather for practice, Sharpe should at least have a head start on offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's playbook.
"That's always a good thing when you don't have to kind of completely start from scratch as far as learning the offense if you hear certain words and certain terms that may be familiar to you," Sharpe said Thursday on a conference call with reporters.
Kubiak, as the head coach for Houston, gave Matt LaFleur his first NFL job as an offensive assistant for the Texans in 2008. LaFleur, now the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, was the offensive coordinator Sharpe played for in 2018 with Tennessee. After four seasons with the Titans, Sharpe agreed to terms Wednesday on a one-year, $1 million contract with the Vikings.
Among wide receivers targeted 35 times or more in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus data, Sharpe was 10th in the NFL in passer rating when thrown to. He was also one of five wide receivers in the league with that many targets to not drop a pass.
"With Diggs being traded, having kind of a void to fill at the receiver position, I felt like I had the opportunity to come in here and compete for a starting spot, and that's all that you can ask for," said Sharpe, a fifth-round draft pick out of Massachusetts in 2016 whose most productive season in the league came as a rookie with 41 receptions for 522 yards.
Last year, Sharpe averaged a career-best 9.4 yards per target. Trading Diggs to the Buffalo Bills fetched the Vikings plenty of draft capital, but removed their best deep threat from the lineup. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, who made an introductory phone call to Sharpe after his deal was done, will need someone to be able to rely on down the field beyond Adam Thielen and Olabisi Johnson.
"He does a great job of delivering the football to his receivers. He was probably the best deep ball thrower in the league last year, so I'm excited about that," Sharpe said.
In the meantime, with all football activities on ice during the COVID-19 quarantine, Sharpe has been maximizing the use of his home gym, with bench press, dumbbells and a treadmill on hand. He'll head to the park down the street for pullups and pushups and jogging, and he's set up ladder and cone drills in the backyard along with a Jugs machine to catch footballs without a quarterback nearby.
"Just finding little ways to keep my game sharp and just stay on my toes," he said, "so when everything does clear up I'll be ready to go.''