Sun, 31 May 2020

Tajae Sharpe Explains Why Vikings Are 'Best Spot'

Minnesota Vikings
27 Mar 2020, 20:37 GMT+10

EAGAN, Minn. - As Tajae Sharpe prepared to enter free agency for the first time in his young career, the wide receiver made a checklist of sorts of what he was looking for in a team.

The 2016 fifth-round pick, who joined the Vikings earlier this week, wanted to land with a strong organization that featured a veteran quarterback and respected offensive play-caller, plus an opportunity to contribute right away.

Minnesota certainly checked those boxes. Vikings Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak has four Super Bowl wins on his resume. Kirk Cousins is accurate and can deliver the deep ball, and the Vikings have a need at wide receiver after trading Stefon Diggs last week.

"The opportunity that is being presented with Diggs being traded, having a void to fill at the receiver position. I felt like I had an opportunity to come here and compete for a starting spot, and that's all that you can ask for - an opportunity to compete and prove your worth," Sharpe said Thursday afternoon of why he chose the Vikings. "With Coach Kubiak, him running the offense and the success he's had in the league all these years, I feel like this is the best spot for me to be to take my game to the next level."

Sharpe described Cousins as "the best deep-ball thrower in the league last year," and he also praised the veteran's known leadership ability.

"He's a baller. I think he does a great job of being a leader for this team and does a great job of delivering the football," Sharpe said. "He's not scared to stand back there in the pocket and take a hit while delivering the football. He does a great job of being accurate down the field.

"I'm extremely excited ... he reached out [to me Wednesday], so that was a great feeling for myself, just to have the leader of the team reach out," Sharpe added. "[Adam] Thielen did as well, so it feels good having those guys welcome me with open arms, so I can't wait to get going."

Sharpe is expected to compete for a starting role opposite Thielen in a group that currently includes the likes of Bisi Johnson, Chad Beebe, Alexander Hollins, Davion Davis, Dillon Mitchell and Bralon Addison. Minnesota could also explore adding a pass catcher in a deep wide receiver class in the draft.

The 25-year-old Sharpe is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro, as he caught a career-high four touchdowns on 25 receptions for 329 yards in 15 regular-season games with the Titans.

Three of his eight career scores have come at least 30 yards from the end zone.

"I definitely think I could be that big-play guy," Sharpe said. "In Tennessee, I didn't feel I got as many opportunities to do that, kind of go down the field and make some plays, but hopefully in the future I can show people I can go down the field and make some big plays."

Sharpe has 92 career catches for 1,167 yards with eight touchdowns in three seasons. He missed the 2017 season with a foot injury.

While he could be a deep-ball target, Sharpe also noted that he can play in the slot, and said he welcomed the chance to make plays anywhere on the field.

"Anywhere I need to line up on the field - whether it's inside or outside - I feel like I have the ability to get open for my quarterback and make plays," Sharpe said. "I feel like being inside, there's way more space in there, so it's a little bit easier than playing on the outside.

"It's a lot of fun to be able to move around and play a bunch of different positions on the field," Sharpe added.

The former UMass standout made his NFL debut against the Vikings back in Week 1 of the 2016 season when he caught seven passes for 76 yards in a 25-16 Minnesota win. Sharpe's seven catches are tied for his current career best, and his 76 yards are his second-most in a single game.

"I remember being a little bit nervous the night before, not knowing what to expect," Sharpe said. "But some of the veteran guys were telling me the speed of the game picks up a little bit from the preseason to the regular season.

"Just regular rookie nerves, but once I got out there I realized it's all football," Sharpe added. "You may be playing at a higher level with new guys on your team, but it's just football at the end of the day."

Sharpe admitted his first foray into free agency was a little different than he expected due to the COVID-19 pandemic happening around the world. With team facilities currently shut down, Sharpe said he was unable to meet with anyone in person.

But he did chat with Kubiak, Cousins and Thielen by phone, and he has set up footwork drills in his backyard to stay sharp.

And when football activities resume at some point down the road, Sharpe said he'll be ready to prove why signing with the Vikings was the best fit for him.

"I think this offseason was a little bit weird for everybody with everything going on, the [coronavirus] situation - teams not being able to meet with players and everything is a little bit different for everybody. Especially for me, with this being the first time I was a free agent," Sharpe said. "I kind of didn't know what to expect, but honestly it was exciting just to get a new opportunity to go somewhere else and showcase your talent to different fans and in a different city. It was an exciting experience, and I'm just happy that the process is over and I landed in a spot I'm completely happy with. I think I definitely made the right decision.

"It definitely feels a little weird. Being an athlete, we're used to lifting and running and being on the field most of the year. Now, everybody has a chance to kind of sit down and gather their thoughts," Sharpe later added. "It is a little weird that I'm not getting ready to go out to Minnesota for OTAs and things right now. Everything is on hold. We're not sure when it's going to clear up, so I think a lot of people are kind of confused or indecisive, as far as not knowing the next move, but we'll get through this thing together. When everything kicks off, we just have to be ready to go."

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