Chad Beebe offers Vikings a different look at receiver

MINNEAPOLIS – Mike Zimmer revealed his long-kept secret following the Minnesota Vikings 24-9 rout of the Detroit Lions.

Chad Beebe is good. So much so that Zimmer said they’ve been trying to get the undrafted receiver, who joined the Vikings after winning a contract at a rookie tryout, activated for the last three weeks.

Beebe, the son of former NFL receiver Don Beebe, was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Saturday. This wasn’t some last-ditch effort out of desperation knowing that Stefon Diggs (ribs) was not going to be able to play against the Lions. The Vikings weren’t crossing their fingers on Beebe, hoping that the moment wouldn’t be too big for him in his NFL debut. They weren’t making the move so the receiver could sit on the bench, either.

Beebe was an active part of the Vikings’ game plan, playing 13 of 49 snaps solely on offense where he caught three passes for 21 yards. He drew matchups against Lions top corner Darius Slay and beat him with his quick twitch and crisp routes to convert important downs.

“He’s like that every day in practice,” Zimmer said. “It wasn’t a surprise to me what he did during the game.”

The rave reviews of what Beebe was doing in practice quietly trickled out for weeks. The former Northern Illinois receiver had won over the respect of coaches and players for his work on the scout team, burning defenders with his speed, catching "everything" that came his way and making an impression that someday he’d be able to contribute in a game.

“You cheer for guys that go and bust their tails,” Adam Thielen said. “They make plays against the starters every week in practice, and he continued to make big plays this game and he was huge in the success for our offense.”

His work on scout team, being able to go against Zimmer’s vaunted defense every day, is what Beebe said prepared him for this moment.

“Practice squad is a great opportunity for guys like me to get better, and that was my mindset, each and every day,” Beebe said. “I knew to give our defense a good look and to get the W. For me, personally I knew to continue to work on my route-running. Going up a defense like that every day, a really good defense, has helped me tremendously.”

The move undoubtedly forced the Lions to scramble. There is so little footage of Beebe from which to game plan, given he played in only three preseason games when he caught nines passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins didn’t shy away from looking to Beebe in tough situations. Two of Beebe’s catches came on third down, one of which he converted, while he picked up 13 yards when Cousins looked his way on fourth-and-2.

“I think we had confidence that he could do that today to the point where we want to him twice in crucial situations against man coverage,” Cousins said. “He did create separation, got us the first down and then we noticed in the second half on the deep ball to Aldrick [Robinson] they doubled him, they doubled him and Adam. That was a recognition at halftime from their side, ‘Hey, we’re not going to let this guy beat us in man coverage. We’re going to double him as well.’”

With Diggs sidelined in Week 9, Thielen was on the receiving end of constant double teams from Detroit defenders and saw his streak of games with 100 yards receiving end after he caught four passes for 22 yards. Expecting that to be part of Detroit’s scheme, Cousins spread his looks around among Beebe, Laquon Treadwell (two catches, 37 yards) and Aldrick Robinson (two catches, 20 yards).

Against the Lions, Beebe supplanted Brandon Zylstra in the game plan. After making an early impression in training camp, the former CFL standout has played a total of six snaps on offense, all of which came as a slot receiver.

Even after Diggs returns, the Vikings seem to like what they have in Beebe and could continue to find ways to use him on offense. Aside from their top receiving duo in Diggs and Thielen, it can be argued that the identity of the Vikings' receiving corps is a mix of a true vertical threat in Robinson, who averages 16.4 yards per catch, and Treadwell’s improving play at the line of scrimmage.

Beebe provides Minnesota with a different dynamic, possibly as a possession receiver who can be relied upon to keep drives alive -- something the Vikings lost when Jarius Wright departed in free agency.

The 5-foot-10 receiver gives the Vikings a different look out of the slot with his ability to burn linebackers he’s matched up with near the line of scrimmage, while his precision and footwork give Cousins confidence that he’ll be able to separate from the defensive backs and win his routes.

“What he did on third and fourth down for us was really important – created separation in tight man coverage and I think he’s a great asset for us as we look to the second half of the season,” Cousins said.