Monday, July 1, 2013

Pre-Training Camp Position Analysis: Wide Receivers

Daniel House analyzes the new and improved Vikings wide receiving corps.

The wide receiver position was arguably one of the biggest areas of emphasis for the Vikings this offseason. Percy Harvin was dealt to the Seahawks, resulting in the Vikings signing former Green Bay Packer, Greg Jennings to a five-year contract. This position was an area the Vikings were looking to upgrade mainly from the vertical standpoint. Jerome Simpson was plagued with injuries last season and struggled to provide stability at the split-end position. The real question is, can Greg Jennings stay healthy and become a solid receiver for the Vikings? He has missed 11 games over the last two seasons with injury problems. He was blended with a strong cast of receivers in Green Bay, which included the likes of James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Donald Driver. This is his first opportunity to be the leader of the wide receiver corps. He has proven himself as a reliable target with the ability to slash a defense vertically, which is something the Vikings have been missing.

The Vikings vested a fair amount of compensation for a draft day trade to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (right). A two year player in JUCO, Patterson has raw talent and only one year of NCCA experience at Tennessee. He brings playmaking to a whole new level with sheer speed and athleticism. He needs work on route running, but will certainly be a player that can change the way the Vikings scheme their offense. I expect to see various packages and formations that will feature Patterson. He also was very explosive as a kick and punt returner in Tennessee and will be used in this variety as a Viking. In mini-camp, we witnessed Patterson in both punt and kick return teams, but the word is he will primarily be used as a kick returner. He will be one of the exciting Vikings to watch when the Vikings hit the field for the first time on July 25th.

As discussed earlier, Jerome Simpson had a very disappointing season and was plagued by injuries. At this time, he is most likely the Vikings number two wide-out, but this could change if Patterson develops quicker than we anticipate. Simpson has proven athletic ability, but has struggled to execute on the field. We have witnessed his leaping ability and are familiar of the famous "leap" touchdown from his days in Cincinnati. Simpson knows he must produce in what could be the deciding year of his career. Another year of continued struggles means his career could be over.

2012 Stats:                           2011 Stats:

RECYDSTD                     REC YDS TD
262740                         50      725    4

From the stats, you can see the huge drop in production last season compared to his final season in Cincinnati. He was primarily a reception receiver and wasn't famous for getting into the endzone. The hope was that in a better system, while being the primary focus, he would become an elite target for the Vikings. The back injury he suffered was a contributing factor, but wasn't entirely the reason he wasn't successful. One thing is certain, he better be ready to battle for his spot.

Jarius Wright returns for his second season in the league and will be looking to build upon his later emergence. Wright played in only eight games last season, but proved he could be developed. He connected with Christian Ponder on his longest reception (65 yards) of the season. The Vikings are looking for Wright to be flexible, much like Percy Harvin was in three seasons with the team. He could be lined up in the backfield, spread out wide in the slot, or lined up in a wildcat formation. The flexibility Wright has displayed means he could be the starting slot receiver.

Joe Webb (right) is making the transition from quarterback to wide receiver, after the Vikings decided he would be better suited at this position. Why not use his athleticism on the field? He has great size and proven speed. He also understands coverage schemes from being at the helm for several seasons. The biggest transition will be footwork and route running, but Webb has had time between mini-camp and training camp to develop more skills. This is his last venture in the NFL, especially after his less than impressive performance as a backup in the NFC Wild Card playoff game at Green Bay. Teams will not sign him to play quarterback because he isn't established enough. Maybe if he was placed in a better system this trend could alleviated, but it seems highly unlikely. Webb will have a battle to make the roster, as 11 players will be battling for 6 or 7 roster positions. It all is in his hands.

Greg Childs was a fourth round draft pick for the Vikings in 2012 and suffered a serious injury at the night scrimmage during training camp last year. As he dove for a ball he tore both of his patellar tendons in his leg and immediately had surgery, which shelved him for the remainder of the season. Childs has begun working during individual drills at mini-camp, but it is uncertain when he will be cleared to participate fully in practice. In a limited amount of practices last summer, Childs displayed great hands and an ability to stretch the field. The main question is whether he can recover from a serious muscle tear in both of his legs. In addition, he had the same injury occur at Arkansas, so this is his second recovery from something similar. We have never witnessed a player recover from a serious injury as Child's suffered. With Eric Sugarman as the team trainer, there is a belief he can facilitate a recovery similar to Adrian Peterson's ACL recovery. Certainly this is optimistic, but will be an area to monitor during training camp practices.

Stephen Burton is returning to the Vikings training camp roster for his third season. Burton has been primarily used on special teams and as a blocking wide receiver. Reports have indicated Stephen is developing and wide receiver's coach George Stewart likes the progress. In several practices we witnessed Burton being targeted vertically down the field, in an effort to groom him into a potential option. Many have compared Burton's potential skill-set to Terrell Owens, but he has seen very little action to prove himself. He probably will be one of the final receivers battling with three players for the final spot. Burton will be in for a steep battle to make the roster based solely upon the amount of talented receivers on this roster.

Chris Summers was signed near the end of the 2012 season as an insurance policy for an unstable Vikings wide receiving group. A player who set many records at Liberty college, Summers is a tall goal-line threat. He spent a short stint on the Bears preseason roster, before spending time on the Vikings practice squad at the end of the season. Summers has gotten stronger in the offseason and looks bigger from a muscle standpoint. Ball skills are the main issue and high level experience is missing from Summers' pedigree.

Two Mankato State players will feel right at home when they are battling for their spot on the Vikings roster. LaMark Brown and Adam Thielen (right) both are known for successful careers with the Mavericks. Thielen is a solid pass-catcher and is known for his ability to make a move in space. He is a reception receiver and has shown he can take his game to the next level. Early indications have yielded positive results, but the transition from D-II football to the NFL is normally too steep. Brown snuck unto the roster with his ability to be a vertical threat. Both will battle, but experience at high college levels may cause the reunion to be "short-lived." I think Thielen has the best chance to slide on the roster because of his good hands.

Rodney Smith was brought in as a developmental player after being an undrafted free-agent from Florida State. Measuring in at 6'6", Smith could hit the Vikings practice squad with an exceptional training camp and preseason. Erik Highsmith was a popular receiver at North Carolina, but is slightly undersized (190 lbs.) to be durable in the league. Look for him to be a mere insurance policy.

In my opinion, this position group will have the biggest positional battle out of all roster spots. There are many athletic and talented players, but only 6 or 7 can make the roster, which means 3 or 4 players listed won't make the 53-man roster.

 Look for the final spot to be a huge battle between Adam Thielen, Joe Webb, and Stephen Burton.

Projected Pre-Training Camp Depth Chart:

1. Greg Jennings
2. Cordarrelle Patterson
3. Jerome Simpson
4. Jarius Wright
5. Joe Webb
6. Greg Childs
7. Adam Thielen

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