Monday, June 23, 2014

Training Camp Position Preview: Wide Receivers

Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson highlight an exciting group that also includes Jarius Wright, but who could challenge for the fifth or sixth wide receiver spot? Daniel House says it will be difficult, as he continues the position preview series. 

Updated: June 23rd, 2014 12:20pm

By: Daniel House

The Vikings have progressed nicely at the wide receiver position in just three years. Back in 2011, the wide receiver group was one of the weakest positions on the roster. This season, the tune has been modified, as the Vikings have a solid mix of young talent and veteran leaders at this position group. The coaches will be yearning for production from several young and unproven commodities, but through coaching and development, the Vikings are excited to see what their wide receivers can do in the Norv Turner offensive system. Turner has the potential to keep a combined total of five tight ends and fullbacks if he follows his past trends. This means fringe wide receivers will need to show themselves early and often to make a field of wide receiver that will likely be trimmed to five players. It would be difficult for the Vikings to keep six wide receivers, but nothing is out of the realm at this point. Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson headline an exciting group that also includes Jarius Wright, but who could challenge for the fourth and fifth wide receiver spot? Let's take a look.

Jerome Simpson: Jerome Simpson most likely will need to serve a four-game suspension for an arrest he logged at the end of last season. Many see Simpson as an absolute lock to make the 53-man roster, but I don't necessarily think this is the case. Of course he would be a solid fit in Norv Turner's vertical passing philosophies, but the coaching staff will be making tough roster decisions in August. If a player like Rodney Smith or Adam Thielen shows they can handle Simpson's duties, the Vikings might look to replace Simpson. The forth-coming is a big strike against Jerome Simpson. If another receiver can play well enough to replace him, that isn't under discipline, don't be surprised if Mike Zimmer makes the move. Unless Simpson has an amazing training camp and blows the coaching staff away with his abilities, he won't be an absolute 'shoe-in' to make the roster- he will have to earn it.

Adam Thielen: Adam Thielen has slowly become a fan favorite and has developed very quickly in the eyes of the Vikings coaching staff. The Minnesota native has fantastic hands in traffic and he developed nicely as a route-runner towards the end of training camp. He spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad and gained some tools from wide receivers coach George Stewart during that time frame. He proved he is a quick study and could learn new skills quickly, which could appeal to the Vikings coaching staff. He made a solid impression during the mini-camp practices and Rick Spielman even mentioned him as one of the most impressive players at mini-camp during an interview with KFAN radio last week. Thielen has a chance to make the roster, but ultimately the real battle will start on the practice fields he started his Minnesota-State Mankato college career on.

Rodney Smith: At 6’5” and 225 pounds, Rodney Smith has a solid NFL frame, and has better measurable ability, with a solid 40-time and a very good shuttle score. Smith unfortunately has struggled as a route-runner and his hands have been shady at times, as well. The coaching staff witnessed the insane athletic abilities, but were constantly trying to get him ahead of the curve as an on-field player. This doesn't bode well with a new coaching staff that is looking to cram information and see solid results at a fast rate. Smith spent the entire 2013 season on the practice squad and we haven't seen the developments he made during this period of time. With his insane intangibles, any leap could be enough to take his game to the next level. Still, Smith is more of an athlete than a wide receiver and his development with the Vikings may not yield enough roster space for him to do so.

Kamar Jorden: The Vikings signed Kamar Jorden as an undrafted free agent when he entered the league out of Bowling Green. He was later released in roster cuts and spent time in the arena football league and CFL. During that time, he eclipsed over 1,000 yards, but wasn't the leading receiver of the Spokane Shock of the AFL. Jorden failed to land in the CFL, which is another concern that many have with Jorden. He spent time with the Vikings in training camp, but hardly practiced after he suffered a broken hand early in the process. Jorden is a solid route runner and is great at gaining separation in the second level of the defense. From a vertical standpoint he has a knack for getting open and that may be his best chance of landing on this roster in some capacity.

Erik Lora: Lora might be the best wide receiver out of all the players I have highlighted, even while being an undrafted free agent. He played at the FCS level, but has displayed solid route-running skills, along with a superior ability to garner separation at the line of scrimmage. Many of this can be enhanced when you have a quarterback like Jimmy Garoppolo, but Lora has the technique and footwork. He has soft hands and is great at adjusting his body in traffic. He likely would have been drafted had he not suffered injuries towards the end of his college career. Lora might not be as physically gifted as the other candidates I profiled, but he definitely has the most polished technique throughout this group.

Josh Cooper: Cooper was signed from the Cleveland Browns last week and has experience working with Norv Turner. He was signed in mini-camp and has experience in this offensive scheme, which makes him even more favorable for the fifth wide receiver spot. He has saw time on the practice squad in Cleveland and is a possession-style receiver. The Vikings went out and signed him late in June, meaning they evidently have some interest in Cooper battling for the fifth wide receiver spot.

Donte Foster: Donte Foster is going to be a solid possession receiver for a team in this league. He has great size and superior leaping abilities in traffic. During his time at Ohio, he continually was a safety valve below the safety and I think this could transition nicely to the NFL. His size is the major concern and being under 200 pounds might not be great when you look at the rest of his frame. Foster might not be able to handle bigger and more physical cornerbacks that are going to press him at the line of scrimmage. He has some developmental athletic abilities and might be a solid option for the practice squad. To learn more about him, I did a feature story with him last month, you can read it here.

Kain Colter: Colter is most known for his role in the fight to unionize Northwestern football, but he has some football abilities too. Kain Colter split time between quarterback and wide receiver at Northwestern, which is slightly worrisome. He didn't see a ton of experience at one position, meaning  he hasn't had time to develop from a technique standpoint. Many media members have talked about his quick development and how he was further ahead in the process than they anticipated. He has soft hands and a nice frame that has some potential development. He may not be ahead in the technique category, which may make his pursuit to the active roster more difficult.

As we look at things right now, it appears Adam Thielen, Rodney Smith, Josh Cooper, and Erik Lora are the most likely candidates to fill the fifth or sixth wide receiver spot. These four wide receivers have developed quickly and have plenty of flexibility as wide receivers. With all of this said, the wide receiver position battle is wide-open and one player who has a solid training camp could change the entire way we look at this group.

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