I was thinking about our WR position and how utterly disastrous it has become since we lost Sidney Rice this past off-season, and his replacement Michael Jenkins went on IR. I was trying to come up with some reasons as to why we find ourselves in the situation we are in. Is it poor drafting? Is it poor player development? Is it coaching? Have we struck out in free agency? Christopher Gates wrote up a great article awhile back on our awful history at the Quarterback position, and Ted Glover wrote an excellent piece detailing our offensive line. I’m not going to try to replicate their awesome work, but I did some digging and looked over past rosters and drafts dating back to 2005 (chosen because of year we traded Moss to the Raiders). What I found was interesting enough that I wanted to share it with you all.
Draft and Free Agent History
Heading into this draft, we had the following notable wide receivers on the roster: Marcus Robinson and Nate Burleson. We drafted Troy Williamson as the heir apparent to Randy Moss. We all know how that turned out. We signed free agents Travis Taylor and Koren Robinson that year as well.
We cut ties with Marcus Robinson and Koren Robinson, leaving us with Troy Williamson, Nate Burleson and Travis Taylor, yikes. We did not draft a single wide receiver that year. Instead they signed a few undrafted rookies and free agents, the likes of: Billy McMullen, Nance Martin and Bethel Johnson. Clearly, none of those guys made an impact.
This is the year we lost Nate Burleson to Seattle. We cut ties with everyone else except: Troy Williamson. We drafted Sidney Rice in the 2nd round, Aundrae Allison in the 5th round and Chandler Williams in the 7th (who didn’t make the team). We also signed a couple of free agents who gave us a veteran presence and some production in Robert Ferguson and Bobby Wade. After 2 years of suffering from mediocre WR play after Moss was traded, things were looking hopeful. Of course, we lost Culpepper the year before and didn’t have a QB, but that’s a different issue.
We finally cut ties with Troy Williamson, meaning that, 3 years removed from the Moss trade, we had an entirely new WR corp. We drafted Jaymar Johnson in the 6th round, and signed Bernard Berrian to a decent sized contract to replace our 2005 bust. We also signed Darius Reynaud, an undrafted rookie. Unfortunately Sidney Rice was injured most of this year (the supposed sophomore breakout year for wide-outs). So, our roster consisted of: Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, Aundre Allison, Jaymar Johnson and Darius Reynaud. We had a couple of veterans in Berrian and Wade, a rising star in Rice and some young development guys in Allison, Johnson and Reynaud. Not a terrible mix all things considered, but certainly not among the league’s best by any means. At the very least, it was a step up from the past 3 years of mediocrity.
We cut ties with Bobby Wade and Aundrae Allison this year, but drafted Percy Harvin. Looking back, this was a solid move as Percy has proven himself to be the elite playmaker we were looking for. We also signed Greg Lewis (another Eagles cast-off), and Sidney Rice had his breakout year. With Favre at the helm, this was our peak year for WR talent since 2005 with the following WR corp: Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, Jaymar Johnson, and Darius Reynaud.
Jaymar Johnson didn’t make the roster this year and we traded Darius Reynaud to the Giants. We didn’t draft a single WR, although we signed Juaquin Iglesias prior to the draft and signed Vinny Perreta (undrafted rookie). When Rice went down with injury, we frantically signed Hank Baskett and traded for Greg Camarillo. We even traded for Randy Moss who returned to the team for all of a few weeks. With Bernard Berrian not living up to contract expectations, what was previously viewed as a solid WR corp in 2009, suddenly looked very thin.
We all knew this year we needed some help at WR, and what did we do? First, we decided to let our best WR sign with Seattle saying goodbye to Pro Bowler Sidney Rice. Then, we signed Devin Aromashadu from CHI, drafted Stephen Burton in the 7th round (who was cut, and then resigned), and also signed Michael Jenkins from ATL. We also held onto Berrian long enough to force him to take a pay cut, and then ultimately cut him from the team after week 4. Now that Michael Jenkins is on IR, we look even more thin at WR than we did in 2010.
Drafted WR since 2005 (bold=still with team):
-Troy Williamson (1st round bust)
-Sidney Rice (2nd round Pro Bowler)
-Aundrae Allison (5th round bust)
-Chandler Williams (7th round bust)
-Jaymar Johnson (6th round bust)
-Percy Harvin (1st round, future Pro Bowler)
-Stephen Burton (7th round bust)
Free Agent Signings since 2005
The 2nd area I want to examine is coaching. For the life of me I can’t remember who was the WR coach after Scott Linehan left in 2004 (and google searches are yielding nada). But, I think whoever it was must be partly to blame for the mess we currently find ourselves in. Our current Wide Receivers coach is George Stewart, who began his career with the Vikings in 2007. After bouncing around at several coaching positions with Lou Holtz in college in the 1980s, he eventually moved on to the NFL coaching special teams for the Steelers, and then landed the WR coaching job with the 49ers when T.O. was there. He was also the WR coach for ATL before coming to the Vikings. T.O. gives Stewart a lot of credit for developing his game. Based on his solid resume, George Stewart appears to be a great WR coach. And clearly, he’s had an impact on Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin since being here in 2007. Prior to him though? Who knows. What I can’t seem to figure out is if we have such a great WR coach now, why do have such an issue getting talented WR on our team? It clearly doesn’t fall on George Stewart…it must be someone higher up the ladder, and I haven’t a clue who that might be.
Just looking at the list of drafted players and free agents, we’ve had 23 wide receivers fill our rosters since 2005. The majority of those players were pedestrian free agents that have had little to no impact on the team. This is a serious problem. We haven’t signed an elite wide receiver free agent since Moss left, and the highest profile guy we have signed was Bernard Berrian. But even more than that, in my opinion, our problems lie primarily in poor drafting. In the 6 years since Randy Moss was traded we have drafted only seven WR, and of those a mere three were in the first 2 rounds: Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Rice and Harvin were solid picks. Unfortunately, only 1 is still with the team, but getting 2 out of 3 high draft picks right isn’t bad odds. The issue is, we should have had more than just 3 picks. The remaining WR picks were all in the 5th round or lower where talent is scarce. In the last 6 years we’ve drafted exactly 1 WR in rounds 3-5. Part of that is due to us trading away some of our picks in those rounds, but either way, this is a mistake. Combine that with our inability to sign high quality free agents at WR, and we’re left with the pile of garbage we now call our wide receivers. Since 2005, of those 16 free agents we signed, arguably only 4 have had any real value: Bobby Wade, Bernard Berrian, Greg Camarillo and Michael Jenkins. But none of those guys were "elite". So, to fix this issue long term, we need to be willing to sign an elite free agent at WR and continue to draft WR talent high in the draft. If we keep signing the Michael Jenkins of the world, and drafting WR in the 6th and 7th rounds (which has pretty much been our trend since 2005 outside of Rice and Harvin), we’ll never see our talent improve. As great of a coach as George Stewart is, he has to have talent to work with. When given players like T.O., Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, we see what he can do. We just need to give him more of those kind of players!