FanPost

A Look at the Vikings Wide Receivers

It probably goes without saying that the injury to Greg Childs in training camp and the injury to Percy Harvin mid-year really hurt our team. We lost our best receiver, and one of our better young developmental prospects. And with the suspension and subsequent back injury to Jerome Simpson, our speediest and potentially three most dynamic weapons in the passing game were rendered moot. It sort of reminds me of the secondary last year. But never-the-less, what did that leave us with by season’s end? Well, an aging veteran in Michael Jenkins, a rookie in Jarius Wright, and a pair of leftovers in Stephen Burton and Devin Aromashodu, along with Chris Summers on the practice squad. So, read on for a detailed analysis of our wide receivers' performance this past season, as well as what options are available during the off-season.

In attempting to evaluate our receivers, the first thing I looked at was the NFL snap counts and passing targets to see how the playing time and opportunities shaped up for each player. I then calculated a “Ball Percentage” or in other words, how often they were getting the ball thrown to them compared to their snaps. So, in order to help with comparisons, here’s what I found:

Snaps

Targets

Ball Percentage

Michael Jenkins

706

72

10.2%

Jerome Simpson

453

52

11.5%

Percy Harvin

420

85

20.2%

Devin Aromashodu

336

22

6.5%

Jarius Wright

206

36

17.5%

Stephen Burton

167

11

6.5%

So, obviously, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson have the most snaps, because they were available for more games, and were the starters most of the time. However, in looking at the breakdown of targets, we can see that Ponder leaned heavily on Harvin when he was in the lineup, throwing him the ball almost twice as much as Michael Jenkins. And interestingly, that trend shifted towards Jarius Wright when he was activated and in the lineup for the last 9 games. That said, Jenkins and Simpson still saw the team’s 2nd and 3rd most targets on the year after Harvin, so they should be the 2nd and 3rd most productive receivers, right? Well, not exactly. Check out these stats, pulled from Football Outsiders and NFL.com:

Rec.

Catch Rate

Yards

YAC

TDs

Michael Jenkins

40

56%

449

137 (31%)

2

Jerome Simpson

26

51%

274

55 (20%)

0

Percy Harvin

62

73%

677

531 (78%)

3

Devin Aromashodu

11

50%

182

38 (21%)

0

Jarius Wright

22

61%

310

93 (30%)

2

Stephen Burton

5

45%

35

23 (66%)

1

Based on this table, Percy Harvin’s stats are even more remarkable. Despite only playing 9 games, he still led the team in targets, catches, yards and TDs. His catch rate of 73% and YAC rate of 78% were jaw-dropping and simply phenomenal. Based on his average stat line for those 9 games, his projected stats for the entire year could have been similar to this: 110 receptions, 1,204 yards and 5 TDs. This would have been good enough for 3rd in catches and 5th in yards and Top 20 in TDs among all NFL receivers. While Jarius Wright had a couple of good games this year, his average stat line pales in comparison to Harvin. Make no mistake, Jarius Wright is not Percy Harvin…yet. Wright was inactive for the first 9 weeks of the year and only played in the last 7 games. Even so, projected over a whole season, Wright could have had a stat line like this if he played the whole year with Harvin out of the lineup: 50 receptions, 708 yards and 5 TDs. Does this stat line look familiar? It should, because it’s nearly identical to Percy Harvin’s rookie year. Now, I’m not saying that Jarius Wright is the next Percy Harvin, but they do have similar size and measurables as a slot receiver. Wright may not have the versatility that Harvin does to play out of the backfield and return kicks, and may not have the agility and play-making skills of Harvin, but they do compare favorably as pure receivers (minus the YAC), and Wright does have some wicked deep-speed. So, there’s a strong case to be made that as it stands right now, Jarius Wright is our 2nd best wide receiver. His full-season projection is better than Michael Jenkins or Jerome Simpson (who played most of the year), and his catch rate is significantly better too.

Speaking of Michael Jenkins, his stat line looks pretty bad. For as many targets as he had to only have 449 yards to show for it, is not very good. For comparison, here are three other WR who had similar targets as Michael Jenkins’ 72 targets:

Jordy Nelson: 49 catches, 749 yards and 7 TDs on 73 targets
Golden Tate: 45 catches, 688 yards and 7 TDs on 68 targets
Danario Alexander: 37 catches, 658 yards and 7 TDs on 62 targets

You can see how much more productive those receivers were than Jenkins, and that's saying something. Michael Jenkins is 30 years old (will be 31 when the season begins). He has never caught more than 53 balls in a season, nor had more than 777 yards, nor caught more than 7 TDs. He has had a few injury plagued seasons, but even so, the average stat line for his career is: 39 catches, 491 yards and 2 TDs. Sounds familiar, right? His role as a wide receiver is a “possession” receiver that supposedly runs good routes, is a reliable catcher, and a good blocker in run support. If that’s his role, then his 54% catch rate indicates that he wasn’t a very reliable catcher this past year. Combine that with his age, and the fact that he took a pay cut last off-season to stay with the team, and it begs the question of whether or not we keep him around. What we got out of Jenkins this year is what we can expect to get out of Jenkins every year. This makes him a #3/4 WR, at best, and yet he’s the 9th highest paid player on the team. It is my opinion that he won’t make the team again next year, and I think we can do better in free agency and the draft and save a lot of money in the process. Jenkins' other value to the Vikings was his familiarity with Bill Musgrave, because of their connection to the Atlanta Falcons. Well, after 2 years, I don't think Jenkins is going to provide anything more to the WR than someone like Percy Harvin...and that assumes that Musgrave isn't fired.

That leaves us with Jerome Simpson, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton. I saw virtually nothing out of any of these players that indicated to me they have much value to the team. Simpson was supposed to be the “deep threat” that we needed, and was supposed to be that big, fast #1 WR we so desperately needed. But, he pretty clearly failed in that endeavor. It’s true that with his suspension and back injury, it’s possible that we didn’t see the “real” Jerome Simpson this year…but it’s also possible that we did. Out of these three players, I would keep exactly none of them for next season.

So, of the 8 wide receivers on the current roster (Harvin, Wright, Jenkins, Simpson, Aromashodu, Burton, Childs and Chris Summers) IMO, only three of them have a good shot to make the team next year: Harvin, Wright and Childs (and he'll probably start on PUP or even still on IR). Given that Simpson and Aromashodu are free agents, I’d let both of them walk. Burton and Jenkins are still under contract, and therefore get an automatic bid to training camp, but I’d be surprised if either one makes the team. IMO, we need an off-season plan that addresses WR, and assumes that only Harvin, Wright and Childs makes the team. With that in mind, what other options are even available?

Free Agent WRs

There are actually quite a few “big name” wide receivers available in free agency this off-season, and it remains to be seen how many will re-sign with their current teams or be franchise tagged, but here’s a quick list with their current age:

1. Greg Jennings (29)

2. Mike Wallace (26)

3. Dwayne Bowe (28)

4. Wes Welker (31)

5. Danny Amendola (27)

6. Brian Hartline (26)

7. Victor Cruz (restricted) (26)

8. Donnie Avery (28)

9. Julian Edelman (26)

10. Kevin Ogletree (25)

11. Devery Henderson (30)

12. Domenik Hixon (28)

13. Danario Alexander (restricted) (24)

14. Brandon Gibson (25)

15. Braylon Edwards (29)

16. Ted Ginn Jr (27)

Of the guys on the list, I think we can rule out most of the slot receivers (assuming we don’t trade Harvin, which I don’t think we will), as well as restricted free agents and anyone we’ve brought in during past off-seasons but didn’t sign (like Ted Ginn Jr) or anyone 30 years old and older. That leaves us with guys like Mike Wallace, Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Kevin Ogletree, Domenik Hixon, Braylon Edwards and Brandon Gibson as distinct possibilities. Honestly, I’d be pretty happy with ANY of those guys. I doubt the team will go after Mike Wallace or Dwayne Bowe, but perhaps Spielman surprises me. Of the remaining names of the list, as it stands now, I think any one of them could come in and start opposite Harvin day 1, and at the very least they’d provide much better depth than anything we’ve got now. Bottom line is, with a list that long of quality WR, we’d be stupid not to pursue a few of these players.

WR Out of the Draft

As this is likely the 2nd year of a 2-year roster rebuild, our primary place to build a better WR corp is through the draft. The last 1st round pick we spent on a WR was Percy Harvin in 2009, and that worked out pretty well for us. I think there is a very strong case to be made to draft a WR in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. Many fans wanted a WR in the 1st round of last year’s draft, but with so many other holes on the team, I think Spielman was smart to grab a couple WR later in the draft and sign cheap FA options. That has set us up well to potentially draft a WR in the 1st round this year, or if not there, the 2nd round at the very least. Who are some likely candidates? Well, according to CBSSports, here are some WR projected to go in the 1st or 2nd rounds:

Kennan Allen, California
Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Robert Woods, USC
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
Terrance Williams, Baylor
Justin Hunter, Tennessee
DaRick Rodgers, Tennessee Tech
Markus Wheaton, Oregon State
Quinton Patton, Lousiana Tech
Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

A lot will change between now and the draft, especially after the Senior Bowl, East/West Bowl and the combine, but at this early stage I like the following guys based on their measurables and college stats to come in and be a big, fast #1 WR:

1. Terrance Williams

2. Markus Wheaton

3. Cordarrelle Patterson

4. Robert Woods

5. Justin Hunter

So, if I could have my dream list of wide receivers (staying realistic and within cap space) based on the available free agents, draft prospects and players currently on our team, as of today, here is what my opening day WR roster would look like:

1. Percy Harvin

2. Terrance Williams

3. Brandon Gibson

4. Jarius Wright

5. Michael Jenkins or Late Round Draft Prospect or Stephen Burton

6. Greg Childs

This would give us a lot of speed, and a good mixture of size, youth and other abilities. I like Terrance Williams as a prospect, because he has the same size and similar speed as the “elite” prospects like Allen and Patterson, but dominated them in the stat sheet. He played with a legit QB in RGIII during his first 3 years at Baylor, and was productive, especially last year. But this season was his best yet…without RGIII. He topped all collegiate WR in yards in the NCAA as a senior, and essentially doubled his production from last season. CBS Sports has him graded as a 2nd round prospect, but if he can put up a good showing at the senior bowl and combine, he could be a riser as the off-season progresses.

So, what are your thoughts on wide receivers? Who would you keep around, and who would you like to add to the roster?

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.

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