Today Tom Pelissero tweeted out that in OTAs today, WR-turned-QB-turned-WR-turned-QB-turned-WR Joe Webb "caught everything" and that his "hands aren't an issue". Of course, he also mentioned that it was "learning everything else" that could be a problem... and that, mind you, could be quite the problem. He then added that considering this, it could make for an interesting camp battle for the #5 WR slot. Which got me thinking, what will the actual 2013 Vikings WR corps look like?
We're going to focus here on those that, in my opinion, could be potential candidates for being cut. This excludes only three players in my mind: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jarius Wright. Jennings obviously was our big FA splash and, if he remains healthy, is a boon for the team. Patterson may be raw, but considering a.) his incredible potential, b.) the fact that he could replace Percy Harvin at KR/PR and the occasional switch-up RB, and c.) the fact that he wasn't just a first round pick, he was a first round pick we traded a bounty up for, and it's obvious he's not going anywhere. Wright in only half a season last year showed flashes of great potential himself, and is also another person who could be used to fill the ‘Harvin void'. So barring injuries, these guys could sleep through camp and pre-season and still not sweat their roster slots.
That leaves a fair number of people who could fill in slots 4-6, assuming we carry six and not five receivers. We're going to assume for kicks and giggles right now that indeed the Vikings may overload at the position and go for six. The reason behind that logic is simple- Patterson. Again, the guy is obviously making the team, but how much he can contribute right off the bat in terms of pure receiving is somewhat up in the air. The Vikings may address that by carrying six total receivers. Is that a guess? Obviously. Could I be wrong? I probably am. And a lot of that does ultimately depend on how well Patterson does in camp and pre-season. But we're going to roll with that for right now.
This leaves Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb, Stephen Burton, Chris Summers, Greg Childs, and maybe Rodney Smith fighting for three spots. There are two other ‘camp bodies' currently on the team at receiver- Erik Highsmith and Adam Thiele- but unless they make noise in the offseason we're going to skip over them for now. The list compiled is in no particular order.
A lot of people are assuming Simpson is making the team because he was given a raise with a fair chunk of guaranteed money, but that means nothing to me. The guy is on a one-year contract so it's not like the guaranteed money will adversely impact the salary cap going forward. He does have a few things going for him though. The coaches seem very high on him, which is always a plus with the Minnesota Vikings- for better or for worse. And Simpson, as we saw last off-season, has a knack for making waves in training camp and pre-season. Let's admit it, a lot of us thought we had nabbed a decent steal last offseason when he hurdled a guy during a preseason game.
Also going in his favor is that last season he was hampered by an injury, so the coaches are likely giving him a clean slate to start with and won't hold it against him. Still, Simpson is 27 and has never been a major superstar in the NFL- his ceiling has been reached. With again only a one-year contract the Vikings are not married to this guy, and if he ends up being outshone by younger talent with greater potential, I'm not sure how he sticks around.
Some have argued that Joe Webb was converted from being a WR (as he was drafted to be) to a QB not so much because His High Lord Master Brad Childress was impressed with his QB'ing skills as the coaching staff was equally unimpressed with his receiving skills. Still, the aforementioned news that his hands are of no concern changes things. And it should be recalled that he really hasn't spent any time at WR in the NFL, including during his first offseason (the switch back to QB came rather quickly). There's no denying the raw athleticism of this guy- he might be one of the top 5 athletic specimens in the league. While it takes a lot more than that to make a team, if he's able to convert that into great receiving skills then we have a contender here.
Of course, let's return to the fact that he hasn't spent any real time at WR in the NFL, having spent now three seasons at QB before epically flaming out in last season's playoff... uh, thing. He's been called a hard worker but is that enough to pick up the finer points of being a pro-caliber WR? Part of this depends on what the coaching staff expects of him. If they feel the need to see him digest an entire route tree in order to make the team, then the Webb area in Minnesota is very likely over.
To close this section let's look at one final positive. While we have Patterson, Webb also may just have some of those Swiss Army knife skillz that Harvin left us without. There's no denying that with the ball in his hands (and staying in his hands) he's a dangerous foe. We've seen this before plenty of times, even in the beginning of the clusterf*** against Green Bay. Special Teams guru Mike Preifer seemed somewhat ambivalent about using Patterson for both KR/PR duties; if he wishes to restrain the guy from that full workload, Webb may just well have what it takes to use that to make the cut (and yes, I know Webb played returner once and got injured. Whatever).
There's a phrase in football- "it's better sometimes to be lucky than be good". Burton personified this last season with his TD reception, simply throwing his hands up when he was in the right place at the right time. We can call this the "Greg Lewis syndrome" if you will. ("David Tyree phenomenon" and "Mario Manninghaming it" are also acceptable.)
Actually, all three of those guys were the intended targets on their miracle catches, whereas Burton didn't even have that much. Quite frankly I'm not really sure why he's still on the team. This isn't a guy who hasn't had his chance in the NFL yet; the guy is entering into his third year, and has not exactly made waves his previous two. And considering he was originally a 7th round pick anyways, it's hard to not believe that he's only had a spot all along due to the Vikings incredible lack of depth at the position.
This is definitely a make-or-break offseason for Burton, and for my part I'm predicting "break". Much as we can say we know Simpson's ceiling, Burton doesn't appear to have much more potential than dumb luck. And with some new and potentially more intriguing options now in Minnesota, it's probably curtains for this guy.
What does Summers have? Size. He's 6-5, and has gone from 208lbs to 220. That's 3 inches taller than Patterson and a full 6 inches taller than Jennings. Seriously, of the potential receiving candidates who are sure to be on the team, he's trumped only by the 6-6 Kyle Rudolph. Until Patterson is up to speed, outside of Simpson the Vikings receiving corps is severely lacking in height. And as one well knows, a successful receiving corps has tall people on it.
But just as Webb's athleticism may not be enough, pure size alone too does not an NFL WR make. Summers spent last season on the practice squad and at least did enough to return this offseason. Unlike Burton, Summers may never have been given his full chance, and this offseason represents just that. If his speed and route-running holds to at least decent standards, and of course presuming he doesn't drop everything that comes his way, I'd be surprised to not at least see him return onto the PS. But can he make the 53 man roster? That's a tough one and we need to see how the OTAs and training camp shake out for that.
He does have one major thing going for him, though. Aside from filling in a ‘tall receiver' gap, he also fills in the ‘Bears castoff' gap for our receivers. So that considered, he's probably going to make the team.
Again, Smiths' big advantage- and pretty much his only one here- is the fact that he played with Christian Ponder at Florida State. He does also rock a 6-6 219lb frame, so some of the bonuses that went with Summers also do apply here.
Still, people do not go undrafted for a reason. Of course there are many examples of those who did and proved to the world that it was an enormous mistake for 31 NFL teams to let that happen, but is Smith going to be the next one? Like Summers that's impossible to answer until we see more this offseason. Either way, with his sizeable frame and the team's starting QB likely pulling for him, if Summers actually cracks the 53 man roster I'd be quite surprised to not see Smith take his PS place.
But unless the guy has a helluva training camp, I'd be equally surprised to see him on the full roster.
None of the above wild cards are as wild as this one. If you've followed Childs' trajectory until this point, there's practically only two possible conclusions: this guy is going to be one hell of a starting NFL WR, or he's never going to actually play the game.
Many presume that at the least, Childs will start the season on the PUP list. The big question is for how long. He may go on the PUP list and return sometime between game 6-10, he may go on the IR with the designation to return, or he may even end up on the full IR and not play in 2013. (Although this would mean nothing for 2014.) If you're holding your breath to find out the answer to that million dollar question, you're going to suffer some brain damage- there's not a chance we'll find out before just before the season begins. A better question to eagerly await is if he goes on the PUP list during training camp/ preseason, which I feel is a 90% certainty for at least some of the time.
If you follow Childs on twitter you'll know that the outcome will have nothing to do with a lack of hard work. The guy clearly has an AD-like mindset in regards to his rehabilitation, and considering we have Magic Man Necromancer Certified Athletic Trainer TMEric Sugarman on the job, I'd wager Childs will eventually see the field. Again, that enormous question being "when".
And if you're on this list, that question is keeping you up at night. Considering he was being hailed as Sidney Rice 2.0 last offseason before his injury, if he does end up playing this season there's not a chance he's not stealing someone's spot. Factor in his natural skills with his incredible motivation, and you've got a potential beast on your hands here. This guy has exactly one goal in his life right now: to become an NFL superstar.
Hopefully we'll see Childs lighting up the field come game 6 or 7 alongside his childhood friend Jarius Wright. Seriously, how cool is that story by the way? They have played ball together all the way from elementary school right up into the NFL. If that doesn't warm your heart some then you don't have one.
So, who makes the roster?
Didn't I just say we won't have a clue until we see more in the offseason? Oh well. The dogs are slacking some on the 2013 predictions so I don't have anything else to do right now. And don't lie... neither do you.
To review, we're playing the game of assuming that the Vikings will carry a heavy 6 WRs on their roster. And we're going with the considerably safer presumption that 3 of those are set- Jennings, Patterson, and Wright. So who rounds out the bottom three between Simpson, Webb, Burton, Summers, Smith, and Childs?
To start, there's practically 0 chance in my mind Childs is on the active roster game 1. Heck, I will go further and say he shouldn't be, because then I'll fear we're rushing him after a serious injury. And there's no need for that right now. So that narrows the list down some.
As much as I don't like it I think Simpson is in. With the coach's favor and presuming he has another big offseason like last year, it's going to take some guys seriously shooting past their predicted potential to knock him off the list. So now we're down to 2 spots and 4 guys.
Burton's a goner. I'm saying it firmly now. And he can't- unless I misunderstand the rules- land on the PS either because he has too many games under his belt. (I could be very wrong there as I'm often hazy on those rules, but I'd be surprised to see him on it regardless.) And then there were 3.
Webb... Webb. Webb. Hmm. I'm going on a limb here, and saying that yes, he makes it. Is that a HUGE assumption, and one that will be viciously attacked on the comments here? Youbetcha. But I think that, assuming the coaches have fair expectations of just how much of the route tree he can digest, he will make it. He'll be near the bottom of the list, but- the biggest knock against him breaking the WR barrier has often been his hands. If that's really not an issue I think he'll be able to turn his incredible athleticism and skill with the ball in his hands into a roster spot.
And then there were 2, fighting for 1 spot left. If it's between Summers and Smith, I'm saying as I did above that Summers makes it and Smith his the PS. And if my prediction that the Vikings will carry 6 WRs is wrong, then consider both here the odd men out, with a fight for the PS spot on their hands- unless the Vikings see fit to put both there (which would be a bit of a surprise).
And if Childs does return mid-season? Who knows at that point. It'll all come down to who has performed and how. I would kind of hope at that point that Simpson got the axe, assuming he doesn't actually live up to his strangely ballyhooed potential. But that's simply way too far in advance to predict at this time.
So, KJ's predictions for the 2013 Game 1 Minnesota Vikings WR Corps are:
- Greg Jennings
- Jarius Wright
- Cordarrelle Patterson
- Jerome Simpson
- Joe Webb
- Chris Summers
With an honorary "PS" mention for Rodney Smith and "PUP" for Greg Childs returning game 6 or 7. What say you, fellow Viking fandom? Is this list lunacy? What do you predict?