Now that we're in that lull between mini-camp and training camp, when off-season arrests are likely to dominate the football news (hopefully none Viking-related), I thought it would be fun to look at the position group that has changed the most this off-season for the Vikings- the receiver group.
Last year the Vikings finished next to last in passing offense, in part from inconsistency at the QB position, but also in large part due to an injury-plagued, and often lackluster receiver group. Combined with a dominant run game anchored by the reigning MVP, it wasn't a surprise that the Vikings didn't put up big numbers in the passing game.
But, with a desire for more balance on offense, and to give Christian Ponder some better weapons, the Vikings completed a major overhaul of their wide receiver corps in the off-season. The Vikings parted ways with the disgruntled Percy Harvin, and the often lackluster Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu. This made room for two major acquisitions- Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. In addition, the Vikings moved Joe Webb back to the wide receiver position, while also adding UFDAs Chris Summers and Adam Thielen. Meanwhile the Vikings also re-signed Jerome Simpson, while keeping Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, and all three tight-ends on the roster while Greg Childs continues his rehab.
So, what do all these moving parts mean for the Vikings passing game? Let's start with the loss of Percy Harvin.
Percy Harvin is arguably the best kick-returner in the game today, and that loss was a big one for the Vikings. But as a receiver, Percy Harvin was not a good fit for the Vikings offense. Let me repeat: Percy Harvin was not a good fit for the Viking offense. Yes, he is excellent at getting YAC and always plays hard. But Percy Harvin has never been a good route runner. He also had a hard time making adjustments to the ball, or making a play to prevent an INT.
Look at an example of Harvin against his new team. You can argue Ponder should have never thrown that ball. You can also argue that Joe Flacco should not have thrown any number of balls to Anquan Boldin in the playoffs last year. In both cases the receiver wasn't really open. Yet the results were much different. That difference makes it hard for any QB- or offensive coordinator- to have a lot of faith in throwing the ball to Harvin down field. So they didn't much. Instead, to take advantage of his YAC ability, they manufactured easy touches for him. Bubble-screens, reverses, even runs up the middle. But that is why Percy Harvin was a bad fit for the Vikings offense. With AP in the backfield, the Vikings were already getting a heavy dose of 8 or 9 men in the box. Dumping the ball to Percy Harvin, one way or another, doesn't help that problem. It doesn't stretch the field for the opposing defense. And without having to worry much about a play over the top, opposing defenses could focus on the short- to intermediate game, which made it easier to shut down guys like Harvin- and Kyle Rudolph too.
Enter Greg Jennings.
Greg Jennings is a much needed, and long absent, quality, reliable possession receiver that is every QBs best friend. Greg Jennings can run routes. Greg Jennings can make adjustments to the ball. Greg Jennings can find the open space. Greg Jennings knows how develop a rapport with his QB. In short, Greg Jennings is everything Percy Harvin is not. He doesn't have Harvin's explosiveness or speed anymore, but he has everything it takes to be a reliable, go-to receiver. It's been a long time since the Vikings had a quality possession receiver, and it has showed in Ponder's passing performance.
But, as good a possession receiver as Greg Jennings is, he is probably not the guy to threaten a defense over-the-top as much anymore. Luckily the Vikings have a few other wide receivers who can.
At 6' 2", 190 lbs., with a 4.47 40, Jerome Simpson is the slowest of the Vikings deep-threat receivers. Unfortunately for the Vikings last year, Simpson showed little of his potential last year. Suspended the first three games, Simpson was hampered most of the year with a back/nerve injury that slowed him down and prevented him from gaining separation. The couple games he was healthy, he showed some signs of his deep-threat ability- but which resulted in a couple long PI penalties rather than receptions. Simpson has a lot to prove, and the potential to do it. And with the drafting of Cordarrelle Patterson, and him being signed to just another 1-year deal, this year will be likely be a cross-roads in his career.
Likely to share in the reps at the X-receiver is rookie Cordarrelle Patterson. At nearly 6'3", 210 lbs, a 4.42 40, and an impressive highlight reel at Tennessee, Patterson seems to be dispelling the notion early on that he doesn't have enough upstairs to make it in the NFL. Also noted is the fact that unlike many rookie WRs, Patterson has more meat on his bones which helps him with the more physical coverage he is likely to see off-the-line in the NFL. In any case, if CP makes the jump to the NFL as well as he did the jump from junior college to the SEC, (exhaustive draft profile here) he will succeed in stretching the field for the Vikings offense with his play-making ability.
Filling the slot is 2nd year man Jarius Wright. Like Simpson, he had most of his rookie year marred by injury. Nevertheless, his speed and field-stretching ability came through a couple times, most notably in the season finale against Green Bay. Wright shares a lot of the same physical traits as a young GB receiver as well- Randall Cobb. Both are 5'10" slot receivers, Cobb is about 10 pounds heavier at 190, Wright a bit faster, with 4.42 speed. Healthy now and with a year under his belt, Wright could take a big leap forward this year with increased playing time. While he had only 22 receptions in his injury shortened rookie season, his 14-yard average catch is better than Harvin's, and without as many bubble-screens. Wright's 17.5-yard average catch over 4 years(!) in Arkansas is a testament to his deep-threat ability.
Last, but certainly not least, is Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph stands to benefit as much as anyone from upgrades to the Vikings receiver corps. Rudolph has shown what he can do when given the chance. His MVP-performance in the Pro Bowl is a testament to that, and has boosted his confidence for the upcoming season. He has been a favorite target for Ponder, but the dearth of other receiving threats in the Vikings line-up last year allowed defenses to focus on limiting his production.
Now, putting all the pieces together....
1. Quality, proven, go-to possession receiver in Greg Jennings
2. A pair of deep-threat X receivers in Jerome Simpson and Cordarrelle Patterson
3. An explosive slot receiver in Jarius Wright
4. A Pro-Bowl, and still improving, tight-end in Kyle Rudolph
Add to that perhaps a specialized red-zone receiver in Joe Webb, whose length, hands, and vertical ability could be a virtually unstoppable threat in the red zone, and, just for fun, perhaps a bit more of #28 coming out of the backfield...
and could we be looking at one of the best receiver groups in the NFL in the not too distant future?