FanPost

Just How Bad Were the 2012 Vikings Wide Receivers?

In our recent Ponder discussions it has been brought up that the receivers last season were very bad, and this is really an on-going discussion that we've had here at the DN many times (many more times). They were so bad last year in fact, Troy Aikman even said in one of the game broadcasts late last year, "This is the worst group of receivers I have ever seen." Generally speaking, most fans would agree that the receivers last year were bad. But just how bad were they? Were they really worst in the league? For the answers, I took a look at Pro Football Focus premium stats and Football Outsiders' signature stats.

Looking at the top four receivers last year from best to worst in terms of yardage, Percy Harvin tops the list. Even though he only played 9 games last year, he still had the most receptions and yards of any receiver. I don't need to rehash Harvin's history since his rookie year...we all know it. But what you might not know are how PFF and Football Outsiders graded him as a receiver during his 4 years in Purple. Check out the Table Below:

Percy Harvin

PFF "Good Games"

PFF "Bad Games"

PFF Rating

PFF Rank

F.O. DYAR and Rank (total value)

F.O. DVOA and Rank (value per play)

2009

7

3

11.8

14th

178 (26th)

12% (23rd)

2010

6

1

11.2

4th

157 (26th)

5.6% (37th)

2011

7

3

12.9

11th

145 (29th)

3% (44th)

2012

7

1

16.3

10th

119 (37th)

3.8% (35th)

The first thing that jumps out after reviewing his grades is that Pro Football Focus seems to have him much more highly ranked than Football Outsiders. But, they are looking at different things. Pro Football Focus is grading every single snap and evaluating what Harvin is doing on each and every play in terms of receiving, rushing, blocking and penalties, and whether or not he is executing like he should be as a receiver. Football Outsiders on the other hand, is comparing his yardage production to his peers, specifically "league average" to see how much better he is than a league replacement option. Football Outsiders is not looking at the technique of each and every snap so much as they are looking at his production levels relative to his peers, hence you get "Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement" and "Defense-adjusted Value Over Average" for their metrics. So I attribute this difference in technique ranking and production ranking to his QB, since in 2009 (with Brett Favre) he had the best DYAR of his career and then steadily declined in production from there. As a receiver, Harvin has consistently rated positively above league average in terms of production for F.O., although it's worth pointing out that he has not ever found his way into the top 10 regardless of his QB. Based on the fact that PFF grades him exceptionally well on an individual basis, this leads me to conclude that his production levels were being stifled not by his own talents/abilities, but by his QB play which included a 41-year old Brett Favre in 2010, an aging Donovan McNabb for most of 2011 and a young Christian Ponder for the rest.

Next up is Michael Jenkins. Unfortunately, Pro Football Focus' stats only go back to 2008, so we'll have to rely on his production ratings from F.O. to get a sense of what kind of football player he was like early in his career with the Falcons, but check out the table:

Michael Jenkins

PFF "Good Games"

PFF "Bad Games"

PFF Rating

PFF Rank

F.O. DYAR and Rank (total value)

F.O. DVOA and Rank (value per play)

2004

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

-51 (72nd)

-43.6% (87th)

2005

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

51 (57th)

-3.1% (49th)

2006

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

-34 (73rd)

-17.9% (73rd)

2007

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

82 (52nd)

0.0% (48th)

2008

5

0

7.4

18th

184 (22nd)

16.8% (12th)

2009

0

4

-4.1

87th

11 (65th)

-11.0% (65th)

2010

3

1

7.7

17th

111 (45th)

6.3% (33rd)

2011

2

4

-5.0

91st

96 (49th)

10.2% (29th)

2012

2

2

-2.0

77th

2 (74th)

-12.4% (74th)

Unlike Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins has had a pretty up and down career in the NFL and while he has managed a couple of somewhat successful seasons with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, the past two years in Minnesota has been nothing but below average. In the past two seasons he has an overall negative rating from PFF and has more bad games than good during his short stint with the Vikings. But even worse, his value above a league replacement is marginal at best. For a 1st round draft pick out of Ohio State back in 2004, his career has to be labeled a disappointment, and his many injuries certainly haven't done him any favors. His best year by far was back in 2008 when he peaked with over 700 receiving yards (and the ratings on the table match that as well). But based on his technique ratings from PFF recently, there were at least 76 receivers in the NFL better than Michael Jenkins the past two years (good enough for him to be about a second or third receiver on most team's depth charts). His production overall implied that he was a little better than that, but certainly not last year. Essentially we had a #2/#3 receiver masquerading as a #1/#2 option most of the year last year in terms of technique, but the interesting thing is that his production level was pretty much on par with what he did in Atlanta earlier in his career. This leads me to believe that Jenkins was in fact, a mediocre receiver. Next up is Jarius Wright:

Jarius Wright

PFF "Good Games"

PFF "Bad Games"

PFF Rating

PFF Rank

F.O. DYAR and Rank (total value)

F.O. DVOA and Rank (value per play)

2012

1

1

1.1

80th

45 (61st)

3.4% (36th)

There's not much to go on with Jarius Wright as he only played 7 games last year as a rookie (starting only 1 of them) with a total of only 208 snaps. Even so he graded out slightly positively from PFF, and barely better than league average from Football Outsiders. It was an encouraging sign from the rookie wideout in his 1st year in the NFL, and it was certainly a better performance than Michael Jenkins. Because his production mirrors his technique ratings, I think we can safely say that Wright put in a performance worthy of being called a #2 wideout on most teams in 2012. He was league average or a little better last year and there's really not much to add to that. Next up is Jerome Simpson:

Jerome Simpson

PFF "Good Games"

PFF "Bad Games"

PFF Rating

PFF Rank

F.O. DYAR and Rank (total value)

F.O. DVOA and Rank (value per play)

2008

0

0

-0.7

105th

n/a

n/a

2009

0

0

-0.3

99th

n/a

n/a

2010

0

0

2.6

46th

109 (46th)

44.1% (2nd)

2011

1

6

-10.5

196th

48 (57th)

-6.7% (63rd)

2012

2

3

-3.7

178th

-52 (81st)

-25% (84th)

Jerome Simpson only played in 9 games during his first 3 years with the Bengals so there's not much to go on there. But he flashed some potential during 5 games in 2010 which earned him some more playing time in 2011 with rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green. Unfortunately, when thrust into the spotlight in 2011 as the #2 receiver, he didn't impress much (aside from his acrobatics). Now, granted, Jerome Simpson played with a back injury for almost all of 2012, but the grades from both sources imply that he was actually a worse option than Michael Jenkins both in terms of technique and production. PFF graded him lower than Jenkins, and his production levels were significantly below replacement level. In other words, injury or not, we would have been better off with many other wide receivers in 2012. And because Wright and Harvin were never on the field at the same time, I have expanded our look to the 5th Vikings receiver: Devin Aromashodu.

Devin Aromashodu

PFF "Good Games"

PFF "Bad Games"

PFF Rating

PFF Rank

F.O. DYAR and Rank (total value)

F.O. DVOA and Rank (value per play)

2007

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

-17 (74th)

-25.9% (78th)

2009

3

2

6.0

34th

49 (55th)

1.8% (39th)

2010

1

1

-1.7

135th

-31 (74th)

-28.7% (82nd)

2011

1

4

-1.6

127th

-166 (92nd)

-38% (90th)

2012

1

0

3.0

58th

27 (69th)

2.7% (37th)

Devin Aromashodu, like Michael Jenkins has had a very up and down career. He is the textbook definition of consistently inconsistent. During his three seasons with Chicago he had one season that could be considered positive, and while his 2011 season with the Vikings was dreadful, his 2012 season was actually not so bad.

So, to put this all together, during the first 9 games we had an elite option in Percy Harvin, a below average option in Michael Jenkins, a decidedly bad option in an injured Jerome Simpson, but Aromashodu as the 4th option was probably the 2nd best wide receiver on the team in the minimal action he saw on the field. Ponder's Average Yards per Attempt during those first 9 games was 6.10. This is a fairly pedestrian number, but once Harvin went down we replaced him with a rookie in Jarius Wright and it was a significant downgrade. It can't be overstated enough just how bad the receivers were last year after Harvin went down. And consequently, Ponder's numbers took a bit of a hit too as his Yards per Attempt during those last 7 games dropped to 5.79.

But this article really isn't about Ponder, it's about the receivers. And to know just how bad our receivers were we need to compare them to other team's receivers around the league. So, I painstakingly went through the Top 4 wide receivers on every team in the NFL, and averaged together their grades from PFF and F.O. to see how our four wide receivers compared. And it shouldn't be too surprising to see where we end up on the list. Here are the Viking's averages with Harvin in the lineup instead of Wright, sorted by average PFF Rating:

NFL Team

PFF Avg. Rating

PFF Avg. Rank

F.O. DYAR Average

1. Denver

11.6

33

243.8

2. Tampa Bay

8.48

75.5

100.3

3. Green Bay

8.48

31

215.5

4. San Francisco

8.28

56.5

125.3

5. Seattle

8.13

35

136.5

6. New York G

7.65

33.3

117.3

7. Houston

7.53

89

127.5

8. Atlanta

6.63

94.5

154.3

9. St. Louis

6.4

42

97.5

10. Cincinatti

6

75.8

60.75

11. Detroit

5.18

97.3

162.5

12. New England

4.83

96.8

112

13. Baltimore

4.1

71.5

86.5

14. Philadelphia

3.63

75.3

62.5

15. Dallas

3.48

74

144.3

16. Minnesota

3.4

101

24

17. Chicago

3.3

112

71

18. Indianapolis

2.95

139

54

19. Washington

2.83

67

91.75

20. Miami

2.8

91.5

63

21. New Orleans

2.65

77.3

169.5

22. San Diego

2.53

88.5

140.3

23. Carolina

2.33

97.8

38.25

24. Oakland

0.85

90.5

34.75

25. Kansas City

0.78

113

2.25

26. Pittsburgh

0.33

114

52

27. Cleveland

0.23

103

35.25

28. New York J

-0.4

117

22.5

29. Buffalo

-0.7

95.5

26.25

30. Jacksonville

-1.8

141

11

31. Tennessee

-3.2

161

4.75

32. Arizona

-6.3

165

-39.5

So, this ranking suggests that Minnesota's receivers actually weren't that bad as we sat right smack-dab in the middle of the ranking. We even averaged an overall positive grade from both PFF and F.O. However, once Harvin went down and we replaced him with the rookie Jarius Wright, things began to look pretty ugly. So, with Jenkins, Wright, Simpson and Aromashodu as our top 4 wideouts, our stats end up looking like this:

NFL Team

PFF Avg. Rating

PFF Avg. Rank

F.O. DYAR Average

Minnesota

-0.5

118

5.5

We would have just edged out the Buffalo Bills for 28th best. But you know what, Troy Aikman wasn't right. We didn't have the worst set of wide receivers in NFL history (or even in 2012). While it was definitely bad last year, it could have been worse...much worse.

So, what do I think about the wide receivers for this upcoming year? Well in 2013, we've still got Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson, but we've added Greg Jennings, a similarly elite option like Harvin, and a total unknown in Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has been impressing coaches and fans in training camp and during his first preseason game, but it remains to be seen just how effective he can be on the field. But even if Jerome Simpson is finally healthy, there's really no reason for us to expect great things from him. He's never been ranked higher than 46th in most of the stats above. We can assume that Jarius Wright will take a step forward in his development, but as a league average option last year, he may end up being, what, a little above average? And then there is Greg Jennings vs Percy Harvin. Going strictly by last year's numbers, this is a downgrade. But using history as a guide, it has the potential to be an upgrade. I have no real insight...we'll just have to watch it play out. At best, I'll call it a wash. There are two ways to compare 2012 to 2013, so I'll let you, the reader, decide which one to go with:

2012 vs 2013 Comparison #1
Percy Harvin is better than Jarius Wright
Michael Jenkins is worse than Greg Jennings
Jerome Simpson equals Jerome Simpson
Devin Aromashodu is worse than Cordarrelle Patterson

This implies that yes, we did upgrade. But perhaps it really goes like this:

2012 vs 2013 Comparison #2
Percy Harvin is better than Greg Jennings
Jarius Wright equals Jarius Wright
Jerome Simpson equals Jerome Simpson
Michael Jenkins is worse than Cordarrelle Patterson
Devin Aromashodu equals Joe Webb/Stephen Burton

This comparison essentially calls our receiving corp equal to what it was at the start of 2012, or in other words, right in the middle of the pack. If anything, it might even be a little worse depending on what we can get out of Cordarrelle Patterson, and if Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson improve or not. There is no doubting that our receivers were a complete dumpster fire after Harvin was injured, but in order for the receivers to truly turn it around this year, we will need four things to happen:

1. Greg Jennings returns to 2010 and earlier form.

2. Jarius Wright takes a step forward in development.

3. Cordarrelle Patterson lives up to the hype and can play at least league average.

4. Jerome Simpson needs to stay healthy and improve.

While there is a lot riding on Christian Ponder this year, I would argue that there is just as much pressure on the receivers to do well too. Assuming they can all stay healthy, this is not a terrible group of receivers, but we're kidding ourselves if we think we've suddenly got a Top 10 group. It doesn't change the fact that this is a prove it year for Ponder, but I am suggesting that he may still not have an ideal set of receivers. What do you all think?

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 <em>community</em>, that view is no less important.

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