After a bit of a break, we're back to continue our look back and look ahead at the Minnesota Vikings' roster.
Of all the positions on the Vikings roster, one of the most intriguing to watch going forward could be the wide receiver position, as the position is a real mixed bag and has a lot to sort out going forward. There might be some changes made. . .but, on the other hand, you could probably make a case that the Vikings don't necessarily need to make any changes at the position.
The team's leading receiver, for the second year in a row, was veteran Greg Jennings. His numbers weren't terribly impressive, as he was not able to crack the top 50 in receiving yardage in 2014 (he was 58th), and in fact his reception and yardage numbers were both down from his 2013 Vikings' debut. In both seasons, his numbers appeared to have more to do with the team's struggles at the quarterback position than any drop-off in Jennings' ability, and it appeared that he had developed some real chemistry with rookie Teddy Bridgewater as the season wore on. In fact, according to the numbers from Pro Football Focus, in Bridgewater's starts he had a quarterback rating of 111.4 on passes where he targeted Jennings.
Jennings may or may not still have plenty left in the tank to provide to the Vikings in 2015. The issue comes with the fact that, as it stands now, it's going to cost the Vikings $11 million to find out. If the team were to cut Jennings, they'd create approximately $5 million in cap space for themselves, but I'm not sure how likely that is to happen. The likelihood is that Jennings will be approached about restructuring his contract, and hopefully that's something he'll be amenable to. If he's not, for whatever reason, I think the Vikings would be more likely to keep him on board for full price than to let him go.
One thing that may work in Jennings' favor is his declared desire to help his fellow receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson was widely expected to make a big leap in 2014 after a big finish to his 2013, and it never materialized. He made a big splash in the 2014 regular season opener, and then proceeded to basically disappear for the rest of the season. Patterson had just three games this year where he had more than 50 yards receiving in 2014, and only found the end zone twice all season long. I'm not sure if there was anybody on the Vikings' 2014 roster that was as disappointing as Cordarrelle Patterson.
We all know that Patterson has a ridiculous amount of physical talent. It would be pretty crazy to deny that. But this season might be what leads Patterson to realize that this isn't college (or junior college) any more, and that there's going to be more to his future success and NFL employment than simply being able to run really fast and/or jump really high. If Jennings can get into Patterson's ear and have a little bit of his work ethic rub off on him, it can only do him good. Hopefully, in 2015, Patterson can start to realize some of the potential he was widely expected to reach in 2014.
Earlier, I referenced the quarterback rating that Teddy Bridgewater had when targeting Greg Jennings. That 111.4 mark is good, but it was only the second-highest figure for Bridgewater in games he started this past season. The highest rating, at 119.6, went to none other than third-year wide receiver Jarius Wright. Wright is one of those guys that very few people outside of Minnesota know about, but has been a pretty steady performer in the role he's been asked to fill. He gets open, he catches the ball, and he can make things happen after the catch. He's heading into a contract year in 2015, and I'm not sure if the Vikings are going to see him as a high enough priority to work anything out with him prior to hitting the open market. They probably should, though.
One of the more pleasant surprises on the team was the emergence of Charles Johnson as the season went on. Johnson, who the Vikings signed off of the Cleveland Browns' practice squad just before Week 3. Johnson went on to finish third on the team in receiving yardage with 475 yards, and threw in a couple of touchdown catches as well. Johnson is signed with the Vikings through 2016, and with a full off-season to get prepared, he could prove to be a downfield threat that the Vikings' offense needs going forward. He did have an issue with some drops this past season, and hopefully that's something that can be remedied.
Then there's the local guy, Adam Thielen. Thielen's greatest impact for the Vikings in 2014 was not as a wide receiver, but rather his work on special teams. He had a big blocked punt and return for a touchdown against the Carolina Panthers, and he made the Pro Football Focus' All-Pro Special teams for his work on the kick return unit. You can't underestimate the importance of a player like that to a team, frankly, and he was taking snaps away from Patterson in the season finale (leading to him getting his first NFL receiving touchdown in the win over the Chicago Bears). He might look like the odd man out in the Vikings' receiver corps, but I'm not sure if that's the case.
As the season went on, the Vikings' passing offense looked very good at times with this exact same group of receivers, particularly over the final month of the regular season. Much of that has to be tied to Bridgewater's improvement, as he got more comfortable in the offense and gained more confidence in the guys he was throwing the football to. It appears, at least very early on in the process, that Bridgewater is going to be one of those guys that makes his receivers more productive, rather than the other way around.
I, for one, would not be terribly heartbroken if the Vikings went into the 2015 season with this same group of wide receivers in the fold. The team is also heavily in the mix for former CFL standout Duron Carter, who is making his way back to the NFL after a couple of seasons north of the border. It remains to be seen how he might fit into this mix if he should sign with the Vikings on 10 February.
A lot of the expert types are beating the drum that the Vikings need to draft a "big time" wide receiver early on in this year's draft, such as Bridgewater's former teammate, DeVante Parker, or someone like Kevin White out of West Virginia (or even Alabama receiver Amari Cooper, if he should fall that far). But I'm not entirely sure if that's the case. The wide receiver class this year is pretty deep once again, and the Vikings have a couple of other glaring needs that they could stand to address first. But, again, that's just one man's opinion on the subject. I'm not necessarily saying I'd hate a wide receiver at #11, but I'm not sure it's the wisest course of action.
That's a look at the Minnesota Vikings' wide receivers, and as stated earlier in the post, this might be the most interesting position group on the team. It will be interesting to see what Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and company do with this group going forward.