Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Simpson hopes to return to his 2011 form.
So much has been made this offseason about the new additions to the offense. While those players are certainly important and nothing to scoff at, it may be the returning talent that plays a much bigger role for Ponder.
Pro Bowl MVP Kyle Rudolph is perhaps Ponder's favorite target. Having another year to develop his talent and cultivate a relationship with his quarterback could help him make the jump to an elite tight end. His talent is there. All he is lacking is the production.
If that connection can improve from a year ago, Rudolph's natural talent will help him improve upon his numbers last season when he caught 53 passes for 493 yards and nine touchdowns. If Rudolph regresses, Ponder will lose his main target in the red zone, which could prove detrimental.
Last season's big free-agent signing was another tight end, former Seahawk John Carlson. His first season in purple was forgettable, and that is being kind. In Carlson's first three seasons, he averaged 46 catches, 506 yards, and four touchdowns. If he can find that part of him again, the Vikings could be the next two tight end threat in the NFL. And great tight ends are a quarterback's best friend.
Another signing last season was the speedster Jerome Simpson, who came over from the Cincinnati Bengals. He was a tremendous performer during training camp last year, but he failed to transfer that to game day once he hit the field. Part of that can be blamed on his suspension to start the year, and part can be blamed on the injury he dealt with most of last year. However, he needs to step it up this season.
He will open the season as the favorite to be the No. 2 receiver opposite Jennings, and if he can find a glimmer of his 2011 self, he will be worth the contract. In 2011, Simpson had 725 yards and four touchdowns. His follow up performance was for 274 yards and zero touchdowns. If he can find some middle ground between those two years, Ponder's life will be that much easier.
Probably the best receiver down the ending stretch for the Vikings was Jarius Wright. He only played in seven games (the same seven that Harvin did not play), but he was able to post solid numbers. He had 22 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns. His improvement on those numbers is crucial for Ponder, as they seemed to be developing a good connection down the stretch.
Outside of those three targets, there are some minor players who are hoping to fill big roles. Greg Childs could start the season on the PUP, and possibly miss the whole season again, but he was looking phenomenal in camp last year before his injury. His receiver mentality would only help the young signal caller.
Rhett Ellison is a third tight end and a backup fullback. However, his knack for having the offense flow through him in college could get him on the field much more this season. He has soft hands and is a reliable target from both positions. An extra safety blanket never hurt anybody.
Joe Webb brings the most knowledge of the playbook of any receiver on the team. He also has a unique relationship with Ponder, being his backup would make them spend a lot of time together over the previous two seasons. Those factors combined with his athleticism could make him an appealing target for Ponder, provided Webb can make the adjustment to receiver.
Not all of these players are going to excel, but if the majority of them do, Ponder will have everything he needs from his receiving game.