Predicting the Minnesota Vikings Wide Receiver Depth Chart Heading into 2013
With plenty of time remaining to determine the 53-man roster, the positional battle at wide receiver has received the lion's share of attention down in Mankato at training camp.
The Vikings kept six wide receivers in 2012, and I expect the number to remain the same for 2013.
Second-year player Greg Childs remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, with no clear timetable for a return. Although a fan favorite, he still has a very difficult road ahead and stiff competition from his peers.
In reviewing all wide receivers on the team's 90-man roster, let's take a look at the likely depth chart when the team suits up for its first game of the regular season.
No. 1: Greg Jennings
Something drastic would have to change for Greg Jennings to fall from the No. 1 receiver position on Minnesota's depth chart.
He signed a five-year, $45 million contract this offseason with the intention of becoming Christian Ponder's top target.
Over his career, Jennings has 425 receptions for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns. In the last 10 years, only Calvin Johnson has averaged more yards per reception among receivers with at least 400 catches.
The Vikings need an improved vertical threat this season, and Jennings provides one of the best options among current players. Over his career, he hauled in touchdowns of 40 yards or more on 18 separate occasions; Ponder failed to throw a single TD of that distance in 2012.
No. 2: Cordarrelle Patterson
Although still very early in training camp, Cordarrelle Patterson has been impressive in drills. According to Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune, the first-round draft pick out of Tennessee "already possesses that look."
The concerns around Patterson coming out of college had been his rawness and ability to learn an NFL playbook. While those questions still remain for the time being, don't expect him to remain low on the depth chart heading into the first game of the season.
With the departure of Percy Harvin, the Vikings lost versatility at receiver, something Patterson excelled at during his lone season as a Vol. He averaged 154.8 all-purpose yards per game, which easily led the SEC.
Simply put, the Vikings need to ensure that Patterson sees the field as much as possible—and easing him into the lineup on special teams alone would underutilize his talent.
No. 3: Jarius Wright
Jarius Wright finished the season strong in 2012, recording a catch in all seven games he played, starting in Week 10. His 22 receptions for 310 yards and two touchdowns were a welcome addition to the team, which included a 65-yard catch in the final contest of the season.
In three-receiver sets this year, Wright should see plenty of action as a reliable target for Christian Ponder. Reports out of Mankato thus far have been very positive, as practice ended on Monday with Wright beating Xavier Rhodes for a touchdown.
Wright's speed and ability to create separation will be on display again in 2013, with improvement expected in his sophomore season.
No. 4: Jerome Simpson
Jerome Simpson was a disappointment last season, starting with a three-game suspension upon joining the Vikings. He battled injuries throughout the year and finished with 26 receptions for 274 yards and no touchdowns.
With uncertainty at receiver, Minnesota signed Simpson to a one-year, $2.1 million contract this offseason. However, this was also before the team signed Greg Jennings and drafted Cordarrelle Patterson, so expectations should be tempered from that following the initial decision.
While Simpson still offers talent at the position, he serves better as a backup in either two- or three-receiver sets. His greatest skill with the Vikings so far has been an ability to draw pass-interference penalties, but that alone does not help a player move up the depth chart.
No. 5: Stephen Burton
With the first four wide receiver spots clearly identified, the final two will be the most debated. Stephen Burton made the 53-man roster last season and has the inside track to do so again in 2013.
His 2012 stat sheet with five receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown are by no means eye-popping, but he has come into Mankato determined to contend for one of the final receiver openings.
According to Mark Craig of the Star Tribune, Burton was the "player of the day" on Tuesday, catching two long passes and a third at the goal line for a touchdown.
While there is strong competition among the rookie class of receivers, Burton will likely see his name once again on the 53-man roster at the end of August.
No. 6: Joe Webb
The player most squarely on the roster bubble for the Vikings is converted wide receiver Joe Webb. His performance in the playoff loss against the Green Bay Packers cemented his candidacy at quarterback, but the switch to wideout should breathe new life into his NFL career.
Webb has all the physical attributes to succeed at the highest level in football. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, he has an immediate advantage against defending cornerbacks. Combine that with his 4.43 40-yard dash speed and 42.5" vertical (via CBSSports.com), and you almost wonder why he was being stashed as a backup quarterback.
Webb's biggest obstacle will be acclimating to essentially a new position, having not played the position since playing receiver in 2007 as a sophomore at UAB. However, initial reports out of training camp have been positive in assessing the transition.
According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, Webb appears focused and not intimidated by the change: "Any chance I get to make plays," he said on the first day of practice. "I'm just looking for a way to get on the field. I played wide receiver before I played quarterback, so it's not that hard."
With a positive attitude and team-first approach—something already stressed by head coach Leslie Frazier to Greg Jennings early in camp—Webb should be able to secure a final receiver spot with potential for special teams contribution.
Missing the cut: LaMark Brown, Greg Childs (PUP), Erik Highsmith, Rodney Smith, Chris Summers, Adam Thielen
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