Minnesota Vikings: Full Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Wide Receiver
Heading toward any NFL draft, a perusal of sports sites that predicts what teams will do has a heading for each team that reads "Biggest Needs."
For the first time in several years, "wide receiver" wasn't listed in that category for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. That might have been tough to believe on March 11, 2013, when the Vikings traded their best receiver, Percy Harvin, to the Seattle Seahawks.
On that date it felt like it might take Minnesota quite some time to get its receiver corps up to snuff.
Just five days later, though, the Vikings made a big splash in free agency by signing veteran wideout Greg Jennings away from the Green Bay Packers. Minnesota then made a trade to move back into the first round in the 2013 draft, and selected Cordarrelle Patterson, the talented but raw receiver who had played one season at Tennessee.
A year later, the Vikings were pretty well-set at wide receiver, and they head into the summer of 2014 with some nice depth at the position. Training camp will feature some intense positional battles for the Vikings, and the fifth receiver spot is one that is wide open.
Here we'll rank the Vikings wideouts heading into the summer and give some analysis of what to expect from each player.
Kamar Jorden, Dante Foster and Erik Lora
Most every NFL team has 10 or 11 wide receivers on their summer roster. Usually among that group of players, there are perhaps eight guys who have a legitimate shot to land on the final roster or one of the practice squad spots.
That math means that there are almost always three or four guys that are extreme long shots to still be around come September.
For the Minnesota Vikings heading into the summer of 2014, those players are Kamar Jorden, Dante Foster and Erik Lora.
That trio of players starts the summer at the bottom of the Vikings depth chart and will have to play consistently spectacular to have any chance to make the team.
Jorden is the most accomplished of the three, having caught 95 balls for 26 touchdowns in the Arena League. Foster and Lora are undrafted rookie free agents. All three players will need to make the most of their limited opportunities in camp to impress the coaching staff.
Every snap is important for these guys. Even if they don't make the Vikings this year, the reports on how they carry themselves, how hard they work and how much better they could get will circulate throughout the league. You never know who might have their eyes on you, so you have to play every down as if the whole football world is watching.
Foster is a slight receiver out of Ohio University, who has a basketball background and what stands out is his 42-inch vertical jump. He is a very athletic player, prone to the spectacular, but he'll have to prove he can take the physicality of the NFL.
Lora put up video game-like statistics teaming up with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at Eastern Illinois in a dink-and-dunk offense. He's a smart player and knows how to get open, but it remains to be seen if he can compete with NFL-caliber players.
8. Josh Cooper
The Vikings signed free-agent wide receiver Josh Cooper on Friday after waiving injured receiver Lester Jean, according to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.
Where Cooper has an advantage over the three players on the previous slide is that he's familiar with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, having played for them with the Cleveland Browns last season. Scott Turner was the receivers coach with the Browns and must have liked him to encourage the Vikings to bring him aboard.
Cooper caught 17 passes for 166 yards over parts of the last two seasons with the Browns after going undrafted in 2012. Cooper played at Oklahoma State, where he left as the fifth all-time leader in receptions, hauling in 161 passes.
At 5'10", 190 pounds, Cooper is undersized and will have to make his mark as a possession receiver. Again, familiarity with Norv Turner's offense and the fact that Turner is familiar with him and thought enough of him to bring him to Minnesota gives him a slight edge over the three players on the previous slide.
7. Kain Colter
The Vikings paid wide receiver Kain Colter an $8,000 signing bonus, the highest bonus paid by the team for any of their 16 undrafted free agents in 2014. According to Ben Goessling of ESPN.com, it matches the highest total from 2013, which Minnesota paid to running back Zach Line.
Colter spent most of his time at Northwestern playing quarterback, but he comes to the Vikings as a very intriguing slot receiver candidate. At 5'10", 200 pounds, Colter has big, soft hands and has a dynamic burst that can get him separation quickly at the line of scrimmage.
As a former quarterback, coach's son and Northwestern graduate, Colter obviously has the high football IQ that's necessary to be successful as an underneath receiver in the NFL.
Colter became famous at Northwestern for spearheading the movement for college players to unionize. Colter has left that fight behind for now, as he tries to carve out a spot for himself in the NFL.
6. Rodney Smith
Unlike any of the players listed on the previous slides, Vikings second-year receiver Rodney Smith has something you can't coach. At 6'5", 220 pounds, Smith has the combination of size and speed that offensive coaches and quarterbacks covet.
Smith was a 4-star recruit out of high school in Miami, per 247Sports, and had a good, if unspectacular career at Florida State. He caught over 100 passes and 10 touchdowns but went undrafted last year and signed with the Vikings as a free agent.
Smith was cut out of training camp but signed to the practice squad, where he stayed all season. Smith looked very good in the preseason games last summer, catching a 35-yard touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.
Smith has all the tools to become an excellent player at the NFL level. He'll be given every opportunity to compete for a roster spot this summer, and if he can prove he's the best option for Minnesota's fifth receiver spot, he could move up to the active roster.
5. Adam Thielen
Familiarity isn't a problem at training camp for Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen. He spent four seasons hauling in passes at Division II power Minnesota State Mankato, the same college where the Vikings just happen to hold their training camp.
Thielen has proved to be far more than just a "hometown boy gets a shot" story, though, and he has a very legitimate shot to earn a spot on the Vikings roster in 2014 as the fifth receiver.
Thielen was signed as an undrafted free agent last spring and made it through training camp before earning a spot on Minnesota's practice squad for the season.
A roster spot has opened up in Minnesota with the departure of Joe Webb, and Thielen might have the inside track on the job after impressing everyone at Winter Park with his work ethic and attitude.
Thielen is a smart route-runner who knows how to get himself open and can catch anything thrown his way. He shows good instincts and a high football IQ, which, as we said earlier, is crucial for players who want to make their living catching underneath routes in the NFL.
It will be a fierce training camp battle for the Vikings last receiver spot. Expect Thielen to be right in the mix until the very end.
4. Jarius Wright
At 5'10", 180 pounds, Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright has very little room for error playing in the NFL.
The landscape has certainly changed in pro football in the last decade, though, and more undersized wideouts are becoming successful in the passer-friendly league.
What Wright has going for him is blazing speed, an ability to shake defenders and very good hands. Projected as a slot receiver coming out of Arkansas, Wright has instead made his mark in his first two seasons by getting free on go routes.
One has to believe that Wright's numbers will go up dramatically in new offensive coordinator Norv Turner's offense. Wright has caught 48 passes for 774 yards and five touchdowns in his first two seasons. Wright has the attitude and work ethic the Vikings love. He puts in all the necessary work to get better.
Among the Vikings, Wright is as good a candidate as anyone to have a breakout season in 2014. Most receivers take a couple of years to figure things out in the NFL, where routes and defensive schemes are infinitely more complicated than at the college level. Wright has looked very good during his first two seasons, and there's no reason to think he won't be even better in Year 3.
3. Jerome Simpson
Jerome Simpson just keeps doing enough to keep a roster spot in the NFL.
He'll have to do more in his third season with the Minnesota Vikings. At 6'2", 190 pounds, Simpson has the speed and athleticism that most receivers can only dream of. Although is play has been inconsistent in his two years with Minnesota, he certainly played well enough last year to earn himself another contract.
Simpson caught 48 passes for a career-high 726 yards in 2013 and also drew a handful of downfield pass-interference penalties to extend drives.
Simpson lost his starting job after a DUI arrest in November, and with the breakout performance by Cordarrelle Patterson, he can only hope to hold off Jarius Wright and keep the third receiver spot. Simpson has a history with new Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, playing his first three seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals where Zimmer was the defensive coordinator.
2. Cordarrelle Patterson
Vikings second-year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson is quite simply one of the most electric players in the NFL. His combination of size, speed and running ability are quite rare, and there doesn't seem to be any limit to what he can do on a football field.
Patterson took the opening kickoff in the second game of the season against the Chicago Bears 105 yards for a touchdown, and he was just getting started. He scored nine touchdowns on the season, two on kickoff returns, including an NFL-record 109-yard return.
Patterson brings the same game-breaking traits that Percy Harvin did to the Vikings, but Patterson is a much bigger version of Harvin, and he makes it look effortless.
Thinking about what new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will be able to do with Patterson is enough to make Vikings fans swoon. Seven different times a receiver in Turner's offense has led the NFL in yards per reception.
Last year in Cleveland, Turner took second-year wideout Josh Gordon and turned him into a superstar. Gordon's rookie numbers were 50 catches for 805 yards. Under Turner last season, he caught 87 passes for a league-high 1,636 yards.
Patterson's stock couldn't be higher as he enters his second year in the NFL.
1. Greg Jennings
Vikings receiver Greg Jennings enters his ninth year in the NFL firmly atop Minnesota's wide receiver depth chart.
Jennings is the proverbial pro's pro. He's a hard worker with high character and a team-first attitude that makes everyone around him better. He's certainly the ideal guy to help continue to groom star-in-waiting Cordarrelle Patterson in the Vikings receiver group.
Jennings had a slow start to his career with the Vikings last year, catching just 14 passes in the first quarter of the season. Jennings seemed to fare much better with quarterback Matt Cassel throwing to him and ended the season as the team's leading receiver with 68 catches for 804 yards and four touchdowns.
Still just 30 years old, bigger things will be expected from Jennings in 2014, especially with offensive guru Norv Tuner calling the offensive shots. Via the Star Tribune's Master Tesfatsion, Jennings said that his "head was spinning" learning the intricacies of Turner's offense in an April minicamp.
Jennings should be more comfortable his second season in Minnesota, and look for his receiving numbers to go up accordingly. With Jennings and Patterson, the Vikings have the perfect mix of experience and talent atop their wide receiver depth chart.