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Minnesota Vikings: Why the Passing Game Won't Suffer If Sidney Rice Departs

Bryan HighfillCorrespondent IJuly 19, 2011

Minnesota Vikings: Why the Passing Game Won't Suffer If Sidney Rice Departs

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    Drafted in the second round (44th overall) out of South Carolina in the 2007 NFL Draft, Wide Receiver Sidney Rice had a promising rookie season - catching 31 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns.

    His second season in the league, Rice suffered knee injuries and didn't progress much further, only catching 15 passes for 141 yards and four touchdowns. 

    In 2009 however, Rice broke out  a Pro Bowl season after catching 83 passes for 1312 yards and eight touchdowns from a resurrected Brett Favre. But in the 2009 playoffs, Rice sustained a hip injury that cost him most of the 2010 season. He waited until nearly the start of the season to have surgery.

    When Rice came back, he showed signs of his 2009 form (Week 13 against the Buffalo Bills - five receptions, 105 yards, two touchdowns.  But he ultimately suffered a concussion against Philadelphia in Week 16 and missed the final game of the season. 

    Rice has a ton of potential, as indicated by his 2009 season. But he's also had a very tough time staying healthy. Rice was offered a contract by Minnesota before the lockout ended and decided he'd like to "test free agency..." 

    To me, that sounds like someone uninterested in staying with the Vikings. That's fine, it's his decision. 

    The Vikings—and whoever is the starting quarterback—will be more than able to produce in the passing game if they lose Sidney Rice in 2011. 

    Here is a list of the Vikings current receiving targets and possible additions for new-comer, Christian Ponder.

1. Percy Harvin

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    Sitting atop the Viking's depth chart at Wide Receiver is third year player, Percy Harvin.

    Drafted with the 21st selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, Harvin was an immediate impact for the Vikings offense (and special teams.) Even as a rookie, Harvin provided assurance on check downs for QB Brett Favre, but also had big-play ability when given the ball in open space.

    He recorded 61 receptions, 790 yards, and six touchdowns - while also returning 42 kickoffs for 1156 yards and two touchdowns. Harvin was awarded 'Rookie of the Year' honors after producing big numbers in 2009. 

    Harvin has shown that he has great hands and blazing speed - not to mention his toughness and ability to make defenders miss in the open field.

    He had an even better 2010 season, even after missing two games due to migraines. Harvin recorded 71 receptions for 868 yards, and five touchdowns—also notching 933 yards and one touchdown returning kicks. 

    Once the Vikings traded for Randy Moss, Harvin's game took another step forward. He had a veteran taking defenders away from him, allowing him to flourish underneath in the passing game. 

    With the new decision to move kickoffs to the 35 yard-line, Head Coach Leslie Frazier stated he wants to find more ways to feature Harvin on offense and less on Special Teams, i.e. returning kicks. 

    Look for Harvin to have a solid 2011 campaign and record his second Pro Bowl invitation no matter who s throwing the football for the Vikings next season. 

2. Bernard Berrian

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    Even though Berrian hasn't produced much the past couple of seasons he can still provide big-play ability. 

    Let's face it, last season, Berrian was irrelevant.  He posted just 28 receptions for 252 yards and no touchdowns.

    However, just two season ago with QB Gus Frerotte under center for the Vikings, Berrian exploded in his first season with Minnesota recording 48 receptions for 964 yards (a league leading 20.1 average) and seven touchdowns.

    In fact, 2008 was the second season in a row Berrian went over 950+ yards receiving. 

    He's due an astronomical amount of money for someone who hasn't produced the past two seasons, but he just never connected with Brett Favre and was bothered by a hamstring injury in 2010.

    I think the Vikings will look to restructure Berrian's contract in the 2011 offseason - he can do one of two things. Accept a restructured deal and produce to prove his worth, or be cut and most likely never receive another contract close to what he had. 

    Berrian can be a legitimate deep threat receiver for Minnesota, he has solid hands and elite speed. The problem is, due to injury and inconsistency with the Quarterback - Berrian's play suffered in 2009 and 2010. 

    Look for the Vikings to push Bernard in training camp this offseason and he could again become a "go-to" option for Christian Ponder. 

3. Jaymar Johnson

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    Drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 NFL Draft out of Jackson State, Viking fans were left scratching their head when former Head Coach Brad Childress placed Johnson on injured reserve last preseason after he suffered a thumb injury. Johnson himself was even surprised at the move, claiming he was "healthy again within a few weeks..."

    Great move Chilly. 

    Johnson had a solid preseason before being placed on IR - he had spent most of his offseason training with star Wide Receiver Larry Fitzgerald and former Viking great Cris Carter in Minnesota.

    Johnson is back training with Fitz and he has been working hard with new Vikings Quarterback Christian Ponder. 

    The 6'0" 180 pound wideout has decent speed and excellent hands. He will provide, barring injury, solid depth for the Vikings and should compete for a starting spot or third receiving option for Minnesota. 

4. Emmanuel Arceneaux

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    Emmanuel 'Manny' Arceneaux was the B.C. Lion's (of the CFL) leading receiver and recently a signee of the Minnesota Vikings. 

    Manny worked out with Viking's Quarterback Christian Ponder at IMG Football Academy early this offseason and should provide solid depth if he doesn't earn a starting spot. 

    He has solid size and speed (6'2" 212 pounds - 4.4 forty yard-dash) to go along with his youth. 

    As of now, no one knows if Manny will even make the 53 man roster, but he has had an exceptional career in the CFL and has been working hard this offseason to make sure that success translates to the NFL level.  He's already starting to build chemistry with Ponder in that regard. 

5. Joe Webb

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    Look, I know that Head Coach Leslie Frazier said that there will be an "Open Competition" for the starting Quarterback job this offseason. 

    I fully expect rookie Christian Ponder to win the competition, unless the Vikings sign a veteran to be the bridge for the young signal-caller. Even then, Ponder will most likely start somewhere along the line in 2011. 

    On the other hand, the Vikings have an absolute freak athlete behind Ponder in Joe Webb. Webb showed that he can win games at quarterback, even with limited practice reps. 

    Brett Favre said after the 2010 season, "You have to figure out how to get Webb onto the field..." Recently Webb has been working out with the NFL Legend in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

    Both Favre and Webb have been pretty coy about what they are doing, however, Webb claimed Favre can "still sling it..." What if Brett is teaching Webb routes as a Wide Receiver?

    It's not that far fetched.  The Brad Childress regime originally drafted the UAB signal-caller as a WR, and he even returned some kicks in the 2010 season. 

    New Head Coach Leslie Frazier also said he is impressed with Webb's outstanding athletic ability, and why wouldn't he be?

    The 23 year-old is 6'4" 220 pounds, can run a 4.4 40-yard dash, and possesses insane leaping ability... 

    Don't believe me? Check out this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9PsUH1fmJk

    I seriously believe, based on just his athletic ability and quick learning, Joe Webb could become the Vikings number one Wide Receiver, giving Minnesota that big-body on the outside. 

Free Agents

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    These are just the weapons currently on Minnesota's roster.

    But this 2011 Free Agent Class is deep with Pro Bowl caliber Wideouts.

    Minnesota could take a chance on any one of these 2011 Free Agents to fill the role of Rice:

    - Mike Sims-Walker, Jacksonville Jaguars

    - Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers

    - Randy Moss, Tennessee Titans

    - Plaxico Burress, formerly of the New York Giants

    - Santana Moss, Washington Redskins

    - Braylon Edwards, New York Jets

    (Personally, I'd like to see Randy Moss return to Minnesota again. He'd be cheaper then Rice - and although he is older, he's essentially the same type of player. Even at the ripe age of 33.)

    I understand that the Vikings could very will resign Sidney Rice, or outright cut someone like Bernard Berrian. But the fact remains, if the Vikings do lose Rice there are plenty of candidates to replace him.

    Ponder will have a deep receiving corp as well as elite Tight Ends (Shiancoe and Rudolph) and an All-Pro Running Back (Peterson.)

    Look for the Minnesota Vikings offense to put up numbers in 2011.

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