Sunday slant: Returning WRs 'above average'

The NFL's advanced statistics show the Vikings kept their most productive receivers and moved on with their least productive, and that goes beyond the basic receiving numbers. Those that helped the offense, not just with their catches, are back; and the acquisition of Greg Jennings is a key component in helping both the running game and passing game.

The Vikings decided to trade Percy Harvin well in advance of being sure they would be able to acquire either Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace, but if advanced statistics are any indication, they made a solid move.

Net yards over average is a sometimes confusing analysis of a player's impact on a team compared to how the team has produced in similar situations without him. The league's analysis of the Vikings shows some interesting facts on how they operated with each of their receivers on the field last year.

Coaches and the personnel decision-makers certainly come to their roster conclusions based on more than just raw statistics like these, but it is interesting to note where last year's receivers stood in the team rankings of net yards over average and which ones are back with the team in 2013.

Simply put, the top producers with net yards over average are back. The bottom half, which surprisingly includes Harvin, is not.

On the hand, the acquisition of Jennings brought over the Packers' most efficient receiver last year, even if injuries derailed much of his season.

Jennings had the highest net yards over average of any of the Packers' loaded receiving corps in 2012. That statistic measures net yardage gained by the team while the player was on the field over a rolling six-year NFL average while factoring in field position, down and distance. (Example: for the 2011 season the NFL average gain for first-and-10 on the offense's 20-yard line was 5.99 yards. If the player participated in a play at first-and-10 on his own 20 that gained 8 yards he'd earn 2.01 net yards over the league average.)

The Packers retained James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, all productive players when they were on the field. The Packers were .52 net yards above average when Jones was on the field, and .67 yards above average with Cobb or Nelson on the field, but Jennings was rated highest among their receivers at .73 yards above average. He made the biggest difference among those receivers in the passing game.

The Vikings were also heavily involved in the pursuit of former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace. He also had a positive impact on the running and passing games, as the Steelers gained an average of .15 yards more per rush with Wallace on the field and .24 yards more per pass.

That was well shy of the difference Jennings made. With him on the field, the Packers gained .64 yards more per rush and .35 yards more per pass, despite him not being the deep threat that Wallace is.

So what about Harvin?

While he had a healthy impact on the Vikings' passing game, he had almost no impact one way or another on the running game, according to the net yards over league average statistics. The Vikings gained only .03 yards more per rush with him on the field, but they gained a healthy half yard more per pass play when he was on the field.

It was a different story, however, in 2011, when Harvin was on the field more. He made a .65-yard difference per play in the rushing game but only .06-yard positive impact in the passing game.

That was also a healthier year for Jennings, and he made the Packers .62 yards per play better in the rushing game and .24 yards better in the passing game, easily the best among the Packers' wide receivers in 2011.

The Vikings' players and coaches have been touting Jennings' impact as a leader and mentor, but the organization is paying Jennings an average of $9 million per year to be a difference-maker on the field, and that's what he has been for the Packers.

So what about the rest of the Vikings' receiving corps? In general, they dumped the unproductive and kept the most productive in the net yards over average category.

The top three receivers helping the running game in 2012 were Jarius Wright (1.47-yard rushing differential when on the field), Stephen Burton (.64) and Jerome Simpson (.25) – all back on the roster. The bottom three were Percy Harvin (.03), Devin Aromashodu (minus-.10) and Michael Jenkins (minus-1.26).

In the passing game, despite not being an oft-targeted receiver, Burton made the biggest difference at plus-.83 yards. He was followed by Harvin (.50) and Wright (.34), with the other three all below team average when on the field – Jenkins at minus-.08, Simpson at minus-.18 and Aromashodu at minus-.31.

Numbers can often be skewed to fit a desired result, but it seems clear the Vikings knew who were their most productive receivers in 2012 and were willing to give them another shot. Conversely, they cut Jenkins and didn't re-sign Aromashodu, and essentially traded Harvin for Jennings and first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson in hopes that would be a net gain.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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