Vikings position of need: Wide receiver

The Vikings lacked a true No. 1 receiver in 2014, giving rise to the theory that receiver could be a target in the coming months. We review what is on the roster and look at the top free agent and draft options at the position.

The Minnesota Vikings have talent at wide receiver, there is no questioning that, but they seem to be lacking a true No. 1 receiver. Greg Jennings was brought in to fill that role, but with several different quarterbacks during his two years in Minnesota has not lived up to expectations. Cordarelle Patterson was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft in hopes that he might be able to become a No. 1 receiver, but that seems like it might be a long way off after a disappointing 2014 season. Then there is Charles Johnson, whom the Vikings claimed from the Cleveland Browns practice squad. He emerged in 2014 but did not seem to be a game-changing type of receiver the Vikings need.

Teddy Bridgewater emerged as someone that could be the starting quarterback for years to come. Now, it will be up to the Vikings to surround him with talent at the receiver position so the offense can become dangerous. Last season Bridgewater threw for 2,919 yards in 13 games – started 12, and came in Week 3 for an injured Matt Cassel – all of that without a true No. 1 receiver.

There are a couple routes that the Vikings can take next season when it comes to the receiver position. First, they could stick with what they have and hope that the presence of a capable quarterback will further help the receivers develop. Then hope that Jennings, Patterson, or Johnson can step up and become the type of game changer that the Vikings need at that position.

Jennings was the Vikings’ best receiver statistically, but he also played more snaps (873) than any other receiver on the team. He had 59 receptions for 742 yards and six touchdowns. Along with that, Pro Football Focus also had him as the Vikings’ highest rated receiver with a 0.0, which made him the No. 48 receiver in the league. When a player is getting paid like one of the top receivers in the league, those numbers are not good enough, and that is a reason why the Vikings may hope to renegotiate with Jennings this offseason in order to free up some cap space.

Patterson was expected by many people to have a breakout season in 2014, but it was quite the opposite, as he seemed to struggle for a majority of the year. He was originally the starting X receiver but eventually lost his starting role later in the season. He played in just 50 percent of the offensive plays and recorded 33 receptions for 384 yards and a touchdown. He ended the season as the Vikings’ lowest ranked player by PFF with a -3.5 – would be a -5.4, but he did well in the running game, which boosted his overall grade. There have been multiple people who have said they want to help Patterson improve this offseason, and if he is able to do so there is a chance he could become a game-changing receiver for the Vikings.

Johnson is the other receiver on the Vikings roster that seems to have the ability to become a game-changing receiver. He is tall, fast, and seems to have a good understanding about the ins and outs of the receiver position, but he seems to struggle when forced to go up and compete with a defender for the ball. It was not until later in the season that Johnson really started to come onto the scene, but he still finished the season with 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns. PFF had Johnson ranked -2.7 at the end of the season, and most of that negativity came from the final week of the season when Johnson did not have his best game of the season.

FREE-AGENT OPTIONS
Another option would be to address the need via free agency. There are a lot of young and talented receivers who are free agents this year, and if the Vikings are willing to spend the money necessary to get one, they could have a dangerous tandem between Bridgewater and the quarterback for years to come.

Dez Bryant: The premier free agent receiver this offseason is Dez Bryant. Bryant spent the 2014 season playing for the Dallas Cowboys and recorded 88 receptions for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns. PFF had him rated 20.8, which is higher than any other free agent receiver, and the second highest in the NFL. Bryant is also only 26 years old, so he is still in the prime of his career and should be able to play for many more years. The only problem is that the Cowboys have expressed their interest in re-signing Bryant, and even if they do not come to an agreement it is likely they will stick him with a franchise tag.

Demaryius Thomas: Thomas is the second-best receiver in this free agent class, but it is a very small gap between him and Bryant. Thomas spent the 2014 season playing for the Denver Broncos and recorded 111 receptions for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns. PFF had him ranked 19.3, which made him the No. 5 receiver in the NFL. Thomas is only 27 years old, so there would be a lot of time for him to be able to play alongside Bridgewater. A big part in Thomas’ decision could be linked to if Peyton Manning wishes to retire or not. If he decides to retire, that could make Thomas more apt to test the free agent market and take his talents elsewhere.

Jeremy Maclin: Maclin spent the 2014 season playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and recorded 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has a history of injury problems but seemed to be able to put that behind him in the 2014 season as he played in 1,044 offensive snaps. PFF has him rated 9, which makes him the No. 4 free agent receiver this offseason, but part of the reason his ranking could be lower than some of the other receivers is because he was playing with the Eagles’ backup quarterback, Mark Sanchez, for a good portion of the season.

Some other free agents that could come into play would be Randall Cobb (12.3) and Torrey Smith (1.5). The problem with Cobb is that he could have just been the product of playing with Aaron Rodgers, and his 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns might not translate to another team. Then there is Smith, who did not have a great season – 49 receptions for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns – but his size and speed will be attractive qualities to teams who are looking for a receiver.

DRAFT OPTIONS
The final option would be to address the wide receiver position in the NFL draft. Last season showed how receivers coming out of college could make an immediate impact in the NFL, and this year there are once again multiple talented receivers. Even though you can always find quality receivers in later rounds, there seems to be three that are considered to be better than all the rest. The Vikings have the No. 11 pick in the draft, so they should be in play to take one of the top receivers, if they choose to do so.

Amari Cooper: Cooper is considered by most to be the best receiver in the 2015 draft. He is a big receiver – 6-foot-1, 210 pounds – and has good speed and good hands. Last year he recorded 124 receptions for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns while playing at Alabama, which is widely known as a power running team. Cooper will likely be off the board by the time the Vikings pick, but if they are able to get him it would be nice to team him up Bridgewater, who was his high school teammate.

DeVante Parker: Parker is considered by many to be the second-best receiver in this draft class. He might not have the speed to match Cooper, but he does have the size over him. Parker comes in at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, and that height makes him a great target for quarterbacks, especially when in the red zone. Injuries have been a big part of his college career, as he has missed time the last two seasons because of them, but he was still able to record 43 receptions for 855 yards and five touchdowns in 2014. If the Vikings decide to draft Parker, he and Bridgewater should have an instant connection, as they were college teammates at Louisville.

Kevin White: White rounds out the top three receivers in the 2015 draft but is by no means a poor option. White is almost a mixture of Cooper and Parker. He comes in at 6-foot-3, like Parker does, but his 4.40 40-yard dash time matches up with that of Cooper. During the 2014 season White recorded 109 receptions for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns while playing at West Virginia. If both Cooper and Parker are off the board by the time the Vikings pick, White will likely still be there.

The Vikings will have multiple options this offseason in regards to the wide receiver position. Along with the possibilities listed above, they might also sign Duron Carter from the Canadian Football league. Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen are both solid in-house options – Wright seemed to have a good connection with Bridgewater and Thielen proved to be one of the Vikings best special team contributors.

The avenues to upgrade are many, but the Vikings wouldn’t have to implement a major overhaul to improve.


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