As the Minnesota Vikings prepare for this week’s minicamp, one of the more interesting positions to watch – and will continue to be a position worth watching through training camp and the preseason – will be wide receiver.
There is always a lot of turnover at different positions in the NFL, but the Vikings’ wide receiver situation is unique by its own positional standard.
A year ago when the Vikings entered training camp, their top three receivers were Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Jerome Simpson.
Simpson took himself out of the picture with another marijuana arrest.
Jennings became a salary-cap casualty in March when his contract hit its heavy lifting portion and outweighed his contribution to the team on and off the field.
Patterson entered the season with high hopes of a breakout season and ended with him being on the field for just a handful of plays in the final several weeks of the season.
Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen filled out the bottom spots of the roster, with both of them making larger contributions when Teddy Bridgewater – who took reps with them throughout camp and the preseason while the starters got their timing down with veteran Matt Cassel – became a starter.
A year later, things couldn’t be much different.
The Vikings currently have 11 wide receivers on the roster, including five who may be competing for roster spots that don’t exist in the regular season – Donte Foster, DaVaris Daniels, Gavin Lutman, Jordan Leslie and Isaac Fruechte. All of them will be fighting for the fifth or, at best, sixth wide receiver roster spot, depending on how many wide receivers the Vikings will keep on the 53-man roster – five is more likely than six, which doesn’t bode well for any of them.
Jennings has been replaced by Mike Wallace, who gives the Vikings their best veteran deep threat in years. Barring injury, he will be starting as one of the outside receivers.
The buzz has been solid on Patterson’s off-field work and, as many coaches will attest, wide receivers tend to jump in production in their third season, so they’re holding out hope that the lightbulb will go off and Patterson will become the player so many scouts projected he would be coming out of college.
Wright and Thielen are still around, but their roles have yet to be defined. Wright is almost a lock to be one of the five receivers the Vikings keep, but, the same can’t be said for Thielen. He’s going to be fighting for a roster spot and will have to have a near-perfect training camp and preseason to keep his spot on the roster.
The wild card in the bunch is Charles Johnson. He wasn’t on the roster at the beginning of the 2014 season, was brought to the 53-man roster in Week 3 and was inactive for two weeks. He started being active on the roster in Week 5 and ended up starting the final six games of the season.
His performance late in the year prompted offensive coordinator Norv Turner to claim that he was head and shoulders the best wide receiver on the team. Whether that was a motivational shot thrown Patterson’s direction or not, it was accurate.
In the final seven games of the season, Johnson caught 25 passes for 415 yards and two touchdowns, which led the team down the stretch. Jennings caught 21 passes in that span. Wright caught 16. Patterson caught seven.
The new kid on the block who could cause problems for Thielen is rookie Stefon Diggs. An undersized possession receiver, he could snatch up a roster spot as a designated receiver in multi-receiver packages that will have him in the slot making one cut and preparing for the ball to come his way. It’s what Wright does and what Thielen does, maybe to a lesser level.
A year ago at this time, the Vikings were looking at a trio of Jennings, Patterson and Simpson as being the Big Three receivers in their offense. Then again, the plan was to have Cassel as the starting quarterback.
A year later, two of the Big Three are gone and the other one is on career life support, needing to show significant improvement to avoid last rites being announced.
NFL teams always have turnover, but there are certain positions that tend to have more continuity than others. Among them are offensive line, defensive line and wide receiver. Just look at any other top five wide receivers from most teams and the names are mostly familiar or are young up-and-comers that big things are expected of.
In the span of one year, the Vikings’ upheaval from the front line of the depth chart has been as significant as it has been in Minnesota in years. Bridgewater may help decide who ends up in what position this year because everyone is new to him and the ones he worked with most – Wright, Johnson and Thielen – were afterthoughts a year ago.
Get your popcorn ready. The rapport Bridgewater builds with his receivers will be critical to the offensive success the Vikings have because the guys who were there a year ago are likely to be vastly different – as different as they have been coming into one season to the next perhaps in franchise history.
WR a key position for Vikings camp viewing
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