Vikings vs. NFC North: Wide receivers

The Vikings improved their wide receiver corps this year, but they still have some proving to do when compared to the more productive units in the NFC North.

1. Detroit Lions
Starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate
Key Backups: Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller
When Calvin Johnson entered into the NFL draft in 2007, many experts believed that he was the best player in that draft class and he has been doing his best to prove them right. He has become one of the NFL’s best wide receivers and you could probably make the argument that he is the best receiver.

At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, Johnson is already bigger than the opposing defensive backs that he goes up against week in and week out. But what really makes him dangerous is that, along with his size, he also great speed that allows him to stretch the field, good strength to help create separation and break tackles, a good vertical to catch the ball at it’s highest point and good hands to make difficult catches.

Johnson will be entering his ninth NFL season and will be turning 30 in late September. He currently has 643 career receptions for 10,405 yards and 74 touchdowns. That puts him at No. 36 all-time for receiving yards, No. 54 in receptions and tied for No. 30 in receiving touchdowns.

During the 2014 season, Johnson missed three games with injury and was still not quite himself for a couple others while he was still recovering. In his absence, Tate was forced to step up and become the Lions’ No. 1 receiving option.

He rose to that challenge and had the best season of his career, finishing with 99 receptions for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the season with more yards receiving and receptions than Johnson did, which is not an easy feat to accomplish.

2. Green Bay Packers
Starters: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb
Key Backups: Jared Abbrederis, Davante Adams
Nelson has been the No. 1 receiving option for the Green Bay Packers since 2011 and it seems as though he has only gotten better every year since then (minus the 2012 season where he missed four games). He has recorded over 1,000 yards in each season, except 2012, averaged over 15 yards a reception and recorded at least seven touchdown receptions in each.

Last year Nelson was 29 years old and in his seventh season in the NFL, but that didn’t stop him from having the best year of his career. He hauled in 98 receptions for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. His performance in 2014 set the single-season Packers record for receiving yards, a record previously set by Robert Brooks in 1995. He also earned his first Pro Bowl appearance last season.

The 6-foot-3, 217-pound receiver was originally a second-round draft pick by the Packers back in 2008 and has spent his entire career in Green Bay and it seems as though he plans to finish it there after signing a four-year contract extension in July 2014.

The Packers got their other receiver, Cobb, to stay in Green Bay too, signing him to a four-year deal back in March. He likely could have signed for more money elsewhere and been a team’s No. 1 receiver but instead elected to stay with the Packers.

Cobb recorded 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, but before then his career was somewhat average. Whatever it was that finally clicked for him, the Packers are hoping that it continues. He will be 25 years old by the start of the regular season and could be a dangerous weapon for years to come, not only as a receiver but as a return specialist as well.

3. Chicago Bears
Starters: Alshon Jeffery, Kevin White
Key Backups: Eddie Royal, Marc Mariani
After the Bears traded Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets back in March, the No. 1 receiver responsibilities have been placed upon fourth-year receiver Jeffery. At 6-3, 216 pounds, Jeffery is a big-bodied receiver, much like Marshall was, and he also has the ability to stretch the defense downfield.

Jeffery was a second-round draft pick out of South Carolina and did not have the greatest of rookie seasons. He suffered multiple injuries, which forced him to only be able to play in 10 games during the regular season. Even when he was on the field he wasn’t much of a factor, recording 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns.

Things would change in his second season, however, as he stayed healthy and was able get a better grasp of the offense. He made a big splash in 2013 by recording two 200-yard receiving games during the course of the season. He ended the season with 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.

That success was carried over into the 2014 season when he recorded 85 receptions for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also was elected to play in the 2014 Pro Bowl when Calvin Johnson was unable to participate because of an injury.

It will be interesting to see how Jeffery will handle the roll of being the Bears’ No. 1 receiver and how he matches up against opponents’ top corners over the course of the season. Either way, at 25 years old he is still a young player with loads of talent and he will be paired up with a dangerous rookie in Kevin White, whom the Bears drafted in the first round out of West Virginia.

This seems as though it will be a dangerous tandem for years to come and the only glaring question is if they have a quarterback that can get them the ball well into the future.

4. Minnesota Vikings
Starters: Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson
Key Backups: Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson
The Vikings traded for Wallace in March in hopes that he could be a No. 1 receiver to help out young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Wallace doesn’t have the size that many of the other NFC North No. 1 receivers have. He is more of a speedster that is able to get underneath defenses or stretch them down the field.

Wallace has only eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark twice in his six seasons in the NFL and that was back in 2010 and 2011 when he was in Pittsburgh. The last two seasons he has been playing in Miami with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback, which could help to explain Wallace’s backslide in production. But even with that he was still able to put up 10 touchdown receptions during the 2014 season.

After originally being a third-round draft pick in 2009, Wallace is now entering into his seventh season in the NFL and will be turning 29 in the beginning of August. There is a lot of unknown surrounding him as he begins the 2015 season with a new team, new offensive coordinator and new quarterback who has not even been a starter for a full season yet.

Another unknown for the Vikings is going to be Johnson, who is expected to be the starter opposite Wallace when the season starts. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he is a good-sized receiver and has good speed to match. He was originally a seventh-round draft pick by the Packers, spent some time in Cleveland, and then ended up in Minnesota.

Johnson was able to move up the Vikings depth chart toward the end of the 2014 season and seemed to become the favorite target of Teddy Bridgewater. He finished the season with 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns. But if things go the way he hopes in 2015, those numbers should increase dramatically.

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