Ever since the day the Vikings traded away Randy Moss, questions at wide receiver have been much more common than answers. Nate Burleson was supposed to be the go-to guy, but buckled under the strain of being the top dog at wide receiver and, when he became a restricted free agent, the Vikings lowered the compensation they would need to get in return to just a third-round pick – all but assuring that he would be gone.
There were hopes that Troy Williamson, taken with the seventh overall pick in the 2005 that the Vikings got in exchange for Moss from the Raiders, would be the answer. He clearly has not. So where does the team currently stand and, if we were to get games going now instead of a month from now, who would be in line to be the starters? There may be no easy answer to that question.
If you ask most fans, they would likely assume that Williamson and rookie Sidney Rice would be the logical contenders. Williamson is entering his third season, when a staggering amount of wide receivers make the leap from being part-time contributors to posting numbers that will be more of a reflection of their career production. Rice is a big-play rookie who has the ability to be a scoring threat the Vikings' passing game has lacked each of the last two years.
But depending on whose depth chart you look at, neither Williamson or Rice could be starters when the season opens. There is a growing feeling that Bobby Wade, who has already been anointed as the team's slot receiver, could be on the field when the team is in two-receiver sets – joined by Billy McMullen. In just their fifth seasons, Wade and McMullen are among the most experienced veterans among the Vikings receiver corps and, because of that, may get the first shot of nailing down starting jobs. That didn't seem to be the case in offseason practices. In those, Wade and Williamson were the starters with Rice seeing a lot of action as the third receiver.
While the firm belief around Winter Park is that Williamson will have a breakout season and Rice will progress faster than most rookies, as it currently stands, there may be a chance that either one of them opens the season as a non-starter and may have to earn their way past Wade to get to their full potential.
INDEPENDENCE DAY NOTES
* For you gamblers out there, early betting lines are out as to who will win the 2007 NFL Rookie of the Year. Adrian Peterson is second on the list at 6:1, trailing only the Lions' Calvin Johnson (4:1). He is followed by Marshawn Lynch (7:1) and JaMarcus Russell (15:2). Three players check in at 11:1 and six more at 13:1. The Vikings' Sidney Rice shows up next at 16:1.
* The defending division champion Bears have been on the front end of getting draft picks signed. Almost from the start, the Bears were among the first teams to get players signed and under contract. They made their biggest splash yet on Tuesday, signing first-round tight end Greg Olsen to a five-year deal – giving the Bears eight of their nine rookies under contract. The only remaining unsigned player is second-rounder Dan Bauzin.
* It didn't take long for running back Dominic Rhodes to take on "Raider mystique." In past years, that meant being a bad boy who came to the black and silver to win. Now it's just the opposite. Rhodes, who won a Super Bowl with the Colts last year, came to the Raiders as a free agent and, as it was announced Tuesday, will be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. In the new Raider Nation, the poor just keep getting poorer.
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