Receiver Corpse?

The Vikings have made small-scale changes to their team that finished 2-8 in the final 10 games of 2006. It is expected that the additions and the return of injured players who could have been keys last year will make the Vikings an improved team. But one area remains of enormous concern -- who will catch the ball?

The early preseason predictions from the national football experts has been a mixed bag. Some believe that, with the improvements the Vikings defense has made over the last year and the addition of Adrian Peterson to help the offense, the Vikings might be a potential playoff contender. Others cite inexperienced Tarvaris Jackson and a pass offense that got riddled in the second half of the 2006 season as a sign that the Vikings could be closer to a lottery pick in the draft rather than a potential playoff berth.

The only concern that everyone seems to share is that the Vikings have what, on paper, looks to be the weakest corps of receivers in the league. The group was viewed as suspect a year ago and three of their top five pass catchers (Travis Taylor, Jermaine Wiggins and Marcus Robinson) are gone. Of the returnees, the leading receiver was Mewelde Moore, who is expected to see his role with the team decrease with the arrival of Adrian Peterson.

When you view it that way, there is plenty of reason for concern. The leading receiver from a year ago that is expected to keep a big role is Troy Williamson, who caught just 37 passes and, despite having deep speed, scored no touchdowns. Billy McMullen caught 23 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns in a backup role. Yet he has never started a game in the 45 he had played in his NFL career and, to date, he has 45 receptions in 45 games. Bobby Wade has been in the league for four years and, in 58 games and 18 starts, he has just 101 receptions for 1,199 yards and two touchdowns. His 33 catches for 461 yards and two TDs were all among the best single-season marks of his career. Sidney Rice is a wild card as a playmaking rookie, but history has shown us that even the top wide receiver picks in the first round of drafts tend to struggle making the adjustment to the pros, much less guys taken in the middle of the second round.

At tight end, the position wasn't much better. Even including Wiggins' 46 receptions, the top four tight ends on the team (Wiggins, Jim Kleinsasser, Richard Owens and Jeff Dugan) combined to catch 67 passes – with only 21 of those coming from the players still on the team. In place of Wiggins, the Vikings signed Visanthe Shiancoe from the Giants. Although he never missed a game in four years and made 23 starts due to formations or injuries to Jeremy Shockey, he proved to be a solid blocking tight end, but not a great receiver. In 64 games, he has just 35 receptions and his season high for yardage is 91 yards – not in one game, but for an entire season. If he is to make an impact in the offense other than being an additional blocker to help out the right tackle spot, we haven't see it yet.

The Vikings look to be an interesting team heading into 2007. With a run defense that is capable of making opponents one-dimensional, if the pass defense can continue to improve, the Vikings may not need a ton of points to win games. They could win the 16-13 type of games the Bears and Ravens have won consistently without the benefit of a "kick-ass" offense. The addition of Peterson running behind the left side of the O-line is also a potential for offensive explosion – something woefully missing from last year's team.

But the combination of an inexperienced quarterback and a hodgepodge of receivers whose combined totals rank somewhere near single-season totals from Randy Moss or Marvin Harrison, this could be the group of players that make or break the Vikings' 2007 season, which could be the difference between going 10-6 or 6-10 or worse.

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