NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches a lot of tape of players around the league, and his sense was that Bernard Berrian was the best receiver available in free agency because of his speed. That assessment was made when Randy Moss wasn't considered likely to reach free agency, but the Vikings weren't a team about to consider Moss anyways.
"(Berrian is) probably the best receiver out there because he gives you the vertical threat. See, D.J. Hackett doesn't give you the vertical threat and he's the other (top free-agent) receiver," Cosell said. "Berrian is the vertical receiver and he can give you the home run threat. I think Berrian – in the right offense, and obviously the Bears because they had so much inconsistency at every position, that's not the right offense for him – I think in the right offense, he can be the guy that gets you 65 catches, 1,100 yards, nine touchdowns."
Berrian hasn't had a 1,000-yard season yet, but he is considered a receiver on the rise who did have 951 yards receiving last year, despite his contention that he wasn't usually the first option in the Bears' offense.
"I wanted that last year, to be that number one guy. The numbers kind of came out that way, but I wasn't actually the first read in our offense," Berrian said. "It just worked out that way, and a lot of times I did receive a lot of the attention as the season progressed. I received a lot of attention with safety help over the top a lot as our running game started to struggle, so that's what I'm hoping to bring here."
The Vikings running game didn't struggle much last season. They had the top rushing game in the entire league, but they also realized they needed a deep threat to take at least a little attention away from Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor's abilities.
"I think that he can stretch the field and that people have to honor his ability to get up the field and make plays up the field. With that said, he has the ability to work all those short and intermediate zones as well," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.
Not everyone believes that Berrian is a prototypical fit for the Vikings offense.
"I don't think he's a West Coast receiver. The other sort of offense in the league is the Don Coryell hybrids, which are more vertical. I think he's more a guy who fits that because he's really a deeper receiver," Cosell said. "Hackett is more of a West Coast guy, and that's what he's grown up with – he's with Seattle. I think Hackett thrives in a West Coast (offense). Now, of course, he's got the injury problem, the durability issue. But I think if he was a starter in a West Coast offense for 16 games, I think D.J. Hackett is a very solid receiver."
But the Vikings seemed most interested in Berrian's deep speed. The raw numbers aren't all that impressive, but Berrian said he is a lot faster than he used to be – like when he ran 4.57-second and 4.53-second 40-yard dashes at the NFL Scouting Combine four years ago. Those numbers were his recollection. His speed with pads on seems better than some of those who ran faster than him at the Combine.
"Berrian is a former track star and has elite speed at the wideout position, so he's capable of beating any cornerback and blowing past any safety," said Bear Report's John Crist. "While he's shown good hands over the course of his career and can sometimes make the tough catch look routine, he did battle a case of the dropsies earlier this past season as he may have been dealing with the pressure of his impending free agency. He's not necessarily the kind of receiver who can always get you 11 yards on third-and-10, but he's extremely quick getting in and out of his breaks, makes his share of big plays, and is a quality locker-room presence."
And he appears to be honest as well. The Vikings place a great deal of emphasis on their wide receivers being good downfield blockers. While Berrian said he's a willing worker, to use a Childress phrase, blocking isn't his strong point yet.
"I'm not the greatest blocker – I'm not going to lie – but that's what practice is for," Berrian said. "We're going to go out there and we're going to work at it and I'm going to work at it to get better. I'm definitely willing to throw my body in there and block. I'm not the type of receiver that is going to just sit there and (give) just lackluster effort. I'm definitely going to go out there and give my full effort."
Although Crist isn't certain if Berrian can hold up running too many crossing routes, he does believe the former Bear is a receiver on the rise.
"Even though Berrian has battled his share of ticky-tack injuries and isn't big enough to patrol the middle of the field routinely, at 27 years old, his best football is probably still in front of him," Crist said.
The Vikings seem most interested in the receiver leaving defenders in his wake, and that's why Cosell accurately predicted that Berrian would be the top-paid receiver in free agency (Moss has yet to sign).
Said the NFL Films producer: "I think Berrian will get the most money for one simple reason – he's a home-run hitter."
Analysis: How Will Berrian Fit For Vikings?
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