Recent Receiving History Hardly Impressive

The Vikings' running game seemed to carry the offense last year, but the Vikings have been lacking top-production receivers since the departure of Randy Moss. That could change this year.

There is little doubting the effectiveness of the Vikings' running game – it was tops in the NFL as Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor combined to rush for almost 2,000 yards. But the passing game was among the league's worst all season. From the team perspective, after having sure-fire Hall of Famers like Cris Carter and Randy Moss on the team for so many years, the Vikings have lacked a true go-to receiver.

From the period of 1993-2003, the Vikings had a receiver (either C.C. or Moss) catch at least 78 passes in each of those 11 seasons. They had a player catch 90 or more passes in seven of those seasons and 100 or more in four of them. But the void left by the Moss trade is still being felt. In the four years since Moss was sent packing to Oakland, the receptions among the Vikings' leading receiver has dropped each year (71-69-57-54). Bobby Wade's 54 receptions were the second-lowest total for a team leader since 1984, when the Vikings imploded in the debacle that was the one year of Les Steckel's coaching tenure.

In his final full season as a Viking in 2003, despite battling ankle injuries, Moss caught 111 passes – only six fewer passes than the top three receivers for the 2007 Vikings combined (Wade, Robert Ferguson and Sidney Rice). His 1,632 receiving yards were 200 more than the 2007 top three combined. His 17 TD receptions that year are more than the Vikings have catch as a team in either of the last two seasons.

Clearly the days of the Vikings being one of the top passing teams in the league is getting farther and farther back in the rear-view mirror. However, the team may have hit bottom last season. Wade led the team with 54 receptions – the lowest single-season total since 1992 – and for the third straight year, the Vikings didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver. What makes it worse is that they haven't even been close. Travis Taylor led the team in receiving yard with 604 in 2005. The high-water mark in 2006 was Taylor again with 651 yards. Wade's 647 yards in 2007 ranked him 58th in the league in receiving yardage – not the kind of numbers that get bragged up too often.

What complicates matters is that the Vikings have only had one receiver catch for more than 500 yards in each of the last two seasons and the top receiving yardage totals for the season in 2007 were a paltry 647, 396, 391 and 323. When you think about it, it is amazing that the Vikings did as well as they did with such dismal numbers.

These may be the reasons that the Vikings have made such a concerted effort to add some firepower to the passing game – adding Wade in free agency and Rice and Aundrae Allison in the draft in 2007 and making a big splash early in this year's free-agent period to sign Bernard Berrian. You can say what you want about Tarvaris Jackson's ineffectiveness, but the Vikings' receivers did little to stretch the field – other than Troy Williamson blowing past defenders and dropping deep passes. For the most part, the Vikings' wide receivers were a collection of possession guys who did little to threaten defenses vertically.

Are the Vikings going to take the next step in their progression up the pecking order in the NFC? A total of 19 different teams had a 1,000-yard receiver in 2007 (four of them had two) and four more had a player with 900 or more yards receiving. The Vikings were nowhere remotely close to that. It is hoped the addition of Berrian, the maturation of Rice and moving Wade to his more natural slot position will change all that. A year ago at this time, none of them had ever caught a pass as a member of the Vikings. Now they are viewed as the team's top three receivers.

We saw what a difference a playmaker like Peterson could make in the rushing game. Now it's time for the wide receiver corps to step up and carry its share of the load. It's a given that teams are going to consistently pack eight players in the box to try to stop Peterson and Taylor. It is going to open up opportunities for a lot of single coverage deep down the field and the chance for big plays from the passing offense – something sorely lacking since Moss' departure.

If the Vikings are to take the next step, it will be vital that the receivers do their part in making the offense more balanced. They haven't been able to do that since Moss left the Vikings. Will this be the year that changes? It better be, because the Vikings have made the investment to give the offense weapons in the passing game and that investment is going to have to pay off if the Vikes are to fulfill their destiny as the new top dog in the NFC North.


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