Starters — Devin Hester, Earl Bennett. Backups — Rashied Davis, Juaquin Iglesias, Johnny Knox, Brandon Rideau.
Hester continued to make the transition from elite return specialist to starting wide receiver and last season he took another big step. His reception total rose from 20 in 2007 to 51, and his receiving yardage improved from 299 to 665. However, despite his rare speed and ability to make tacklers miss, Hester had just three touchdowns, and much more is expected in that department if he is truly to be the Bears' No. 1 wideout, as he is being proclaimed by the coaching staff. Hester is still a work in progress, and it remains to be seen how he will handle the attention that will come from opponents if he is the Bears' only outside threat. Bennett needs to take a huge step up from a disappointing rookie season in which he failed to catch a pass and was rarely on the field. For now, he's penciled in as the starter, but he could be displaced by a veteran pickup if he doesn't establish himself early on as a viable target. Davis is a journeyman slot receiver who contributes much on special teams. Rookies Iglesias and Knox should get plenty of training camp snaps and opportunities to earn playing time right away. Both were impressive in offseason practices. The 6-foot-3 Rideau provides a bigger target than any other wideout on the roster and he could be ready to make his move after three years of learning the ropes while playing very little.
Starters — Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson. Backups — Dennis Northcutt, Ronald Curry, Derrick Williams, D.J. Boldin, Keary Colbert, Eric Fowler, Kenneth Harris, Adam Jennings, John Standeford.
Calvin Johnson can be one of the best players in the game. He put up spectacular numbers last year despite not getting the ball enough at times. But he needs help. Bryant Johnson has not lived up to expectations in his NFL career and has an opportunity to prove he can be a No. 2 receiver, not just a No. 3. Northcutt gives the Lions a solid option in the slot. Williams, a third-round pick this year, needs to develop for the long term and could help in the return game. But he's battling for time with a host of others.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Starters — Greg Jennings, Donald Driver. Backups — James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Ruvell Martin, Brett Swain, Jamarko Simmons, Jake Allen, JaRon Harris, Kole Heckendorf, Patrick Williams.
Jennings' quick ascension to becoming the team's No. 1 wideout over Driver was confirmed when the team meted out a three-year contract extension worth as much as $30 million in June to keep Jennings off the free-agent market after this year. The fourth-year player has positioned himself as one of the game's elite receivers. He had career highs of 80 catches and 1,292 receiving yards, along with nine touchdowns, last season. The 34-year-old Driver isn't shabby, either. He is working on a team-record streak of five seasons with 1,000 receiving yards and needs only 19 receptions to become the most prolific pass catcher in franchise history. The Packers have two other solid contributors in Jones and Nelson when they spread things out. Jones is looking to bounce back after being bothered by a knee injury most of last season. Swain, a seventh-round pick, was humbled by a full rookie season on the practice squad and stood out in offseason drills. He should challenge Martin, who slipped some as a possession-type receiver last year, for the No. 5 spot. Simmons jumps out physically with measurements of 6-foot-2 and 231 pounds and holds single-season records for receptions and receiving yards at Western Michigan, where Jennings played.
Starters — Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade. Backups — Aundrae Allison, Percy Harvin, Glenn Holt, Jaymar Johnson, Nick Moore, Vinny Perretta, Darius Reynaud, Sidney Rice, Bobby Williams.
Berrian did not disappoint in the first season of his six-year, $42 million contract in 2008, providing the explosive threat the Vikings coveted when they signed the free agent away from the Chicago Bears. He finished second on the team to Wade with 48 receptions and tied Shiancoe for the team lead with seven touchdown catches. Berrian also averaged an NFL-high 20.1 yards per reception. Harvin, who dropped to the 22nd pick in the first round of this year's draft because of concerns about his character, is a multi-dimensional threat and could prove to be a nightmare for defensive coordinators. Harvin can line up in the slot, but also was used as a running back while playing at Florida. The Vikings experimented with Harvin as the quarterback in a Wildcat formation during minicamp. Wade, who has led the Vikings in receptions in each of his two seasons with the team, has proven to be a reliable slot receiver but might need to battle to win a job. Berrian, Harvin and Rice appear to be locks to make the roster, with Wade, Allison, Holt, Johnson and Reynaud waging a battle for what is likely to be two or three remaining spots. Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2008 out of Jackson State, spent last season on the practice squad but appeared to be a much improved player in the offseason workouts.
Battle of the North: Wide receivers
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