A great deal of the Vikings-related free agency talk these past few days has been about the wide receiver position and specifically who the Vikes should bring in to replace Sidney Rice as a tall, playmaking downfield threat. Various names have been bandied about at various times: Braylon Edwards, James Jones, Malcom Floyd…even Randy Moss for those poor souls who just can’t let go.
As far as we know the Vikings were in on Edwards, Jones and Floyd to some extent, with Jones at one point rumored to be “on the verge” of making a deal. In the end though the Vikings were unable to make it work with Jones or any of those targeted players, and had to settle for a back-up plan: Michael Jenkins.
The former Falcon Jenkins is one of those guys who “makes sense” for the team: He worked with Bill Musgrave in Atlanta, he’s big, he’s a good blocker which is helpful for the running game. But “makes sense” isn’t really what fans were hoping for. They wanted someone splashy who would ease the pain of losing Rice. Braylon Edwards or Malcom Floyd would’ve been the splashy pick, even James Jones because you’d have been stealing him away from the Packers. But it just wasn’t meant to be.
Though the Vikings could still make deals with other players, and may very well sign more receivers as we progress toward the season, it appears our gameday receiver corps is more-or-less complete. Here’s the breakdown (the ordering is obviously debatable as those things always are):
#1 Percy Harvin
#2 Bernard Berrian
#3 Greg Camarillo
#4 Michael Jenkins
#5 Jaymar Johnson
#6 Devin Aromashodu
In the mix: Emmanuel Arceneaux, Stephen Burton, Andre Holmes, Juaquin Iglesias, Dominique Johnson
The obvious missing ingredient here is the legit #1-type who forces defensive adjustments and gives the team quick strike capability. In other words, Sidney Rice. Remember how awesome our offense was in 2009 with Rice catching all those deep balls out of nowhere? That home run hitter element is huge and the Vikings do not have it (and may not have had it even had they kept Rice, whose career as a #1 is already over for all we know).
My concern is that the Vikes will now try to force Percy Harvin into that #1 role and start lining him up outside and running him on deep routes. Great as Percy is, I don’t think he’s built to be a downfield receiver. He’s a perfect slot man, tough and quick and able to break tackles and rack up YAC. The best use of Percy is in the slot and occasionally in the backfield to change things up.
The number 2 candidate for deep receiver would have to be Bernard Berrian, who in spite of all the off-season speculation and a rather large cap number has survived the carnage of the past week. I nominate Berrian only because, at one time, he was thought of as a speedy, field-stretching guy (in fact, that’s exactly what the Vikings signed him to be). Unfortunately, Berrian’s days as that fast downfield receiver are several years in the rearview; the past two years he became more of an underneath threat, a catcher of slants and outs. Ideally, you’d like to use Berrian as your Mr. Reliable Possession Guy – except that Berrian is anything but Mr. Reliable.
To be honest, I have a hard time seeing what exact role Berrian can fill at this point in his career beyond “serviceable #3 man who can still run for awhile if he gets in space.” Leslie Frazier keeps saying he thinks Bernard will have a great year, but doing what? He’s not your ideal over-the-middle 3rd-down-converting machine and he’s certainly not anyone defenses will fear streaking down the field or making double moves and getting open. And did I mention he’s wildly overpaid and sometimes sulks?
Frazier can talk happy talk till the cows come home about Berrian, but we all know the truth: The Vikings only kept him because they couldn’t find anyone better for around the same price. They were stuck. If they honestly think they can wring #1-type production out of Berrian…well, they’re fooling themselves.
Beyond Harvin and Berrian the Vikings will feature an array of nondescript journeymen, unproven young guys and generally unexciting bit players. Greg Camarillo came to the Vikes with a reputation for catching everything and that reputation turned out to be valid, but as we saw last season, he doesn’t do much with it after he catches it (and please for the love of heaven Frazier, don’t use him on punt returns anymore). Michael Jenkins comes in with the advantage of already having a good grasp of the offense, but unfortunately that won’t be enough to raise him above mediocrity.
Of all the top 6 guys, the one with the most potential to step up in a meaningful way would seem to be Jaymar Johnson. He had a chance to be in the mix last season but unfortunately broke his thumb in the preseason and ended up on IR. The Vikings thought highly enough of Johnson to give him a new contract pretty quickly after the season – or maybe they were just anticipating their future cap issues; in which case, kudos to them for their foresight – and now they will be counting on him to fulfill some of the promise he’s flashed. We do know one thing about Johnson: He won’t be outworked.
There are probably optimists out there who also hold out hope for Devin Aromashodu, who has the speed to be a dangerous receiver but not necessarily the hands. My approach to him will be “wait-and-see.” On the one hand I remember what Devin did to the Vikings in that wild overtime game against the Bears two years ago, but on the other hand I assume Lovie Smith had a good reason for basically giving up on him. Grabbing Aromashodu early in the free agency process now looks like a desperation butt-covering move from a team that knew it would have a hard time freeing up the cap space to make a run at a real receiver and didn’t want to get stuck with a depleted roster after guys started coming off the board.
Others will have to comment on the potential of those listed under “in the mix.” I keep hearing about Emmanuel Arceneaux’s Twitter prowess but the last I looked tweeting ability doesn’t mean boo on the football field. The rest of those guys, a grab-bag of low round draft picks, undrafted free agents and dudes who appeared out of nowhere on the roster, looks like the usual array of warm bodies, but who knows maybe one of them will turn out to be worth something.
And that’s your 2011 Viking receiver corps (barring something unexpected). It’s almost enough to make me jump on the Bring Back Randy bandwagon. Almost.