What do teams want in their backup players? Sometimes it’s experience and knowledge, the ability to mentor a younger starter and help develop him into the best player he can possibly be. Other times, it’s potential, athletic ability and versatility.
Quarterback, for instance, is a position where age lends experience and doesn’t dramatically hamper performance. The ideal backup quarterback is a savvy veteran possibly nearing the end of his career. He knows all the tricks; he knows the NFL. He’s not a guy you want leading your team for 16 games (and hopefully more), but if your starter goes down, you’re content as possible knowing the backup at least has the experience and knowledge to throw a few games together and maybe keep the fire alive until your starter is back.
Wide receiver, however, is a completely different animal. Sure, you have your veterans out there who are showing their age, but know their stuff and still manage to stay relevant, but they keep their head above water and float around as a No. 2 or No. 3 on the roster or they disappear.
No one keeps a 35-year-old vet as a No. 5 wideout. There’s just no point.
You get that deep into the wide receiver depth chart (especially on a run-first team) and you’re looking for something else — not a vast wealth of knowledge or experience, but a spark. Someone who can come in and return a kickoff for a touchdown or a kid who has unbelievable speed and just may figure the rest out along the way.
Or someone who has all the athletic ability in the world, the natural instincts of a playmaker, the speed to outrun coverage and the height to outjump it too.
In a name: Joe Webb.
Reading that last sentence, you may think I am proclaiming Joe Webb to be the greatest wide receiver of all time. I’m not, and I don’t think he ever will be. But he could be an exciting player (something he’s already showcased) and in terms of wide receiver prospects, he’s certainly the most interesting one we could have as a No. 5 on the depth chart.
But there’s another aspect to being a backup player at any position on an NFL roster – competence. Webb proved he just couldn’t play with the big boys at quarterback, and after three wasted years with Webb holding a clipboard, the Vikings finally moved him away from his college position and back into the position he was drafted to be, wide receiver.
Will Webb be competent at wide receiver enough to make a roster spot? Can he even catch? According to Tom Pelissero, that’s not a problem:
Heard this: Joe Webb has caught everything in workouts. Hands aren’t an issue. It’s learning everything else. OTAs ramp that up. #Vikings
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) May 28, 2013
And this picture doesn’t look too bad, either.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) May 28, 2013
So he’s not a taller Troy Williamson. Step one to becoming a Vikings wide receiver – complete.
Time, both at the OTAs and training camp, will tell us more about whether or not Webb can catch on to all the other nuances of playing wide receiver in the NFL.
For now, let’s enjoy the prospect.