It never fails. Every year some also-ran Vikings receiver has a couple nice catches in OTAs and/or minicamp and suddenly becomes Mr. Hype. Remember Hank Baskett a few years ago? And of course who can forget Jaymar Johnson. Fans became so irrationally attached to Johnson, you would’ve sworn he was flashing Jerry Rice-like skills out there.
It’s another year and, lo and behold, there’s another no-name receiver getting hyped up. This time it’s Stephen Burton’s turn. The same Stephen Burton who barely did anything last year beyond one flukey tipped-ball touchdown catch. Great concentration! Yeah but what else?
That Stephen Burton had a nice run at OTAs, if you want to believe the ever-enthusiastic Mike Wobschall. Wobby wrote of Burton:
Entering his 3rd NFL season after the Vikings selected him with a 7th-round choice in 2011, Burton has long been an afterthought in the Vikings wide receiver competition, often times assumed to be either a practice squad player or bottom of the depth chart body.
But this offseason Burton is on a mission to prove he can be a contributor for the Vikings during the regular season. On Monday Burton made a pair of highlight-reel catches, coming across the middle to make a leaping grab in front of the safety early in practice and then running underneath a monster heave from Christian Ponder down the right sideline for a long reception late in practice.
Even accounting for the normal Wobby exaggeration, Burton clearly had a nice solid OTA. But what does this really mean for him? Even if by some miracle he sticks, what is his role on this team?
Burton is a flanker all the way. That puts him solidly behind Greg Jennings and Jarius Wright on the depth chart. Oh, and by the way, Wright also looked good in OTAs according to everyone. So it’s not likely that Burton will be leapfrogging him.
Fifth receiver on a team that doesn’t exactly air it out on a regular basis? That makes Burton at best an afterthought. And what if Joe Webb turns out to be the real deal at receiver? What if a healthy Greg Childs performs well in camp? Burton could easily be #7 on the depth chart by the time preseason starts.
It’s nice that Burton appears to be working hard on his game and I’m glad that he is still hanging on. But let’s be realistic. This guy does not figure into the Vikings’ plans. He is a camp body. Whatever hype he’s receiving from shills like Wobby is just a front office sales job.
Here’s how that works. Fans are supposedly nervous about the receiver depth. So let’s hype up every receiver on the roster, creating the impression that we’re just totally loaded with receiver talent! Even the last guy on the roster is a terrific player. We’re just like the Packers now!
Here’s the reality: The Vikings have exactly one established NFL receiver on the roster. That’s Greg Jennings. Behind that you have a shaky Jerome Simpson, a completely raw rookie in Cordarrelle Patterson and a maybe-guy in Jarius Wright. And then a project in Webb and a broken guy in Childs.
I can hear the Burton boosters right now. But if the other guys are so shaky, that gives our guy a chance! Yeah, if he actually is any good. Which actually he is not. Unless OTA performance is the true measure of a player’s ability. Which it is not.
I don’t mean to slam Stephen Burton. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. But he’s an afterthought as a receiver. If he makes the team at all it’s only because something went wrong. And he won’t be going somewhere else and catching on. The Vikes aren’t suddenly churning out great receiver talent. The receiver corps is still a major major question mark. That is the reality. And Stephen Burton, trust me, is not the answer.