Today we begin a quick countdown of the top five positional battles we should see materializing once camp starts. #5 on my list is the wide receiver battle. As I see it right now, four guys are locks to make the team as a receiver: Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Cordarrelle Patterson. Beyond that you’ve got a real scrum developing. Which of those guys will ultimately lock down that #5 receiver position? Let’s look at the combatants:
You have to give Burton the momentary leg-up based on relative experience within the offense. But Burton has some major disadvantages too. The main one is that he plays flanker. The Vikes are fairly set at the flanker position with Jennings and Wright but are a little shakier at split-end where Simpson is the #1 guy followed tentatively by Patterson. The problem is, the Vikings aren’t sure yet how much Patterson will be able to contribute. Can you line him up outside at true split-end? Seems to me you would want your #5 receiver to be a guy who could reliably back-up Jerome Simpson and possibly even push Simpson. Burton is not that guy.
The fan favorite. We know he has the athletic ability. We know he has the potential versatility to make him very valuable as an x-factor roster piece. But can he actually play receiver? That’s the question. Early returns from minicamp were encouraging but there’s still a long way to go. Webb has a whole lot of catching up to do when it comes to the finer points of playing receiver. His trump card in this particular poker game could be his return ability. If Webb can show anything as a punt return man, that would give him a huge advantage. Leslie Frazier insists they’re not looking at Webb as a punt returner right now but I think that’s just typical baloney. Frazier doesn’t like tipping his hand on those things in public comments, possibly because he doesn’t want to put heat on other guys who might be fighting for roster spots. We’ll see how Webb is used in camp.
Health is obviously the issue with this young man. He is battling tenaciously to come back from a double patella tear and might not make it in time for camp. Even if he makes it on the field for camp, he will be behind the curve having missed minicamp. Things seem stacked against Childs but there is one major thing in his favor right now. Of all the guys vying for the #5 receiver spot he makes the most natural split-end. He would seem to have the physical skills necessary to be an outside receiver. And we know from his rehab journey that he will work his butt off. I would love to see this guy come back healthy and start ripping it up and really push Jerome Simpson. If this guy makes it back and starts realizing some of his potential? He could really be a difference-maker for the Vikes. But that is a major league “if” right now. I would not put money on this guy making it back on the field in the regular season.
This guy will obviously be a fan favorite at Mankato, being a former Minnesota State-Mankato player. But he has more going for him than popular appeal. He showed some legit skills in minicamp. He flashed great speed and made some nice catches in front of the likes of Tom Pelissero who tweeted glowingly about his performance. Plus he has good size. Of course minicamp flash doesn’t really amount to much once the true camp pressure starts mounting. Is Thielen a legit contender or just a nice story that popped up for a second and is doomed to fizzle back into obscurity? We’ll find out.
Is there a dark horse on the roster?
There’s not much worth looking at beyond the four guys mentioned above. The only guy who deserves passing mention I think is Chris Summers. He was on the practice squad much of last year so the coaches got a good look at him and he got some real work. He is a big huge receiver and might have an outside shot given the Vikings’ lack of a large deep target.
What about bringing in a free agent?
The Vikes could wait until some cuts are made and pluck another receiver. But that of course depends on how much cap space you have left after signing the three first rounders. And it depends on the value of the guys who get cut. Right now I would guess the receiver corps gets filled out by the men currently on the roster. I’m rooting for Childs to win the job but don’t sleep on Thielen. Webb is an entertaining story and a fan obsession who will have his shot. Stephen Burton? I would just as soon see him move on.
Next up: #4 Safety