EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings signed receiver Jerome Simpson in the offseason to be a big-play threat opposite of versatile playmaker Percy Harvin.
The team offered Simpson the one-year deal knowing the likelihood he was going to be suspended for the start of the season, and the league followed through with a three-game suspension. Almost as soon as Simpson came to training camp, the questions about how he would be replaced began.
All along, Minnesota had Devin Aromashodu, who filled the role last year. The Vikings wanted to see if Aromashodu could build on his role as the second receiver at the end of last season. One game into the regular season without Simpson and Aromashodu has given Minnesota just what it was looking for.
The fourth-year receiver hauled in three catches Sunday, including the biggest one of all, a 26-yarder with 14 seconds left to help set-up kicker Blair Walsh’s game-tying field goal. Aromashodu caught all three of his targets from quarterback Christian Ponder and added a 17-yarder in overtime of the Vikings’ 26-23 victory.
“I thought those catches he made at the end were clutch catches,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “That was big for our team. We needed that from him. It was great he showed some of those same attributes when we played the Texans in that last preseason game. For him to come up the way he did with those catches, that was big for our team. So, really encouraged by his play, and we’re going to need that, obviously, with the attention that Percy draws. It was good. Michael (Jenkins) came up with some good catches as well.”
Jenkins also caught three passes for 45 yards as Ponder finished 20 of 27 passing and gave the Vikings a credible threat through the air to complement the running of Adrian Peterson. Simpson has to miss two more games, but Aromashodu’s hopeful development could mean Minnesota is more equipped to handle Simpson’s absence than many believed.
As injuries hit the position last season, Aromashodu was there again as the fill-in and starter alongside Harvin. In the final five weeks, Aromashodu hauled in 17 of his 26 catches and 255 of his 468 yards and developed some rapport with Ponder.
“I’ve always liked Devin and I think we’ve always had good chemistry,” Ponder said. “He’s very reliable. You know where he’s going to be and he’s going to make plays. He’s got good hands and runs really good routes.”
His connection with Ponder and his confidence in the offense was never more on display than the 26-yard catch on Sunday. Running a dig route, Aromashodu broke hard and found a spot for Ponder to find him on the pivotal play.
“His intelligence and his instincts are crazy good, and for him to feel that linebacker that was inside of him and settle in that hole, it was great that we were on the same page,” Ponder said. “We trusted each other that they were going to be in the right spot and it ended up winning the game for us.”
Aromashodu has been one of Ponder’s most-targeted receivers over the second-year quarterback’s first 11 career starts. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound receiver is a big target, with the ability to get downfield. His downfield presence made him the most logical replacement for Simpson.
But Aromashodu has seemingly always been the fill-in. He’s waiting for his chance at a featured role and is trying to carve out a role when Simpson does return.
His clutch catches Sunday combined with his late-season success last year is a small glimpse into what Aromashodu feels he can bring every game.
“It’s definitely added confidence,” Aromashodu said. “I know my ability and what I can do when I’m given a chance. I just try to take advantage of every opportunity.
“I’m just trying to build off that and continue to just keep moving forward and help this team out any way I can.”