Receiver a position in transition for Vikings

BY foxsports • July 11, 2012

This is the third in a series of 13 previews leading up to the Minnesota Vikings' July 27 start of camp.

July 10: Quarterbacks
July 11: Running backs and fullbacks
July 12: Wide receivers
July 13: Tight ends
July 16: Offensive linemen
July 17: Defensive linemen
July 18: Linebackers
July 19: Safeties
July 20: Cornerbacks
July 23: Specialists
July 24: Coaches
July 25: 5 things to accomplish in camp
July 26: Fans' guide to camp


Rating (1-to-10 scale): 3

Projected starter: Percy Harvin (fourth year) and Jerome Simpson (fifth year)

Backups (asterisks indicate players expected to make the roster): Emmanuel Arceneaux, *Devin Aromashodu, *Stephen Burton, *Greg Childs, Michael Jenkins, Kamar Jorden, A.J. Love, Kerry Taylor, Bryan Walters, *Jarius Wright

The breakdown: At the end of last season, Harvin was putting the finishing touches on his career-best season with 87 catches, 967 yards receiving and six receiving touchdowns. The next closest receiver to Harvin? Jenkins, who missed the final five weeks after knee surgery and had just 38 catches. How thin had the Vikings receiving corps gotten by the end of the season? Aromashodu (26 catches, 468 yards) was the second receiver, starting when Minnesota didn't elect to start three tight ends. There were only four receivers on the active roster, including Arceneaux (one catch last year) and Greg Camarillo (nine catches).

Expectedly, receiver was the most overhauled position in the offseason. The Vikings signed Jerome Simpson, despite the fact Simpson's facing a three-game suspension due to a felony drug charge, and Bryan Walters. Minnesota used two fourth-round picks on Arkansas receivers Wright and Childs. This is a position in flux as the Vikings look to get younger, deeper and faster.

At least Minnesota has Harvin, an explosive playmaker that can be used all over the field, but even he came to mandatory minicamp last month and complained about "a couple of issues" with the team. Harvin will reportedly be in Mankato, Minn. for training camp and the Vikings have to hope the emotional Harvin was just blowing off some steam and any issues can, and will be, rectified. Minnesota needs him. He is the only sure thing when it comes to this receiving corps and second-year quarterback Christian Ponder needs as much stability as possible for his development.

Meanwhile, Simpson caught the attention of everyone — especially Ponder — during the offseason program, showing great speed, a knack for big plays and even some good hands. Simpson was among the league leaders last season in dropped passes, so the latter item comes with a bit of a surprise. But Simpson is also coming off his best season as a pro. A second-round pick by the Bengals in the 2008 draft, Simpson had 50 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns last year and is the deep threat the Vikings have needed for years.

Jenkins could find himself on the way out continuing Minnesota's purging of high-priced veterans. Jenkins, 30, came to the Vikings in free agency last season and reunited with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, who he had worked with in Atlanta. But Jenkins' speed appears sapped and he's due $5 million over the next two seasons. He could be replaced by Burton, Wright and Childs. Burton seemed like a different player during organized team activities and minicamp than the overwhelmed rookie in 2011 who spent most of the season on the practice squad. Wright has a similar style to Harvin, but also needs time to develop after struggling at times during OTAs and minicamp. Childs is 6-foot-3 and says he's fully recovered from knee surgery two years ago when he was a budding star at Arkansas, but he didn't receive much work during the OTAs and minicamp after dealing with another injury.

Best position battle: The most important competition among the receivers is who fills in during Simpson's absence. Minnesota could very well keep an extra receiver around during the first three weeks. Childs and Wright likely won't be ready to contribute much in the opening weeks, leaving perhaps Aromashodu, Burton or Jenkins to start until Simpson returns. Aromashodu supplies the deep threat like Simpson and was the Vikings' second receiver at the end of last year. Burton's development could lead to him being the fill-in. Jenkins, if he makes the team, would be a veteran option for Ponder. Jenkins was the second-leading receiver last year before missing the end of the season because of injury. If the offseason program was any indication which way the coaching staff is leaning, Burton might just be starting in the season-opener. Burton will have to prove in training camp he's ready for the task.

Ranking against the rest of the NFC North: 1. Packers; 2. Lions; 3. Bears; 4 Vikings. Each receiving corps in the division is in a comparable state to the quarterbacks leading each team. Green Bay has the top receivers in the NFC North for the top quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Detroit has a stable of young talent, matching their young quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is still more projectable talent than finished product at this point. Chicago has a mercurial receiver group to match Jay Cutler. Minnesota's young receivers mesh with Ponder, the second-year player. The Packers' group of Greg Jennings, emerging Jordy Nelson, veteran Donald Driver, James Jones and Randall Cobb is unmatched in the division. The Lions' Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in all of football and the Bears' had the most significant offseason addition, pairing Brandon Marshall with Cutler, the combo that had success in Denver.

Musgrave says: "We not only want to get Jerome comfortable with our system, but get his understudy or his stand-in ready for those three weeks. So we'll have a plan in place so both of those guys can get adequate work in those preseason games, all four of them, but also plan for his absence, which is going to be a tough obstacle to overcome but we have a plan to do it."

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