The wide receivers and tight ends for the Minnesota Vikings were a much-maligned group a season ago. Between the ineffectiveness of Donovan McNabb, the inexperience of Christian Ponder, and the inconsistency of Joe Webb, the Vikings' receivers (outside of Percy Harvin) were not very productive in 2011. The level of talent has been increased this season, and with a more experienced Ponder at quarterback this season, these players stand a good chance of improving significantly in 2012. Let's take a look at who we think is going to make the team.
We'll start with the wide receivers.
Players in camp: Percy Harvin (starter), Jerome Simpson (starter), Emmanuel Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Michael Jenkins, Kamar Jorden, A.J. Love, Kerry Taylor, Bryan Walters, Jarius Wright
The Vikings will likely keep five wide receivers. . .with an asterisk. The asterisk comes from the fact that Simpson will be unavailable to the Vikings for the first three games of the season while serving his suspension for drug charges he faced in the off-season. He's a lock to make the roster, so we won't discuss him any further at this time.
As far as the remaining four spots, Harvin is obviously a lock. After his bizarre trade demand that set the Vikings' blogosphere all crazy for about 24 hours, Harvin appears to be content to play out this season and worry about his contract next season, which is the way the Vikings want it. He will likely see his role in the return game reduced so that the team can have him on the field more on offense, which promises to be a good thing for the Vikings.
Childs and Wright appear to have a couple of spots locked up as well. The two former Arkansas Razorbacks, who have been teammates going as far back as the third grade, have a world of potential that the Vikings will be looking to exploit. Wright is a bit of a Harvin clone. He's a little undersized, but showed enough to be an all-SEC performer in 2011. In addition to a receiving spot, he'll be given every opportunity to contribute in the return game as well. Childs came back too soon from a patella tendon tear in 2011, but was on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award (given to the best wide receiver in college football) for his junior season prior to suffering that injury. If Childs has gotten the speed and explosiveness that he had prior to his injury, he could end up being a huge steal for the Vikings.
The last spot, in my opinion, will come down to a three-way dance between Aromashodu, Burton, and Jenkins. Jenkins is the steady veteran option, Burton has been getting rave reviews in off-season workouts, and Aromashodu is the guy that you think has potential until you say to yourself, "Hey, the guy was drafted in 2006. Maybe this is just who he is." Of these three, I think Aromashodu ends up getting cut first, while Burton and Jenkins both make the roster coming out of camp. When Simpson comes back from his suspension, it's quite likely either Burton or Jenkins will be out of a job.
None of the other receivers in camp have a great chance of making the team. Walters has some ability as a return specialist, but Wright will be given the opportunities to win that job first. Arceneaux could land back on the practice squad, but that's about it.
Making the cut: Simpson, Harvin, Wright, Childs, Burton, Jenkins (one of the last two gets cut when Simpson comes back)
Not making the cut: Arceneaux, Aromashodu, Jorden, Love, Taylor, Walters
And now the tight ends.
The Vikings are likely going to be running a lot of two-tight end sets this year, as that seems to be the vision that Bill Musgrave has for his offense. So, this position will be an interesting one to watch during camp this summer.
After an up-and-down rookie season, Rudolph is the chic choice of many experts to have a breakout season for the Vikings. Obviously the folks at Football Outsiders agree with him, as their almanac for this season is projecting him to haul in 63 passes for 804 yards and six touchdowns in 2012. With his size and his physical abilities, there's no reason to think that Rudolph can't reach those numbers. . .or, possibly, exceed them. The 6'6", 265-pound Rudolph will present a lot of match-up problems for opposing defenses in 2012.
To try to take some of the heat off of Rudolph, the Vikings signed Litchfield native John Carlson to a contract this off-season. While far too much was made of the contract that Carlson signed, he's going to have something to prove after missing all of the 2011 season with an injury. If he proves to be healthy, he'll give Christian Ponder another target in the middle of the field that most linebackers will have trouble matching up with.
Rookie Rhett Ellison will get plenty of looks during the pre-season. Another big body, measuring in at 6'5" and 250 pounds, Ellison will be asked to do a bit of everything. He split time at USC between the tight end position and the fullback position, and will probably see action at both spots for the Vikings. Not to put any pressure on the youngster, but he's already been given the number 40, last worn by Vikings' great and fan favorite Jim Kleinsasser. No pressure there.
The battle for the fourth tight end spot will be waged by Allen Reisner and Mickey Shuler. Shuler was originally drafted by the Vikings, but wound up getting cut and spending some time with the Miami Dolphins before finding his way back to Minnesota last year. Reisner was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa prior to last season, and saw action in a few games. This one will be a true training camp battle, as it should be decided by whoever impresses the coaching staff the most from late July to mid-August. At this point, it's hard to say whether one or the other has an advantage. One of the two of them will make it, and the other one will likely end up back on the practice squad.
Making the cut: Rudolph, Carlson, Ellison, Reisner
Not making the cut: Shuler
Positions on the 53-man roster accounted for: 18 out of 53
We'll continue on the offensive side of the ball tomorrow by looking at the big uglies up front, the offensive line.