Fantasy: Are any Vikings Receivers Worth Owning?

From KFFL.com 

By: John M. Kotch, Jr.; Edited by: Cory J. Bonini and Ryan Dodson

Although it is George Stewart‘s first year as the Minnesota Vikings‘ new wide receivers coach, he has been at this for a while. Stewart has been coaching for 20 years, and this season replaces Darnell Wyatt as wide receivers coach for the Vikings.

Stewart certainly has his work cut out for him this time. He has been assigned the daunting task of whipping into shape a group of wide receivers that is rife with question marks, inexperience and an overall lack of production.

After fielding one of the NFL‘s weakest corps of wide receivers in 2006, the Vikings parted ways with Wyatt as well as wide receivers Travis Taylor, Marcus Robinson and Bethel Johnson.

New additions, along with Stewart, are free-agent wide receivers Bobby Wade and Cortez Hankton. Added in the draft are second-round pick Sidney Rice, fifth-round pick Aundrae Allison and seventh-round pick Chandler Williams, all receivers.

One of the biggest questions regarding the Vikings wide receivers heading into this season, and one that stands to have the biggest impact on the offense, is the disappointing performance of former first-round pick Troy Williamson to date. Williamson was drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2005 out of the University of South Carolina. The Vikings chose him with the draft pick they obtained in the Randy Moss trade.

Troy Williamson

Williamson, 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, is entering into his third season with the team and has yet to justify his high draft position. The word “bust” is now being tossed about liberally.

Blessed with terrific speed, Williamson has never had any difficulty shaking defensive backs and getting open. What has been a problem for him, however, is an over abundance of dropped passes.

The Vikings have a lot invested in Williamson, and considering their current situation at wide receiver, the team desperately needs for him to finally start paying dividends this year. The team sent Williamson to the Nike Headquarters training facility in Oregon. There, Williamson’s vision was tested, and it was found that he had a peripheral vision imbalance. To correct the problem, Nike custom fabricated special contact lenses for Williamson and gave him special hand-eye coordination exercises, to strengthen the eye muscles as well as even out the imbalance.

In addition to addressing the vision problem, Williamson has reportedly caught some 20,000 balls from a JUGS machine, which fires out the ball at rocket speed. If these measures don’t prove effective in curing Williamson’s ball-dropping problem, he has no further excuse. Last season, Williamson compiled 455 yards on 37 receptions but scored no touchdowns. The Vikings are hoping Williamson can nail down the spot at split end.

So far, Williamson has looked good, keeping the Vikings hopeful that his offseason efforts have paid off and he has a breakout year.

Bobby Wade

The biggest free-agent addition for the Vikings thus far, is former Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans wide receiver Bobby Wade. Wade, 5-foot-10, 186 pounds, was signed to a five-year, $15 million contract, which many thought was excessive for a player that really hadn’t done very much thus far in his career. Wade, 26, was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2003 in the fifth round and was expected to solidify himself at the flanker position, despite being used primarily in the slot by his two previous teams. It now appears as though Wade will indeed be used in the slot once again. Wade played in all 16 games last year for the Titans, starting only two. He recorded 461 yards on 33 catches with two touchdowns. Wade also has 50 kickoff returns in his career for 1,194 yards, an average of 23.9 yards. He also has 38 career punt returns for 353 yards, a 9.3 yard-per-return average and one for a touchdown.

On draft day back in April, the Vikings passed on University of Southern California wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, instead making the smart move and taking the best available player in Oklahoma Sooners running back Adrian Peterson. The Carolina Panthers selected Jarrett with the very next pick.

Sidney Rice

With the 12th pick in the second round, 44th overall, the Vikings snatched up South Carolina wide receiver Sidney Rice. Rice, 6-foot-4, 202 pounds, started two years with the Gamecocks, receiving All-Conference Honors after his freshman and sophomore years. In his last season at South Carolina he recorded 1,090 yards on 72 catches with 10 touchdowns. As a junior he tallied 1,143 yards on 70 receptions with 13 touchdowns.

Rice has all the physical attributes and looks to be valuable in the red zone during practice. Though he doesn’t possess great speed, he is quick off the ball for a player of his size but does not consistently win in jump-ball situations due to mistimed jumps and poor body control. However, with only 202 pounds on a 6-foot-4 frame, he needs to hit the weight room. He needs to increase his strength if he wants to avoid being taken out of the game by the bigger, more aggressive defensive backs.

Rice has tremendous upside and very well could be a No. 1 receiver for the Vikings in the future. Obviously he needs to mature, but given the Vikings’ current situation at wide receiver, he will have an immediate opportunity to earn his place on the roster. Right now he is looking like the top candidate for the No. 2 wide receiver spot.

Competing for the remaining wide receiver spots you will find Allison, four-year veteran Billy McMullen, Martin Nance, Williams, Hankton and Jason Carter.

McMullen is a player head coach Brad Childress likes. He spent the first three seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, where Childress was the offensive coordinator. He was acquired in 2006 through a trade in which the Vikings sent undrafted free-agent wide receiver Hank Baskett to the Eagles in exchange for McMullen. Some might say the Eagles received the better end of that deal. McMullen played in all 16 games in 2006, though he didn’t start any. He had 307 yards on 23 receptions with two touchdowns. He has never started an NFL game, totaling 45 catches for 601 yards and three touchdowns in his career.

The Others

Former Green Bay Packers receiver Robert Ferguson could certainly help. Ferguson, who just signed with the team, is the most experienced receiver on the team. Ferguson started the Packers’ 2006 season as the team’s third receiver but suffered a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury in Week 4. Ferguson, 6-foot-1, 219 pounds, has started 26 games in his career. He has 116 receptions for 1,577 yards with 12 touchdowns. However, Ferguson, like Williamson is also a player whose career is considered a disappointment. For the Vikings, he could provide a talent upgrade.

Allison is also a player with upside. Allison, 6-foot, 197 pounds, started 22 games in his two years at East Carolina. He accumulated 1,732 yards on 145 catches with 11 touchdowns. Allison also has experience returning punts, which never hurts your chances at a roster spot. However, his track record for inconsistent play and questions regarding his work ethic are factors that should be considered. Allison has impressed in camp and in the Vikings second preseason game against the New York Jets. He sat out the first preseason game with a hamstring injury.

The remaining receivers on roster have no fantasy value and shouldn’t be considered.

Extenuating Circumstances

Overall, the Vikings have brought in a lot of new faces at wide receiver, but no one with a talent level that can be considered anything above mediocre. That’s why they are really counting on Williamson to finally come through and provide the team with the elite level receiver they thought they were getting when they drafted him.

Then there is the fact that the Vikings will have a quarterback that is a first-year starter in Tarvaris Jackson, which will no doubt put an overall kybosh on wide receiver production. Jackson shows promise but is extremely raw. He is smart, mobile and has a strong arm. He could have a very bright future. For the 2007 season, however, Jackson’s presence under center is surely apt to keep wide receiver numbers to a minimum.

This season, the Vikings will surely run the ball a lot and especially to the left. With running backs Peterson and running back Chester Taylor, the Vikings should have a potent running game. Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards last year. With this kind of rushing capability, the Vikings objective will be to keep the number of Jackson’s throws to a minimum. Of course, they will want to establish play-action, roll Jackson out and have him hit mainly short, low-risk, high-percentage throws. Jackson will no doubt make mistakes this year, which is to be expected. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will take every measure to minimize the potential for mistakes and turnovers. Again, this situation makes it highly doubtful that any of the Vikings receivers will put up any significant numbers in 2007.

Fantasy Outlook

Williamson, Rice and Wade seemed to be locks for the top-three spots. Williamson’s failure to play up to expectations thus far in his career makes him a productivity risk and no more than a No. 5 in most fantasy leagues. Williamson is worth a late-round flier, considering the possibility that all the measures taken during the offseason to take his game to the next level pay off. 

Wade is a No. 5 receiver, maybe No. 6, no more than that. However, it may be your best bet to wait and see where he ends up on the depth chart. He may end up being the one that Jackson goes to in order to get out of trouble, getting a lot of those short, quick passes. He could be worth a pick in the late rounds as an injury fill-in.

Rice is a player with tremendous upside. He has the potential to be a great receiver and in practice has looked good, using his height, in the red zone. However, like the rest of them, Rice’s production is apt to be stifled by not only his own inexperience but also the presence of an inexperienced and, perhaps mistake-prone, quarterback. Also, Rice, as well as Williamson, both went to South Carolina, which is basically a running offense. He may have some initial trouble adjusting to the West Coast scheme. Rice certainly has a lot of potential and could become an elite class receiver in this league, but it may not be happening in 2007. Rice is also no more than a No. 6 fantasy pick but should realistically go undrafted in single-year formats.

The bottom line is that the Vikings are rebuilding. The wide receiver position consists of underachievers and rookies. While the offense has shown flashes here and there, the ability to move the ball consistency is in serious doubt.

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