Attempting to build on last season's first-round playoff loss, it was clear that the Minnesota Vikings and their 31st-ranked passing attack was in desperate need of an upgrade.
Almost overnight the purple and gold receiving corps underwent a dramatic change.
Gone are the likes of Michael Jenkins, Percy Harvin and Devin Aromashodu.
By signing the former Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings to a five-year deal worth up to $47.5 million and drafting the ultra-gifted Cordarrelle Patterson in the first round of this past April's NFL draft, general manager Rick Spielman made sure his QB Christian Ponder had enough toys to play with.
Now with a healthy Jerome Simpson and an improving Jarius Wright, what was once perceived as a glaring-hole in the Vikings offense has turned into a strength.
So what can we expect from this revamped Vikings receiving corps in 2013-14?
The Christian Ponder Factor
For starters—factoring talent out of the equation—the entire Vikings aerial-attack predicates on the growth and success of Christian Ponder.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ponder graded out as the 34th-ranked QB in the NFL. While it's not worth harping on too long, the bottom line is this young man needs to improve.
The analogy for Ponder and his receiving corps goes like this: You could have ten pristine Ferrari's sitting in your driveway just waiting to be unleashed on the open road. But if you can't drive a manual transmission, it's just not going to work.
While the sample size is too small to judge Ponder right now—according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Ponder has only taken 28 snaps in two preseason games—out there on the field, Ponder and the Vikings first-team offense hasn't looked tremendously sharp so far.
Sure the preseason is the preseason and our faith is still strong for things to get better when regular season starts, but if this receiving corps has any shot of getting off the ground, Ponder needs to find his groove.
There's no doubt about it, bringing in former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings was a huge addition for this group of wide receivers.
While he isn't the dynamic playmaker that Percy Harvin was, Jennings could be the most talented pure route-runner this team has seen in years.
Talking about his unique ability to get open, head coach Leslie Frazier told ESPN 1500,
[Jennings] is not going to just run straight up the field and break out. He's gong to stem a defensive back inside, try to get his hips turned, get his feet out of whack, then he'll break outside, when he releases on press coverages, he's not a guy that's going to release it to you, he does a lot of shaking at the line of scrimmage.
As the most experienced and talented wide receiver on this roster, odds are Jennings should end up leading the team in targets and receiving yards by season's end.
Another important factor when it comes to the success of this Vikings WR core is a healthy Jerome Simpson.
Talking with CBS Minnesota about getting back to 100%, Simpson said, “I had my burst back. It’s a wonder what rest can do sometimes. It helped me this offseason just to be able to just rest and relax, and then just to get back to it and perfecting my craft."
A colossal disappointment after battling injuries last season, Simpson finished with a dismal 26 receptions for 274 yards receiving.
While he isn't the most polished WR on this roster, with his legs back under him, Simpson's ability to stretch the field will help take the top off a defense for this Vikings passing attack.
Although a healthy Simpson will clearly help this receiving corps out—and with rookie sensation Cordarrelle Patterson waiting in the wings to consume snaps—Simpson's impact might be limited as the season progresses.
Part of the star-studded trio of first-round picks, former University of Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson has already ignited a fire in the Minnesota faithful.
After his electric preseason debut against the Houston Texans—where he took back the opening kickoff for 50 yards and finished the night with 54 yards receiving on four receptions—Patterson is already working his way into the starting lineup.
With the word "potential" hanging over his game like a ticket oak sitting in your backyard, he has been impressive so far—according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Patterson has graded out as the fifth-best WR in the preseason so far. But Patterson's biggest impact this season should be on kick returns and when he gets the ball in the open field.
A freak of nature athletically, Patterson is blessed to have a veteran like Jennings serving as his mentor all season long.
Jennings spoke with ESPN 1500 about Patterson:
"[Patterson] just has to learn how to control his speed," Jennings said. "It's a touchy situation. It's a young guy, his talent is going to do a lot for him, but it's using that talent and honing it the right way to where he can be a heck of a player in this league. He will be. I'm sure he will be. But I'm talking right now."
While we all want to see this young man do big things this season, the fact remains that although he's crazy-talented, this rookie WR is still raw.
Dominating with the ball in space, expect to witness flashes of brilliance and huge plays wrapped into an overall growing season for the new No. 84.
After a strong training camp, Jarius Wright has started both preseason games for the Vikings thus far.
Although he suffered a concussion against the Buffalo Bills on Friday, when the regular season gets underway—thanks to his skill set and prior experience with the offense—Wright should be able to fill some of the void Percy Harvin left behind.
A shifty wide receiver by design, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the 5'10" Wright is a player who stands out most when catching passes between zero and nine yards on the field.
Lining up in the slot, Wright could create problems for defenses all season long when he gets the ball in his hands.
With whispers of the pistol formation being implemented in Minnesota, a player with Wright's skill set could benefit from some gadget plays on top of his perceived role in the slot.
What to expect
At the end of the day it looks like the Minnesota Vikings receiving corps has been injected with a Hollywood-dose of B-12 vitamins.
Whether we're talking about route-running, explosiveness or overall playmaking ability, this team now has the players it needs for this offense to take a major step forward.
The only two concerns this season come down to is who's throwing the football and whether that ball can be delivered effectively.
With Adrian Peterson in the backfield, each wide receiver should get a chance to shine since defenses won't be able to focus solely on the passing attack.
It's very plausible to expect a jump in Total Offense from last season's 20th-overall unit.
If you had to pick one player to have the biggest impact from this receiving corps, the logical choice would be the veteran Jennings.
Aside from his production on the field, Jennings' ability to serve as a leader in the locker room will not only help the younger wide receivers improve on the fly, but it will also boost Ponder's confidence.
From a stats perspective, last year the Vikings aerial attack was dismal. To put how bad it was into perspective think about this for a second:
With 677 yards receiving, Percy Harvin led the team—even though he only managed to play nine games last season.
If Ponder can make the throws he has to and if Bill Musgrave can call a balanced game, it wouldn't be a stretch to say we could see our first 1,000-yard receiver since Sidney Rice did it back in 2009.
This season Vikings fans should get excited about the possibilities of having a truly dynamic receiving corps. Unlike last season when we were stuck with mediocre targets, the 2013-14 Vikings have their work cut out for them.
*All stats provided by NFL.com unless noted otherwise.
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