Training camp preview: Scouting the Vikings' receivers
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Each weekday until the Minnesota Vikings report to training camp on July 29, 1500ESPN.com's Tom Pelissero breaks down the roster at another position, based on offseason practice observations and conversations with coaches, scouts and personnel people around the NFL. Day 6: Receivers.
On the roster (10)
Good bets: Bernard Berrian.
No one benefitted more from the arrival of QB Brett Favre than Rice (6-foot-4, 202 pounds), who racked up 93 catches for 1,496 yards and 12 touchdowns (including playoffs) in his third NFL season. He runs well (4.5-range 40 in 2007) for his size, knows how to high-point the ball downfield and is strong and polished enough to do damage underneath, too. A lingering hip injury didn't slow Rice in minicamp and is only a mild concern. Harvin (5-11, 184) is an ideal complementary threat because of the quickness and explosion he brings to the situational passing and running game. He wasn't an exceptional route-runner as a rookie, but his 925 yards on offense -- 790 on 60 catches (13.2 average) and 135 on 15 rushes (9.0) -- and six touchdowns provided a taste of the fear he strikes in defenses with reverses and quick-hit passes. He's stronger than he looks, too. Rice and Harvin both had packed on some muscle when they reported for last month's minicamp, but players often drop "new" weight during camp.
Signed to a six-year, $42 million deal in March 2008, Berrian (6-1, 185) remains one of the Vikings' highest-paid players -- he was scheduled to collect a $5 million deferred bonus payment in March and is due $3.7 million in base salary this season -- but became an afterthought on offense while battling a hamstring injury last season. His 11.2-yard average on 44 catches was a career low, and at age 29, his days as a feared perimeter threat may be over. There weren't many chances left over last season for the speedy Johnson (6-0, 176) or veteran Lewis (6-0, 185), who is the group's eldest member (age 30) and got $50,000 in bonuses on the one-year deal he signed in March.
The Vikings twice placed a waiver claim on Mitchell (6-4, 218), who was cut by Washington and Detroit in a two-month span this offseason. Former Gophers standout Payne (6-2, 205) is another big target and was an offseason standout after a rookie-camp tryout yielded a one-year deal. Biddle (6-1, 185) keeps hanging around even though stints with five teams over four years haven't seen him get into a game. Hamilton (6-3, 222) had his best season at Iowa State as a senior (50 catches, 606 yards, four touchdowns), but his measurables -- including a 4.7-range 40 -- are pedestrian. Small (5-11, 180) missed almost the entire offseason because of Ohio State's class schedule and will get a look on returns.
Lewis and Johnson are the favorites for the Nos. 4 and 5 receiver spots, but they're far from locks if someone else steps up in camp. Mitchell might be the best bet to make a push because he has some experience -- a seventh-round pick last year, he made Washington's roster and had four catches for 32 yards in 10 games -- and the Vikings liked him enough to go after him on waivers. Payne also has played in the league, recording three catches for 39 yards in two games for Seattle in 2008.
One NFL scout's take on ... Sidney Rice
"If I had to pick my poison, their No. 1 guy, their No. 1 receiver is going to be Sidney Rice, just because he's a do-it-all receiver that has enough speed to threaten deep (and) he's got enough size and ability to make plays both short and intermediate. Sidney gives them the perimeter receiving threat that they can do things short, midrange and long, give them a vertical stretch over the top, and he does catch the ball fairly well."
When scouts talk about the Vikings' talent, the conversation usually begins with Rice, Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson. Few teams have two young receivers -- Rice is 23, Harvin 22 -- with greater star potential, much less an All-Pro back like Peterson and a competent receiving tight end like Visanthe Shiancoe. That balances the passing attack, giving the Vikings weapons in the middle of the field, on the perimeter and in space play. Their skill-player personnel, with receiver near the top of the list, is the envy of many teams around the NFL. If there's any concern here, it's depth, with a significant drop-off from the two starters to Berrian, and from Berrian to everyone else. Then again, what team has a third Pro Bowl-caliber receiver waiting in the wings?