Friday, March 29, 2013
Eight in the Box: WR status check
By Matt Williamson
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South
How does each team look at wide receiver, and what still needs to be done?
Chicago Bears: If I were in charge of the Bears, wide receiver isn’t a position I would pursue unless a prospect I really liked dropped in the draft and was just too good to pass up in the middle rounds. I really like what I saw from Alshon Jeffery in his rookie season, and his role should expand dramatically in 2013. Brandon Marshall, of course, is one of the best in the business, but the Bears were too reliant on him last season and need to spread the ball around more. Devin Hester has proved to be really only a return man, but he still could see some snaps on offense, and Earl Bennett remains a Jay Cutler favorite and a solid-if-unspectacular third wideout. Again, a middle- or late-round pick would be welcomed, but Chicago doesn't need substantial help at this position.
Detroit Lions: In Calvin Johnson, the Lions have the league’s best wide receiver. He is an unstoppable force in the prime of his fantastic career. The Lions have used a bevy of early-round picks on this position, so you would think they would be stacked at wide receiver. But that really isn’t the case, because they wisely parted ways with Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles is injured once again. Broyles tore his ACL on Dec. 2, so counting on him as an opening-day starter probably isn’t wise. But if Broyles returns to full health, he is an excellent wide receiver prospect and a great complement to Johnson. Nate Burleson and Mike Thomas have had success in this league and might be adequate until Broyles returns. Still, the Lions need help here, even though the addition of Reggie Bush, with his great receiving skills, lessens the concern. Offensive tackle and defensive end are much bigger needs than wide receiver, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Lions used a third- or fourth-round pick at this position.
Green Bay Packers: Greg Jennings is now a Viking and Donald Driver has retired, but Green Bay is still quite strong at this position. Jordy Nelson is just 27 and is a fine blend of size, reliability and big-play ability downfield. James Jones caught 64 passes last season, 14 of them for touchdowns. He is unlikely to match such lofty touchdown production, but you could do far worse than Jones as your third receiver -- and Green Bay employs a lot of three-receiver sets. The star in the making here is Randall Cobb. Cobb is a big-time playmaker who excels in the slot and can align in pretty much any spot in the formation, including at running back. As he and Aaron Rodgers continue to develop a great feel for each other, Cobb will rank among the most productive wide receivers in the game. The Packers’ top three wideouts are extremely strong, but Green Bay really has nothing outside these three. Expect Green Bay to add a bargain free agent and a draft pick before the season starts to round out the depth chart.
Minnesota Vikings: Although the Vikings picked up a first-round pick in the process, losing Percy Harvin was definitely a big blow to Minnesota’s offense. Adding Jennings helps for sure, but I have my doubts about whether he is still a true No. 1 wideout. Harvin is the superior player. But the Vikings do have two first-round picks, and one of those selections must be used at this position. The most probable name is Keenan Allen, whose stock probably will soar between now and draft day. But maybe Tavon Austin will slip in the first round and the Vikings will make a move to go up to snag him as Harvin’s replacement. Or possibly the Vikings will trade back a bit and secure a prospect such as DeAndre Hopkins, Justin Hunter or Robert Woods. Assuming Minnesota uses a first-round pick at this position, that shouldn't eliminate the notion of using another pick in the fourth or fifth round on a wideout. Also, a free agent such as Domenik Hixon could be a fine addition to Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. Simpson is loaded with ability, so I didn’t criticize the Vikes for bringing him back, but to call him unreliable would be generous. Wright is very intriguing, though. He isn’t Harvin, of course, but he was used in some similar ways while Harvin was out of the lineup last season -- and Wright looked very good in those situations. Obviously, the Vikings need more at this position, but when opening day rolls around, I highly doubt wide receiver will be a weak position for Minnesota.