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Thursday, August 20, 2009
Is Bernard Berrian a fantasy starter?

By Christopher Harris
ESPN.com

32 Questions

What does the Brett Favre signing do for Bernard Berrian and the other Vikings receivers?

I have to say that I'm not quite as nauseated by Brett Favre as many others seem to be. Oh, I think his unretirement act is a little tiresome. But perhaps because I'm not in Bristol every day, I don't bear the full brunt of his dithering. Many fans can't stand all the silly false starts and stops and the breathless attention that must be paid to a Hall of Famer who can't decide what he wants. Me, I mostly think it'll be fun to see what Favre can do in purple.

Bernard Berrian
Fortunately for Berrian, Favre really loves the deep ball.

I have to assume that the Vikings believe Favre's shoulder is healthy enough to give him a pretty good chance to make it through an entire season. From what I understand, the torn biceps tendon Favre had surgically repaired this spring was responsible for the severe drop-off in his play down the stretch with New York last year, and the partial tears in his rotator cuff are more a matter of pain management than a true risk of implosion. That could be wrong. He could throw 10 passes and his shoulder could detonate. But given the medical voices involved here, including Dr. James Andrews, I'm choosing to believe that it's likely Favre will be around for most of the season.

Now, that doesn't mean I consider him a fantasy starter. He's a No. 2 fantasy quarterback at the moment: the helmsman of an offense with plentiful ground weapons and some interesting but not completely proven receiving options. And Favre seemingly has two modes: safe dink-and-dunker who'll take only the occasional downfield shot, or mad bomber who'll wedge anything into any-sized opening, and who'll accordingly crush his owners with interceptions (he led the NFL last year). That said, I think it's silly to claim that Favre doesn't make the Vikings better and make his receivers more interesting from a fantasy perspective.

Bernard Berrian is now the most important fantasy variable on Minnesota's offense. He's what the Bears hope Devin Hester can someday be: a bomb waiting to go off at wide receiver, a big-play machine who can carry his fantasy owners some weeks. Unfortunately, he has also always been terribly inconsistent. In his first season as a Viking, Berrian registered four 100-plus-yard games, but also had four games in which he didn't exceed 20 yards receiving. His yards-per-catch average was 20.1, highest in the league among starting receivers, but he caught only 48 balls all season. He had seven catches of 40 yards or more, good for third in the NFL in that category, but the Vikings almost never used him in the red zone (he had just eight red-zone targets, and one red-zone touchdown, in all of '08). From what I've seen, Berrian isn't merely a run-straight-down-the-field-waving-your-arms guy anymore, the way he was his first couple years in Chicago. He runs routes now. But he's not an over-the-middle guy, not really a possession guy. He's a deep threat's deep threat.

How will that play with Favre? Well, the younger version of No. 4 would've eaten it up with a spoon. But as a Jet last year, he was mostly a short-yardage passer, averaging only 6.7 yards per reception and featuring an impressive 65.7 completion percentage. Then again, former Jets coach Eric Mangini isn't exactly known for his preference for the deep ball, and with Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery, Favre didn't have a speed option like Berrian. The question, then, is twofold: (1) Can Favre still get the ball downfield with enough zing to make Berrian a more consistent option than he was with Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte throwing it to him last year?; and/or (2) Will Favre's mere presence make the Vikings more likely to throw more?

I think Berrian is helped by Favre. I think we'll see that tandem make some magic that will have on-air personalities waxing rhapsodic about the good old days. I think Berrian is a borderline No. 2 fantasy wideout, maybe better cast as a flex player. But I don't think we're looking at a Donald Driver (circa 2006) scenario, either. I like the fact that Adrian Peterson's presence often means Berrian will be lined up one-on-one against a corner, but like many others, I remain skeptical that Favre has enough wing to always make the throws he needs to help Berrian become a true star. I think generally Favre will assume the role of caretaker once again in a West Coast offense, mostly play it safe, and then take his occasional shots. Those shots will often be to Berrian, and in a deeper league, that could make Berrian a fantasy starter. But his variability will give owners in 10-team leagues shivers.

And if Berrian isn't a fantasy starter, you know neither Sidney Rice nor Percy Harvin is. Rice figures to be the outside receiver opposite Berrian, but he proved mercurial in his second season. He offers more size in the red zone and more jumping ability, but I can't see him suddenly becoming an every-week threat, not after catching only 15 passes last year. As for Harvin, I think he might be the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in '09, but it'll be very difficult to know which games he'll score in because he'll be the X factor, running reverses and gimmick formations, perhaps playing some special teams, and basically looking for situations where his lightning quickness can wreak havoc. That won't happen every game. No, other than Berrian, perhaps the most interesting receiver in Minnesota is tight end Visanthe Shiancoe, who broke into fantasy relevance last season. Favre made Dustin Keller a fantasy factor in his rookie year (27 receptions for 313 yards and a touchdown in November, right before Favre got hurt), and if Favre is really going to dink-and-dunk again in Minnesota, Shiancoe will be a prime receptions candidate. He probably deserves to move up to low No. 1 tight end consideration.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can find him at www.facebook.com/writerboy.