With the 2016 NFL Draft looming, the Vikings' fans prepare for another draft that would enable them to climb further than last year's division win and playoff exit. Most fans seem to be on board with this season being as promising as any in recent past.
In this blog we examine our history of drafting a wide receiver.
Without a doubt our best decision was the drafting of Randy Moss with the 21st pick in the 1998 Draft. A certain Hall of Famer, Moss had 17 TDs his rookie season in which Minnesota compiled their best regular season at 15-1. The team tragically lost a home Conference Championship game that year to Atlanta. Moss would electrify the Vikings' offense for many years to come.
In the 1998 Draft only two receivers were chosen in the first round. Kevin Dyson gained the honor of being selected ahead of Moss when he was chosen with the 16th pick by Tennessee. Moss was chosen five picks later at 21st. Seven receivers were drafted in the 2nd round. Of them, only Jerome Pathon (32nd) or Joe Jurevicius (55th) made any kind of a dent within their team's offense.
On opening day Moss scored two touchdowns in the first half of a 31-7 home opener win over Tampa Bay. By season's end he had 69 catches for 1,313 yards. And that was while sharing the same field with Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Moss, in fact, started only eleven games that year. He would follow with 93 straight starts before ultimately being traded to Oakland in 2005. All in total, he would gain over 9,000 yards, with 90 touchdowns, on 574 receptions in his seven seasons with Minnesota (sans 2010 return).
The second best WR pick in our history might have been 1976, and the drafting of Sammy White. He was chosen with the 54th pick in the Draft, and had an instant impact on the offense of Fran Tarkenton, Chuck Foreman, and Ahmad Rashad. He replaced John Gilliam, who had had a few good years previous but was getting on in age. Minnesota went 11-2-1, won both playoff games by double-digits until losing the Super Bowl to Oakland.
White, from Grambling, made an instant contribution through the air. He caught a long TD pass in his first game as a rookie in New Orleans and followed that up with a home-opening performance of 9 catches for 139 yards and a long TD in a 10-10 OT tie with the Rams. He would go on to make 50 receptions in his rookie year, for over 900 yards, and 10 touchdowns.
Sammy White started his first game and did not miss a start until 1982, a span of more than ninety games. In a time when most of Minnesota's passes were to running backs and possession receivers, White thrived with what was given him. He averaged over fifty catches a year in his first six years, compiling over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. His last four years White's numbers tailed.. He played his entire ten year career in Minnesota, finishing with 393 receptions for 6,400 yards and 50 touchdowns.
The Vikings made other good picks besides the top two. Michigan State's Gene Washington, the original deep threat, was drafted with the 8th pick in 1967. After his rookie season he started every game at wide receiver for the next three years. He totaled 129 receptions, for 2,279 yards, and 19 touchdowns from 1968-1970. While those numbers pale in comparison with Moss or even White, it was a different time back then. Washington's addition to the Minnesota offense had a strong impact. The two seasons prior to drafting Washington Minnesota's record was 7-17-4. The next three years the Vikings were 32-10-0. There were many other factors that went into changing the team into one of the league's best, but it was more than coincidence that my first Vikings' words were: "Throw the bomb to Washington!".
Many years after Washington and White, Minnesota landed a wide receiver by the name of Hassan Jones. He was chosen with the 120th pick in the 1986 Draft. Jerry Burns coached the team during most of Jones' seven seasons, replaced by Denny Green in 1992, Hassan's final year. Jones played second fiddle to Anthony Carter, and maybe even third fiddle to tight end Steve Jordan.
Jones would start only 56 games in his seven year career, yet he still totaled 222 receptions for 3,733 yards and 24 touchdowns. Pretty decent numbers for a third option during a good stretch of football for our Vikings. Unfortunately, Burns' teams twice ran into the 49ers, and in 1987 lost a Conference Championship 17-10 to the Washington Redskins.
Jones was not one of the most memorable picks. But for what would be a late fourth rounder, he was definitely a valuable pick. Better than many, many others...
In 1991 Minnesota selected Jake Reed with the 68th pick in the draft. If Jones was a good selection in 1986, then Reed would have to be labeled a great one. Reed combined with Cris Carter and eventually Randy Moss to help establish one of the best pass offenses not only in Minnesota history, but the NFL as well. Randall Cunningham's year at quarterback in 1998 with Carter, Reed, and Moss may have the been the single greatest offense in NFL history.
Reed had four straight 1,000 yards seasons receiving from 1994-1997. And that was while having to share the field with Cris Carter setting club records. Playing 10 of his 12 total seasons in Minnesota, Reed amassed 450 catches for 6,999 yards, and 36 touchdowns in his career. Not bad for what would be an early third round pick now.
Reed provided a luxury by being that second receiver, or even third or fourth option, for an improved passing attack. It is not a coincidence that Minnesota made the playoffs eight of nine years fron 1992 to 2000. Those were the years of Coach Dennis Green. Minnesota thrived in the regular season during that time. It was the playoffs that got in the way of what would have otherwise been a most excellent adventure.
It is debatable whether Sidney Rice, 44th pick in 2007, or Percy Harvin, 22nd pick in 2009, would be considered good picks. Both had their moments. Harvin had incredible talent but suffered headaches and ultimately, doled them out too. Rice wanted to be paid like Jerry Rice after a strong start to his career. He ended up in Seattle (like Harvin) and fizzled in his future (also like Harvin). They were talented receivers. Suffice to say expectations were not met, however.
But they were good picks compared to.....
If you polled 100 true-blooded Vikings fans and asked them which wide receiver pick was the biggest bust, I am certain more than 90% could accurately identify him. In Mike Tice's final year as coach (not a coincidence) Minnesota landed Troy Williamson with the 7th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
The 2005 Vikings finished 9-7-0 despite going 2-5-0 under Daunte Culpepper. Brad Johnson finished 7-2-0 as Minnesota fell just short of the playoffs. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins ended up leading the team in receptions. Marcus Robinson, Nate Burelson, and Travis Taylor were among the receving options beside the rookie Williamson.
But Williamson faltered. He caught only 24 of 52 passes inteded for him, the only receiver on the team below 50% of targeted passes. He would play only three years, totaling 79 catches, 1,067 yards, and 3 touchdowns in 39 games, 22 of which were starts. He left for Jacksonville where he did next to nothing for two years and retired.
Minnesota went 23-25-0 in WIlliamson's three years with the team. Brad Childress patiently tried to justify the seventh overall selection in his first two years. It cost him offense and maybe games.
Williamson could be the biggest bust when it comes to receiver selections in the early first round. Not just for Minnesota, in all of the NFL.
Some other early poor choices deserve mention. Marty McDole with the 39th pick in the 1981 Draft. Qadry Ismail with the 52nd pick in the 1993 Draft. Some might be inclined to include Cordarrelle Patterson, the recent 29th pick in the 2013 Draft.
So here comes the 2016 NFL Draft on Thursday. Coach Mike Zimmer and Draft Boss Rick Spielman have started to put together a strong Minnesota Vikings roster. The fans are clamoring for a wide receiver like Laquon Treadwell from Mississippi, Josh Doctson of TCU, or maybe Will Fuller, Notre Dame.
Will we risk a first round pick? Maybe there is a Moss out there? Or a Harvin? Both were chosen near the 23rd pick.
If we wait a round or two would could pick a Sammy White. Or maybe a Marty McDole.
Or we can wait and find a later draft choice to spend, like recent choice Stefon Diggs? Diggs was chosen 146th last year and yet he ended up with 52 catches, 720 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Or another late pick that disappears before we know their name.
We will find out in a few days. And then years.