Jerome Simpson is no stranger to being forced to sit out for his off the field conduct. After sitting out the first four games of the 2012 season, Simpson could be facing another 4-game suspension in the wake of his DWI arrest last November.
Simpson is on a 1-year contract with the Vikings, his third “prove it” contract in as many years with the team and he still has to prove he can stay on the field.
Simpson is coming off arguably his best season as a pro. He posted career marks in yards (726), first downs (35), and yards per catch (15.1). He has flashed undeniable talent as a big play receiver over his 6-year career, but his inconsistency on the field and his troubles off the field have held him back from a big money contract.
If he is suspended once again, this could open the door for a number of players to loosen Simpson’s grasp on the third wide receiver position. One of those players is Jarius Wright.
Wright is a third-year slot receiver who hasn’t garnered much attention as the Vikes’ fourth wide receiver over the last two years, but he has shown an ability to make a big play with 13 career catches over 20 yards and 33 first downs in just 23 career games with limited action.
With an increased role, Wright could become a Percy Harvin-type part of the offense. While he doesn’t have the strength and speed that Harvin does, he’s shifty and quick with good hands and a knack for the ball. You can’t coach a knack for the ball, just ask Troy Williamson. I’m not predicting Wright will make the Pro Bowl, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a larger role in the offense this season.
Another player who could benefit from Simpson missing some time could be Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph has been a solid player for the Vikes over his 3 year career and even won MVP honors in the 2013 Pro Bowl. He is entering a contract season with the team and is looking for a long term contract from the Vikes.
He was on pace for a career high in catches and yards last season before injuries slowed him down and ultimately cost him half the season. Even so, he posted a career high in catches over 20 yards (6) and, as a result, yards per catch (10.4).
The reason for believing he could benefit from Simpson missing some time is based solely on who lines up where. With Simpson in the lineup, Greg Jennings is likely to spend a majority of his time in the slot running the underneath routes while Simpson runs the vertical routes up the field on the outside. If Simpson misses time, Jennings will likely move to the outside, while Wright is the next man up in the slot.
Rudolph will likely be the best safety valve in the middle of the field. He’s already proven that he can convert on 3rd downs, and if the quarterbacks can get him the ball with a bit of space to work with, he has adequate ability to pick up a few extra yards. He has been known to be powerful enough to carry a DB for a couple yards as well. Look for Matt Cassel or Teddy Bridgewater to use Rudolph early and often at the beginning of the season.
There are plenty of options for the Vikings this season. Many of which have been itching for their chance to prove themselves. Thanks to Simpson’s off the field activity, they just might get their chance.
Among the many players I’ll be keeping an eye on during training camp, and over the course of the season, Wright and Rudolph will be near the top of my list.
What do you think? Who else can step in and make the most of their time on the field in Simpson’s absence?
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