In the last few weeks before the Minnesota Vikings begin training camp, we're going to take a look at a number of players on their roster with something to prove this season, excluding rookies. We will focus primarily on veterans or players being asked to assume a larger role this season. Today: wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
Why he has something to prove: Despite posting a career high in yards and coming two catches short of his career high in that category last season, Simpson got a one-year deal worth only $1 million for 2014. That has less to do with his performance on the field than it does about concerns off of it. Simpson was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving last November, and though he's completed his community service requirement after pleading guilty to a lesser charge, he could still face NFL discipline for his second arrest in less than three years. If Simpson is suspended at all this season, he'll have a harder time putting up the numbers to earn the multi-year deal he's often said he wants. If he can stay out of trouble, though, there will be opportunities for him in the Vikings' offense.
What he must do: Simpson could flourish as a deep threat in offensive coordinator Norv Turner's scheme, which has traditionally made effective use of speedy outside receivers like Simpson. "It's fun to have that big speed guy on the outside, and when we’ve had it, that guy has usually averaged 18-20 yards a catch," Turner said at the Vikings' minicamp June 18. "We do tend to get more single coverage, particularly with Adrian (Peterson) back there. He’s had a very good offseason, and hopefully he can be that guy they have to respect. And if they don’t, hopefully he can make big plays." The Vikings could line up Cordarrelle Patterson as their starting split end this season, but Simpson could get opportunities there on first downs, if Patterson is taking a play off after a kick return. Both Patterson and Simpson have worked at other spots, and in an offense that figures to spread things out and push the ball downfield more than the Vikings have in the past, Simpson could find plenty of opportunities to put up numbers. More than one-third of his targets last season came on passes that traveled at least 15 yards in the air, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and that number could be at least as high this season.
Projection: It's difficult to know what will happen with Simpson's off-field situation, and even if he isn't suspended, he'll probably be no higher than the third receiver on the Vikings' depth chart, behind Patterson and Greg Jennings. But Simpson has shown he can be effective in that role, and even if he only catches 40 passes or so, he could turn those catches into nearly 700 yards.