Richard Martin

Greg Jennings Needs To Live Up To Lofty Expectations

Created on Jun. 26, 2013 7:56 PM EST

This early in the season, fans and sportswriters are always  looking for signs, even tiny ones, that will indicate what sort of season will occur.

Greg Jennings gets injured, missing two days of OTAs after hurting his ankle? He might be injury-prone and have a poor season. Jennings hooks up with his new quarterback for a dandy-looking touchdown? A possible harbinger of a big season, leading to a great playoff run.

Minnesota Vikings fans, of course, are eternally optimistic starting the season, and quick to revert to their stoical, “it’s happening again” mode when trouble begins.

Despite what appears to be a great draft, sportswriters appear to be of the consensus that the Vikings will win fewer than 10 games ... 7-9 perhaps. The team’s schedule is tougher. The Detroit Lions can hardly be worse, the Chicago Bears might be better, and the Green Bay Packers are at the top of their game.

This is where Jennings comes in. One of the biggest reasons sportswriters believe the team will be worse is that the Vikings lost a key asset on the roster, Percy Harvin.

Many observers might be tempted to think that unless Jennings can duplicate Harvin’s receiving stats, there’s going to be trouble in the Northlands. It’s one of the biggest questions for the Vikings: Can Jennings make up for Harvin’s exit?

You can’t help but compare the two. On the one hand, Harvin is 24 and Jennings is 29 years old.  Harvin is a triple threat, scoring via the pass, the run and the kickoff return.

Jennings had some great quarterbacks throwing to him, most notably Aaron Rodgers. Harvin was a one-man wrecking crew, doing his damage with a subpar quarterback.

On the other hand, Jennings has been a model citizen, saying and doing the right things, getting along with everyone. Harvin reportedly disliked Christian Ponder.

Also, Harvin’s had injury problems. He’s a great player but a potential source of dissension -- he flunked several drug tests in college at Florida and reportedly practiced only when he felt like it. Also, he had trouble getting along with Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who from the outside looks like the boss we all wish we had.

Let’s compare records. Jennings has amassed 53 receiving TDs in seven seasons. Harvin has scored 29 TDs in four seasons, 20 receiving, four rushing and five on kickoff returns. Quite similar.

How about injuries? Jennings missed eight games in the middle of last year. But Harvin missed the end of the season, including the Vikes’ playoff run (4-0 to close the season) and playoff loss to the Packers. Jennings, of course, has been a terrific clutch receiver, a fact known all too well by Vikings fans.

In any case, those comparisons don’t matter. I would submit that the Vikings won’t depend on Jennings the way they did on Harvin.

The Vikings performed about as well as they could’ve last year considering their limitations. They required great contributions from Harvin. Adrian Peterson had to be a superman. They had to get leads in most of their games. They had to get some huge defensive plays. They had to work around Ponder’s limitations. Their playbook seemed pretty small at times.

That’s not going to work this year. Two things must happen for the Vikings passing attack to improve. Ponder has to bring his 'A' game, showing he can read defenses, select the right receiver and get the ball on target. And No. 2, the receiving corps needs to live up to its potential on both short, precision passes and deeper ones.

Jennings’ value is not going to show up in the number of catches and yards. The Vikes didn’t pay the guy $45 million over five years just to get good stats. He’s expected to be a mentor for the receivers, especially with one key rookie (Cordarrelle Patterson) and two second-year men (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright) such an important part of the equation.

That doesn’t mean his production will be down. His injury issues (which, thankfully, didn’t involve knees) appear to be resolved. He’s caught 425 balls for 53 touchdowns in seven years, missing 11 games during that span. That comes out to an average of about 60 receptions and seven or eight TDs a year. He’s probably good for that. Maybe more, since he’s likely to be the number one target for Ponder. He was not in Green Bay.

In any case, no one should worry about Jennings’ receptions and yardage. What’s crucial is for him to be the new Cris Carter, the go-to guy for Ponder when they’re in the red zone and on 3rd down. He needs to score that big touchdown when he’s in coverage, when he knows he’s going to get hit, when the ball isn’t quite on target. That, to me, will be key.

Here are some predictions:

  • If he has fewer than eight during the regular season, the Vikes miss the playoffs.

  • If he has nine to 12, they make the playoffs and lose in the first round.

  • If he has more than 12, watch out. The Vikes are going to make a run in the playoffs.

My predictions: 11 touchdowns for Jennings as Ponder picks up his game. Oh, yes, and 65 receptions for 800 yards for the new Cris Carter. You heard it here first.

Of course, that comes from looking at the world through purple-colored glasses.

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