The Vikings' final preseason game is tomorrow night (and the final cuts have to be made on Saturday), but there's still quite a few questions about who's going to make it. One of the biggest questions is at wide receiver. Bobby Wade had a breakout game against the Seahawks, Robert Ferguson stepped into a starting role, Aundrae Allison continued to be the primary kick returner and Sidney Rice chipped in with three catches for 21 yards. Those four seem to be locks to make the roster, meaning that there are still two spots up for grabs.
Todd Lowber is already gone (likely to the practice squad), leaving Chandler Williams, Martin Nance, Billy McMullin and Troy Williamson (that's right--the #7 pick from two years ago might not make the team) to fight for the last two spots. Their fates are going to be decided tomorrow night. Just because those four are the only wide receivers on the roster, however, doesn't mean the Vikings can't try and upgrade through trades (or by signing a player cut by another team). The Viking Age has realized this, and the fact that there are three "name" receivers that are available: Reggie Williams of the Jacksonville, Michael Clayton of Tampa Bay and Chris Chambers of Miami.
While a lot depends on what they could be acquired for (nothing would be best, of course), but it's also important to ask whether they would actually help the Vikings? Are they worth cutting a Martin Nance or Chandler Williams for?
Reggie Williams has increased his catches, yardage and touchdowns in each of his last three years. Last year, he hauled in 52 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns. He's not a huge deep threat, only catching seven passes for more than twenty yards, but he's improving. The improvement can also be seen in Football Outsider's advanced statistics. He's increased his DPAR from -7.7 his rookie year to 3.3 last year and his DVOA increased as well, from -36.3% to -9.9%. Neither of those numbers are great (he was 62nd in both categories), but they're better than pretty much anything the Vikings had last year (only Travis Taylor finished ahead of him. His Catch Percentage has increased as well, going from 50% his rookie year to 57% last year. Again, not great, but still better than anything the Vikings had last year and the same as Bobby Wade's percentage. He'd be a great pickup for the Vikings, if available. The problem, of course, is that he's probably not available, as he's moved up the Jaguars depth chart during training camp.
Michael Clayton is more likely to be available. Of course, there's a reason for that: he's gotten worse the last three years. After an outstanding rookie season where he caught 80 passes for 1193 yards and 7 TDs, he's fought injuries the past two years and only caught 65 passes for 728 yards and 1 TD. In 2004, he was fourth in DPAR with 39.8 and 7th in DVOA with 33.9% and he hauled in 66% of the passes thrown to him. In 2005, he was 83rd in DPAR, with a -1.2 DPAR and 82nd with a -18.2% DVOA. His catch percentage dropped to 58%. To put that in context, Troy Williamson was 61st and 54th in DPAR and DVOA respectively that year. His statistics fell even further last year, to -3.8 DPAR and -24.0% DVOA, which were 77th and 78th respectively. His catch percentage continued falling as well, to 51%. Clayton's career seems like it's in a free fall. He's dropping more passes and not getting open as much. And his confidence seems to be shot as well. The Vikings already have a receiver from the 2004 draft whose career is falling apart--they don't need another one.
The final receiver that might be available to the Vikings is Chris Chambers of the Dolphins. He had his worst year last year, only hauling in 59 passes for 677 yards and 4 TDs. Of course, that's still better than what any of the Vikings' receivers did. He's entering his seventh year, but he's only one year removed from an 82 catch, 1198 yard season in which he caught 11 TDs. The talent is there...or is it? Chambers has only posted a double digit DPAR once, in 2003 (15.1). That was also the only year he had a positive DVOA. Last year, he posted the worst DPAR of any receiver who was thrown to more than 50 times (-19.8) and the second worst DVOA (-36.0%). So why do the conventional and advanced stats differ? Because Chambers can't catch. Lots of passes are thrown his way, padding his receptions, yardage and TDs, but most of them are not caught. He only caught 39% of the passes thrown to him, also the worst of anyone receiver with more than 50 passes thrown his way. His catch percentage has been below 50% since 2002. If Vikings fans are frustrated with Troy Williamson's drops last year (his catch percentage was 49%), they'll hate Chambers. The Vikings should stay as far away from him as possible.
As you'd probably expect, of the three receivers that are rumored to be available, the only one that would be worth acquiring, Reggie Williams, would be the hardest to get, if he's available at all. The Vikings would be better served to just stick with the receivers they have.