As I noted on Friday, the folks at FanHouse had a post about the battle between Aundrae Allison and Robert Ferguson for the fourth wide receiver spot. I don't think the post goes far enough, however, as it should include Jaymar Johnson, who'll be competing with both players for the fifth reciever spot. The decision that Brad Childress makes about those final two spots will tell us a lot about him and his ability to maximize his roster. If he keeps Ferguson, it means that he cares more about run blocking and experience than receiving talent and it means that Allison will be relegated to the fifth spot, bumping Jaymar Johnson to the practice squad (if he clears waivers) and forcing the Vikings to use someone with no experience (college or pro) as their punt returner.
And that right there is reason enough to hope for the Vikings to cut Ferguson. While he's a very good run blocker, he showed last year that he just doesn't have what it takes to contribute as a receiver. His speed is gone, his hands remain suspect (he's only had one season with a catch percentage over 50% since 2003) and at 28 years old, he's not going to improve all that much.
Unlike Ferguson, both Allison and Johnson have potential to be quality contributors for the Vikings. As I've said before (and I'll say again in the next paragraph), Allison should be returning kickoffs. I've also said that Jaymar Johnson should be given every opportunity to return punts next year. If he doesn't make the team, it will mean that the Vikings will have to choose between using Bobby Wade (their best receiver statistically last year) or someone without any experience as their punt returner. I'd much rather have a talented rookie returning punts than someone without any experience at it whatsoever, which adds one more reason to cut Ferguson in replace of Johnson (assuming he has a decent training camp).
No matter what happens in the battle for final two receiver spots, I think Aundrae Allison should be returning kickoffs for the Vikings next year. Honestly, he's the obvious choice--he's returned 20 kickoffs for 574 yards, an average of 28.7 yards per return. He also returned 11 kickoffs for more than 20 yards, three for more than 40 yards and one for 104 yards and a touchdown. He did have one fumble, but the rewards more than outweigh the risks, especially when you consider that Maurice Hicks, who is an average returner at best, would be his replacement. Hicks' had a career high last year, with four kick returns over 40 yards, but it took him 63 returns to do so. His career high is 25.1 yards per return in 2006, and while he's never had issues with fumbling (he's only fumbled four times in 185 returns), he's never returned a kickoff further than 64 yards. The Vikings are team that needs offensive playmakers and they can't afford to use a solid returner when they have a returner that's a threat to score.
Childress has repeatedly said that he places an emphasis on special teams. We won't know whether that overrides his (and every coaches') desire for veterans until the end of training camp when he decides between Allison, Ferguson and Johnson for the final two receiver spots. I'd take Allison and Johnson and their upside and special teams skills over Ferguson's blocking and veteran saavy. I hope Childress will too.