Throughout training camp, the wide receiver battle seemed to have settled early. The first four receivers, in some order, were going to be Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson. To that, Adam Thielen nearly solidified himself, as concretely as one can early in camp, as the fifth receiver, with a bevy of players behind him. With Rodney Smith’s performance in camp as of late, he may be able to make the case as the sixth receiver—or even unseat Thielen’s hold on the fifth spot.
Credit – Vikings.com
They say you can’t teach size. That’s true, but there are of course a number of players who were on nearly every team’s practice squad with height and length—even more cut from teams without even the shot the practice squad can provide. Rodney and Adam were both on the practice squad last year, but it seems like Rodney’s height saw him get called up above Adam.
Outside of the combine, Rodney Smith had a lot of questions to answer about his on-field play. Though evaluated by Matt Waldman in thorough fashion, Rodney didn’t make Waldman’s top 45 receivers coming out of the 2013 draft. He argued that Rodney didn’t play with power that befits his size, had poor vision as a YAC threat and was one of the worst blocking receivers in the draft. Beyond that, he highlighted Smiths’ tendency to drop passes after contact and placed Smith as one of the poorest route-runners in the draft.
Adam Thielen, of course, wasn’t even evaluated by him or nearly any draft service.
Both have made enormous strides over the past two years, and both have surprised people with their play, especially as of late. Though Thielen has been making waves in camp and has caught a number of passes from Teddy Bridgewater, the prospect of Rodney’s size in the red zone has fans salivating. The fact that there’s excitement about the fifth receiver on the roster implies a lot about the strength of the receiving corps that simply didn’t exist two or three years ago.
If it were a box score battle, it would be a tough decision. Both had four receptions and they were one yard apart—Adam with 54 and Rodney with 55. The touchdown sweetens the pot for Rodney, but neither was he perfect.
On plays not targeted, Adam was consistently more open more often. Beyond that, he showed better hands technique and approached the ball better. His consistent play throughout camp has been good, and though his mistakes have been highlighted, Rodney’s mistakes in camp have largely been kept quiet.
More often than Adam falling in route to allow an interception (twice) has been Rodney misaligning and drawing the ire of the coaches. Rodney started out the first week of camp in rough shape because of this, and only recently improved his game. That doesn’t mean he ended camp on a perfect note, either. He’s had his mistakes then as well, and his route-running hasn’t improved as much as Thielen’s have, despite the fact that they both entered the 2013 camp as raw prospects overall. There’s little question that camp performances point to Thielen’s inclusion on the roster, but every part of the evaluation process counts.
Thielen should be the clear fifth receiver, but Rodney’s assets and performance should give him ammunition to argue that a sixth receiver spot be made, and specifically for him.
There are a lot of things that have to happen first, but the unlikely Florida State prospect may end up doing more the Vikings than he ever did for the Seminoles.