GUMP

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

More often than not, Skip Bayless embraces the role of human clickbait, bred by ESPN to incite anger among fan bases and drive traffic to his daily morning show, ESPN First Take. A little over a year ago, Bayless made the Vikings a target by criticizing then-rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater:

Bayless’s jab at Bridgewater sparked heated debate; “Are his hands too small? Is he too skinny to play in the NFL?”. One year later, and Bridgewater, like most who end up on the other end of Bayless’s buffoonery, is smashing those low expectations. He won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award and finished the season as the league’s best rookie quarterback — Bridgewater threw 14 touchdowns and went 6-6 as the team’s starter.

In December, Bridgewater strung together four stellar games, completing 72 percent of his passes en route to a 99.8 quarterback rating. He struggled through poor accuracy and the expected rookie jitters early in the year, but settled his play late in the season to silence ill-informed critics like Bayless. While some may understandably doubt Bridgewater’s size and arm strength, his success and potential moving forward cannot be denied.

Yesterday, the NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks listed Bridgewater as a ‘Top Offensive Player to Watch” this offseason, citing his accuracy and advanced pocket presence as positive signs heading into the 2015 season. Brooks also discussed the Vikings’ concerted efforts to surround Bridgewater with a slew of weapons, including WR Mike Wallace and TE Kyle Rudolph. More importantly, Adrian Peterson is set to return to Minnesota’s backfield and add a dimension to the offense that was lacking last year.

Brooks also called Bridgewater an excellent “game-manager”(an overused, off-base definition) with the potential to become a “playmaker” at quarterback. He has the weapons to make that happen, but who will be Bridgewater’s No. 1 target this year?

Charles Johnson is the popular option, as he and Bridgewater built a healthy relationship throughout the season last year. Norv Turner banged the table for Johnson this offseason, and the organization sees the former practice squad player as the Vikings’ No. 1 receiver moving forward. Jarius Wright caught 42 passes for almost 600 yards last year, and with Greg Jennings gone, will become the team’s primary slot receiver. Opposite Johnson, newcomer Mike Wallace is expected to be Bridgewater’s deep threat target and make plays down the field — if, that is, he can improve his route running and catching ability.

Closer to the line of scrimmage, Kyle Rudolph is looking to bounce back from yet another injury-riddled season. In what he hopes will be his first healthy season since 2012, Rudolph is aiming to regain his Pro Bowl form and blossom into Bridgewater’s best, most consistent target in the red zone. MyCole Pruitt, who the Vikings drafted in the fifth-round last month, has the potential to leapfrog Chase Ford and become the team’s No. 2 tight end. Pruitt is a “move” tight end who can line up all over the field and make plays in the passing game — he led all FBS tight ends in receiving yards and catches last season.

And for our surprise category, I present: Cordarrelle Patterson. He could end up buried on the team’s depth chart, or, prove his MANY critics wrong by building off a successful offseason of training and private coaching. Head coach Mike Zimmer, per Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune:

“[Wide receiver] Cordarrelle [Patterson] is doing a good job in this offseason. He has been in better shape coming in, and he is doing a better job of running routes, of competing each and every down. I look forward to him coming on and I’m a big fan of his. We’re just trying to get him to realize all the little intricacies you have to do offensively in the NFL in order to be a great player.”

Did I miss anyone? Let us know who you think will be Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target in 2015 by taking the poll below!