The NFL is a passing league through and through. Gone are the days of the workhorse running backs accruing consistent 300+ attempts per year. The era of the passer and the wide receiver are being ushered in at an alarming rate; which we witnessed last season as 3 quarterbacks amassed over 5,000 passing yards. This feat has been accomplished a total of 5 times in NFL history. If the current logic resides in the pass setting up the run or more realistically the pass setting up the pass, then NFL teams should be on the hunt for wide receivers this offseason to fill some gaps. Thus, a good measure of "good" teams versus "average" or "bad" teams should be evaluated by the disparity between them when comparing team passing rankings. The first division that comes to mind using this concept is the NFC North.
The NFC North carries some extreme disparity when it comes to passing. The Packers and the Lions constitute 2 of the top 4 passing teams in the league; while the Bears and the Vikings represent 2 of the worst 7 teams in the league coming in at 26th and 28th, respectively. In order for these sub-par passing statistics to elevate, the Bears and the Vikings need to acquire some help from the free agent pool.
The Bears currently have about 21 million dollars to spend in cap room (assuming the cap will be somewhere between 121-125 million for 2012). This puts them in the top 10 of NFL teams for available space. Logically it makes sense then to spend some of it (some will also be shelled out on Matt Forte) on a proven, high-quality, big name wide receiver. This receiver needs to have a history of sure hands, seeing that the catch rates (receptions/targets) of their current wide receivers ranges from Devin Hester at 46% to Roy Williams at 59%. Williams was also tied for 10th among dropped passes this season too. This receiver also needs to draw the attention of defenses and fans; eyes don't light up with excitement at the sight of Earl Bennett or Dane Sanzenbacher (unless you're in the spelling bee). The front runners for the Bears at WR should be:
Vincent Jackson – He's a sure handed athlete with a ton of speed. He has a big name that would keep defenses honest and take the heat off of the running game. According to unofficial "dropped pass" statistics he dropped 8 of a possible 158 catchable balls from 2008-2010; this demonstrates a low drop rate and a high rate of quarterback faith in him.
Marques Colston – Once again, another high-profile receiver who will be demanding a big payout, which sounds like a match made in Heaven with the available funds the Bears have. Colston is also a sure fire receiver with a catch rate of 75% from last year (obviously some of that being a direct reflection of Drew Brees).
Reggie Wayne – Another expensive veteran with great hands. Even though he might be losing a step, the young talent in Chicago will definitely learn a few pointers from one of the most consistent receivers over the last few years.
WILDCARD –Randy Moss – Randy is strictly put in this category because of his past history with Mike Tice. Tice is now the offensive coordinator in Chicago and has always had a strong relationship with Moss ever since his "Randy Ratio" years in Minnesota. If Moss has the desire to play and the speed of yesteryear he might be worth considering; however, with the recent off-field issues the Bears have been having with certain players, a volatile Moss being added to this locker room mixture may be a risky combination.
2012 Prediction: Vincent Jackson
The Vikings are only sitting on approximately 6-7 million dollars in cap space for the upcoming season; nevertheless, this should not make them complacent to the fact that they need to complement their across-the-middle receiver Percy Harvin with a speedy deep threat. This does not mean pick up or trade with the Chicago Bears to get another recycled pass-catcher. Vikings fans have seen that carousel go around and around with several players such as Bernard Berrian and Devin Aromashodu. Minnesota should not be in the hunt for big-name players like Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, or Vincent Jackson; they need to fill too many other holes within their defense to capture a true number #1 WR with their scant amount of cap room. Thus, the Vikings should be considering the following talents at WR for 2012:
Mario Manningham – A quick, deep threat player with a knack for making big plays at opportune moments (see Super Bowl XLVI). There's a chance he might be too expensive given his recent success; but he is the definition of a number #1 or #2 WR that the Vikings are desperately lacking.
Robert Meachem – A very fast, and cheaper alternative option to Marques Colston. One of his strongest assets is catching the football over his shoulder on deep passing routes. These are passes that Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder has shown he can make happen. Meachem has not historically been known to cut across the middle on underneath routes, this is actually an advantage because Harvin fills the slot position very well. Meachem is also a decent run blocker at 6'2" and 210 pounds.
Harry Douglas – The speedy third string receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, who filled in admirably for a hobbled Julio Jones throughout the 2011 NFL regular season might be the answer for the Vikings. He will not be demanding a large paycheck, runs deep routes, and most importantly has a relationship with former Falcons QB coach and Assistant Head Coach Bill Musgrave. Musgrave was hired by the Minnesota Vikings last year to be the offensive coordinator.
2012 Prediction: Robert Meachem and Harry Douglas
Using these recommendations, the hope is that the disparity between the top of the NFC North and the bottom of the NFC North dissipates.