Faceoff - WR Nate Burleson, Minnesota Vikings
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Upside - by Chase Stuart
Daunte Culpepper led the NFL with 4,717 passing yards last season, and connected with Nate Burleson 68 times for 1,006 yards and nine scores last year. Burleson has a good combination of size and speed, runs polished routes, gains yards after the catch and is a dedicated worker. With Randy Moss now in Oakland, Burleson will become Culpepper’s main target.
An explosive wide receiver, the 6-0 197 lb Burleson was a star for the Nevada Wolf Pack. He proved he could be the center of an offense by catching 138 passes his senior season – second in NCAA history – including nineteen in a single game. Burleson’s soft hands turned 61% of his targets into receptions, highest of all Vikings wide-outs. Burleson tied for fourth among WRs with 25 red zone targets in 2004, a number that may rise considerably with Moss (24 red zone targets) departed.
Burleson’s 112 targets ranked just 29th among WRs in 2004, yet he ranked as the sixteenth best fantasy receiver. At 24, Burleson is on the cusp of greatness. Burleson’s work ethic and toughness – he had 134 yards and two TDs in week 15 playing with a broken nose, fractured finger and separated shoulder – draw comparisons to Steelers Pro Bowler Hines Ward. Trading Randy Moss and failing to sign any number of big name free agent WRs reflects the faith the Vikings have in Burleson becoming a star.
Daunte Culpepper set a career high in passing yards (by 780 yards over his 2000 season) while Randy Moss caught 466 less yards than he ever had before. Culpepper’s going to still throw for a ton of yards, and Nate Burleson will be his main target this year. Burleson should be among the league leaders in receiving yards and receiving TDs in 2005.
Downside - by Clayton Gray
Nate Burleson is rising on a lot of cheatsheets for two reasons: Randy Moss is gone, and Burleson ended the 2004 campaign with a very good second half of the season.
The Absence of Moss
Obviously, Moss is leaving a void in the passing game that will be filled. Just as obvious, however, is the fact that one player will not move into that void alone. Burleson will not simply assume Moss’ numbers. Marcus Robinson will not simply assume Moss’ numbers. No one Vikings WR should be penciled in as a Top 10 WR simply because Moss is gone.
Not quite as obvious is the idea that the Vikings offense will not rely as heavily upon the passing as in recent years. With a bulging stable of RBs and a now mediocre WR corps, it would not be surprising to see Minnesota greater utilize their ground game in 2005. With fewer passes going up, Burleson will have fewer opportunities as well.
The Great Second Half
Some people like to double a great second half and then point to a huge upcoming season. With Burleson’s second half stats of 580 yards and six TDs, some are salivating at the possibilities of almost 1200 yards and a dozen scores. However, notice the appearance of Green Bay and Detroit twice each in the second half of 2004’s schedule. These two horrid defenses gave up 437 yards and five TDs to Burleson. Sure, these defenses are on the 2005 schedule but only twice each all season. You can’t simply double the last half of 2004 due to this quirk in scheduling.
Burleson turned in an outstanding effort last year with Randy Moss in and out of the line-up, but there are just too many question marks with him and the entire Vikings offense to rank him among the Top 15 WRs.