Friday, June 20, 2008

What to expect from Bernard Berrian

Hopefully, it won't be a lot of drops, though that perceived flaw in his skills has probably been overexaggerated. Still, Vikings fans are expecting a lot of Bernard Berrian in 2008 and beyond, perhaps more than should be expected from a fifth-year player who has yet to notch his first 1,000-yard season. Granted, he moves from possibly the worst quarterback situation in the league (Chicago) to -- well, not a great QB situation, but one with at least an inkling of hope for improvement. (And, as much as I get on some people, Brad Childress included, for being too optimistic about the Vikings' passing game, there's a difference between being optimistic and being outright delusional.)

WhatIfSports predicts a very nice 1,160 yards and 8 TDs for 2008 for Berrian, but is that just wishful thinking? The Vikings haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Nate Burleson in 2004. In fact, no Viking has even caught 700 yards through the air in the past three years. Why will Berrian break the 1,000-yard plateau -- cruise by it, in fact, according to WhatIfSports -- while the Vikings still have a shaky QB situation and a world-class running game? And, even if his QB situation was poor in Chicago, what reason is there to believe that Berrian will step it up in Minnesota?

To answer that last question, I'll return again to the Historical Data Dominator and look for seasons by fourth-year receivers with stats similar to Berrian's 71 catches for 951 yards. Specifically, I'll look for fourth-year players with 66 to 76 catches (five in each direction) and 900 to 1,000 yards (almost exactly 50 in each direction -- you'll forgive me for wanting to keep things round).

In addition to Berrian's 2007, six players fell within these boundaries since 1978, and it's a decent mix. Two of the six players (T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte Stallworth) are still active. One (Andre Reed) should be in the Hall of Fame. Another (Sterling Sharpe) probably would be if not for a freak neck injury that ended his career. Then there's O.J. McDuffie and Jeff Graham. Meh.

Let's take a look at what these six players did in their first season after achieving their Berrian-like numbers:

Stallworth (2006): 38 catches, 725 yards, 5 TD
Houshmandzadeh (2005): 78 catches, 956 yards, 7 TD
McDuffie (1997): 76 catches, 943 yards, 1 TD
Graham (1995): 81 catches, 1,302 yards, 4 TD
Sharpe (1992): 108 catches, 1,461 yards, 13 TD
Reed (1989): 88 catches, 1,312 yards, 9 TD

That's rather promising. Stallworth regressed, but injuries played a part, and, while the window of opportunity is closing, he still has a chance to be considered something more than a mediocre first-round draft pick. Houshmandzadeh and McDuffie essentially repeated their fourth-year numbers, numbers we would probably be happy to get from a Vikings receiver these days. McDuffie actually had 90 catches and 1,050 yards in 1998, his sixth year, giving him a fairly consistent three-year stretch.

Graham, Sharpe, and Reed, meanwhile, blew away expectations in their fifth seasons. For Graham, it was his career year -- he would never again top 1,000 yards in a season -- and even Reed never topped 1,312 yards, though he played 11 more seasons. Sharpe, as Vikings fans are probably well aware, had two more great seasons with the Packers (totaling 206 receptions in 1993-94) before his injury.

Average those six seasons and you get 1,117 yards on 78 catches with 6.5 TDs, and that's with Stallworth missing some time. It's a small sample size, granted, but those numbers seem about in line with most predictions of Berrian's 2008 production. Is that about what we should expect from Berrian?

Well...Sharpe and Reed had Brett Favre and Jim Kelly throwing to them, and even Jeff Graham had Erik Kramer's crazy 1995 (29 TDs) backing him up. Stallworth had Donovan McNabb, Housh Carson Palmer, and McDuffie (an admittedly aging) Dan Marino. With the exception of Kramer, all of those men are or have a shot (or in Favre's case a lock) at being in the Hall of Fame; Tarvaris Jackson ain't quite on their level, to put it politely.

If I had to bet, I'd say Berrian will probably clock in with something right around 1,000 yards -- maybe 50 above or below -- and that's assuming the Vikings don't run it 40 times a game (which they probably should but probably won't). Still, he'll be an improvement over the Bobby Wades and Troy Williamsons that have suited up for the team in recent years.

And at the very least, he should break that 700-yard mark.

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