Expect a Big Bounce Back From Bernard Berrian

Posted Aug 1, 2011

It’s no secret that WR Bernard Berrian has been the subject of Vikings fans’ ire in recent seasons, due to his lack of production in 2010 combined with his high salary and the expectations attached to him when he signed a big-money free agent deal in Minnesota before the 2008 season. The disdain some Vikings fans have for the way Berrian’s 2010 season went is understandable, but it may be even more reasonable to expect a better season from Berrian in 2011, which is why the Vikings should strongly consider keeping #87 on the roster.

There is a method to what you might think is the madness in suggesting Berrian be brought back with the Purple, and it has to do with production. Not consistent production week in and week out, but big-play production in big spots. And when you take a good look at what Berrian provides as a WR, it’s really about the big play more than it is about consistency. We expect consistent production from Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. From Berrian, though, the expectation should be more about the big play every once in a while, rather than the moderate plays more frequently. Let’s use numbers and statistics to make the case stronger.

The Vikings pursued Berrian via free agency prior to the 2008 season because they wanted to improve the passing game, specifically the vertical element of the passing game. Berrian, at the time, was the best field-stretching WR on the market and he was coming off a pretty solid rookie contract with the Chicago Bears. He had 150 grabs in four seasons as a Bear, averaging 14.6 yards per reception and hauling in 13 TDs; he also played in a Super Bowl. The theory was Berrian would give the Vikings a vertical threat in the passing game, which would A) provide explosion to the Vikings offense and B) force teams to respect the pass rather than constantly suffocating Peterson with eight defenders in the box.

The plan worked like a charm in 2008, as Berrian led the NFL in yards per reception (20.1) and he set a new team record for most TDs of 80 yards with three; he also had a 100-yard receiving game four times, with the Vikings going 4-0 in those contests. In 2009 and 2010, however, the charm in the Berrian plan vanished. The speedy receiver was injured for much of the ‘09 campaign and it’s safe to say that chemistry problems between Berrian and QB Brett Favre prevented Berrian from producing in 2010.

But with Berrian fully healthy as the 2011 season draws near and with a new QB in the saddle for the Vikings, expect a bounce back from Bernard. Vikings WRs coach George Stewart – one of the best in the business – has confidence in Berrian, so why shouldn’t everyone else?

Again, Berrian has proved multiple times that he’s a big-time player in big spots. That’s the main reason the Vikings should have him on the roster in 2011. Case and point is the 2009 NFC Championship Game, where Berrian was Favre’s best target. The Berrian-Favre combo that night produced 9 receptions for 102 yards.

If all of that isn’t enough to convince you to give Berrian another shot in Minnesota this year, maybe the following numbers will…

-- If you look at Berrian’s career, he’s typically at his best when the most is on the line. Berrian has played in seven career playoff games, and in those games he’s recorded 33 receptions for 466 yards and 2 TDs. That’s 14.1 yards per reception and 4.7 receptions per game in seven playoff contests, including a pair of NFC title games and an appearance in the Super Bowl. In fact, Berrian hauled in 14 receptions for 228 yards and 2 TDs during the Bears run to the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.

-- I would classify Monday Night Football (MNF) games as “big spot” games, and Berrian has been productive in those situations, too. In nine career MNF games, Berrian has 25 receptions for 397 yards and 3 TDs, including a 99-yard TD reception as Viking against the Bears in 2008. That comes out to 15.9 yards per reception, which is just short of 2.0 yards above his career average.

-- I went back through Berrian’s three seasons with the Vikings and calculated his production in “big games.” There’s no official way to define a “big game” but in this specific instance I used the following games: any Vikings playoff game between 2008-10, all prime time games in 2008 and 2009, regular season games with direct playoff implications (season finale versus NY Giants in 2008) and “personal games,” such as the first time Berrian went back to Soldier Field to face his former team. In those games, Berrian has 54 receptions for 796 yards and 5 TDs, which comes out to 14.7 yards per reception and 4.5 receptions per game.

-- Many assume losing Sidney Rice but keeping Berrian is a huge loss. But many would be surprised at how similar Berrian and Rice are in terms of production. Here is a comparison between Berrian and Rice during their careers in Minnesota:

Berrian: 131 receptions for 1,834 yards (14.0 average) with 11 TDs in 46 games
Rice: 146 receptions for 2,129 yards (14.6 average) with 18 TDs in 48 games

Yes, Rice’s numbers are better. But are they that much better? Also consider that as great a season as Rice had in 2009 (83 receptions for 1,312 yards and 8 TDs), he had three ordinary years around that one great year. Outside of 2009, Rice has never had more than 31 receptions, 396 yards or 4 TDs in a season. Those are below average numbers and Berrian has bettered those numbers in four of his seven NFL seasons.

Again, perhaps the previous four paragraphs are inexact ways to measure a player’s performance/value, but it’s applicable and the results show that Berrian can be a big-play receiver for the Vikings in 2011.