With Percy Harvin (left ankle) looking virtually certain to miss Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, the Minnesota Vikings look likely to turn to rookie wide receiver Jarius Wright in his place. If that’s the case it would be Wright’s NFL debut, as he himself dealt with an ankle injury early in the season and has yet to dress for a game even after being able to practice over the past two months.
The Vikings drafted Wright in the fourth round (118th overall) last April out of Arkansas, where he had 168 receptions for 2,934 yards (both school records) and 24 touchdowns over his four seasons. He earned first team All-SEC honors as a senior in 2011, as he led the conference with 1,117 receiving yards and had 66 receptions with 12 touchdowns as well.
Wright drew some comparisons to Harvin coming into the 2012 draft, and since they are similar in stature (Wright-5’9″, 182 lbs; Harvin 5’11″, 184 lbs.) and have a similar overall skill set it was an easy, and obviously lofty, comparison. But Wright is not the same kind of player Harvin is from a strength and physicality standpoint after the ball is in his hands, so the Vikings’ pass offense will lose that along with Harvin’s experience if he is inactive on Sunday.
Given the ineptitude the Vikings have had at wide receiver so far this season, outside of Harvin of course, Wright would likely have been active for a game much sooner if not for his early season ankle issue. The coaching staff has cited Stephen Burton’s superiority as a blocker as a reason for his being active ahead of Wright, which is purely ridiculous. Not to minimize that contribution by Burton, but he only has two catches all season and zero in the last four games. Head coach Leslie Frazier has said that part of the reason for Wright’s having yet to be active is that he and Harvin are similar players and would be used similarly, but that feels like a lame excuse with the lack of playmakers the Vikings have on offense.
Wright had a productive preseason finale against the Houston Texans prior to suffering his ankle injury, with six catches for 122 yards that included a 59-yard touchdown. Obviously it’s hard to assess that production since it was the final preseason game against Houston’s backups, but it’s all anyone has to go on since that was the last time he took the field in a game.
Wright is also a candidate to replace Harvin as the Vikings’ primary kickoff returner against the Lions on Sunday, though he did not serve in that role during his collegiate career. He did return punts some in college, so if cornerback Marcus Sherels moves to returning kickoffs in Harvin’s place Wright could fill in there.
With the Vikings having a Week 11 bye, Harvin has a good chance to be healthy after that point and Wright’s role would again be unknown. But a good performance against the Lions this week would make it hard for the coaching staff to keep him off the field down the stretch, regardless of where the team sits in the NFC playoff race.