I know many Viking fans now hate Brad Childress. I also know that most of the reporters, columnists, and commentators hate Brad Childress. But this does not mean we now must consider Jermaine Wiggins the Lord and Savior of the Tight End Position.
Jermaine Wiggins is a 32 year old TE. Before coming to the Vikings, he caught 50 passes in 4 years, playing on 4 different teams that didn't think he was worth keeping around as a starting TE. With the Vikings, he was effective. In 2004, when the Vikes still had deep threat Randy Moss, he caught 71 passes for 705 yards (9.9 average) and 4 TDs. He was not effective because he was a great breakaway TE that could get open on his own; he was effective because the offense focused on going vertical and opening things up for TEs and RBs short (the 2004 Vikes also had 4 RBs with 20+ receptions). Wiggins benefited from Moss; he was a sturdy, dependable receiver that could catch the ball. He didn't have to beat people himself to get open. A lot of other TEs could probably have caught 60+ passes in that offense.
In 2005, Moss was gone but the offense was the same. Wiggins still led the team in receptions, but his yards per catch slipped to 8.2. That is not great production out of a TE; that's what you expect out of a TE that just has to catch the ball short. Antonio Gates has a career 12.7 average. Tony Gonzalez has a 12.1 career average. These TEs are the best of the best; they can spread the defense, get downfield, and make plays. Jermaine Wiggins, in his last year under Mike Tice's offense, averaged about 4 yards per catch less than the elite TEs. He was a productive cog, not a legitimate playmaker.
People now complain that Wiggins didn't fit well into Childress's offense, either implicitly or explicitly claiming this as further evidence that Childress is unable to adjust his game plan to the talent he has. But in 2006, Wiggins' average per catch was about the same as it was in 2005 (8.4). What changed? The offense and the personnel. The Vikings didn't have a QB or WRs that could stretch the field, and they didn't have an offense that focused on stretching the field. Therefore, Wiggins had a harder time getting open. He had to rely on his own ability to get open more. He didn't do that very effectively.
I can't emphasize this enough:
YOU DON'T FOCUS YOUR OFFENSE AROUND GETTING THE BALL TO A PLAYER LIKE JERMAINE WIGGINS.
You just don't try to fit your offense around throwing the ball a lot to a TE that averages 8.2 yards per catch. He's not a TE that can get downfield; he's not a TE that can beat LBs to get open; he's not a TE that can make plays. He's a solid cog. There was no reason for Childress to try feature Wiggins more than he did; Wiggins was a mediocre TE. He caught the ball less in the new offense but did about the same with the catches he got. Focusing on throwing the ball to him more would have had little to no effect on the Viking offense. Hell, for all we know they did focus on throwing him the ball and he didn't have the talent to get open on his own.
I liked Jermaine Wiggins on the Vikings. I like him as a person and think he's a solid football player. But he is not, as Mike Morris called him on KFAN today, a top-10 TE. He's doesn't belong with Gates, Gonzalez, Todd Heap (11.6 career average), Jeremy Shockey (11.5 career average), Kellen Winslow Jr., Dallas Clark, Alge Crumpler (13.8 average), Chris Cooley, or even Randy McMichael or Jason Witten. I'd probably take L.J. Smith ahead of Wiggins, and maybe even Desmond Clark. The Patriots might have had two TEs in 2006 better than Wiggins. Vernon Davis is just a matter of time away from being head and shoulders better than Wiggins, and I think Heath Miller can do more than Wiggins.
Wiggins was a good, solid pass catcher. But he doesn't make plays. He doesn't stand out against other TEs. He's average. It's hard to hold it against Childress that he didn't try to force the ball more to an average TE, or that he's now trying to go in a different direction at the position.