Today: Wide receivers position preview April 20: Defensive linemen position preview April 21: Linebackers position preview April 22: Cornerbacks position preview April 23: Safeties position preview April 24: Rick Spielman’s draft strategy April 25: Forecasting the first-round picks
TODAY’S POSITION: WIDE RECEIVERS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 8
On the roster
Minnesota helped itself immensely by signing free agent Greg Jennings but will likely still be looking to fortify a position that has been lacking for years. Jennings is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and seems upbeat about leaving Green Bay to join the Vikings. Minnesota did trade Percy Harvin, who was a unique talent and versatile threat, before adding Jennings. Harvin was primarily an underneath threat, but Jennings can go inside and outside, underneath or deep. Jennings has had injury issues in recent years, and the Vikings are paying him handsomely to stay healthy and be a legitimate No. 1 receiver for quarterback Christian Ponder. Last season, Jennings had 36 catches and 366 yards in eight games in Green Bay’s potent offense. He must replace Harvin’s production and be the outside receiver Minnesota has longed for.
The Vikings were prepared to overhaul the position after the passing attack struggled in 2012. Michael Jenkins was cut and Devin Aromashodu wasn’t re-signed, but Minnesota did bring back Jerome Simpson. Simpson was unimpressive in his first year with the Vikings, and the team believes that was the result of a back injury. Simpson had only26 catches for 274 yards but would be a starter if the team didn’t add help in the draft.
Rookie Jarius Wright did his part to replace Harvin last year after Harvin’s injury and flashed some playmaking ability with 22 catches for 310 yards but still is a bit raw and inconsistent. Fellow fourth-round pick and Arkansas teammate Greg Childs is no sure bet to return after tearing the patellar tendons in both of his knees in training camp. Stephen Burton (five catches) and Chris Summers (practice squad) are also still around.
Last five wide receivers drafted
2012 — Jarius Wright, Arkansas: fourth round (118th overall) — still with the Vikings
2012 — Greg Childs, Arkansas: fourth round (134th overall) — still with the Vikings
2011 — Stephen Burton, West Texas A&M: seventh round (236th overall) — still with the Vikings
2009 — Percy Harvin, Florida: first round (22nd overall) — traded to the Seattle Seahawks, March 2013.
2008 — Jaymar Johnson, Jackson State: sixth round (193rd overall) — released, September 2011, currently a free agent
Philosophy at the position
The Vikings need to give Ponder the needed support to accurately judge whether he’s a franchise quarterback. Minnesota will remain a run-first team, but it must be able to stretch the field and make big plays in the passing game to complement MVP running back Adrian Peterson. Even after trading Harvin, signing Jennings and counting on more from Wright and Simpson at least gives the Vikings pieces to work with. Minnesota will be in position to add an impact receiver with one of their three picks in the first two rounds. Another solid outside receiver, who has the tools to develop into a No. 1 as Jennings ages, likely will be the target.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Cordarelle Patterson, junior, Tennessee (6-2, 216). When the draft evaluation process started, Patterson was discussed as a potential top-15 selection. Now, West Virigina’s Tavon Austin — a small but speedy playmaker expected to be more of a slot receiver — is being talked about in the top half of the draft. Patterson and California’s Keenan Allen are the next two receivers, and both come with questions.
Patterson is a former junior college player, who spent only one season at Tennessee. He’s considered raw and maybe more of a project. There are questions about his intelligence and attitude, and he dropped some passes last year. But few receivers in this draft have his physical gifts. He ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, has leaping ability and is a true playmaker who excels with the ball in his hands. Patterson also has kick returning experience — which Minnesota needs after trading Harvin — and has made several big plays in the return game. He had touchdowns receiving, rushing and returning last year.
Patterson reportedly could drop in the draft, which would leave the Vikings with a big decision. He has to get better as a route runner and reportedly didn’t interview well at the Combine. But few receivers have the physical talent and upside that Patterson, who’s been compared to Julio Jones, presents.
Patterson says: “I say I’m a top-15 pick, but I can’t control what coaches think and they’re the ones that make the decisions. If they see me in the top 15, top 10, then I respect that because I think I am.”
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Justin Hunter, junior, Tennessee (6-4, 196). Another Tennessee receiver? Yes. Hunter was the school’s leading receiver last year with 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s another tremendous athlete (ran a 4.44 40), who also has height and is a true deep threat. The receiver position in this draft is extremely deep, with Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, USC’s Robert Woods and Baylor’s Terrance Williams also in the late first-round to second-round mix along with Patterson, Hunter, Allen, Austin, Lousiana Tech’s Quinton Patton and Oregon State’s Markus Wheaton. If Hunter slips to the Vikings’ spot in the second round, he could be a good value. He will probably need to add some strength, but he has the height, leaping ability and speed the NFL covets. Hunter has started only one full year after recovering from a ton ACL in 2011. The first two rounds of the draft could produce possibly seven to eight NFL starters, some of whom could start from Day 1.
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Aaron Dobson, senior, Marshall (6-3, 210). The depth extends into the later rounds, but not with the immediate impact or upside that comes with the early picks. Dobson does have the prototypical size for an outside NFL receiver. He didn’t participate in workouts at the Combine but reportedly ran a 4.43 40 at his pro day. He wasn’t considered to have elite speed, so if his 40 numbers are true, Dobson could rise in the draft. He hasn’t played against many top-level defenders at Marshall and doesn’t have standout numbers (57 catches, 679 yards, three touchdowns in 10 games). Dobson does make highlight catches and is a natural hands-catcher. His speed is considered straight-line speed, which makes his cutting ability a bit lacking. Curiously, on Dobson’s NFL.com bio, his NFL comparison is Sidney Rice.
FOXSports.com’s draft expert Taylor Jones says: “I think Patterson and Allen are more comparable because I think they can be stand-alone, legitimate No. 1 receivers. They’re not can’t-miss in the way that Julio Jones and A.J. Green were when they were drafted in 2011. But they can impact an offense from Day 1, where Austin I think is a unique talent, but I don’t think he goes in immediately and says I can be a legit No. 1 threat. I think he has to be a complement to a bigger, deeper receiver. I don’t want to say he’s a Wes Welker type, but he would benefit in a system in which someone else can draw a defense and he could work some underneath patterns and make plays in space.
“I think its potential that separates these guys. Allen and Patterson, I think, have the potential to grow into big-time, No. 1 threats, and Austin too has that playmaker ability. But I really like Robert Woods, I think he’s a definite top-of-the-second-round type of guy, if not worthy of a first-round pick. I think DeAndre Hopkins is the same way. I like Justin Hunter. Quinton Patton from Louisiana Tech is another guy that’s going to get a lot of attention.”