EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — When the Minnesota Vikings sifted through undrafted college players in April, they signed 16 players to rookie deals in the usual quiet fashion that comes with the undrafted players.
Unlike most of the low-profile players that are signed by teams after the draft, Minnesota had one player stick out among its signees, and with good reason.
It’s hard to miss the tall receiver Rodney Smith from Florida State. Smith, who is listed by the Vikings at 6-foot-6 and measured in at the Combine at 6-foot-4, stands out from Minnesota’s other receivers.
“Height and speed, you can’t beat that,” Smith said of what he’s known for. “If you’re a tall guy that can run, you can’t beat it. You could do a lot of different things with him and you could actually learn from these coaches to do all of the smaller things.”
Smith, 23, ran a 4.51 at the Combine and offers an intriguing height and speed option for Minnesota, which is in the midst of overhauling the receiver position. Signing Greg Jennings adds a reliable veteran, but he measures in at 5-foot-11. Jarius Wright opened some eyes last year as a rookie and comes in at 5-foot-10.
There are tall receivers on the roster, but none are considered a sure thing. Greg Childs is 6-foot-3, but he’s still coming back from torn patellar tendons in both knees and might not be ready for the season. Joe Webb is 6-foot-4, but making the transition from quarterback. Chris Summers is 6-foot-5 and spent last season on the team’s practice squad. First-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson is 6-foot-3.
Smith, who had 106 catches in his four years with the Seminoles, could bring a different look for the Vikings. He set a Florida State record with catches in 39 straight games and finished his senior season with 38 catches for 524 yards and three touchdowns. And he knows Minnesota’s quarterback well.
Christian Ponder and Smith played together early in Smith’s time with the Seminoles. In Ponder’s final season at Florida State in 2010, Smith had 31 catches for 448 yards and three touchdowns. Smith said earlier this month, he was picking up the Vikings’ playbook quickly too.
“Honestly, it’s kind of similar to what we did at Florida,” Smith said, adding: “We’ve got a little history from back at Florida State, so I guess people probably to think of it that way. But (receivers coach George) Stewart, he just told me that he liked the player that I am. It’s a plus that Ponder is here. So I get to come out and work to hopefully being able to work with Ponder.”
Smith met with the Vikings before the draft and was put through a private workout with Stewart. With the measurables on his side, Smith was surprised he wasn’t drafted, calling the event “heart-breaking” after being repeatedly passed by. Smith thought his time at Florida State and his work at the Combine would land him in the middle rounds.
“I heard the latest was the fourth round,” Smith said. “And then once it got past there, I was throwing it up in the air at that point. I was just waiting it out and then it didn’t happen for me. Like I said, it’s a blessing just to get an opportunity. I think if I’ve got the talent, it would stick out.”
Smith had other offers after the draft. He saw an opportunity to help Minnesota and also credited the relationship with Stewart for his signing with the Vikings.
“Just the personal relationship with the coach; he came and worked me out himself and just keeping in good contact with him,” Smith said. “I felt like he really wanted me so that’s why I came here.”
And now that he’s in Minnesota, he’s easy to pick out of the crowd.