FOX Sports North’s Brian Hall provides complete coverage of the Vikings and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. Today is the seventh day of his Vikings draft previews. You can find the entire series here.
TODAY’S POSITION: WIDE RECEIVERS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 4
On the roster
What a difference a year has made for the Vikings at receiver. Heading into last offseason, wide receiver might have been the biggest position of need, especially after trading malcontent Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks. Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman went about overhauling the position by signing Greg Jennings in free agency to give the Vikings a veteran receiver to replace Harvin.
With Jennings in the fold, Spielman wasn’t done and surprised everyone with a bold move to trade back into the first round last year, the third first-rounder, and draft Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson grew as a receiver and runner as the season continued last year and was an immediate star as a kickoff returner. Jennings led the team with 68 catches for 804 yards, but was at his best when Matt Cassel was at quarterback and Cassel returns in 2014 as the starter. Patterson was a Pro Bowl kickoff returner and had 45 catches. Patterson had two kickoff returns for touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns and four as a receiver.
Jerome Simpson is a complementary receiver who has a knack for coming up with big catches and Jarius Wright continued his development in his second year. Together, the four give Minnesota a strong, deep receiving unit. The Vikings also have intriguing projects in Rodney Smith and Adam Thielen, and have added Lestar Jean and Kamar Jorden in the offseason.
Minnesota made the dramatic changes last offseason and spared little expense in doing so. Jennings is one year into five-year, $45 million contract.
Patterson has three more years on his four-year rookie contract, and the Vikings have the ability to extend Patterson to a fifth year thanks to the trade into the first round. Minnesota gave up four picks for the right to draft Patterson. Jerome Simpson is back on another one-year deal.
The Vikings’ offense is changing under new coordinator Norv Turner. If the past is any indication, Turner will use the wide receivers to stretch the field. In his NFL coaching career, Turner has had a receiver rank in the top-5 in yards per catch 21 times. Jennings and Patterson aren’t necessarily the Josh Gordon or Randy Moss type deep-receiving threats, but can exploit defenses on the second level and have run-after-catch ability. Simpson is a true stretch-the-field receiver. Wright, while only 5-foot-10, has done most of his damage down the field in his short career.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Sammy Watkins, junior, Clemson (6-foot-1, 211 pounds): With the depth and resources Minnesota has devoted to the position, drafting a receiver — at least during the first two days — would seem unlikely. But maybe Watkins falling to No. 8 could change the Vikings’ perception. Watkins is considered one of the best receiving prospects to come around since A.J. Green and Julio Jones were top-6 picks in 2011. Pairing Watkins with Patterson for the foreseeable future could be a nightmare for opponents.
Watkins has every tool for a receiver except for elite height. He’s fast (a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine), good hands, and standout run-after-catch ability to produce big plays. He became the first wide receiver in NCAA history to earn AP All-American honors as a freshman, and just the fourth player ever. Was a two-time All-American after finishing last year with 101 catches for 1,464 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns in 13 games as a junior. He also had 339 rushing yards in his three seasons at Clemson and 60 kickoff returns for a 22.9-yard average.
Said Watkins: "For me, I think I can do just about anything on the field from wide receiver to running back to slot. I can make plays all over the field. What I love doing is dominating defenses. I think that’s what I bring to the game and I think that’s going to turn over to the NFL. When I come into the NFL I think I can be that dominant receiver."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Davante Adams, redshirt sophomore, Fresno State (6-1, 212): How about pairing a good receiving prospect with his college quarterback? Derek Carr should be a strong consideration for the Vikings at quarterback early in the draft. Later, they could possibly pick up Adams, his highly productive receiver from Fresno State. Like Carr, Adams may get downgraded for the offense he played in that seemingly inflated his stats.
In just two seasons, Adams caught 233 passes for 3,030 yards and 38 touchdowns. He set 11 school records and five Mountain West conference records during the two years. Adams doesn’t have elite speed but has deceptive deep speed to get behind defenders. Where Adams really makes his mark is fighting for receptions with good hands. A former basketball player, Adams has good leaping ability and will go up with defenders to pull down passes. He was third among all receivers at the combine with a 39.5-inch vertical jump.
Said Adams on his basketball background: "It makes it really easy for me to go up and win those 50-50 balls. I’m so used to grabbing boards and stuff like that, so it makes it kind of second nature. When the ball’s in the air, I just go up and grab it. With my leaping ability I know no one’s going to go up and get it over me. That’s why we were so effective at the goal-line on fades this past year. Derek trusted me pretty much to throw the ball up and go grab it."
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Martavis Bryant, junior, Clemson (6-4, 211): If not Watkins, maybe his college teammate could be a consideration on Day 3 for the Vikings. Bryant would bring a different dimension to Minnesota’s receiving corps. He’s a tall receiver who is adept at stretching the field. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine and has long strides to cover ground in a hurry. Bryant can also be an effective red-zone target with his size.
Questionable hands showed with too many drops and his route-running needs work. He wasn’t asked to run every route at Clemson. Bryant was sent deep, with Watkins being the more complete, intermediate receiver. Bryant was used to his strengths. He averaged 22.2 yards per catch on 61 catches in his three seasons. As a junior, Bryant caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.