Wide Receivers the Vikings Can Grab on Days 2 & 3 of the 2013 NFL Draft
So it appears the Vikings might be looking to move Percy Harvin this offseason—but even if they don't this is still a woeful group of wide receivers who they need to improve upon.
They can do so via free agency of course (we talked about possibly adding Greg Jennings last week) but they will still need to add talent.
Now the interesting side note in all this was a Twitter discussion I saw Tuesday morning. Kevin from Minnesota Vikings Fan Page was saying he felt as though the wide receiver class, while not incredibly top heavy, was pretty deep.
That rather than grab a receiver in the late first round (they pick at 23), the team can wait until the second—or possibly even third—day of the draft and still get an impact receiver.
In fact, the Vikings had some success with that philosophy last season—Jarius Wright played very well when he was finally activated, and I firmly believe had Greg Childs not blown his knees out, he was going to be a factor in very short order.
Both were selected in the fourth round and Childs was a compensatory pick—even with a blown out knee, it was worth a look.
So the Vikings did a good job with value last draft.
With that in mind, I will be jumping over first-round options—although it's not like there are tons anyway—and looking at Day Two/Day Three value for the team.
By no means is this a complete list—as I said, this group is deep. But here are five players I like who the team should look at. Keep in mind also that there is always a ton of movement as we go through the draft process—a guy you like now may drop, or someone we don't like now might gain traction.
So it's a moving target.
But if you compile some additions in the comments, we can revisit this either as a piece analyzing them as a group or just individually.
Day Two Guys
Tavon Austin, West Virginia—Austin's presence is borderline acceptable on this list as I think he might go earlier in the second round than the Vikings pick. If he impresses at the Combine, you could actually see his stock rocket up.
So this might be wishful thinking.
If he happens to be there though, I'd grab him. Why?
Quite simply, if you think Percy Harvin might be gone or are tired of his antics, Austin is the guy to replace him.
As Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller says in the accompanying video, Austin is a Desean Jackson-style player (minus the attitude). He's a bit short at 5'9" but like Jackson (or Harvin) he has incredible skills with the ball after the catch, which also helps make him an incredibly effective return specialist.
Again, here's a guy who could go early second round or better, because teams are always looking for the next Jackson, Harvin or Randall Cobb.
Size and a deep draft class could see him slide though and he'd be a perfect guy for the Vikings in the second round.
So there's the pie in the sky pick for the day.
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson—Harvin or no, this team lacks a deep threat receiver and Hopkins fits the bill. Taller than Austin, but not by much and probably a tad slower, Hopkins is another player who could go a little higher than the Vikings would want him to.
If he is there in the second round, he would be the deep threat the team needs, creating separation with savvy route running and small moves which throw defensive backs off. He does a great job catching the ball in stride and wastes no motion after the catch.
While not as dynamic after the catch as Austin, he does a good job creating extra yards after the catch. Speaking of which, he has very strong hands and a "my ball" mentality which allows him to attack the ball—and win it—in the air when he needs to go up for it.
His height might be an issue for some teams and he could add some muscle to help break tackles. Hopkins also will run before he secures the ball and needs to be a little more focused on making the catch first. However, he improved every year at Clemson and appears to be very coachable.
I've seen him mentioned in the same vein as Reggie Wayne and Jordy Nelson. He's a guy who isn't the tallest or the fastest but gains separation from defensive backs with timing and route running who will fight for the ball when it comes his way.
Aaron Dobson, Marshall—I came away from the Senior Bowl impressed by Dobson. By no means was he the best and most talented player out there, but he sure makes up for it in effort.
Dobson showed outstanding route running—something which stands out in tape of him as well. He's so very fluid in and out of his breaks that he leaves many defensive backs turned around, allowing him to break free for a clear shot at the ball.
He attacks a catch at the highest point, giving him an outstanding chance at the ball and Dobson will make the difficult catches which we saw come from Ponder in 2012. He's not afraid to take a hit when catching the ball, and he hangs onto it when that happens.
The downside to Dobson is that he's not able to make defenders miss—if they're in the area, they have a good shot at tackling him—and he lacks top-shelf speed.
That being said, he's a great candidate for the Vikings' third-round pick and the guy he seems to remind scouts and analysts of is Sidney Rice, but sturdier.
Other possibilities on Day Two: Da'Rick Rogers—Tennessee Tech, Marquise Goodwin—Texas, Markus Wheaton—Oregon State.
Day Three Guys
Conner Vernon, Duke—Vernon was another guy who really caught my eye in Mobile during the South squad practices.
On Monday, his individual drills were not the sharpest—that was Texas A&M's Ryan Swope—but Vernon lit up the drills. He aggressively went after the cornerbacks and I have no doubt had there been full contact that he would have lit many of them up.
All the more impressive for a guy just 6'1", 200 pounds and plays much tougher.
Vernon also showed a real nose for open space and is able to use his physicality and some shifty route-running ability to get away from defenders.
One thing I really noticed in Mobile was what a fellow draft analyst I know calls "foot frequency"—which refers to how often a player's feet hit the ground in a given yard. Vernon showed very good foot frequency, which helps him to make sharp cuts and breaks.
You can see in this accompanying video I took at the first practice in Mobile that Vernon has some real "sewing machine feet." He may not have tremendous burst at the end of the run, but his short steps in this drill will help him shake defenders even without that.
He's what I call a "blue-collar player"—not elite, not top shelf, but a guy not afraid of making tough catches and playing hard. If he can improve his hands (and he does get the "dropsies" from time to time), he could be a very productive player.
Add to it that, at present, Vernon is a guy who should be around in the fourth or possibly even fifth round—and someone the Vikings should have a shot at in April.
I could see him developing into a Hines Ward-type physical receiver.
Chris Harper, Kansas State—Harper is a late-round guy with decent speed and improving route-running ability who could be a nice project for the Vikings in the late rounds. He's very aggressive with the ball, willing to go up and fight for it, and does a great job adjusting to passes and getting underneath them.
Harper played quarterback his freshman year at Oregon, before moving to wide receiver in his second year. He ultimately transferred to K-State to be closer to home and got better and more comfortable each year he played.
It would take some time perhaps, but developing a receiver doesn't seem to scare this front office (see Jarius Wright) and I like Harper's upside.
BONUS WIDE RECEIVER
I almost didn't include former Michigan quarterback, now wide receiver Denard Robinson but decided he was definitely worth a mention.
While I didn't love what I saw of him in Mobile, you have to take anything you see with a grain of salt—here's a guy learning a whole new position.
So without a doubt he is a project, and one who should go late in the draft.
Which makes him an interesting value-add for the Vikings.
Because without a doubt, Robinson is an incredible athlete. He spent Senior Bowl practices looking like he was over-thinking a bit, but showed flashes of the speed we came to know well watching him at Michigan, and the route running, ease with catching the ball and all the other things which come naturally to receivers at this point are going to come, but slowly.
His ability with the ball in his hands is undeniable though, and if a team is patient, he has a lot of upside to be a utility player—at worst a Brad Smith type of guy, but if he can get his act together and polish his skills, he could be another dangerous run after the catch guy in the realm of Cobb or Harvin.
He's got a ton of upside but late in the draft—think the last two rounds—the reward well outweighs the risk.
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