Lambasted for not addressing needs with the cream of the crop early in free agency, the idea that the Vikings are looking to get younger has been well-publicized. But a related issue that will likely garner more attention in the coming weeks is what the team has known since it reached the heart of its draft evaluations – the wide receiver and cornerback corps are as stacked as they have been in a long time.
That's why choosing Matt Kalil – considered the only elite left tackle in this year's draft after another year of stale pickings at the position on the free-agent market – and then reaping their harvest of five picks over the next three rounds makes so much sense for the Vikings. And it's likely something that new general manager Rick Spielman has been savoring all the while he has been blasted for not going after the top cornerbacks or receivers in free agency while they were pulling in eight- and 10-million-dollar-a-year contracts across the league.
Talk to those who really know the draft and there are certainly differing opinions on which receiver or which cornerback is better, but it's clear it's a deep class. Justin Blackmon is the consensus best receiver out there and same holds true with Morris Claiborne among cornerbacks. After that, teams can pick their poison (for the opposition) – the receivers vary from the tall and physical to the quick and speedy, and the cornerbacks vary from the elite coverage types to the physical zone players. And both of those positions offer a number of risks, as well, from those that have repeated marijuana incidents (CB Janoris Jenkins) to those that have questionable work ethic (WR Alshon Jeffery).
"Second, third round, there are plenty of big wide receivers that you can bring in that can help you stretch the field out. Alshon Jeffery is an example of one." said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who believes Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Stephen Hill and Kendall Wright will be first-round picks.
"I watch tape after tape after tape of (Jeffery). I don't like his route running. I don't think he's sudden. Every catch he makes is contested. He's not polished, and he has work to do. You can go on and on and on with the negatives. Bottom line is he can do a few things that most guys can't. When you have a player like that with his size and straight-line speed and his ability to go up and get the ball and his rare ball skills – when I say rare, I think he's in the top two or three of all receivers in his class. When the ball is in the air, it's his, and I love that about him."
But it hardly stops there. There is Rueben Randall, Mohamed Sanu and Brian Quick. Even if those eight receivers are gone by the time the Vikings reach their third-round pick, there are options that excited other draft gurus. Dave-Te' Thomas of NFL Draft Report, which supplies draft information to all 32 NFL teams, loves Arizona's Juron Criner, California's Marvin Jones and sleeper receiver Dale Moss of South Dakota State.
Moss is a burner who is gathering steam late in the process. Criner is a more physical player that Thomas likes more than most.
"This is the next Terrell Owens without the attitude," Thomas told Viking Update. "Teams say (fifth round), I say 2."
While the Vikings three best receivers of the last 15 years have come in the first (Randy Moss and Percy Harvin) and second (Sidney Rice) rounds, they could easily find a starter with one of their fourth-round compensatory picks with this year's depth.
The depth may not be quite as impressive at cornerback, but it's not far behind. Fortunately for the Vikings, Antoine Winfield will return for at least another year, Chris Cook looks like he'll return to action and Chris Carr should provide a veteran backup plan, along with Asher Allen and Zack Bowman. But even through late in the second round – possibly into third round – there are highly touted cornerback prospects. Four draftees – Claiborne, Jenkins, Dre Kirkpatrick and Stephon Gilmore – could all go in the first round. Alfonzo Dennard, Jayron Hosley and Trumaine Johnson might be gone by the end of the second round, but even the third round could have players like Casey Hayward and Ron Brooks (both of whom the Vikings have shown interest in), Brandon Boykins (probably more of nickel back) and Chase Minnifield among the many options.
The Vikings entered free agency with cornerback and wide receiver as two of their top needs. That remains the case, but that will change by the end of the draft's fourth round.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.