Vikings digging deep on mid-round receiver

The Vikings aren't just paying attention to the first-round possibilities at receiver. An ultra-productive mid-round prospect has them digging further, according to an NFL source.

The more information that becomes available, the more difficult it is becoming to determine which of the many talented receiving options the Vikings like best.

They have been diligent in their research of the options, for sure, having some of the top receivers (like Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins) visit during the "top 30" predraft event at Winter Park earlier this week and spending extra time with others at their respective pro days (like USC's Robert Woods). But they have also been working behind the scenes on other options, like West Virginia's Tavon Austin and other lesser known prospects.

One of the "lesser knowns" on their radar is Austin's teammate at West Virginia, Stedman Bailey, who was every bit as productive as Austin but hasn't been awarded first-day draft status by the analysts. While Austin is slated to be a mid-first-round pick, Bailey is expected to simply be a mid-round pick.

Together, they formed one of the most dangerous duos in school history – 488 catches for 6,631 yards and 70 touchdowns over three years at West Virginia. They are the only two players in school history to reach the 3,000-yard mark in receptions. Bailey finished his three-year career with the Mountaineers with 210 catches; Austin had 288 over four seasons. They make up two-thirds of the receivers (joining Jock Sanders with 206) to catch at least 200 passes at WVU.

Bailey and Austin tied the school record with 114 receptions each in 2012 and Bailey was one of three finalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top college receiver. His 114 catches produced 1,622 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was also a first-team All-American choice by The NFL Draft Report and CBS Sports and was an All-Big 12 selection.

"We wanted to be the best receiving corps in the whole nation and me and Tavon – I know he's a very dynamic player and does a lot of great things – we just wanted to compete with each other, as far as standing up with our numbers, just scoring touchdowns and doing all we can to help our team win," Bailey said at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Bailey also more than doubled the previous single-season school record for touchdown catches with 25 (the previous being 12), and had 21.93 percent of his catches in 2012 go for touchdowns. Only Troy Edwards (Louisiana Tech, 27 in 1998) and former Viking Randy Moss (Marshall, 25 in 1997) had more receiving touchdowns in a season in Football Bowl Subdivision history.

So why is Austin the first-round pick and Bailey the mid-round prospect? In a word: explosiveness.

Austin ran a combine-best 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine while Bailey was at 4.52. But Bailey does have the edge when it comes to size. Austin is 5-8½ and 174 pounds while Bailey is 5-foot-10 and 193. Bailey is considered a split end while Austin is considered a slot receiver, a lighter version of Percy Harvin.

Bailey knows where he stands and admitted he feels underrated.

"I definitely feel like it's my measurables. From what I hear time and time again, ‘He's only 5-10, and he's probably not going to do that in the NFL against bigger corners,'" he said. "I feel like if I was 6-3, 6-2 or anything over 6-foot with the numbers I put up, I'd probably be the No. 1 receiver. But that's not the case."

It didn't hinder him at West Virginia, where he finished with 210 catches for 3,218 yards and 41 touchdowns. His receiving touchdown numbers were the most for any active player in the NCAA FBS ranks, his receiving yards are the fourth-highest for any active major college player and his reception total ranks 10th. He also had seven games with at least 100 yards receiving in 2012, including three with more than 200 yards and had five games with at least 10 receptions.

He has drawn comparisons to new Vikings receiver Greg Jennings and another former Vikings killer in Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Smith is the one he looks up to most in the NFL.

"He's a receiver that's not the tallest guy in the game, but that doesn't let him affect how he plays. He definitely plays like he's got a dog in him, and that's how I play," Bailey said. "I don't care if anybody's taller than me. I just go out and play my game."


Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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