Receiver conundrum: Production vs. potential

Many analysts have the Vikings drafting a receiver in the first round. If they do, will college production be more important than raw-skills potential?

The Great Wideout Debate is about to start in earnest.

If the Vikings are going to take a wide receiver with their first round pick, there is a significant sentiment of those who rank college players and try to play “Whack-A-Mole” as to correctly pick at which hole a player will pop off the board.

The conventional wisdom is that there are three wide receivers in that discussion if the Vikings opt to select one at No. 11, which, at this point, is far from a certainty. If the organization has made up its mind that it wants to drop down 10 spots or so – if Marcus Mariota makes it past St. Louis, the Vikings will take the full 15 clock minutes. They have before … and then some.

But if we’re going to stick to the premise that you can’t project trades and the draft class of 2015 is going to have three plum wide receivers in play – Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Louisville’s DeVante Parker and West Virginia’s Kevin White – then the options will be many.

White has made the move up the draft board thanks to an impressive showing at the Combine. In some circles, he has surpassed Cooper. But, in the NFL, there are grading factors that take heavy stock into where a player goes and where he is an ideal fit.

As much as the Combine and pro days can do to elevate a player’s stock, experience and game film are typically the basis for determining a player’s draft stock.

It’s what doctors call the ”Riverboat Gambler Effect.” Everybody wants to be the smartest guy in the room – that they see something that everyone else is too ignorant to see. When the Vikings took Anthony Barr with ninth pick of the draft, it raised a lot of eyebrows because most of the “mock draft smarts” had Barr landing somewhere in the second half of the first round. As it turned out, the Vikings were right.

Cordarrelle Patterson? The jury is still out on that one, but the same rationale applied. The Vikings saw something in Patterson’s unique skill set that trumped his lack of tangible Division I playing experience.

While White checker-jumped Parker on a lot of draft boards and even Cooper in some mock drafts – making him the No. 1 receiver on some draft boards – the Vikings front office may be once bitten, twice shy in that regard.

When it comes to experience, Cooper brings the most to the table. He played three seasons with the Crimson tide, catching 228 passes for 3,463 yards and 31 touchdowns. He saved his best for last, catching 124 passes for 1,727 yards and 16 TDs last season. If you need visual evidence of what Cooper can accomplish, there are miles of game film to pick and choose from.

Parker is in a similar situation. He played four years at Louisville, compiling 156 catches for 2,775 yards and 33 touchdowns. His value to the Vikings would be increased in that he had his most productive seasons with Teddy Bridgewater as his quarterback. He was well on his way to having his most productive season in 2014, catching 43 passes for 855 yards and five touchdowns in just seven games in an injury-shortened season. He’s a proven commodity who has the experience and track record to highlight his strengths and weaknesses for coaches who know what they’re looking at and looking for in game film.

White is the wild card. A junior college transfer to West Virginia in 2013, he caught just 35 passes for 507 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games as a junior, admitting it was a disappointing season. Last year, he exploded on the scene, catching a whopping 109 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns in 13 games. His strong performance at the Combine bolstered those numbers and has his stock on the rise with no end in sight.

Depending on what the Vikings do with Greg Jennings and his salary, they could have him, Patterson, Charles Johnson and Jarius Wright under contract. While that isn’t exactly the Fab Four, it isn’t a dire combination that is so pathetic that it requires immediate upgrading.

As we get closer to the draft, don’t be surprised if White ends up as the first wide receiver to come off the board. In fact, it won’t be a shock if both Cooper and White are off the board by the time the Vikings are scheduled to pick at No. 11. But given their experience with drafting a wide receiver with a high ceiling but limited time as a college starter, it wouldn’t be a shocker if White remains No. 3 at wide receiver on their draft board. At times, it’s the wise choice to take the player with the highest floor rather than the player with the highest ceiling and, at this point, it would appear that both Cooper and Parker have a higher floor, even if one or both may not have as high of a best-case-scenario ceiling.

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