Positional Analysis: Wide Receivers

This may be the deepest wide receiver class in the history of the NFL draft. Ten receivers could go in the first two rounds, with each possessing slightly different but valuable skills. Does one of them have tools that would make him valuable when the Vikings pick? We profile the top 16.

VIKINGS' WIDE RECEIVERS — Randy Moss, Marcus Robinson, Nate Burleson, Kelly Campbell, Keenan Howry, Kenny Clark, Ben Nelson.

VIKINGS' NEED — The Vikings have tried to replace Cris Carter every since he left the team after the 2001 season. Neither Derrick Alexander nor D'Wayne Bates proved to be that guy. The hope is that Robinson can be that player, but his injury history makes him a question mark. Unless the Vikings are willing to keep six receivers on the roster, the only player (besides longshots Kenny Clark and Ben Nelson) likely in jeopardy of his roster spot is Howry — which means unless the Vikings take someone in the first two or three rounds, the position won't mean much to them. There is a chance that, if one of the top players in this deep class that the Vikes covet somehow falls to them like Moss did in 1998 (when they already had Carter and Jake Reed as perennial 1,000-yard receivers), the Vikings could use their top pick on a gamebreaker. But don't hold your breath on that one.

THE CLASS OF 2004 — One of the deepest, most talented classes in years. Some have speculated that Larry Fitzgerald and Roy Williams could be the first wide receivers to go 1-2 in the draft, and others think USC sophomore Mike Williams could end up being the best of the bunch. There could be as many as six or seven wide receivers that go in the first round, and it is almost assured that about 10 of them will go in the first two rounds — making wide receiver one of the most sought-after positions in this year's draft.


Larry Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, 6-3, 223 —
Second-year sophomore who was granted eligibility by virtue of attending Valley Forge Military Academy in 2001…In two years he caught 161 passes for 2,681 yards and 34 touchdowns…Won the 2003 Biletnikoff Award, given to the best collegiate wide receiver…Amazing hand-eye coordination…Is able to catch just about anything thrown his way…Excellent adjustment skills to poorly thrown balls…Good leaping ability for fades…Coaches love him…Doesn't have sprinter's speed like Roy Williams…Can get jammed on press coverage…Was the only wide receiver to lift at the Combine — doing an impressive 20 reps with 225 pounds — and ran a 4.47 40 with a 35-inch vertical jump and a 18 Wonderlic score.

PROJECTION: Grew up at Winter Park and even Cris Carter marveled at his ball-catching skills. Denny Green was there too and he wants him. If it means moving up to No. 1 or waiting and hoping at No. 3, Fitzgerald will be off the board in a hurry.

Roy Williams, Texas, 6-3, 212 — Fourth-year senior…Began starting midway through his freshman year and finished his career with 241 catches for 3,866 yards and 36 touchdowns. His size and speed have drawn comparisons to Randy Moss…Catches the ball away from his body…Good hand strength to beat the press…Makes sharp cuts and is impossible to catch if he gets a step on you…Excellent leaper…Plays faster than his sparkling 40 time…Like Moss, he gets in a funk if he isn't consistently a key part of the offense…Missed time each of his first three years with injuries, especially hamstring pulls, but hit the weight room last year and didn't have any problems as a senior…Ran a 4.37 40 at the Combine, with a 39-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 11-0 broad jump and three-cone drill time of 6.70 — the last two being the best performances of any wide receivers tested.

PROJECTION: Some believe if the Raiders take a wide receiver at No. 2, it would be Williams instead of Fitzgerald. If the Raiders pass on him, he could slide to back end of the top 10 picks, making him a steal for whoever gets him.

Mike Williams, USC, 6-5, 225 — Second-year sophomore who used the Maurice Clarett exemption to leave college early…In two years at USC, he caught 176 passes for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns…Had 12 100-yard games…The best wide receiver prospect out of USC since Keyshawn Johnson went with the first overall pick…Perfect combination of height (the second tallest WR in the draft), speed and big-play ability…Can beat the jam…Has excellent control of his body and can make the spectacular catch look routine…Can run all routes well…More of a long strider, he doesn't maintain deep speed as well as the other elite wide receivers…Needs some work on perfecting his route running…Doesn't seem like he's interested in blocking downfield…Ran a 4.5 40 in an individual workout.

PROJECTION: This Williams in an anomaly in that some believe he could be the first overall pick, while others believe his relative inexperience will drop him behind Fitzgerald and Roy Williams. If he's still on the board when Atlanta picks at No. 8, Rick McKay may have no choice but to grab him.


Reggie Williams, Washington, 6-4, 227 —
Third-year junior…Three-year starter who caught 238 passes for 3,536 yards and 22 touchdowns…A smooth athlete with the combination of size and speed coaches love…Good quickness off the line on slant patterns…Gets to full speed in a hurry…Very physical and can outmuscle corners…Good leaping ability…Doesn't have blinding top-end speed like some of the other wideouts in the Class of '04…Drops too many passes due to inconsistent levels of concentration…Ran a 4.48 40 at the Combine with a 36-inch vertical jump and a 17 Wonderlic score — tied for second-worst among wide receivers.

PROJECTION: With the dearth of talent at the position — perhaps the best draft class ever — Williams may have been better advised to return for his senior year and be a top 5-10 pick next year. As it is, he's likely to drop into the middle of the first round or farther and would be very difficult for the Vikings to pass on if he remains on the board at No. 19.

Michael Clayton, LSU, 6-3, 209 — Third-year junior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 135 passes for 1,828 yards and 15 touchdowns…Good combination of size and speed…Excellent route runner…Very intelligent set-up player — he doesn't have the best speed but changes gears well and is adept at fooling d-backs…One of the best leapers in the class, despite not having a great vertical jump…At his best in big games and at big times during games…Is the best blocking receiver among the Class of '04…Special teams ace in college…Doesn't have the physical skills to dominate defenders…Ran a disappointing 4.54 40 at the Combine along with a weak 32-1/2 vertical jump — blamed on an attempt to bulk up what is viewed as a thin frame.

PROJECTION: He has all the tools to be a solid pro and does many things well. But, with the competition in this year's class, he will slide until late in the first round.

Lee Evans, Wisconsin, 5-11, 197 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year starter who missed 2002 season after tearing his left ACL and needing two surgeries to fix it…In two years as a full-time starter, he caught 139 passes for 2,768 yards and 22 touchdowns…Extremely fast, he dispelled the notion that he wasn't the same player since his knee injury by running a blazing 4.37 40 at the Combine…Extremely good and powerful hands, he rarely drops a pass or gets one knocked away that he has put his hands on…Doesn't mind going over the middle…Surprisingly good blocker…Doesn't have the size most scouts want — he's the second shortest receiver in this year's class…Was arrested for marijuana possession in 2002, which will turn off some teams…Durability is a question and several team doctors gave his recuperating knee a long hard look…Had a 35-inch vertical jump at the Combine, along with a second-best time of 6.74 seconds in the three-cone drill and a Wonderlic score of 27 — also second among WRs.

PROJECTION: His stock has been on the rise ever since his screaming 40 time, but many teams will likely err in favor of someone without his injury and off-field baggage, which could drop him into the second round.

Rashaun Woods, Oklahoma State, 6-2, 201 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 264 passes for 4,085 yards and 42 touchdowns…Perhaps the most complete NFL-ready pass catcher in this year's class…Has big hands that he uses to get position and pull in the ball, as well as beat press coverage...Fearless over the middle…If not the best route runner of this year's receivers, he's awfully close…Saw his stock rise at the Combine when he caught just about every pass thrown his way…Willing and effective blocker…His biggest downside is a lack of top-end speed…Isn't a player that will stretch the defense with his ability to get upfield in a hurry…Will struggle with big, speedy corners…Doesn't make a lot of people miss after the catch…Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with a 39-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: Some people believe in a West Coast Offense, Woods could be the steal of this year's draft. Like the Vikings' Nate Burleson, he isn't the fastest receiver on the field, but he is a productive receiver who was the go-to guy in college and has the chance to do the same in the pros. His lack of speed, however, will likely drop him into the second round.

Michael Jenkins, Ohio State, 6-4, 218 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who caught 165 passes for 2,898 yards and 16 touchdowns…Returned punts…Voted team MVP last year…Big target with long arms…Excellent body control and concentration on deep passes…Goes over the middle…Picked up a lot of momentum with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl…Has a fragile psyche at times and is known for sideline blowups if things aren't going his way…Doesn't have sustained deep speed…Doesn't have explosive first step off the line and can get jammed…Ran a scintillating 4.38 40 at the Combine with a 34-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 20.

PROJECTION: Another talented receiver who seemingly gets lost in the shuffle. Some project him as a late-first rounder, but the second round looks more likely as a landing spot for him.

Devery Henderson, LSU, 6-0, 197 — Fourth-year senior…High school sprinting champion who spent his first two years at LSU as a running back…Two-year starter at wide receiver, he had eight touchdowns in just 23 catches in 2002 before breaking his right arm and having 14 screws and two steel plates inserted…Bounced back last year with a solid 53-861-11 season…Returns kickoffs…Very good first-step burst as well as downfield deep speed…Very dangerous after the catch and can turn a short slant pass into a long touchdown…TD production is outstanding — 19 touchdowns on just 76 receptions since moving to wide receiver…Looked very good at the Senior Bowl…Durability is a question…Lack of tangible experience is a drawback…Some view his productivity as being the result of playing opposite Michael Clayton and Clayton drawing the top coverage man…Doesn't have good lower body strength, so he is often jammed by big, physical corners…Ran a strong 4.36 40 at the Combine and had a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump.

PROJECTION: As a No. 2 guy in college, some teams will downgrade him, but few receivers have the big-play pedigree Henderson brings to the table, which should take him off the board sometime late in second or early in the third round.

Keary Colbert, USC, 6-1, 207 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who blossomed as a junior and senior — catching 140 passes for 2,042 yards and 14 touchdowns — in two almost identical seasons numbers-wise…USC's all-time leading receiver with 207 catches — more than first-rounder Mike Williams and former first pick Keyshawn Johnson…Excellent off-the-line release and explosion allows him to beat press…Strong route runner who reads defenses on the fly…Will make tough catches over the middle of the field…Hard worker who earns respect from coaches and teammates…Much like Henderson (above), he was the No. 2 receiver in a college offense that saw Mike Williams get priority attention…Doesn't have great speed and won't leave CBs in the dust with a double move…Doesn't make many d-backs miss after the catch…Performed better than expected at the Combine with a 4.43 40, a 36-inch vertical jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: It's becoming a recurring theme of a No. 2 receiver getting attention on draft day because the unit as a whole is so exceptional. Should go somewhere in the third round.


Devard Darling, Washington State, 6-1, 212 —
Fourth-year junior who transferred from Florida State following the death of twin brother…Two-year starter who caught 104 passes for 1,630 yards and 18 touchdowns…Excellent downfield receiver…Decent speed with a good second gear on the go route…Strong leaper and good body control, especially on sideline routes…Still needs work on his route running…Has alligator arms over the middle and won't lay himself out if he thinks he'll take a big hit…Gets lazy at times…Drops too many catchable slant passes…Ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine with 37-inch vertical jump, a 10-9 broad jump and 19 Wonderlic score…Has the skills to be solid No. 2 receiver in the pros, but needs to become more of a student of the game who learns the little tricks that make a good receiver great. He's not there yet and it will likely keep him on the board until the end of Round 3 or on Day 2.

Bernard Berrian, Fresno State, 6-1, 183 — Fifth-year senior and two-year starter…Versatile player who catches passes, runs the ball and returns kicks and punts…Big-play potential at all times…Team leader who was willing to do whatever was asked of him…Missed 2002 season with knee injury and didn't look the same last year…Lightest receiver in the draft and gets jammed hard at the line…Drops too many passes…Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine along with a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-9 broad jump and Wonderlic score of 20…A smurf-type receiver who could end up going much higher than this if his knee gets clearance from doctors…His best hope is to become a Kelly Campbell type of situational receiver.

Johnnie Morant, Syracuse, 6-4, 229 — Fourth-year senior…Never a full-time starter because of injuries and rules violations…A very strong athlete whose father was a former Mr. Olympia…Catches the ball in traffic…Not a proficient route runner…Wowed scouts at the Combine with a 4.5 40, a position-best 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 27…A boom-bust pick, his attitude and injuries have kept him from being a top pick, but he has the skills to be a big-time steal on the second day of the draft.

Ernest Wilford, Virginia Tech, 6-4, 226 — A fifth-year senior…One-year starter who caught 51 passes for 925 yards and seven TDs last year…Hard worker with a good combination of size and bulk…Big target in the Red Zone on fade routes…Still very raw with limited playing experience…Doesn't have good speed — his 4.71 40 at the Combine was the second worst among wide receivers…Had a 40-1/2 inch vertical jump at the Combine along with a 10-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 13 — worst among wide receivers…Had a very strong showing at the Senior Bowl and could be a solid pro with TD ability in the Red Zone.

Triandos Luke, Alabama, 5-11, 190 — Fourth-year senior and two-year starter who caught 73 passes for 915 yards and six TDs the last two years…Incredible speed, his 4.3 40 at the Combine was the best of any player tested…Can stop and start on a dime…Returns kicks…Lacks ideal NFL size…Is too small to beat the jam consistently at the line of scrimmage…Had a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump at the Combine, but did just 15 reps…Despite his blazing speed, he projects to be a possession receiver in the pros and his lack of size and playing strength will likely drop him into the second day of the draft.

Derrick Hamilton, Clemson, 6-3, 196 — Fourth-year junior and two-year starter who caught 114 passes for 1,628 yards and 12 touchdowns — 10 of those coming last season…Returns kicks and punts…Broke the school records for all-purpose yards held by Washington WR Rod Gardner…Good combination of speed and upper body strength…Willing blocker…Doesn't go down on first contact…Doesn't run routes consistently well…Known for taking plays off when he's not the center of the offense…Has a chance to be a solid No. 2 or 3 receiver, and his ability to return kicks will almost assure him of being drafted sometime on Day 2.

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