Positional Analysis: Wide Receivers

Most observers consider it a given that the Vikings will select a wide receiver on the first day of the NFL Draft, probably even the first round. We take a look at the statistics, gifts and liabilities of the top dozen receivers available and where they are likely to be drafted.

Vikings' Wide Receivers — Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson, Travis Taylor, Kelly Campbell, Blake Elliott, Keenan Howry, Ryan Hoag.

Vikings' Needs — From the day the Vikings traded Randy Moss to Oakland, the questions began about how the team would address the position. While the team paid a modest contract to free agent Travis Taylor, the overriding belief is that the Vikings will take a wideout with one of their two first-round picks. Who that player will be will largely depend on how the draft falls.

Class of 2005 — Two receivers — Braylon Edwards of Michigan and Mike Williams of USC — have emerged as potential selections at No. 7, while players like Troy Williamson or Mark Clayton could figure in at pick No. 18. While the class isn't as deep as last year, when wide receivers flew off the board in the first round, there could be a handful that go in the first round and 15 or more that fly the coop on the first day of the draft.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Braylon Edwards, Michigan, 6-3, 210 — Fourth year senior ... Three-year starter who caught 249 passes for 4,503 yards and 39 TDs in that span ... Two-time All-Big 10 and All-American as a senior ... Won the Biletnikoff Award in 2004, given to the best college wide receiver ... Excellent combination of size and speed ... His father Stanley played in the NFL with the Oilers and Lions ... Has big hands and long arms ... Excellent leaping ability ... Has strong upper body and can beat jams at the line of scrimmage ... Makes the highlight film catches look routine ... Showed off his strength at the Combine by doing an amazing 22 reps with 225 pounds ... Drops too many easy passes ... Doesn't always play with concentration ... Not a solid or a consistent blocker ... Needs to work on reading zone coverages and finding the soft spot ... Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with 22 reps, a 37-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 27.

PROJECTION: He has all the physical tools to be a hot commodity on draft day. He could be the first wide receiver since Keyshawn Johnson to be the No. 1 overall pick. The Vikings would love for him to slide to them, but he will have a difficult time making it past the top four selections. Teams might be willing to trade up to get him.

Mike Williams, USC, 6-4, 229 — Second-year sophomore who had to sit out 2004 after attempting to join the 2004 draft as part of the Maurice Clarett ruling ... A two-year starter who caught 176 passes for 2,579 yards and 30 touchdowns ... Despite playing just two years, he set the USC record for receiving TDs with 30 ... All-American in 2003 ... Perfect combination of size and speed ... Very physical and difficult to jam ... Adjusts to poorly thrown balls and makes the difficult catches look effortless ... Not afraid to go over the middle and sacrifice his body ... Ideal size for a prototype receiver ... Has good body control in the air ... Is a long-strider who doesn't have deep speed ... Needs to improve his footwork and technique ... Some believe the year away from football has rusted some of his innate skills ... Doesn't give a lot of effort in blocking on a consistent basis ... Ran a 4.58 40 at the Combine with a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-3 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 20.

PROJECTION: Williams was expected to be a top-10 pick last year when there were a ton of first-round quality WRs that could have allowed some teams to put off going after one. Without the same impressive class of receivers this year, Williams shouldn't make it out of the top 10 and, if he's still on the board at No. 7, could very well become the Vikings' first pick of the 2005 draft. He's been compared to Cris Carter by no less than Carter himself — who worked with him at his training facility in Florida and will likely put in a good for him with the Vikes.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Mark Clayton, Oklahoma, 5-10_, 193 —
Fifth-year senior ... Two-year starter who caught 149 passes for 2,301 yards and 23 TDs in his final two years ... Two-time All Big 12 selection and All-American as a senior ... A Biletnikoff Award finalist ... Made headlines in 2003 when he and a teammate risked their own lives to save a family of five following a car accident ... Very dangerous after the catch ... Willing to go over the middle and take big hits ... Very consistent hands ... Has a second gear to chase down long passes ... Does a nice job of reading zone coverage ... Played in a NFL style offense, so his learning curve will be shorter than most ... Durability isn't a question, since he's never missed time with injuries ... Actually seems to enjoy blocking ... Doesn't have the ideal height or bulk and could get jammed often at the next level ... Is neither a true burner or a great leaper ... Ran a 4.4 40 at the Combine with a 36-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: After a dominating performance during Senior Bowl week, he dispelled the myth that he was too small to be productive. He reminds many people of Marvin Harrison and, if the Vikings don't take a wide receiver with their first pick, he will be on the radar at pick No. 18 — if someone else hasn't snapped him up first.

Troy Williamson, South Carolina, 6-1, 203 — Third-year junior ... Two-year starter who caught 74 passes for 1,263 yards and nine TDs in that span ... Two-time South Carolina high school track champion in the 100 and 200 meters ... Second-team All-SEC last year ... Has experience returning kicks ... Blew away scouts with an incredible 4.32 40 at the Combine ... Has speed to take any pass thrown at him all the way ... Big hands and plucks the ball with ease ... Determined blocker who doesn't mind mixing it up ... Doesn't have the kind of experience scouts want in first-round picks ... Didn't play in a pro style offense, so he will need to make a lot of adjustments on the fly ... Doesn't have great bulk or lower body strength so corners will try to jam him a lot ... Didn't lift or jump at the Combine but ran the aforementioned 40 time and had a Wonderlic score of 21.

PROJECTION: His pure speed will get teams like Dallas and Carolina in the middle of the first round interested, but he may take a year or two to develop. Should have stayed in school another year, but with a new coaching staff coming in, he felt his best shot was to go now, and he should land somewhere in the first round.

Roddy White, Alabama-Birmingham, 6-1, 204 — Fourth-year senior ... Three-year starter ... Won two state wrestling titles in high school ... Posted decent numbers, but in his final two seasons averaged 21 yards a catch, hauling in 110 passes for 2,296 yards and 21 touchdowns ... Two time All-Conference USA pick ... Set the conference records for receiving yards in a season with 1,452 yards in 2004 ... Good size and excellent hands ... Does a good job of adjusting to bad passes ... Excellent speed and has a second gear in the open field ... He doesn't have ideal height ... Didn't face a lot of NFL-potential CBs in Conference USA ... With all his speed, he doesn't get as many yards after the catch as one might think ... Inconsistent blocker ... Some have questioned his ability to work overtime to improve ... Injured his hamstring earlier in Senior Bowl week and missed those critical practices ... Didn't work out at the Combine, but ran a 4.45 40 at his pro day with an impressive 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 17.

PROJECTION: He has all the skills needed to be a great NFL wide receiver, but needs to improve his work habits and his recognition skills. He may take a year or two develop, but is still seen as a player who might sneak into the end of the first round.

Matt   Jones, Arkansas, 6-6, 241 — Fourth-year senior who played quarterback at Arkansas, but projects as a wide receiver or tight end at the pro level ... Was a McDonald's All-American in basketball in high school and played for the Razorbacks hoops team for two years ... Has tremendous size and, after running a 4.37 40 at the Combine, he perked up a lot of ears ... A natural athlete who impressed coaches and scouts at the Senior Bowl when he put on a clinic despite never playing wide receiver at college...Has breakaway speed...Struggled at times running routes at the Senior Bowl ... Has never been asked to be a blocker and sacrifice his body ... More straight-line vertical speed than coming into and out of cuts ... Not a student of the game and some have questioned his heart, saying he has gotten by to this point on talent instead of working hard to improve ... Ran a 4.37 40 at the Combine with a 39-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-9 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: No player has been getting more buzz than Jones, who, like former converted quarterback Antwaan Randle-El, has a chance to go from being viewed as a second-round prospect in the weeks leading up to the draft to a late first-rounder. He will be a project, but has all the prototype skills scouts look for. He'll need to adjust, but you can't teach height or speed, and he has both.

Reggie Brown, Georgia, 6-1, 195 — Fifth-year senior ... Tore his right ACL as a freshman ... Set Georgia high school record with a long jump of 24 feet, 9 inches ... A two-year starter who caught 102 passes for 1,522 yards and nine TDs in that span ... Very good speed and fights for jump balls with the best of them ... Bench presses 400 pounds ... Smooth route runner ... Gets a lot of yards after the catch ... Has great burst off the line and makes it difficult for corners to jam him on the snap ... Doesn't always show good concentration and will drop too many passes ... He's frustrating because he can make the acrobatic catches but drop the easy ones ... Some believe some of his success is attributed to defenses being more concerned about teammate Fred Gibson ... Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with 18 reps of 225 pounds, a 41-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-8 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 18.

PROJECTION: Brown is an enigma that has some believing he is more of a track performer than a true football player. But, he has enough of the required skills that, in the right system, he could become a big-time player. But his question marks will probably drop him well into the second round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Terrence Murphy, Texas A&M, 6-1, 202 —
Fourth-year senior ... Two-year starter who caught 100 passes for 1,483 yards and three TDs in his final two years ... Also served as a kick returner ... First-team All Big 12 the last two years — once as a kick returner and once as a receiver ... Didn't play wide receiver until he came to college ... Runs very strong routes and has little wasted motion ... Has great deep speed and a second gear in the open field that leaves DBs in the rear view ... Strong upper body that he uses not only to beat jams but as a blocker ... Team player and hard worker ... Has had problems with fumbling and dropping easy passes ... Doesn't do a great job of reading zone defenses and finding the soft spots ... Despite his tremendous speed and ability to get deep, he caught just three touchdowns in his final two seasons ... Ran an impressive 4.39 40 at the Combine, with a 41-inch vertical jump, a 10-8 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 15.

PROJECTION: To look at his numbers from the Combine, you would think he was a lock to go in the first round. But, because his spotty production and lack of elite size, he will likely stay on the board until the second round and be used initially as a kicker return man.

Fred Gibson, Georgia, 6-4, 196 — Fourth-year senior ... Only a full-time starter in 2004, when he caught 49 passes for 801 yards and seven touchdowns and was named to the All-SEC first team ... Played basketball for the Bulldogs for two seasons ... Prototype size with long arms and wingspan ... Good route runner who gets separation quickly ... Great leaper who comes down with jump balls ... A solid kick returner, which greatly helps his stock ... Has been accused by some scouts of being lazy and inconsistent in his concentration ... Has had a number of injuries that have some questioning his durability ... Is skinny and isn't an accomplished blocker ... Doesn't like to go over the middle and sometimes will have alligator arms when he hears footsteps ... Raised some character red flags when he and some of his teammates were accused of selling their SEC championship rings ... Ran a 4.4 40 at the Combine with a 38-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 10-6 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 19.

PROJECTION: He has the pure skills to be a No. 1 receiver in the NFL, but his injuries and seeming lack of dedication to improving will drop him significantly on some teams' lists, but should still be a second- or third-round selection. His strong showing at the Senior Bowl helps his draft stock.

Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado, 6-4, 236 — Fourth-year senior ... Two-year starter who wowed Division I-AA with 146 catches for 2,844 yards and 32 TDs in the last two years ... Returned punts for UNC ... Two-time Division I-AA All-American ... Excellent size and good speed ... Some teams might look at him more as a H-back because of his size ... Doesn't mind going over the middle and laying out ... Dangerous near the goal line ... Improved his ranking with a physical performance at the Senior Bowl workouts ... Takes a long time to get to full speed because he takes long steps ... Hasn't played top competition, which will make his transition from UNC to the NFL more difficult than most of the other top WRs available ... Rounds off his cuts too often ... Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 23 reps with 225 pounds, a 39-inch vertical jump, a 10-9 broad jump and an impressive Wonderlic score of 33.

PROJECTION: Before the post-season workouts, he looked to be a second-day selection, but after posting solid numbers, he should move into the first day.

Chris Henry, West Virginia, 6-4, 197 — Third-year junior ... In two years as a starter, he caught 93 passes for 1,878 yards and 22 touchdowns ... Two-time All-Big East selection ... Good size, big hands and very good speed ... Adjusts extremely well to poorly thrown passes ... Good leaper who excels in the Red Zone ... Hits full speed quickly ... Is viewed in many ways like Randy Moss, which isn't necessarily a good thing ... He has been called brooding, selfish and immature ... Doesn't like to over the middle ... Takes plays off and isn't as interested when he isn't directly involved in plays ... Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with a 36-inch vertical jump, a 10-5 broad jump and a woeful Wonderlic score of 6.

PROJECTION: Henry has all the tools to be a very solid pro and improved his stock with very strong showings at the Combine and his school's pro day. But his plusses are almost outweighed by his minuses. If a team is willing to look past the numerous flags on his resume, he could go as high as late in the second round. But some teams won't even consider taking him until the second day, so he could be a guy who stays on the board for a long time.

Craphonso Thorpe, Florida State, 6-1, 187 — Fourth-year senior ... Two-year starter who caught 91 passes for 1,490 yards and 13 touchdowns in that span ... Named ACC Outdoor Track Performer of the Year in 2003, competing in the 100 and 200 meters and 4x100 relay team ... Broke his leg late in 2003 and required surgery that inserted a metal rod in his leg ... Returned in 2004 and was named First Team All-ACC ... Has excellent concentration and catches the ball in traffic ... Good leaper ... Makes excellent adjustments to poorly thrown balls ... Consistently finds the soft spots in zone coverage ... Doesn't have great strength and finds it hard to break jams quickly ... Scored 11 touchdowns in 2003 before the leg injury, but caught just two last year ... Ran an impressive 4.37 40 at the Combine with 15 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-1/2 inch vertical jump, a 9-10 broad jump and a Wonderlic score of 20.

PROJECTION: Many scouts believe he is fully recovered from his leg injury, but it didn't show last year, which could drop to late in the first day of the draft or early in the second.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Roscoe Parrish, Miami (5-10, 170)
Jerome Mathis, Hampton (5-11, 181)
Courtney Roby, Indiana (6-0, 189)
Craig Bragg, UCLA (6-1, 196)
Tab Perry, UCLA (6-2_, 229)
Mark Bradley, Oklahoma (6-1, 201)
J.R. Russell, Louisville (6-3, 206)
Roydell Williams, Tulane (6-0, 187)
Steve Savoy, Utah (5-11, 192)



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