It was clear heading into the draft that the Vikings were intending to take at least one wide receiver to help out their offense. The last time the Vikings used a high draft pick on a wide receiver, it was South Carolina's Troy Williamson.
Two years later, the next wide receiver taken early by the Vikings was another Gamecock – third-year sophomore Sidney Rice, who had a pair of huge seasons with South Carolina (70 catches, 1,143 yards, 13 TDs and 72-1,090-10). His highlight reel is impressive, including several long bomb touchdowns – which has become Rice's calling card.
"You've heard me say 10 times that a receiver by definition should receive," head coach Brad Childress said. "(He has) very good hand-eye (coordination) and a 40-inch vertical jump. He makes a lot of plays on film."
The Vikings talked with South Carolina's Steve Spurrier Jr. and defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix about Rice to get their takes on what kind of professional he could be. But, while the Vikings were on the clock, the phone started ringing with teams looking to move into their spot. When Atlanta offered up a fourth-round pick in order to move up three spots, the Vikings were convinced that if the Falcons didn't take Rice, he would still be on the board at the 44th pick.
"We had five guys that (we liked) and as it got closer we were getting a lot of calls with different offers," Spielman said. "The way we had our board stacked, we had five players we would have been happy with no matter what. As it came down, we decided we could move back. Indy wasn't going to take a receiver. Detroit wasn't going to take a receiver. So we were able to pick up another fourth-rounder and still have our choice of receivers."
As the brain trust had predicted, the next three picks were cornerback, offensive tackle and quarterback, leaving Rice and USC receivers Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith for the Vikings to choose from. What Rice's role will be in the Vikings offense early on isn't clear, but despite his ability to play different positions, Childress said he intends to put him in one spot and keep him there to increase the speed of his learning curve.
"It remains to be seen," Childress said. "He can be a multiple-position guy, but we'll probably try to lock him down in a spot as we start."
What separated Rice from players like Jarrett and Smith was the combination of skill sets that make a dangerous vertical receiver and red zone threat. The combination of skills is rare in wide receivers and the Vikings' infatuation with Rice was obvious in their glowing remarks about him.
"When we evaluated him, you had a long guy – a 6-3 guy – who ran fast at the Combine for his size," Spielman said. "The other thing is that he has explosiveness and you see that when he goes up for deep balls and in the red zone. You take a 6-3 guy that has a 38½ inch vertical jump along with the receiving skills that you look he has some unique ability to control his body up in the air. He has a lot of unique skills."
Although Rice and Williamson both played at South Carolina and remain in contact, Childress downplayed any comparisons of the two or if Rice would be a positive influence on Williamson. After all, Williamson was coached by Lou Holtz, while Rice was coached by Steve Spurrier.
"I know they know of each other," Childress said. "One was leaving and the other one was pretty young back then. It didn't make any difference (to us) if (Rice) was from South Carolina or Pitsky Switch."
Regardless of where he comes from, it's where he's at that is important to the Vikings and, in a draft deep with talented wide receivers, the Vikings believe they gleaned a gem in Rice.
Unique Skills Attracted Vikings to Rice
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