Entering the 2007 NFL draft, many draft expert had both Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison listed as potential second-round picks. Each was selected by the Minnesota Vikings, but Rice was picked in the second round while Allison had to wait until the fifth round to be selected by the Vikings.
That value discrepancy showed up in offseason workouts this spring, as Rice saw time with the first-team offense in three-receiver sets and Allison was among a large of relatively inexperienced players looking to find a spot on the depth chart.
"Right now, it's obvious guys like Bobby Wade and Troy Williamson, those guys are going to be there because they're veterans and they're used to it. They put in their work," Allison said. "But after that, I feel like it's up in the air, up for grabs. They brought in a number of receivers to compete for those other four positions. With that said, you usually have to compete and see how things go."
Last year, the Vikings finished the season with six receivers on their active roster, and only Bethel Johnson is not with the team again this spring. However, they also added three receivers in the draft and another four free agents – Justin Surrency, Cortez Hankton, Bobby Wade and Todd Lowber – that remain with the team.
It's a crowded landscape, even for a mid-round draft pick.
"Right now, there are no specific depths, unless you're Bobby Wade, Troy Williamson, Sidney Rice – those guys. They paid their dues and got their starting positions, so after that it's up for grabs. It's basically going to be the best man out there to get those next three positions," Allison said.
"My thought process is just that I have to compete like anybody that's coming into the National Football League – it's the best of the best. You have 12 guys competing for six spots basically. You've got to bring it every day."
Allison said he has forgotten about slipping in the draft to the fifth round, but in the same thought he talks about using it for motivation.
After two years at junior college, where he caught a combined 70 passes, Allison rose up the draft rankings as an East Carolina prospect that had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl all-star game. After 145 receptions and a few All-Conference USA nominations in his junior and senior seasons, it took a productive Senior Bowl week for the Vikings to really take notice of him, but they obviously value Rice higher, and their camp depth chart would reflect that.
It was at the Senior Bowl that Allison also impressed third-round cornerback Marcus McCauley.
"I knew who (Allison) was before the Senior Bowl, but when we got to the Senior Bowl and seen the things that he can do – he returns punts and returns kicks – the way he runs routes and he's so savvy. He's not the tallest guy, but he gets open," McCauley said. "I think he's just calm and relaxed. Some receivers might give their routes away because they're not that fast or they know they're not that big – they can't muscle guys or they can't just run by guys – but he just has an extra wiggle in his routes and he does that and he separate from others."
One of the reasons Allison's draft stock may have fallen is his lack of major-college playing experience. There is certainly a difference in the complexity of the playbooks when comparing that of East Carolina's to the Vikings' system.
"The playbook is real detailed compared to East Carolina. That's the thing that you get when you go to the next level; the best guys are on this level. You've got to be able to think on the run," he said.
"I feel the better prepared you are, the better you play. By you just knowing what to do, you can let your natural athletic ability take over, and that's what got you to this level."
While there is a tendency to let an overwhelming playbook slow down the athletic gifts, Allison is trying to embrace what little veteran presence is at wide receiver and learn what he can from the very receivers he's competing with for a roster spot.
While he's catching up on his playbook, he's hoping a few factors weigh in his favor.
The first is his ability to return punts and kickoffs, an asset that raised his value in some predraft estimates despite his relative lack of experience doing it in college. He started three games as a punt returner before an injury took him out of that role. When he returned, he was focusing on just playing receiver.
The other asset he hopes to exploit is his ability to play all the different receiver positions in the Vikings' West Coast system.
"I feel like my special skills are just being able to move all over the field, whether it's special teams or just the offensive side. I feel like I'm athletic enough to play any position on the field, wherever the coaches want me to be in order to help the team win," he said.
And for him to win a roster spot.
WR Allison Looking for Opening
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