Positional Analysis: Wide receivers

The Vikings are in search of a wide receiver, as evidenced by their pursuit of T.J. Houshmandzadeh. If you want to go in-depth on draft prospects at receiver, this is the place. John Holler reviews the statistics, measurables, and strengths and weaknesses of the top dozen receivers in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Vikings Wide Receivers – Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, Bobby Wade, Aundrae Allison, Jaymar Johnson, Darius Reynaud, Glenn Holt.

Vikings Draft Outlook – It would seem clear by the attempt the Vikings made to sign free-agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh that they view this position as a need area and are willing to commit resources – whether a fat free-agent contract or a premium draft pick – to reach that end. The Vikings have invested heavily in the position in recent years, signing Bobby Wade as a free agent in 2007, drafting Sidney Rice in the second round that same year and giving Bobby Wade a big free-agent deal last winter. Can more be done? With this class of talent, it would seem very likely the Vikings will use one of their first three picks here.

The Class of 2009 – For the second straight year, there is an extremely strong class of athletes with different types of specialties that will make them more attractive to certain teams. In 2008, there was another deep class – so deep that many speculate that teams ignored the position in the first round because they were confident they could still get a good player in the second round, even if not the highest player on their predraft board. It played against the crop of WRs last year, as none were taken in the first round, but a record-setting 10 wide receivers went off the board in the second round. Expect to see at least three or four wideouts coming off the board in the first round this year and as many or more coming off in the second.

CREAM OF THE CROP

Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech, 6-1½, 215 –
Third-year sophomore … Two-year starter who caught 231 passes for 3,127 yards and 41 touchdowns … Set NCAA Division I freshman records for receptions (134), yards (1,962) and touchdowns (22) in 2007 … Battled through ankle and foot injuries in 2008, but still managed 97 catches for 1,165 yards and 19 TDs … Won the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football's top wide receiver each of the last two years … Did not work out at the Combine because of a stress fracture in his left foot that required surgery and might keep him out of action until training camp … A phenomenal athlete with excellent strength to be beat jams and yards-after-the-catch ability … Has long arms (34½ inches) … According to school records, he caught 94 percent of the passes thrown his way during his college career … An excellent leaper who outjumps defenders and always seems to catch a pass in those situations at its highest point … Has excellent burst into and out of cuts … Saves his best for the best games … Is strong enough to fight for extra yards … Has experience as a kickoff returner … Can beat the jam effectively … Played is a pass-heavy offense that was a gimmick offense that typically threw short slant passes … Wasn't required to run all the routes that most top wide receivers are adept at … Doesn't have great explosion immediately on the snap … Has an attitude akin to other receiver divas like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson and has been treated like a rock star … Durability may be a concern at the top of the draft because of the foot injury … Did not work out at the Combine because of foot surgery. PROJECTION: Crabtree is an enigma. He has completely dominated opponents in his two years of college and that is no small feat considering he plays in the Big 12. The foot problems have to be a concern, but he is a franchise player on the order of Calvin Johnson a couple of years ago and shouldn't make it past the Raiders at No. 8.

Jeremy Maclin, Missouri, 6-0¼, 197 – Third-year sophomore … Missed the 2006 season after tearing his right ACL, lateral collateral ligament and the capsule around the knee in a preseason drill … A two-year starter who caught 182 passes for 2,315 yards and 22 touchdowns, as well as rushing 91 times for 694 yards and six TDs and returning kickoffs … His 2,776 all-purpose yards in 2007 set the all-time NCAA Division I freshman record … A versatile player who lined up in multiple receiver positions from game to game and within the game … Has excellent hands and plucks the ball away from his body … Has the speed to take any pass play to the house … Accelerates extremely quickly from a dead stop to high gear … Adjusts very well to the deep pass in flight … Is very young – he will still be just 20 years old when drafted … Wasn't jammed too often and, when he was, he often seemed unprepared – something that will have to change at the next level … Has good straight-line speed, but slows down considerably when forced to change direction … Is viewed as a raw route runner for this stage in his career … Is thin by NFL standards and there are concerns for his long-term durability at the next level … Gets far fewer yards after the catch than he should for his speed … Is not a standout blocker … Ran a 4.41 40 at the Combine with a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: All he does is make plays, but his skinny frame may scare away some teams at the top. You can't teach speed and he has it. Some scouts even have him going ahead of Crabtree – a feeling we don't share. But he could go as high as No. 7 to the Raiders or No. 8 the Jaguars, but more likely he will last into the middle third of the first round and be gone well before the Vikings pick at No. 22.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland, 6-1¾, 212 –
Fourth-year junior … An All-American track star in high school who won Maryland state titles in the 100 and 200 meters … Became a starter in the fourth game of his redshirt freshman season and, in the three years that followed, he caught 138 passes for 2,089 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing 25 times for 344 yards and two TDs … Has very good size and long arms … Makes good adjustments to poorly thrown passes … Has ungodly speed (see below) and can fly past defenders who either don't jam him or don't jam him effectively … An extremely good leaper (see below) … A long strider who eliminates a cushion for a defender almost immediately and forces them to flip their hips and run with him … Will go over the middle and make the tough catch … Looks for people to block on sweeps or underneath routes to other receivers … Slows down into and out of his cuts and loses some of his speed … Has very small hands for a receiver, especially one his size … Viewed by some as more of a one-trick pony – deep speed routes – than a complete receiver … Rolls his routes too often and allows defenders to catch up … Has a history of hamstring and lower-body muscle pulls … Reports indicate he scored only 14 on the Wonderlic test – a pretty dismal score … Was never a consistently explosive college player – he averaged just 44 receptions a year for less than 700 yards and slightly over four TDs a year in his career … Ran a blistering 4.26 40 at the Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 38½-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is as athletically gifted as any receiver in the draft with the combination of blazing speed and upside potential in the strength department. He could end up being the best receiver of this draft, but he is raw because he played with such horrendous quarterbacks at Maryland. He will need more time to develop than either Crabtree or Maclin, which will likely drop him into the lower half of the first round. But a team willing to gamble on greatness could make him one of the surprise early picks of the draft.

Percy Harvin, Florida, 5-11¾, 193 – Fourth-year junior … Has a very checkered past that includes being suspended from competition twice, being arrested on an assault charge and being one of the few players ever banned from athletic competition by the Virginia State High School League … Became a starter midway through his redshirt freshman season and, in his three years with the Gators, he caught 133 passes for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed a whopping 194 times for 1,905 yards and 19 touchdowns … Missed time in each of his three seasons with ankle injuries and an Achilles strain … And extremely versatile player who can take any play the distance at any time … Extremely good hands and rarely drops passes … Has arguably the best acceleration off the line of any receiver in the draft … He goes from zero to 20 in the blink of an eye … Is his most dangerous in space, where he can make defenders look sick with his speed and change-of-direction skills … Runs good routes … Is an exceptional runner who would be dangerous on reverses and bubble screens … Gets a ton of yards after contact … Played in a pass-happy offense with a lot of misdirection and trickery that doesn't apply to the pro game … Although viewed by many as a player with excellent potential as a return man, he was never used in that capacity in college … Has a lot of character questions that will have to be answered to the satisfaction of those in charge of war rooms … Is cocky, perhaps too much so … Is undersized and has a steady history of injuries in college, so durability will be a big question … Reportedly scored a 12 on the Wonderlic Test – one of the lowest scores possible … Is far from dominating when asked to block … Ran a 4.41 40 at the Combine with 20 reps, a 37½-inch vertical jump and a 10-1 broad jump. PROJECTION: Perhaps nobody in the draft has the potential to make the immediate impact Harvin does in the NFL. As a slot receiver on a team that already has weapons, he could be a deadly scoring threat. On a team like Indianapolis, he could be a fantasy football god. But, he may never have what it takes to be a go-to No. 1 receiver that draws the top physical corner from an opponent. He has many of the qualities that have made players like Devin Hester so dangerous. Look for him to come off somewhere in the first round, but character and injury questions could drop him in the late stages of the round.

Kenny Britt, Rutgers, 6-3, 218 – Third-year junior … A two-year full-time starter who caught 149 passes for 2,603 yards and 15 touchdowns in that span … Set the Big East Conference record for most career receiving yards with 3,043 and set yardage records each of the last two years (1,232 in 2007 and 1,371 in 2008) and the single-season school reception record (87) last year … Is very strong and gets physical with corners in press coverage … Has good field speed and can hit a second gear down the field … Is a good leaper and has long arms (34 inches) to snatch deep passes away from shorter defenders … Picks up a lot of extra yards after the catch and fights for yardage when corralled … Has extremely good weight room strength – he bench pressed 400 pounds last year … Can track the ball and adjust well on deep passes … Drops far too many passes … Is sometimes a lazy route-runner … Needs to improve as a blocker … Didn't consistently face top-end competition in college and it was easier for him to dominate than those in more competitive conferences … Will always try to make the big play and bounce a reception laterally rather than run upfield to maximize yardage … Doesn't have elite speed … Ran a 4.50 40 at the Combine with 23 reps of 225 pounds, with a 37-inch vertical jump and a 10-4 broad jump. PROJECTION: Big, strong receiver who looks like a young Terrell Owens and has the potential to be a similar type of star. But, he's inconsistent as a receiver. He has a chance to be steal if he slips into the second round. He has a history of being pouty if he doesn't get the ball, which doesn't sit well in a lot of war rooms. He's a gamble on greatness who could find his way into the back end of the first round.

Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina, 6-0¾, 212 – Third-year junior … Three-year starter who, in his final two seasons, caught 142 passes for 2,180 yards and 17 touchdowns … Missed time in each of his first two seasons with ankle injuries … Became the first Tar Heel in school history to top 1,000 yards receiving in a season in 2008 when he caught 68 passes for 1,222 yards and 12 touchdowns … Set 14 school records, including receptions (181), yards (2,840) and touchdowns (21) … Plays faster than his timed speed … Has very good hands and plucks the ball away from his body … Is very good at settling into open zones on the field and keep away from defenders … Is willing to go across the middle and take the big hit … He is aggressive to fight for jump balls deep downfield … Is a playmaker and improved each of his three collegiate seasons … Turns and gets upfield quickly after the catch … Sells his routes very well … Doesn't have great speed and will have a hard time getting past quick defenders … Is inconsistent as a receiver and at times lets the ball get into his body … Will get in a funk if he isn't incorporated into the offense early in a game and will pout … Was one of three receivers that were all talented and will be drafted this year, so he rarely got consistent double coverage as other top receivers … Doesn't get a lot of extra yards after the catch and is brought down too easily when contact is made … Is reported to have scored an 11 on the Wonderlic Test, one of the worst scores ever … Not a good blocker, he tends to try to get in the way of defenders rather than engage them head on … Ran a 4.51 40 at the Combine with a 36-inch vertical jump, but his Combine workout was cut short with a strained hamstring. PROJECTION: A very good receiver who makes a lot of plays. In a different draft class, he would be at or near the top. But because of the talent in the 2009 class, he may still be on the board heading into the second round. However, some mock drafts have had him going as high as No. 22 to the Vikings ahead of a couple of the players we have ranked ahead of him.

BEST OF THE REST

Brandon Tate, North Carolina, 6-0, 183 –
Fourth-year senior … A two-year starter who caught just 46 passes for 927 yards and eight TDs in his final three seasons … A multi-purpose player who was used as a runner, receiver and return man, he led the ACC in all-purpose yards per game with 147.1 yards a game … Set all-time NCAA Division I record for combined return yards with 3,523 yards and ACC record for kickoff return yards with 2,688 yards … In the sixth game of last season, he tore his right ACL and MCL and was unable to work out at the Combine as he was still recovering … Very quick off the line and has quick-twitch moves that leave defenders laying in his wake … Sells routes very well and gets separation in a hurry … Has big hands and uses them well to push off defenders and catch passes … Will go over the middle and make the tough catch … Is able to get position consistently on the deep ball and shield off cornerbacks … Is a tenacious blocker despite his lack of upper-body strength … Doesn't have a second gear or top-end deep speed … Durability is a big question after tearing up his knee … Showed up more than an inch shorter than his announced height at the Combine … Production extremely limited, having never caught more than 25 passes or gained 500 yards in a season … Did not work out at the Combine because he was still recovering from knee surgery. PROJECTION: There is no questioning his ability as a return man, but he may never be more than a slot receiver in the NFL and questions about his knee could drop him behind other prospects we have rated lower than him. He has the ability to be a very solid contributor as both a receiver and a return man, but his lack of top upside and injury could drop him into the third round.

Derrick Williams, Penn State, 5-11½, 194 – A fourth-year senior … A three-year starter who caught 139 passes for 1,453 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed 117 times for 650 yards and eight TDs … An outstanding high school athlete who was name All-American by both USA Today and Parade magazine … Broke his left arm as a freshman in the seventh game of the season … Has a lot of experience returning kicks and punts … Competed for the PSU track team as well … Is muscular and tough for his size … Has good speed in the first 10 yards of pass plays and can get early separation … Has good hands and keeps the ball away from his body … Is willing to give up his body to make a catch … Is dangerous on screens and can make people miss in the open field … Doesn't have elite speed and was brutal at the Combine (see below) … Drops too many easy passes … Not a great route runner and hasn't been asked to run all the routes that most top receivers do … Is not a great leaper (see below) and hasn't been a consistent big-play producer … Averaged less than 11 yards per reception … Ran a disappointing 4.66 40 at the Combine (he had the flu in the days leading up to the Combine) with 15 reps and a 33-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: He had a strong Senior Bowl, which helped his draft stock significantly, but ran slower than expected at both the Combine and his pro day. His versatility as a receiver, slot player, rusher and return man are traits that are coveted by a lot of teams, which could push him off the board in the second round.

Louis Murphy, Florida, 6-2¾, 207 – Fourth-year senior … Two-year starter who caught 75 passes for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns … Was a high school track star who anchored the state champion 4x100 relay team in Florida … Has missed a lot of time due to injury, having bone spurs removed from his hip in 2006, his left knee operated on in 2007 and a staph infection that kept him out of much of the offseason program in 2008 … Is tall and has elite sprinter's speed … Gets separation getting into and out of his cuts … Will go over the middle and take his lumps and hold onto the ball … Has long arms and can outjump defenders … Adjusts well to poorly thrown passes … A solid special teamer as a part-time return man and gunner on punt teams … Is aggressive blocking, but doesn't always effectively move defenders away … Played in a pass-happy offense that doesn't prepare receivers for the pro game … Was never the primary passing target in his offense … Drops a lot of passes he should catch … Doesn't have good upper-body strength (see below) and will have trouble beating the jam with physical corners … Needs a couple of extra steps off the line to reach top speed … Tends to go down too easily when contacted by defenders … Didn't jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.32 40 and did just 12 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Overshadowed by Andre Caldwell and Percy Harvin, Murphy has never been given his full due. He has a nice combination of size and can get bigger and stronger, but he is viewed as a developmental project who could come off the board late in Day One, but more likely early in Day Two.

Brian Robiske, Ohio State, 6-3, 205 – Fourth-year senior … Two-year starter who caught 97 passes for 1,470 yards and 19 touchdowns in that span … The son of Terry Robiske, who played five years in the NFL from 1977 to 1981 with the Raiders and Dolphins and is currently the receivers coach at Atlanta … Had very good hands and rarely drops passes … Excellent in selling his routes and getting separation … An intelligent player who has played all of the receiver positions over his career and become proficient at all of them … Is fearless over the middle … Is adept at finding soft spots in zones and quickly settling into them to give his QB a good target … Is a very good jumper (see below) … Is willing to get dirty in blocking assignments, but needs to improve … Does not have good upper-body strength and has difficulty beating jams against physical CBs … Does not have great burst off the line and needs time to reach full speed … Does not have the speed to blow past defenders or win foot races … Isn't flashy and doesn't make too many tacklers miss in the open field … Ran a 4.47 40 at the Combine with a 37½-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: He's not a receiver that makes yours eyes pop on film, but he is a smart, experienced player who could develop into a very good No. 2 possession receiver in the NFL. He's a safe pick who could go higher than we have him projected, but teams often get enamored with speed in the draft, which could drop him to the end of the second round or early into the third round.

Austin Collie, Brigham Young, 6-1¼, 196 – Third-year junior who took two years off to complete a Mormon mission … A Mr. Football finalist in California as a high school senior, he played wide receiver, cornerback, kicker and return man for his prep team … A three-year starter who caught 215 passes for 3,255 yards and 30 touchdowns – all of which are BYU school records … Suffered a stress fracture in his right leg late in the 2007 season and missed the spring workouts … Exploded in 2008, setting school records for receptions (106), yards (1,538) and touchdowns (15) … Tied an all-time NCAA Division I record by topping 100 yards receiving in 11 straight games … Has good size and upper-body strength … Runs good routes and sells them nicely … Hits top speed very quickly and can get separation … Makes the tough catch look easy … Adjusts to balls in flight extremely well … A big-play producer who played his best when the pressure was on – whether it be a top opponent or late in games … Can change directions very quickly … Doesn't have deep speed and, despite having a quick burst, can get caught by fast corners on deep routes … Is undersized and will have to add some bulk to his frame to handle physical NFL CBs … Played a spread offense that doesn't always translate well to the NFL … Is not an effective blocker and tends to get pushed aside … Age is a concern since he will be 24 this season … Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He plays faster than his timed speed and finds ways to make plays. His negatives are big ones in the eyes of NFL scouts, including his age and lack of bulk strength. He could be a productive slot receiver in the right offense, but his upside is limited and he is viewed as a mid-round player that will be a jack of all trades in the NFL.

Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma, 6-1, 210 – Fourth-year senior … Three-year starter who, in his final two seasons, caught 142 passes for 2,057 yards and 15 touchdowns … Returned kickoffs the last three seasons … Is intelligent and finds soft spots in defensive zones … His production increased each of his four seasons, culminating in 74 catches for 1,150 yards and 10 TDs as a senior … Is willing to go over the middle and make the tough catch … Has very good hands and keeps the ball away from his body by plucking passes with his hands … Has good burst into and out of his cuts and gets upfield immediately after making a catch … Does not have good deep speed and can get caught, despite posting a good 40 time at the Combine (see below) … Does not explode off the line and needs a couple of steps to get up to speed, which could be a problem at the next level … Does not attack defenders and can get slowed up by jams … Doesn't break a lot of tackles once a defender gets a hold on him … Has small hands and drops some passes if poorly thrown … Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with a 34½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A consistent player whose production increased every year, if the Vikings don't take a wide receiver in either of the first two rounds, they may consider reuniting Iglesias with former college teammate Adrian Peterson in the third round.

OTHERS TO WATCH

Demetrius Byrd, LSU, 6-0¾, 200
Jarrett Dillard, Rice, 5-10¼, 191
Brooks Foster, North Carolina, 6-0½, 211
Brandon Gibson, Washington State, 6-0½, 210
Manuel Johnson, Oklahoma, 5-11, 189
Johnny Knox, Abilene Christian, 5-11¾, 181
Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia, 6-1½, 207
Kenny McKinley, South Carolina, 6-0½, 189
Sammie Stroughter, Oregon State, 5-9½, 189
Mike Thomas, Arizona, 5-7¼, 195
Patrick Turner, USC, 6-5¼, 223
*Pat White, West Virginia, 6-0¼, 197 (previously ranked among QBs)
Jaison Williams, Oregon, 6-4½, 231

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