Positional Analysis: Wide receivers

The Vikings have dedicated a lot of resources to improving their receiving corps lately and it might be a good thing. Many of the top receivers this year have issues that could make them a risky proposition (but, then again, that was the rap on Percy Harvin). John Holler takes an in-depth look at his top 10 receivers with statistics, analysis, injury issues and more on each of them.

VIKINGS WIDE RECEIVERS — Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, Jaymar Johnson, Greg Lewis, Darius Reynaud.

VIKINGS NEEDS – The Vikings have addressed this position with ferocity in each of the last three years – drafting Rice in the second round of the 2007 draft, signing Berrian to a lucrative free-agent deal in 2008 and drafting Harvin in the first round last year. The team seems content with Lewis as a No. 4 or 5 receiver, having re-signed him in the offseason. With Reynaud be moved to running back at least on a trial basis this year, it may potentially open up another receiver roster spot.

THE CLASS OF 2010 — A strong crop, but not heavily laden with talent at the top as in recent years. Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State is the class of the crop here, but, because of the depth of the class in terms of solid early-round talent, we may see a repeat of 2008, where a strong class of wide receivers were pushed into the second round because so many teams felt the depth was there to pass on using a first-round pick. As a result, players like Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech, Arrelious Benn of Illinois and Golden Tate of Notre Dame, who might be considered first-round talents, may all slip into the second round and the position is again a victim of its own depth.


Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State, 6-2, 225 — Third-year junior…Two year starter who made 19 starts in 28 career games, catching 147 passes for 2,425 yards and 29 touchdowns…Had a breakout season in 2008, catching 87 passes for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns…Was suspended by the NCAA three games into the 2009 season for an association with Deion Sanders, who was believed to be representing agent Eugene Parker…Had an awful childhood with a teenaged mother who spent time in jail for selling drugs and was bounced from home to home as a child…Makes big plays consistently – about one of every four passes he caught went for a touchdown…Gains a lot of yards after the catch…Wins most jump-ball battles and isn't afraid to go over the middle…Can make the highlight-film catch look easy…Is a deep-play threat who is almost impossible to cover one-on-one…Excellent leaper…Has experience as both a kick and punt returner…Will try to look for the big play and will drop some passes…An emotional problem waiting to happen…Didn't play in a complicated offense, so he will have a learning curve…Is strong, but doesn't break as many tackles as he should be able to given his talent…Has very limited big-game experience with just one year as a full-time starter…Has decent speed, but doesn't have as good of explosion or burst off the snap as some of the other top receivers…Didn't work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: There is no questioning that Bryant is an amazing talent and, if not for his off-field baggage or concerns, he would be a top-five pick. However, his talent will win out, perhaps with Denver at No. 11 or Miami at No. 12.

Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech, 6-3¼, 224 — Fourth-year junior…Three-year starter who started 36 of 39 career games…Finished his career with 120 catches for 2,339 yards and 15 touchdowns…Was durable in college but broke his left foot in February, which required surgery and forced him to miss the Combine…Is an incredible big-play threat – averaged 19.5 yards for his career and averaged 25.1 yards per catch in 2009…Gets to top speed with a couple of steps…Has excellent size dimensions and long arms…Can adjust to poorly thrown passes and maintain positional advantage on defenders…Isn't easy to bring down in the open field…Has the height to be a difference-maker in the red zone…Has far too many dropped passes that he should catch – almost Braylon Edwards-type drop numbers…Struggles badly against jams and doesn't use his natural size and strength to his advantage…Doesn't have elite speed…Isn't a great leaper…Can get shut down when safeties roll over the top…Hurt his stock with his foot injury that forced him to miss the Combine…Needs to work on fundamentals and make time to become a true game-changer as a pro…Didn't work out at the Combine. PROJECTION: Has all the talent to be a great pro and has been compared to a poor man's Calvin Johnson. He could be a surprise riser that could easily go in the second half of the first round, but, given the depth at wide receiver, he and other top WRs could find themselves sliding down the board.

Golden Tate, Notre Dame, 5-10½, 199 — Fourth-year senior…Became a starter a month into the 2008 season, and, in his final two years caught 155 passes for 2,576 yards and 25 touchdowns…Burst on the scene as a junior, catching 93 passes for 1,496 yards and 15 touchdowns as Jimmy Clausen's go-to receiver, winning the Biletnikoff Award as college football's best wide receiver…Has great hands…Is strong and will win one-on-one jump ball battles…Has big-play potential and averaged 17.2 yards per catch for his career…Plucks the ball out of the air and rarely lets the ball into his body…Extremely versatile, having played several receiver positions, returned kicks and punts, and lined up at quarterback in Wildcat formations…Had 15 100-yard games, despite just 22 career starts…Played in a pro-style offense…Is too small by NFL standards and doesn't have great muscle definition to bulk up…Struggles badly against the jam from physical corners…Runs with choppy strides and takes time to reach full speed…Doesn't have a great initial jump from the snap…Not an efficient blocker…Doesn't have a wealth of experience, having not played wide receiver until college…Ran a 4.42 40 at the Combine with 17 reps of 225 pounds, a 35-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: He still needs a lot of refinement, but he excelled at wide receiver all three of his years in a pro-style offense under Charlie Weis. He had a solid Combine performance that might push him into the first round with a team like the Jets, but more likely is a pick early in the second round, perhaps to the Rams to team up with Sam Bradford.


Arrelious Benn, Illinois, 6-1, 219 — Third-year junior…Three-year starter who started 35 of 37 games, catching 159 passes for 2,221 yards and seven TDs…A Parade All-American who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in the Washington D.C. area…Played through injuries in two seasons, spending most of his freshman season with a right shoulder injury and much of last year with an ankle injury…Has a good size/speed/strength combination…Has big, strong hands and catches almost everything thrown his way…Is very physical and can beat the jam…Gains a lot of yards after the catch…Has good upper-body strength, leading all wide receivers with 20 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine…Goes over the middle without fear and will absorb a big hit from a linebacker or safety and pop back up…Is an efficient route runner…Doesn't mind mixing it up and pushing defenders around when asked to block…Doesn't have deep speed…Played almost exclusively in the slot in college and will have to adjust to being more multi-faceted in the pro game…Slows down somewhat to catch passes and allows defenders to close in…Has a history of concussions, which will concern some teams…Doesn't time leaps very well and allows too many passes to get into his body…Didn't lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.64 40 with a 39-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: He has drawn a lot of comparisons to players like Dwayne Bowe and Anquan Boldin. If he can produce anything like those players, he has a bright NFL future. He could be targeted by the Cardinals late in the first round, but more likely will go early in the second round as the wide receiver run begins in earnest.

Damian Williams, USC, 6-0¾, 197 — Fourth-year junior…Initially enrolled at Arkansas, but transferred out after an ugly dust-up with his parents and a group of other player family members meeting with athletic director Frank Broyles to complain about how the offense was being run…In two years with USC, he started 20 of 25 games, catching 128 passes for 1,879 yards and 15 touchdowns…Had both shoulders operated on in 2007…Has excellent hands and almost never drops a pass he should catch…Has surprising deep speed and uses his long legs to eat up yardage quickly…Is a good route runner capable of running all the required routes in the NFL…Finds soft spots in zone coverage very well…Has experience as a return man…Has good first-move fakes that can give him an advantage in single coverage…Doesn't have elite speed and won't always require safety help to blanket…Is very thin and some will believe he will be an injury risk…Has calves are as thin as Bernard Berrian's, which is saying something…Does not put enough effort into blocking, which will have to change…In an era of wide receivers with excellent speed and size, Williams isn't going to blow anyone away with his measurables…Ran a 4.53 40 at the Combine with 19 reps, a 38-inch vertical jump and a 9-10 broad jump. PROJECTION: The luster seems to be off the Trojans' wide receivers after a few misstep players like Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett. Williams isn't going to be the type of receiver that explodes off the videotape at teams, but he does a lot of things right and should be able to work his way into the second round.

Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati, 6-0, 187 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 168 passes for 1,467 yards and 22 touchdowns in that span…Was suspended in 2006 after a teacher accused him of plagiarism on a term paper – a charge Gilyard still denies…With his scholarship pulled, to stay on the team, he took four jobs and spent a period of time living out of his car…Can pluck the ball away from his body and doesn't drop many passes…Has good concentration and sets up defenders to gain a lot of yardage after the catch…Can get to his top speed in a hurry…Uses a variety of moves – stutter moves, shoulder fakes, double cuts – to get separation from defenders consistently…Is a solid blocker…Has a wealth of return experience…Doesn't have great speed and posted disappointing 40 times at the Combine…Is a little too skinny…Doesn't have great upper-body or lower-body strength…Will waste movement at times with stutter steps at the line and will allow physical corners to get into his body…Needs to work on technique as a blocker on running plays at the next level…Didn't play against a lot of top competition…Didn't lift at the Combine, running a disappointing 4.64 40 with a 39-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: He does a lot of things right, but his speed is a red flag, as is his limited experience at the position (he was a high school running back). He is one of those prospects that if a team believes he fits their system, he will go in the second round. Otherwise, he could remain on the board longer than some of the players we have ranked below him.

Brandon LaFell, LSU, 6-2½, 211 — Fifth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 120 passes for 1,721 yards and 19 touchdowns in that span…Had three seasons with 50 or more catches (50-63-57)…Has a nice combination of size, speed and strength…Has good upper-body strength to beat the jam…A versatile receiver who was moved around to different positions…Picks up yards after the catch with his strength and determination…Enjoys being a blocker on running plays and aggressively attacks defenders to put them on the ground…Has shown durability, started 34 of his final 41 games without missing time…Reads zone coverage well and finds the open areas…Has some return experience…Is not a polished route runner…Doesn't sell fakes on defenders that well and allows them to stay with him on most patterns…Has smaller hands than most wide receivers, and perhaps as a result drops too many passes…Is viewed by too many people as being cocky and full of himself…Is a long-stride runner who needs time to build up speed and can be covered one-on-one by strong cornerbacks…Tends to pout and be sullen if he isn't involved in the game early…Doesn't have the burst or second gear to split a corner and safety and take a catch to the house on a long run…Didn't lift at the Combine, running a 4.62 40 with a 36-inch vertical jump and a 9-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: A talented receiver who just happened to play at LSU during a time of considerable QB turnover. He is a diva to a certain extent, which doesn't bode well for him, but he has the talent to develop into a No. 2 receiver that could be productive. He is a second- or third-round prospect.


Eric Decker, Minnesota, 6-3¼, 217 — Fifth-year senior…Three-year starter who started his final 31 career games…In that span, he caught 201 passes for 2,641 yards and 21 touchdowns…Had numerous injuries the last two years, including a concussion, shoulder, an ankle sprain and a knee scope in 2008, and a torn ligament in his left foot in 2009 that required surgery and cut his senior year short…An accomplished baseball player who was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008 and the Minnesota Twins in 2009…Has very good size and muscle definition…Has decent upper-body strength to beat jams…Was productive despite constantly being blanketed by defenders and not having an elite quarterback to play with…Runs very good routes and doesn't round them off…Is a smart player who finds the soft spot in zones…Has deceptive speed off the line and uses double moves to lose defenders…Is a natural pass catcher…Doesn't have long arms…His Lisfranc injury is going to be something that may scare off some teams…Runs in choppy steps and doesn't pick up top speed quickly and doesn't have elite speed once he does…Has an injury history that will be a red flag…Viewed as a slot receiver that is limited in what he will be able to do at the next level…Wasn't able to run or jump at the Combine because of his foot injury, but did 15 reps of 225 pounds. PROJECTION: Decker was coming to national notice after a strong start to the 2009 season, but it got derailed with the foot injury. His long list of injuries may keep him on the board into the third or fourth round, but he is competitive and could emerge as a Wes Welker type, which could get him noticed by a team like the Patriots or a team that runs the West Coast Offense and can use a reliable possession receiver.

Andre Roberts, The Citadel, 5-11, 195 — Fourth-year senior…Three-year starter who made starts in his final 34 games, catching 250 passes for 3,186 yards and 32 touchdowns in that span…Two-time team captain…Has good burst off the line at the snap…Is a solid route runner who finds ways to separate…Picks up yards after the catch with speed and almost always finishes plays…Extremely good punt returner…Fearless over the middle and will absorb big hits and hold on…Experienced, durable starter…Had a great week of practice at the Senior Bowl…Didn't face top competition and will need time to adjust to the jump in talent in the NFL…Doesn't have top-end playing speed despite good straight-line speed…Is a little thin…Doesn't seem like he's too interested in being a blocker on running plays and will need to work a lot of his technique at the next level…Gained 20 pounds just to get to this point and doesn't have room to grow much more…Doesn't get a lot of yardage after the catch…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: His lack of top competition will likely have him drop into the third or fourth round, but his production is undeniable. He did about as much as he could at The Citadel and showed enough at the Senior Bowl and the Combine against some of the best competition that somebody will see enough to use a mid-round pick to grab him.

Mike Williams, Syracuse, 6-1½, 221 — Fourth-year senior…Only started one full season (2007), when he caught 60 passes for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns…Was academically ineligible in 2008 and had to sit out the season, attending Springfield (Mass.) Technical College…Returned to start seven games in 2009, catching 49 passes for 746 yards and six touchdowns before quitting the team…Has good size and long arms…Is a hard runner who makes decisive cuts…Is a good improviser who keeps plays alive when the quarterback is flushed from the pocket…Has good hands and concentration and rarely drops a catchable pass…Runs good, precise routes…Finds the open spots in zone coverage and settles in to give his QB a solid target…Has very little in the way of upper-body strength (see below)…Doesn't get a lot of yardage after the catch and is too easily wrapped up…Character is a big issue, having not committed to his studies and quitting on his team when things got tough last season…Doesn't have elite speed and takes time to get up to full speed…Will get re-directed on the jam by physical corners…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine, with just eight reps of 225 pounds, a 33½-inch vertical jump and a 9-8 broad jump. PROJECTION: A big receiver with a lot of natural skill, his maturity problems and inability to interact in the college environment – with the coaching staff and in the classroom – remind too many people of the Mike Williams from USC, who was a huge bust with the Lions. His ability would dictate that he would be a second- or third-round pick, but with some teams likely to keep him off their boards completely, he will be lucky to be selected before the fourth round gets underway – when the problem children of the draft tend to come off the board (see Onterrio Smith).

OTHERS TO WATCH Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas, 6-2, 207
Riley Cooper, Florida, 6-3½, 222
Jacoby Ford, Clemson, 5-9, 186
Carlton Mitchell, South Florida, 6-3, 215
Emmanuel Sanders, SMU, 5-11, 186
Jordan Shipley, Texas, 5-11¼, 193
Jeremy Williams, Tulane, 6-0¼, 206

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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