In a year when there are a handful of excellent wide receivers available in the 2013 draft, which gets underway a month from today, the Vikings are expected to be one of the teams in the market for a playmaking wide receiver. Of that group, Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson is viewed as the best long-term prospect in the draft. The question facing the Vikings is whether he will be available when they make their picks at Nos. 23 and 25.
It can be argued that prospect is looking better than it may appear. While several teams have a need at wide receiver, the case can be made that Patterson will be available when the Vikings pick at No. 23.
Prior to the start of free agency, many draft analysts had Patterson linked with the Miami Dolphins, but after giving Mike Wallace the biggest free agent payday of the offseason, Miami also signed Brandon Gibson of the Rams and re-signed Brian Hartline – taking the need for a rookie at the position off the table. With that kind of investment in veteran talent, it would seem that using the 12th pick in the draft at wide receiver would be overkill for a team that has numerous other needs.
Barring a trade to move up in the draft ahead of the Vikings, the only team that has a glaring need at wide receiver is St. Louis. The Rams have two picks prior to the Vikings making their first selection (Nos. 16 and 22) and it seems pretty obvious that the Rams will take a wide receiver, but there is no guarantee that they will take Patterson.
The book on Patterson is that he is a playmaking receiver with big upside that has the potential to be an elite No. 1 receiver down the road. But his biggest downside is that he is very raw in terms of route running and production. For a team looking at a No. 1 receiver coming out of the gate, Patterson may not be that guy. Eventually, he will be, but, in the short-term, he could struggle to adjust to the NFL game – especially if he is the focus of the passing offense.
The Rams need to replace former go-to guy Danny Amendola. A player like West Virginia's Tavon Austin fills the bill much better in terms of need and offensive philosophy in St. Louis. In the short-term, Austin may be a much better fit for the Rams than Patterson, which need players that complement the game of Sam Bradford.
One of the biggest draft mistakes teams make at wide receiver is taking players that aren't suited to be No. 1 receivers immediately and pushing them into a role they're not ready to take on in their first season. Often such players are overwhelmed by the amount of defensive attention they receive and struggle to reach their potential. As they get frustrated, their usefulness to a team gets stymied and those players can struggle to ever make a big impact. However, given the Vikings' situation, Patterson could be a glove fit.
With the signing of Greg Jennings, the Vikings have a veteran No. 1 receiver that will be the focus of defensive double-teams. Patterson would be able to come in, learn from a veteran like Jennings and, with players like Jennings and tight end Kyle Rudolph entrenched as the primary passing targets, Patterson won't need to have the weight of the offense on his shoulders. He can work his way into the lineup and with any luck develop into a No. 1 receiver without having it thrust upon him in Day 1.
The Vikings have a track record of success in such situations. With all his talent, Randy Moss wasn't the main man with the Vikings as a rookie, at least initially. That role belonged to Cris Carter. The same was true with Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin. Both of them developed into Pro Bowl type receivers, but neither was asked to be "The Man" right out of the gate.
While it may seem a bit far-fetched to expect that Patterson will fall all the way to the Vikings at No. 23, the draft is shaping up that, given the more pressing needs for other teams in front of the Vikings and the lack of an ideal fit between Patterson and a young Rams offense, the potential exists that he will still be on the board at No. 23. If that happens, the Harvin trade may up being one of the better business decisions the Vikings have made in some time.
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.
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