Positional analysis: Wide receivers

Sammy Watkins (Robert Mayer/USA TODAY)

It's the deepest position in the draft and the deepest it's been in a long time, and there is plenty of star potential into the third round (likely beyond). We review the pros and cons, stats, measurables and analysis on the top dozen receiving prospects in the deep 2014 draft.

VIKINGS WIDE RECEIVERS – Greg Jennings, Cordarelle Patterson, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, Rodney Smith, Adam Thielen, Lestar Jean, Kamar Jorden.

TEAM NEED – There isn't a huge need here because the Vikings addressed the position in a big way last year by signing Jennings and drafting Patterson in the first round. The re-signing of Simpson gives the Vikings four quality contributors, so it may take a player the Vikings would have ranked much higher than any other position for the team to take a wide receiver before the fourth or fifth round.

POSITION OVERVIEW: Wide receiver has become a much more critical position as the NFL has evolved into a pass-first league and the salary rates for elite wide receivers has gone up to the point that teams often need to replace talented receivers on an annual basis. Fortunately for those in need of adding a receiver, this year crop is as deep as any in recent years. In the first two rounds, there could be 10 or more wide receivers that go with the first 60 picks. It's a deep draft class that will see five or six players likely coming off the board in every round.

THE CREAM THE OF THE CROP

Sammy Watkins, Clemson, 6-0¾, 211 –
Fourth-year junior…Effectively a starter from Day 1, in three seasons he caught 240 passes for 3,391 yards and 27 touchdowns, while rushing 52 times for 339 yards and a touchdown and serving as the primary kickoff returner…Two-time first-team All-ACC selection…Enrolled at Clemson in January 2010 and redshirted…Arrested in May 2012 for possession of a controlled substance and possession of marijuana, which drew a suspension for the first two games of the 2012 season…The most explosive receiver in the draft, he has rare burst and a second gear to blow past defenders…Has good balance and timing, always seeming to win contested passes downfield and consistently high-points the ball…Has burst and acceleration that almost require defenses to bump him at the line of scrimmage because he's too immediately dangerous with a free release…Isn't afraid to go over the middle and is extremely dangerous after the catch…Very raw in his route running and will need immediate refinement because he didn't run a full route tree at Clemson…Has a lean frame and it will be difficult for him to add much more muscle or mass due to his body type…Goes down too easily too often when defenders get their hands on him and can get taken out of his game by physical corners who turn each snap into a fight…Has had some ball security issues and concentration drops of easy passes…Ran a 4.39 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine with 16 reps of 225 pounds, a 34-inch vertical jump and a 10-6 broad jump. PROJECTION: Watkins has speed that is elite, which has helped propel similar players like Percy Harvin and Torrey Smith to quick stardom. He won't be on the board long, with very likely landing spots being Oakland at No. 5 or Tampa Bay at No. 7.

Mike Evans, Texas A&M, 6-4¾, 231 – Third-year sophomore…Started all 26 games of his college career, catching 151 passes for 2,499 yards and 17 TDs…Was a Biletnikoff Award finalists and first-team All-SEC in 2013…Set a school record for 1,394 receiving yards in 2013, averaging more than 20 yards per reception…Was an all-state high school basketball player and recruited by some schools to play hoops instead of football…A big physical player who can win any one-on-one matchup…Is at his best when the ball is in the air deep down the field, with a rare combination of timing and strength to win almost every jump ball…Has extremely long arms (more than 35 inches) to give a QB an enormous catching radius and uses them to abuse cornerbacks with a stiff-arm and a knack for slowing their leverage momentum at the point of impact…Has good build-up speed and can be deceivingly fast when hit on time and in stride…Does not have great initial burst and physical NFL corners will be able to get into his body and knock him off his spot…Isn't a crisp route runner and gets by on size and talent rather than mechanics to get separation…Will round off too many routes and allow defenders to close…Is perhaps too intense and some teams will question his anger issues because he will explode on the sidelines when things are going bad and could potentially be a moody distraction…Sat out of the broad jump at the Combine, but ran a 4.46 40 with 12 reps and a 37-inch vertical jump. PROJECTION: Just as there are some questions about how high Johnny Manziel will go, Evans has a short body of work to choose from, but his combination of size and playmaking ability is rare and will likely get him off the board in the first half of the first round.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Odell Beckham Jr., LSU, 5-11¼, 198 –
Third-year junior…Started 34 of 40 career games, catching 141 passes for 2,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, returning 58 punts for 538 yards and two TDs and returning 40 kickoffs for 1,005 yards…Has a strong athletic bloodline – his father (Odell Beckham Sr.) played running back at LSU and his mother (Heather Van Norman) was a track star at LSU that helped win three national championships…Won the 2013 Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the most versatile college football player…Experienced in a pro-style offense in which he ran a complicated and complete route tree, making him NFL-ready…Gets up to top speed in a hurry and makes sharp cuts to get immediate separation that grows in the next couple of steps…A hands catcher who plucks the ball away from his body…Is dangerous in space, both as a receiver, on reverses or as a return man…Doesn't have ideal size or physicality, especially in his upper body (see below)…Is not an accomplished blocker and will need to improve…Did not have the kind of production that was expected – scoring just 12 receiving TDs in 34 career starts…Doesn't have natural timing to high-point balls and loses too many jump balls downfield…Ran a 4.38 40 at the Combine, with a pathetic seven reps of 225 pounds but an impressive 38½-inch vertical jump and 10-2 broad jump. PROJECTION: Beckham is a fast riser who, while not a guarantee for success, brings so many positive traits with him that he may find himself coming off the board in the second half of the first round.

Brandin Cooks, Oregon State, 5-9½, 189 – Third-year junior…Started all 25 games he played his last two seasons, catching 195 passes for 2,881 yards and 21 touchdowns, including massive 128-1,730-16 receiving numbers in 2013…Was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 and won the award in 2013…His father died when he was 6, leaving his mother alone to raise him and his two older brothers…Has elite speed and toughness and consistently makes big plays…A hard worker and team leader, he was named a captain after just one full season as a starter…Very strong route runner who gets in and out of his breaks extremely well…Does an excellent job of setting up cornerbacks with head fakes and double-moves to create separation…Is undersized, in terms of height, weight and catch radius, which could prevent him from being a pure No. 1 receiver at the next level…Doesn't have the type of body that will be willing add 10-15 pounds of muscle to his frame, so he's pretty much maxed out on size…Gets jammed too easily by bigger, physical corners…Runs out of bounds a bit too often for some scouts' liking, seeming to prefer to run away from contact than to squeeze out as much yardage as possible running north and south to finish a play…Ran a 4.33 40 at the Combine with 16 reps, a 36-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Cooks reminds a lot of scouts of Tavon Austin, who kept climbing draft boards as the big day approached. Austin didn't have a huge rookie season because small receivers need to adjust to the pounding of the NFL. Cooks could go higher than we have him ranked, but he definitely grades out as a late first-round pick.

Marqise Lee, USC, 5-11¾, 192 – Third-year junior…A three-year starter who caught 248 passes for 3,655 yards and 29 touchdowns…In his first two seasons, he caught 191 passes for 2,864 yards and 25 touchdowns – winning the Biletnikoff Award as a sophomore – but, in 11 games last year, caught just 57 passes for 791 yards and four TDs…Grew up in a battleground neighborhood in Inglewood, Calif., where two of his older brothers were involved in gangs – one of whom was murdered and the other is currently serving prison time for murder…Was a long jumper and sprinter on the USC track team…Has blistering straight line speed and is a long-stride type who can create separation in a hurry, which makes bump-and-run coverage a risk…Runs with grace and speed, gaining separation when he flips his hips on a break and doesn't lose any speed…Adept at reading zone coverage and gravitating to the soft spot…Consistently catches the ball away from his body…Has a thin frame that will be difficult to add muscle to, which will scare away some teams…Although he hasn't missed games, he has experienced nagging injuries and there are some long-term durability concerns, especially given his drop in production in 2013…Isn't a precision route runner and at times will break off routes that lead to easy interceptions when the quarterback throws to a spot…Is a willing blocker, but at times can be a liability on plays his way…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.43 40 with a 38-inch vertical jump and a 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: Lee is a player who may have cemented a top-10 spot by going back to USC for a final season. If teams are convinced he's healthy and look at 2012 game tape, he goes in the middle of the first round. If lingering injury concerns scare off some teams, he may slide out of the first round.

Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State, 6-5, 240 – Third-year sophomore…One-year starter who caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013…With the size of a linebacker and the speed of a big-play receiver, he has Calvin Johnson-type measurables and is extremely muscular…Creates mismatches if not double-teamed…Has the lower-body strength to shake tackles from defensive backs and gain yards after the catch…Has a huge catching radius and can win jump balls like a 7-foot center in basketball against 6-foot opponents…Is extremely raw, has only started 15 college football games…Has been accused at times of not being a team player and displaying a me-first style that has improved, but hasn't completely gone away…Isn't a student of running a full route tree and setting up defenders, so he will have a learning curve…Is too big to sink hard into cuts and lose safeties over the middle, so many of passes thrown to him will be contested to some degree…Ran a slow 4.61 40 at the Combine, with 13 reps of 225 pounds, a 32½-inch vertical jump and a 9-11 broad jump. PROJECTION: He is a roll of the dice on greatness. He isn't the fastest guy on the field, but he has such a potentially dominant skill set that someone will take a chance on him likely higher than we rank him. Much like Cordarrelle Patterson last year, the lack of experience can only negate talent so far and the turn of the first and second round would seem to be that spot.

Davante Adams, Fresno State, 6-1, 212 – Third-year sophomore…Freakish production at FSU – in 26 games catching 233 passes for 3,031 yards and 38 touchdowns...Has good size and strength, using his physicality to beat press coverage…Incredible production in a system that was intended to spread the ball around more…Tracks the ball well on deep throws and makes fluid adjustments…Has strong hands and consistently catches the ball away from his body…Doesn't run great routes and will need a little refinement to his technique…Ran a limited route tree where he essentially had just one responsibility on each snap…Doesn't have a second gear and can get caught downfield…Played inferior competition, which some scouts will use to negate his numbers…Ran a 4.56 40 at the Combine with 14 reps, an impressive 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-3 broad jump. PROJECTION: A receiver from a gimmick offense that doesn't necessarily translate to the NFL, it's hard to deny his production, which makes him a candidate for first-round selection. But the amount of refinement and learning he will require could well push him into the second round.

THE BEST OF THE REST

Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt, 6-3¼, 212 –
Fourth-year senior…Two-year full-time starter who caught 206 passes for 2,800 yards and 15 touchdowns in that span…A cousin of Hall of Famer WR Jerry Rice…First Vandy WR to ever be named first-team All-SEC by the coaches in two consecutive seasons…Has a prototype NFL body and good speed…Has long arms and has a huge catching radius and the ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes to make plays…Played multiple receiver positions in the Vandy offense that will translate well to the NFL…Takes too long to get to full speed and needs a clean release to hit top speed…Doesn't achieve a lot of separation by running crisp routes…Gets brought down a little too easily when cornered by defenders…Ran a 4.46 40 at the Combine with 21 reps of 225 pounds, a 35½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: The best of the four-year senior crop, Matthews does a lot of things well but isn't dominant in any facet of his game. He will likely have a good NFL career, but will be on the board into the second round and perhaps well into the second round.

Jarvis Landry, LSU, 5-11½, 205 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 133 passes for 1,766 yards and 15 touchdowns in that span…Became a big-play threat in 2013, catching 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 TDs…A team captain who is committed to the game and very coachable…Has good body control and smoothness to his routes…Has strong hands that allow him to pluck passes and win contested deep balls…Had a horrible Combine that left a lot of people shaking their heads (see below)…Takes too long to get to top speed and can be negated by physical corners off the snap…Doesn't have elite receiver skills in any area, despite being good in many of them…Ran a hideous 4.77 40 at the Combine with 12 reps, a woeful 28½-inch vertical jump and a 9-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: Landry is an anomaly. You watch him on tape and he makes plays like a first-round talent, but his brutal Combine performance will drop him significantly with several teams, which should push him to the back end of the second round at best. But all it takes is one team to have an interest and there will be one.

Bruce Ellington, South Carolina, 5-9½, 197 – Fourth-year junior who spent 2010 playing point guard on the Gamecocks basketball team…Two-year starter who caught 89 passes for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns in that span…He is the cousin of Andre Ellington, a former Clemson star and current RB with the Arizona Cardinals…An excellent route runner who gains separation with a good initial burst who gains ground into and out of his breaks…An incredible work ethic that earned the respect of everyone in the South Carolina program…Has rare hand-eye coordination and body control to gain position to make catches and shield off defenders…Is undersized for the role he played in the offense and it will be a difficult transition to the NFL because he is ideally a slot receiver…Never had to run a full route tree in college…Freelances too often and will leave his quarterback guessing as to where he will end up…Ran a 4.45 40 at the Combine with 15 reps, a 39½-inch vertical jump and a 10-0 long jump. PROJECTION: A mentally tough, physically gifted receiver, if he was three inches taller, he would probably be a first-round pick. As things stand, he will likely still be on the board into the third round.

Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss, 6-2½, 221 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 125 passes for 1,917 yards and 16 touchdowns…Had a more productive season as a sophomore (66-979-10) than he did as a senior (59-938-6)…Has good speed and gets to top speed in a hurry, along with a second gear to chase down deep passes…Has very good upper- and lower-body strength…Has good body control and does the little things (double moves, head fakes, etc.) to get separation and make plays…Has the power to be a dominant blocker but doesn't always show the willingness to get dirty to help spring a sweep to his side…Needs a little too much time to stop and start to get his momentum back…Needs work on polishing his route running and technique…Ran a 4.40 40 at the Combine with 13 reps of 225 pounds, a 39½-inch vertical jump and an 11-0 broad jump. PROJECTION: A bit overshadowed by bigger-name big receivers in the draft (Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee), he is likely going to slide a bit on draft day, but Moncrief has all the requisite skills to be a very good NFL receiver and, if he's still on the board in the third round, there is going to be a team that gets itself an impressive player at a bargain price.

Allen Robinson, Penn State, 6-2¾, 220 – Third-year junior…Two-year starter who caught 174 passes for 2,450 yards and 17 TDs…Set the all-time PSU single-season receptions record with 77 in 2012, surpassing former All-Americans Bobby Engram and O.J. McDuffie, only to shatter that record by catching 97 passes last year…Had a prototype NFL body for a wide receiver and has the room to add more muscle and bulk…Has good body control and balance to go with his strength, which allows him to gain a lot of yards after the catch…Is not afraid to go over the middle and take the big hit…Is viewed as too slow for an elite receiver (see below)…Runs a little too upright and slows down going into and coming out of his breaks…Allows too many passes to get into his body, which often result in drops or passes that bounce into the air for anyone to catch…Chose not to lift at the Combine, but ran a 4.60 40 with a 39-inch vertical jump and 10-7 broad jump. PROJECTION: In another draft class, Robinson would be viewed as one of the top prospects. But in the deep 2014 class, he is a likely candidate to slip between the cracks and will likely still be on the board late into Day 2.

OTHERS TO WATCH
Paul Richardson, Colorado, 6-0½, 175
Josh Huff, Oregon, 5-11¼, 206
Mike Davis, Texas, 6-0, 197
Robert Herron, Wyoming, 5-9¼, 193
Martavius Bryant, Clemson, 6-3¾, 211
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, 6-1, 195
Brandon Coleman, Rutgers, 6-6, 225
Ryan Grant, Tulane, 6-0½, 199
Cody Latimer, Indiana, 6-2½, 215
Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma, 5-9, 165
T.J. Jones, Notre Dame, 5-11¾, 188
Cody Hoffman, BYU, 6-4, 223
Tevin Reese, Baylor, 5-10½, 163


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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