I don't like to dream about the NFL draft when the Minnesota Vikings are still in the playoff race. But as I watch the coaching staff run out guys like Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu and Stephen Burton, and then expect those three to consistently beat NFL cornerbacks, I find myself closing my eyes and wishing some kind of wide receiver messiah would save the Vikings passing game.
If that messiah exists, he's likely playing for some college football team right now and the Vikings will have to draft him in April of 2013. As we transition into the holiday and college bowl season, here are some wide receivers who are either draft eligible – or who might be if they leave college early – that Vikings fans might want to pay attention to over the next month or so. In my view, wide receiver is the team's biggest weakness and is something management must address in 2013.
I admit it's not an exhaustive list, and a lot of these guys I haven't even seen play. But in sussing out stats and scouting reports, I was looking for big wide receivers – six feet tall or more and 200-plus pounds – who could serve as that big, red zone/vertical threat split end the Vikings have been lacking pretty much since Randy Moss was traded. Maybe one of the following guys can be that player and serve as Percy Harvin's wingman in 2013 – and beyond.
Terrence Williams (Baylor - senior) 6'2, 205 pounds
2012 stats – 89 catches, 1,693 yards, 19 yards per catch (ypc), 12 Tds
Williams has the size and speed (timed at 4.49 in the 40) that the Vikings are looking for to play the "X" position opposite a guy like Harvin. Obviously, his production was awesome in 2012, and against West Virginia, he posted a monster 17-catch, 314-yard, two TD game in a 70-63 loss to the Mountaineers. And Williams did all this the year after Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright left Baylor. Impressive.
Markus Wheaton (Oregon State - senior) 6'1, 182 pounds
2012 stats – 76 catches, 1,084 yards, 14.3 ypc, 10 Tds
Wheaton's been a productive player his entire career with the Beavers (love that nickname, by the way). He caught 73 passes as a junior and 55 as a sophomore. He's been timed running a 4.4/40. His listed weight of 182 pounds might concern some people, but the poundage listed on player profiles are usually what the player weighed coming out of high school, so he's probably heavier and stronger now and could handle the pounding WRs take in the NFL. Wheaton figures to be a guy who will be taken anywhere between rounds 2-4.
Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas - senior) 6'3, 209 pounds
2012 stats – 90 catches, 1,335 yards, 14.8 ypc, 5 Tds
Hamilton looks like Viking 2012 draftee Greg Childs, but only faster and without the injury history. And from what I've read, he's exactly the kind of receiver the Vikings need – long arms, big catch radius, uses his body to shield defenders from the ball, a long strider who is deceptively fast ( in the 4.5 range). How he fares during pre-draft workouts will determine a lot, but it sounds like Hamilton will go late in the first round or, at worst, in the second round come April.
Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech – senior) 6'2 195 pounds
2012 stats – 104 catches, 1,392 yards, 13.4 ypc, 13 Tds
The competition Patton faced will raise red flags, but his size and production can't be disputed. And Patton is no one-year wonder, as a junior he had 79 catches, 1,202 yards and 11 TDs for Tech. He's been timed in the 4.55 range, so he's not super fast, but I've read he runs good routes, can catch the ball in traffic and is a solid character player. NFL personnel guys will be skeptical of Patton's speed and ability to be productive at the NFL level, but he looks like a player who could go in rounds 3-4 right now.
Keenan Allen (California - junior) 6'3, 205 pounds
2012 stats – 61 catches, 737 yards, 12.1 ypc, 6 Tds
Allen's considered by some scouts as the best junior WR in college football. He's not a burner (he's been timed at 4.53 in the 40), but he plays faster than that, will catch the ball in the middle of the field and is good at gaining yards after the catch. Some NFL scouts might consider his 2012 a disappointment after a 98 catch, 1,343 yard and 6 TD 2011 season, but Allen missed Cal's final three games with a knee injury. He seems sure to be selected early in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft if he enters it.
Justin Hunter (Tennessee – junior) 6'4, 200 pounds
2012 stats – 73 catches, 1,083 yards, 14.8 ypc, 9 Tds
Hunter hasn't committed to entering the 2013 draft, but he has little left to prove after his 2012 season. Injuries dogged Hunter his previous two seasons, but he can run (timed at 4.49 in the 40), can jump, runs polished routes and has very good hands. As a star receiver who put up great numbers in the SEC, Hunter looks like a top 15-20 pick, which might mean he'll be gone before the Vikings are on the clock in April.
DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson – junior) 6'1, 200 pounds
2012 stats – 69 catches, 1,214 yards, 17.6 ypc, 16 Tds
If Hopkins enters the NFL draft, teams will be assessing a guy who isn't blazing fast (he's been timed at 4.56 in the 40) and wasn't even considered the best WR on his team (that title goes to sophomore Sammy Watkins), but who caught 16 Tds this year. Hopkins isn't considered a great route runner yet, either, but he's got big mitts and can make the tough catches. And he never caught fewer than 51 passes in his three years at Clemson.
Robert Woods (USC - junior) 6'1, 190
2012 stats – 73 catches, 813 yards, 11 Tds
Woods is actually one guy I have watched play this year – three times. I came away unimpressed. When the Trojans needed someone to make a play in the games I watched, they threw to Marqise Lee, not Woods. And Woods production was way down from what he put up in 2011 (111 catches, 1,292 yards, 11.6 ypc and 15 Tds), although an ankle injury that bothered Woods all year might have had something to do with his 2012 numbers. Still, Woods is a guy who probably gets picked no later than the second round if he enters the draft. He also brings value as a kickoff and punt returner.
Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt – junior) 6'3, 205
2012 stats – 87 catches, 1,262 yards, 14.5 ypc, 7 Tds
I wasn't able to find any scouting writeups on Matthews, nor have I seen him play, but his 2012 stats speak for themselves. So does his 6'3, 205 pound frame, which would look nice running post routes in purple and gold in 2013.
Da'Rick Rodgers (Tennessee Tech – junior) 6'3, 206 pounds
2012 stats – 61 catches, 893 yards, 10 Tds
Rodgers put up the following numbers as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee – 67 catches, 1,040 yards and 9 Tds. But then he was suspended from the Vols prior to the 2012 season for violating team rules (Rodgers later admitted he failed drug tests) and he transferred to Tennessee Tech, who play in the Ohio Valley Conference. As a draft prospect with character concerns, I don't think he's a guy the Vikings draft in the first two rounds, he'd be more a fourth-round guy Rick Spielman takes a chance on. Rodgers probably won't last that long, however. One scouting report I read called him a "Julio Jones" clone with size, strength and explosiveness, and some NFL team will get intoxicated by his potential and measurables and pick him during the first two days of the draft.
Cody Hoffman (BYU – junior) 6'4, 215 pounds
2012 stats – 90 catches, 1,134 yards, 12.6 ypc, 11 Tds
If he enters the 2013 draft, Hoffman is a guy to put in the memory bank for future reference. He's been very productive all three years at BYU and never caught fewer than 42 passes or seven Tds in a season. The scouting reports I've read on him say he's got some of the best hands in college football, has great body control and is a "smooth" athlete who makes tough catches look easy (kinda sounds like Cris Carter). The only downside – he is slow by NFL WR standards – timed at 4.63 in the 40. That will no doubt drag his draft status down whenever he enters, but assuming he declares for the 2013 NFL draft, he could also be a steal in the 4-6 round range for a Vikings team that needs all the wideout help it can get.