Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Four receivers the Vikings should keep an eye on at the combine

Posted by: under Vikings, Vikings draft Updated: February 22, 2012 - 5:29 PM

With the NFL Combine about to get underway and the Vikings feeling optimistic about the wide receiver talent pool, we’re delivering a quick snapshot of four pass-catching prospects who will be under the spotlight this week in Indianapolis. With some additional thoughts provided by Shawn Zobel of DraftHeadquarters.com, here’s a quartet worth keeping an eye on as the hyper-analysis of the combine begins ...

Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State

What’s to love: Got four minutes? Do yourself a favor and watch this montage of Blackmon’s 2011 highlights. As a junior last season at OSU, he had 122 catches for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns, capping his college career with a nine-grab, 186-yard, three-TD effort in a Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford. Blackmon was a two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award because, quite simply, he makes plays. Over and over and over again. He attacks the ball when it’s in the air. He uses his impressive frame (6-feet-1, 215 pounds) well to get open and relies on his almost preternatural body control to provide his quarterback with a high reward vs. risk ratio when the ball is thrown his way.

But … : Does Blackmon have enough speed to flourish at a Pro Bowl level in the NFL? That’s a looming question that might not get answered in Indy. There are reports Blackmon may not run the 40-yard dash at the combine. That will leave NFL teams to wait until Oklahoma State’s pro day on March 7 to truly gauge Blackmon’s speed.

Worth talking about: If the Colts select Andrew Luck at No. 1 and the Rams trade the No. 2 pick to a team intent on landing Robert Griffin III, how much would Blackmon have to show to convince the Vikings to take him at No. 3? Conventional wisdom says general manager Rick Spielman would be foolish to pass on Southern Cal offensive tackle Matt Kalil if he’s available. After all, the Vikings need to bolster their pass protection in a bad way and Kalil would be an immediate starter with Pro Bowl promise. But Spielman himself wondered aloud last week whether an influx of offensive playmakers would have a ripple effect in speeding up the offense and subsequently lessening the responsibility of the offensive tackles.

So don’t be too quick to shoot down the idea of Blackmon wearing purple in 2012, even if he doesn’t post a wildly impressive 40 time at his pro day.

Said Zobel: “Blackmon does everything. He catches the ball over the middle. He catches it in traffic. He extends out and makes acrobatic catches. He’s capable of being a deep threat. He’s capable of doing everything. So say he runs a 4.55 in the 40, that shouldn’t diminish the fact that he can still do everything you look for in an elite No. 1 receiver. So if he does run a little slower, yeah the media will put a ton of emphasis on it. But teams won’t overanalyze that. They’ll understand this is a guy who can be an elite downfield threat who can also work the middle. They’ll know he projects to nearly every offense in the NFL. They’ll look at his athleticism, his great hands and long arms. If he runs half-of-a-tenth of a second slower than expected, I don’t think a flood of NFL people will be overly worried by it.”

Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina

What’s to love: Jeffery is a phenomenal athlete, another big-bodied target who has long arms and great hands and the knack for making the circus catch. A year ago, coming off a sophomore season at South Carolina during which he had 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns, he was being talked about as a potential top-10 talent.

But …: Jeffery was all too ordinary through stretches of 2011, finishing with 49 catches for 762 yards and eight scores. Quarterback instability certainly played a role. But Jeffery also didn’t prove he has enough quickness to consistently separate from defensive backs. That’s a huge concern for NFL teams, who will be hesitant to invest a high pick in a guy with questionable speed who had a disappointing 2011 campaign. There’s also some curiosity as to whether Jeffery is truly dedicated to staying in shape and taking care of his body.

Worth talking about: Jeffery may have more at stake than any other player at the combine, holding a golden opportunity to remove a handful of the question marks that hover above him. NFL teams can’t wait to get a stopwatch on him and Jeffery can ill afford to run the 40-yard dash in a time of 4.55 seconds or worse. His trip to the scale will also be watched closely. There have been rumors spreading that he may have ballooned up towards 250 pounds in recent months. Other reports say Jeffery may be under 220 when he arrives in Indianapolis.

“People want to know why his speed seems to have declined," Zobel said. "So now he gets his chance. There’s a stigma attached to guys who seem to be big, tall receivers who can catch but can’t run that well. The thought is you can find those guys anywhere throughout the draft. Jeffery can’t allow himself to get that same label. He has to run fast and show that he has unique athleticism and a unique skill set.” Odds are good the Vikings will have a shot to take Jeffery at the top of Round 2. But he has to show he’s worth it.

Dwight Jones, North Carolina

What’s to love: Jones has good size (6-3, 226) and superb athleticism. He’s the kind of receiver who should be available in Round 3 and perhaps even later. And he has more than enough talent to be worth gambling on during those stages of the draft. Jones led the ACC in receptions (85) and touchdowns (12) in 2011.

But …: Jones’ initial path to UNC took a detour when academic issues re-routed him first to Hargrave Military Academy for the 2007-08 school year, then to Valdosta State very briefly in 2008 before he got full clearance to head to Chapel Hill. That’s not a huge stain on Jones’ resume but it’s still an asterisk. Said Zobel: “People will see that inability to qualify out of high school and ask, is it a lack of work ethic? Is there a lack of intelligence?”

Plus, there’s another minor transgression from two months back that Jones has to explain away. He was initially declared ineligible for the Independence Bowl after allowing his name and image to be used to promote a for-profit birthday party in his honor in hometown in North Carolina. Again, not a major indiscretion but still something. Zobel also isn’t sure whether Jones’ instincts are good enough for him to excel at the NFL level.

Worth talking about: Jones’ ability to make big plays after the catch should be considered. He has good strength to shed defenders and has proven reliable at going over the middle and catching the ball in traffic. “Truthfully, he has the ability as a receiver to be a first-round kind of guy,” Zobel said. “But in terms of instincts or speed, he’s not that. So those things knock him down a few rounds.” How far will Jones drop? And if he made it all the way down to the fourth round, might the Vikings use one of their picks there to nab him.

Brian Quick, Appalachian State

What’s to love: Quick had admirable production this past season playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision, nabbing 71 catches for 1096 yards with 11 touchdowns. His athleticism is easy to see. And he’s a big target, measuring somewhere near 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. Plus, he’s relatively new to the game, having started playing organized football in 2006 when he was a high school senior. So that gives him intriguing upside if he’s able to develop quickly and learn the nuances of the position.

But …: Quick is raw. Very, very raw. And at the Senior Bowl last month in Mobile, Ala., he suffered through a flurry of drops in practices attended by NFL scouts and front office personnel. “You really wanted to see him show up and prove that he deserved to be there,” Zobel said. “And in my opinion, he was one of a few guys who did the exact opposite. He appeared a little bit outclassed.”

Worth talking about: The Vikings aren’t opposed to taking raw receivers from smaller schools late in the draft. Last April, in Round 7, they selected Stephen Burton out of West Texas A&M, seeing enough potential to take on the project. Quick? Zobel believes he’s a better prospect with more upside than Burton. And while he almost certainly would not be ready to be a contributor in 2012, the Vikings are almost certainly not ready to be a playoff contender next season. So taking on a bit of a developmental chore wouldn’t be a major risk.

The draft is often about promise and potential and Quick has plenty – so long as he lands with a team that has patience and believes in his ability to sharpen his football savvy. Zobel believes, at best, Quick is a low end No. 2 receiver and “more likely a No. 3 or a No. 4 guy for a decent team.” In Rounds 5, 6 or 7, he might be worth a flier.

“What I like is with his basketball background, he’s shown he’s capable of going up and making difficult catches,” Zobel said. “He’s a great red zone target. He had 31 touchdowns in his college career. Right now, he’s more an athlete who plays receiver than a true receiver with great athleticism.”

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Seattle
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
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James Madison 88
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LSU 64
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Maine 58
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Marquette 70
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UMBC 56
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Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
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Richmond 86
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South Florida 52
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Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
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Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
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Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
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Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
UMBC 71 FINAL
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
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Michigan State 72
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Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
SMU 58 FINAL
Tulsa 74
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Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
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Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
UNLV 75
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami NoonX37-35
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago NoonX13-9

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