INDIANAPOLIS – The 2015 Vikings didn’t put a wide receiver taller than 6-foot-2 on the roster. In three-wide sets, they often sandwiched 5-10 slot man Jarius Wright between a pair of 6-footers in Mike Wallace and Stefon Diggs. Their biggest receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson and Charles Johnson, couldn’t create separation from the bench late in the season.
Yet, when you ask General Manager Rick Spielman or coach Mike Zimmer about their lack of size at that position, neither seems all that concerned. Sure, adding a big, physical and capable pass-catcher would be welcome. But height isn’t everything, in their eyes.
“I’m never going to box us in [by saying,] ‘We need a big receiver’ or, ‘We need a small receiver,’ ” Spielman said Wednesday. “In this draft, there are different flavors. There are some small receivers that can really fly and make big plays down the field and play bigger than their size. There are big receivers that maybe play small for their size.”
The Vikings, who are eyeing up top draft prospects at this week’s scouting combine, will be looking for playmakers of any shape and size this offseason after they ranked 31st in both passing yards and touchdown passes in 2015.
A big theme in Spielman and Zimmer’s podium sessions in Indianapolis was that they want quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Pro Bowl pick after last season, to “let it loose.” They aren’t asking him to gun-sling it like Brett Favre or attempt more lefthanded passes like he did in the division-clinching victory at Green Bay in Week 17. But they do want him to take more chances.
To encourage Bridgewater to be more aggressive, it would behoove the Vikings to bring in someone who can make contested catches down the field, something that was a rarity last season.
Chicago receiver Alshon Jeffery, a pending free agent, could fill that void, but the Bears are prepared to lock him down with a new deal or the franchise tag. And with the other free-agent options being underwhelming, the draft might be the way to go.
Unlike the previous two springs, which produced two of the best wide receiver classes in recent memory, the 2015 class is said to lack top-end talent at the position.
“I don’t think it’s a great wide receiver class this year,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call this week. “Now, I’m not saying it’s an awful class. I think it’s solid. I just don’t think it’s as explosive as the last couple drafts.”
This year, the consensus is that the top two wide receivers are Mississippi’s Laquon Treadwell and Baylor’s Corey Coleman, and they appear to be a study in contrasts.
Treadwell recovered from a gruesome leg injury suffered in the 2014 season to bully his way to 82 catches for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. On Thursday, Treadwell measured in at 6-2 and 221 pounds with impressive 33⅜-inch arms.
There are questions about his straight-line speed, though, and they won’t be answered in Indianapolis as Treadwell will not run the 40-yard dash. That is something that might not sit well with Spielman, who this week gave a speech to combine prospects urging them to participate in tests and drills here and compete hard against their peers.
Coleman, who recently had sports hernia surgery, will take it easy at the combine. But the athletic freak is expected to wow scouts at Baylor’s pro day later this spring.
Coleman is only 5-11 with 30¼-inch arms. But his competitiveness, deep speed and ability to make leaping grabs over bigger defenders shows up on his Baylor highlight reel, and it’s not hard to imagine that Spielman had him in mind when he talked about smaller receivers playing bigger than their height would suggest.
Other receivers on the NFL’s early-round radar include TCU’s Josh Doctson, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller, Ohio State’s Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller, Rutgers’ Leonte Carroo and Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd. None of those guys is taller than 6-2, though.
That might not matter to the Vikings. But with Wallace potentially a cap casualty because of his oversized salary and Patterson officially a major disappointment, they know they need another weapon for Bridgewater, even if that new receiver is a little vertically challenged.
“If there’s a good one there when we’re ready to pick, then I have no problem taking a wide receiver,” Zimmer said. “The more playmakers you get, the better chance you have of increasing big plays and points and things like that, and I do think that’s important.”