Rick Spielman isn’t sure he’s ever seen it quite like this. The Vikings general manager can look up and down this year’s wide receiver draft class and feel his eyes widening.

It’s like staring at the Dairy Queen menu, with the options plentiful and each appealing in its own way.

“It truly is pick your flavor,” Spielman said. “Truthfully, I can’t remember a draft when it seem stacked this closely together at the top.”

The NFL draft begins Thursday night and there’s no question the Vikings will be looking to upgrade their receiving corps.

But when? And with who?

That is arguably the most intriguing plotline at Winter Park as the organization charges into a weekend with so many goals and yet so many possible paths to explore.

To be clear, there are no can’t-miss receivers this year in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald Jr. or Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones or A.J. Green. But the draft will still provide plenty of intriguing first-round options at receiver, not to mention quality depth into the later part of Friday night and into Saturday.

Now, it’s up to the Vikings to finalize their approach on how to proceed.

Obviously, snagging a receiver with one of two first-round picks Thursday would draw little criticism. After all, the Vikings finished 31st in the NFL in passing last season, then cut ties with their top two receivers — Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins.

Replenishing that unit is a top priority. But what if the Vikings wait, using picks 23 and 25 to address other obvious needs at middle linebacker and cornerback or maybe even defensive tackle? That would not be a reckless gamble. Not with the receiver class so deep and, perhaps more important, with the Vikings owning 11 picks and embracing the opportunity to move around throughout the weekend to get the players they value most.

So understand if Thursday’s action passes and Spielman doesn’t select a receiver, that doesn’t mean he’ll wait until pick 52 on Friday to do so.

So which receivers make sense for the Vikings? Without question, the organization’s biggest offseason move was the March 11 trade of Harvin to Seattle, a bold deal that disposed of the top playmaker from a passing attack that bottomed out in his absence, averaging only 148 yards in the final seven games.

To help revive things, the Vikings might consider three players with their own unique Harvin connections.

West Virginia’s Tavon Austin has spent much of the past year being likened to Harvin as a bottle rocket playmaker whose elusiveness and versatility appear to be elite. But Austin is also 15-20 pounds lighter and far from as physical as Harvin, so he wouldn’t be a carbon-copy replacement. Plus most experts also believe Austin will be off the board long before the Vikings’ picks come up.

So what about Tennessee’s Justin Hunter? His game might not be similar to Harvin’s, but he is from the same hometown: Virginia Beach, Va. And Hunter might provide exactly the combination of height, speed and body control the Vikings offense needs as it seeks a true vertical threat.

Finally there’s Cordarrelle Patterson, a teammate of Hunter’s at Tennessee who, like Harvin in 2009, enters the draft with NFL folks raving about his big-play potential but wondering whether he’s too big a gamble because of questions about his maturity and concentration.

What if, like Harvin four years ago and Randy Moss 11 years before that, Patterson slides and is still there when the Vikings go on the clock?

It’s a hypothetical that NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock finds intriguing. Said Mayock: “The Vikings are [then] going to have to make a choice at 23 or 25, whether they want to get one of the most exciting players in the draft or whether they pass — especially given the fact that a few years ago [they drafted] Percy Harvin, and he was very difficult to handle in their building.”

Other potential Round 1 targets could include USC’s Robert Woods and Cal’s Keenan Allen. Both players, it’s worth noting, might also last into Friday. Same goes for Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins, Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton and Baylor’s Terrance Williams.

That’s why Spielman emphasizes the fun he has every year in monitoring the draft runs at certain positions. This year, the Vikings GM will no doubt track the ebb and flow at receiver.

He knows his offense needs more firepower at that position. But there might also be some resistance to rushing a receiver pick unnecessarily.

“You can have a pregame plan,” Spielman said. “But you have to be flexible once the draft starts.”

 

Dan Wiederer dan.wiederer@startribune.com