For the second straight offseason, the Vikings are looking to upgrade their receiving corps to enliven a sputtering passing attack. For perspective, the team’s top three receivers in 2012 – Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins and Jerome Simpson -- combined for 128 catches, 1,400 yards and five touchdowns. Detroit’s Calvin Johnson alone had 122 grabs, 1,965 yards and five scores.
So just where might the Vikings’ turn this offseason for receiving help? They’ll have options just about everywhere. With that in mind, we’re giving you a look at 12 potential targets.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENCY
Greg Jennings – This is the most popular name suggested by fans. And at first glance, it seems perfectly logical. For the past seven seasons, the Vikings have had to deal with Jennings’ playmaking ability. He’s a proven veteran, consistently productive and, by all accounts, a solid teammate. But … (And you knew the “but” was coming right?) Jennings will turn 30 in September, has missed 11 games the past two seasons due to injury and may ultimately seek a reunion with Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, who was his offensive coordinator in Green Bay for five seasons. Weekend reports indicate that the Packers might consider putting the franchise tag on Jennings. But even if he were to hit free agency, he is likely to command the type of top-dollar contract the Vikings’ are aversive to delivering in free agency. Unless the price tag comes way, way down – it’s probably north of $11 million a year at present – Jennings won’t be a serious Vikings target.
Brandon Gibson – Just to get it on the record: like Jennings, Dwayne Bowe and Mike Wallace also figure to request big pay days in March. And so the Vikings will likely instead turn their attention to that second tier of receivers. Enter Gibson, a rising 25-year-old playmaker who’s coming off a 51-catch, 691-yard, five-TD season in St. Louis. He isn’t a burner. But he runs good routes, has admirable ball skills and could be a bargain overall.
Donnie Avery – Avery’s best game of 2012 came against the Vikings. In a 23-20 Colts win in September, he delivered nine catches for 111 yards including a key 20-yard grab on Indianapolis’ game-winning drive in the final minute. Overall, Avery had 60 receptions for 781 yards with three TDs last season. He also has the one thing the Vikings currently lack – an ability to consistently get open deep. Yes, Avery has issues with bad drops at times. But he may also be available for relatively cheap.
NFL DRAFT: FIRST OR SECOND ROUND
Keenan Allen – If the Vikings want to take a receiver with the No. 23 pick and Allen is still on the board, this may be a no-brainer. Don’t be scared off by his modest 2012 stats (61 catches, 737 yards, six TDs). The Cal offense and inconsistency of quarterback Zach Maynard (Allen’s brother) played a big role in that. Allen is a proven playmaker with a good combination of quickness and body control and a knack for making the contested catch. As we mentioned the other day, the comparisons to Anquan Boldin may have validity.
Terrance Williams – In 2011, Williams contributed 957 yards and 11 touchdowns to Robert Griffin III’s Heisman Trophy campaign at Baylor. And after RG3’s exit, Williams productivity skyrocketed as he posted an NCAA-best 1,832 receiving yards last fall. Williams is a deep threat and a guy who can also be a go-to playmaker in the red zone.
Quinton Patton – A second-team All-American at Louisiana Tech, Patton averaged nine catches and 116 receiving yards per game with 13 touchdowns last season. He’s quick and he’s smooth. He’s competitive and he’s a high character kid as well. Patton may not be an impact guy as a rookie. But he has a bright future. His competitive edge stood out last month during practices at the Senior Bowl. And if you want proof of his ability to break open a game? Well, take a look at this box score from a loss to Texas A&M last October: 21 catches, 233 yards, four touchdowns.
Justin Hunter – Hunter’s 2011 season was cut short by an ACL tear. And while his comeback from that injury wasn’t quite Peterson-esque, he did post 73 catches, 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns last fall in an offense that also featured fellow draft prospect Cordarelle Patterson. Hunter can flat out run. And he has an ability to make acrobatic catches as well.
DeAndre Hopkins – Want evidence of Hopkins’ flash? Cue up highlights of Clemson’s Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU. In that contest, Hopkins had 13 catches, 191 yards and two scores, completing a breakthrough season in which he showcased his terrific hands and run-after-catch ability. Hopkins’ 4.57-second time in the 40-yard dash Sunday could push him back into the second round, where he'd be a great value pick for the Vikings.
Robert Woods – When you weight the possibility that guys like Hopkins and Woods could still be in play on the draft’s second day, you can understand why the Vikings might opt to address another big need in the first round and then take their chances with a deep receiving pool. Woods was prolific during his three-year career at Southern Cal. He was a starter since his freshman year and posted career totals of 250 catches, 2,933 yards and 32 receiving TDs. Folks in Minnesota may remember the 11-catch, 115-yard, three-TD explosion he had in the first half of the Trojans’ 19-17 win over the Golden Gophers in 2011.
MIDDLE TO LATE ROUNDS
Aaron Mellette – Yes, he played at Elon, a Football Championship Subdivision program that plays in the Southern Conference. So that smaller school stigma will exist. But as a senior Mellette had 97 catches, 1,408 yards and 18 TDs, enough to earn him invitations to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. At the former, against strong competition, he excelled all week. “Hopefully I answered some questions with that,” he said. Mellette also said he wanted “to open some eyes” with his speed in the 40-yard dash this weekend. But on Sunday, he posted a time of 4.54 seconds. Still, speed shouldn’t be the tell-all on Mellette’s ability as a receiver. Overall, his technique is solid and his confidence is there.
Josh Boyce – Five receivers posted times below 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash on Sunday. Boyce was one of them, clocking in at 4.38 seconds. He also delivered 22 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press, the second best total among receivers. It’s that blend of speed and strength that could prove intriguing. Boyce has good hands, good quickness and is versatile enough to work outside or out of the slot.