This is the sixth in a series of position previews for the 2021 NFL draft, which runs April 29-May 1. Today: Receivers and tight ends.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
TE Kyle Pitts, Florida: Is Pitts the next big problem for NFL defenses, akin to Travis Kelce or George Kittle? That's how the former Gators star is billed as the front-runner to be the first player drafted from a stacked class of pass catchers. Pitts (6-6, 239 pounds) is long and athletic, and caught 12 touchdowns in eight games last year. He was so dynamic downfield, he was the first tight end named a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver. He could be a top-five pick.
WR Ja'Marr Chase, LSU: The consensus top receiver despite opting out in 2020, Chase (6-1, 200 pounds) was a man among boys in college. He led LSU's record-setting offense with Joe Burrow in 2019, catching 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. His violent playing style has been compared to former Texans star Andre Johnson, who bullied NFL defensive backs over the middle and soared over them deep. Chase has that kind of talent, which is why there's little doubt he'll be the first receiver drafted.
WR Elijah Moore, Mississippi: With Alabama stars DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, as well as Minnesota's Rashod Bateman, Moore is considered among the many possible first-round picks at wideout. While Moore (5-9, 178 pounds) is small by NFL standards, he was a tough playmaker at Mississippi with reliable hands and premier speed. His 1,193 yards trailed only Smith in college football last year.
WR Josh Palmer, Tennessee: Considered better than his Volunteers stats suggest, Palmer (6-1, 210 pounds) might've fallen under the radar because of poor quarterback play. He likely helped his draft stock with strong reviews at the Senior Bowl, where NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah put Palmer among the standouts. While Palmer never topped 500 yards in a season, he's got ideal size for the NFL and displayed impressive route running and strong hands that could make him a mid-round gem in a loaded class.
The home-run selection of Justin Jefferson in the first round last year means the Vikings, once again, have one of the league's best receiver tandems under contract for a long time (through 2024, counting Jefferson's fifth-year option). Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who turns 31 in August, spearhead the downfield passing attack, and lessen the need for immediate help. The Vikings could still use another option, even after re-signing Chad Beebe this offseason. Bisi Johnson and special teamers K.J. Osborn and Dan Chisena round out the current depth chart.
Moving on from tight end Kyle Rudolph frees up a lot of playing time, but much of it could be filled internally between Irv Smith Jr. and Tyler Conklin, who is positioned well ahead of a contract year. Expect more two-tight-end formations with first-year offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak maintaining the Vikings offensive system from last year. Tight end Brandon Dillon is currently the No. 3 option.
VIKINGS' LEVEL OF NEED
Moderate: Vikings coaches would like to see Beebe ascend into a reliable slot receiver, but it's a work in progress as his connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins sputtered last season. Another receiver option from a strong draft class could bolster what's currently a thin depth chart. But the need isn't as high as the offensive and defensive lines. Behind Jefferson and Thielen, Smith and running back Dalvin Cook will continue to factor into the passing game. The need is also relatively moderate at tight end, where a late-round developmental addition makes sense.