Time for tier ten! Like my previous look in tier eleven, I'll be looking to find receivers who best fit the Vikings' biggest need. A better explanation is at that article, but I'll quote the bottom of it here.
The split end will also be the player generally asked to operate the "constraint plays," which will generally be screens to stretch the defense horizontally and deep routes to stretch it vertically, so speed is good. Like I said above, however, it's not a controlling factor. Getting open and providing opportunities to move the ball are more critical parts of the offense.
Beyond that, the Vikings need receivers specifically to emphasize Ponder's strength and hide his weaknesses. That means receivers who can capitalize on extended plays by finding open spaces, receivers who know how to hit their breaks with correct timing and secure the ball in traffic to take advantage of what Ponder can do.
To cover his weaknesses, the best fits at receiver will have a wide catch radius to compensate for poor ball placement and a good ability to generate yards after the catch in order to consistently move the chains.
One could argue that the short, possession-style receiving game is a product of Ponder's arm strength or simply not having receiver talent, but Musgrave used similar playbooks with the Jaguars and Panthers in his tenures with both of those franchises. Those teams had Muhsin Muhammad, Jimmy Smith (perhaps the most underrated receiver in history) and Donald Hayes. It's wasn't just a question of receiver or quarterback (he had Byron Leftwich, Steve Beuerlein and David Garrard) ability-Musgrave simply likes to run shorter routes. If you don't believe that, Wobschall says the same.
Finally, evaluating Christian Ponder is a top priority. If the receiver is not ready to contribute right away, then there's not much they can do to help the front office evaluate Christian Ponder. It will be difficult to find a receiver who can do that. In the past ten years, the top 64 picks have produced 14 receivers who have had over 800 yards from scrimmage in their rookie year (out of 79 who played in games). Of those, only four chosen between pick 23 and 52 produced 800 yards (out of 36 who played games). This doesn't include those who haven't made an impact in games, like A.J. Jenkins.
So, finding one who can adapt to the NFL game immediately is a priority. I cannot emphasize the rarity of this trait and the importance of this point. You can find potential in any draft-since 1999, there has been at least one receiver who has recorded a 40-time of 4.35 or less and there is talk every year of raw "upside". Naturally, this board changes in big ways if the principles of immediate fit and instant impact are removed.
Again, thanks to Matt Waldman at RSP, NEPatriotsDraft, the National Football Post and CBS for providing additional information and scouting for me to draw upon.
While Tier Eleven was largely reserved for players that I thought were camp bodies at best, Tier Ten will be players who the Vikings will want to look at in free agency after the draft. They are not player I would invest too much time in trying to get, but would be happy to have at camp.
49. Darryl Stonum
50. Terrell Sinkfield
51. Antavious Wilson
52. Jaron Brown
53. Denard Robinson
54. Sam McGuffie
55. Michael Smith
56. Rashad Ross
57. Taylor Stockemer
58. Reggie Dunn
59. Lanear Sampson
60. Ace Sanders
61. Justin Brown
62. La'Rod King
63. Drew Terrell
49. Darryl Stonum—Baylor, 6'2" 205 pounds (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 3.3)
Stonum is the "other" Baylor wide receiver hoping to take snaps at split end. Unlike Williams, his issue wasn't transitioning from Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence; it was adjusting from Denard Robinson and Rich Rodriguez's system to Nick Florence and Art Briles' system.
It was not a good adjustment.
Stonum ended the season with 3 catches and 51 yards. In 2010 (not having played in 2011 due to transfer eligibility rules), he finished with 633 yards and 49 reception. Despite extremely underwhelming numbers, Stonum has NFL ability. He excels in the process of the catch, displaying not just sure hands, but a full package of body adjustments to the ball. He knows how to attack the ball and high-point it to create space for himself while also bringing his hands up at the right time.
The Wolverine transfer also has experience with a wide array of routes, and can beat press coverage by dipping his shoulder, lowering pad level or punching out. He also fully accelerates quickly and runs smoothly, allowing him to beat out defensive backs, particularly in man coverage. With a good set of wide receiver moves, Stonum can fully take advantage of poor defensive back play. He knows where the holes in zones are and is one of the best kick returners in college football. Relatedly, he also is good at generating yards after the catch, reading his blocks well and strong enough to run through arm tackles. He also turns upfield well after the catch and makes the first move.
If you can believe it, the biggest concern for Stonum is not his poor production, but a bevy of off-field issues, which include multiple run-ins with the law over alcohol-related problems. Add to that a down 2012 and the fact that he seems to play at one speed without exploding out of cuts, and Stonum easily drops. While strong and reliable, he needs to prove that he doesn't have an alcohol issue and has reasons for his low production in 2012. But at least he's a good blocker.
50. Terrell Sinkfield—Northern Iowa, 6'0" 199 pounds, (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 7.7 [using 4.33 time - 9.8 score with 4.19])
Sinkfield is a premier athletic talent, even if you don't believe the 4.19 40-time. There's reason to believe he ran that fast (if you think frame-by-frame measures are the way to go, although this analysis disagrees) and I decided to stick with the much more accepted 4.33, which is still devilishly fast. A 6.94 3-cone time, a 4.18 shuttle time, a 40.5 inch vertical and a 137 inch broad jump combines to create an incredible athleticism score and elite athletic prospect.
It'd be easy to dismiss Sinkfield for not even breaking 500 yards receiving, but he also had more receptions than any other player on the team, by some margin. He was playing on an offense that had more quarterback rushing attempts (51) than receptions for their most targeted player (43). In fact, the freshman quarterback (Sawyer Kollmorgen) only threw about 24 times a game. With 364 team rushing attempts to 313 passing attempts, it's easy to see that Sinkfield was operating out of a run-heavy offense.
This isn't to excuse Sinkfield, who would have easily had more yards if he was truly an elite prospect. But he's one of the most athletic receivers in the draft, ranked up there above Justin Hunter, Cordarrelle Patterson and Ryan Swope, below Goodwin and Rogers. If you include his 4.19 number, he's at the top. For that alone, he deserves a look.
His height and weight do limit him, however. His production score would be merely average despite insane measurables.
There's also the question of his subjective evaluations. As a positive, Sinkfield does actually play at a high speed, despite what a number of commenters have said after the numbers came out. Often left waiting for the ball, Sinkfield didn't have a lot of opportunity to show how he can catch a leading ball. When he did have those opportunities, he did very well.
Aside from his speed, his greatest asset has been his vision. He can generate good YAC by reading blocks or determining how defenders would react. Combined with good agility, and Sinkfield has the opportunity to really make a difference on any play.
He also has a good catch radius, although he seems to be a different player with a badly thrown ball than a good one. He saves a lot of bad throws, maintains focus and concentration and has highlight-reel catches in almost every game. On well thrown balls, he lets the ball get into his body and doesn't attack it at its highest point, a little too content to let the ball come to him. It would be much better if he was willing to extend on plays where it wasn't absolutely necessary. He also needs to bring his hands up later to the catch, although he does generally react well. He does, however, keep hold of the ball through contact.
As a route-runner, Sinkfield has some work to do. Most of his experience has been in running posts, go routes and screens. When cutting in, he'll round off his routes and on other plays, he will have very poor footwork. He can give away his routes a little bit with his head, but needs to shore up other technical skills first. As a split end, he's been able to beat press coverage, although this is more due to footwork and deception than strength or correctly placed hands.
There are other technical things he can work on, like sinking his hips at the break to generate acceleration and lowering his pad level at the release, but he certainly has talent as a wide receiver, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him contribute in a few years. The only reason I rank him this lowly is because of his level of competition and his low production. They do matter, and he won't be able to answer those questions until training camp. I am also worried that there isn't enough tape on him against physical cornerbacks that could really push him around—something he would have to deal with constantly in the NFL.
51. Antavious Wilson—Marshall, 6'1" 196 pounds, (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 1.0)
Wilson played opposite the more recognizable Aaron Dobson, took advantage of his opportunities (741 yards) and could even find himself drafted come Day Three. Unfortunately for the Vikings, he's more of a flanker than a split end and doesn't have quite the same set of skills that specifically could help out the offense, despite being a relatively talented receiver.
His greatest strength is route-running, as he knows how to sink his hips and adjust to the defense. Reading defenses has given Wilson a large advantage at this level, but he got tripped up against more complicated defenses. When adjusting to the ball in the air, Wilson clearly took some lessons from Dobson. He has excellent body control and good hands, although he is somewhat likely to catch with his body and get the ball knocked out.
Without the ability to gain extra weight, he'll be limited as he can get pushed around. He also is relatively limited athletically (his athleticism score is extremely worrisome) and doesn't generate acceleration at the stem or off the line of scrimmage. Nor does he build up well to consistently stretch the defense deep. Wilson isn't agile enough to slip through defenses and create yards after the catch, but he does have some strength. He is, however, a very able and willing blocker. With neither speed nor agility, Wilson is extremely limited. Nevertheless, he could manage to make a roster.
52. Jaron Brown—Clemson, 6'3" 204 pounds (Projected Round: 7-FA, Athleticism Score: 5.4)
Brown was penalized by playing behind DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins, but is a talented receiver in his own right. With solid hands and a great workout at his pro day, Brown figures to do more in the NFL than he did in college. He's agile and extremely physical, perhaps best known as a willing and devastating (for a receiver) blocker than anything else.
Interestingly, Brown is one of the few receivers who can consistently read the flow on the play and block the correct player, even when tight to the line. Generally precise as a route-runner, Brown can be relied upon to hit his landmarks and sustain timing. He also has quick feet, which he uses to work off the line and move against press coverage.
With that come good ball skills. Brown has good hands and is willing to do a lot to get to the ball, laying his body out on the line. If he could show this ability on plays where he doesn't make it so difficult for himself, he'd be a much better prospect.
Unfortunately, Brown simply wasn't targeted when on the field. He has a lot of trouble generating separation against tight coverage and lacks short-area burst to change gears. He also doesn't always move defenders away with good receiver moves at the snap or in-route. Without a native ability to trick defensive backs, it will be difficult for him to produce yardage. Given that he's not very good at creating yards after the catch, it would be an uphill battle for him to contribute consistently. He does have the size and athleticism (more than many expected, in fact) to be worth a shot in UDFA.
53. Denard Robinson—Michigan, 5'11" 199 pounds (Projected Round: 6, Athleticism Score: 5.0)
It's hard to mark where Robinson should go, but it's important not to be extraordinarily pessimistic about what he's done. Matt Waldman concretized this in his Rookie Scouting Portfolio by saying this:
If you've ever played football, taken dance lessons, played a musical instrument, or done anything that requires motor skills, quick thinking, and precise timing then you understand that the more you're thinkign about doing something, the more likely you're going to be late with your execution.
This is what Robinson experienced at the Senior Bowl. Athletically speaking, he has the skills to become a good receiver with gamebreaking skill after the catch. I say Robinson is worth late-round consideration to see if he can make the transition that Bert Emmanuel, Antwaan Randle El, and Julian Edelman have demonstrated. This means sitting on him for at least two years.
If you can't afford that investment don't bother.
The long time-frame on that sort of investment should make Vikings fans wary, especially just having dealt with a drama-filled experience trying to do the same on an even more athletic player, Joe Webb (context: Joe Webb scored a 9.71 for his athleticism score, which would have been the highest in this year's class. He had the third highest production score of any current NFL receiver). Athleticism does not mean production.
That said, Robinson was much worse than most receivers in transition. In bowl practices, he muffed five punts before catching his first one, looked too tentative in his routes and had the ball clanging off of his hands constantly. His combine wasn't much better, despite good overall numbers. It's not that he had more technical skills missing from his game: he fundamentally could not catch the football. Without a lot of experience, it's hard for me to know whether or not this is something that can be fixed with time, but my intuition is that performances this badly come from somewhere deeper than a lack of practice.
Robinson has been absolutely deadly in space and was one of the Big Ten's (B1G's?) most dangerous players (even competing for a Heisman in 2011 before an abysmal game against Michigan State). Rushing for 4500 yards over 4 years is no mean feat, even for a top-caliber running back.
54. Sam McGuffie—Rice, 5'11" 198 pounds (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 8.2)
McGuffie is another player who needed to switch positions to play receiver. Unlike Robinson, he has more experience catching passes, but would be limited to a slot role, or a flanker role if he could overcome his size disadvantage. With a lengthy injury history (three concussions his freshman year alone, as well as an incident where he was knocked out in a game), he may not seem to deserve being ranked this high.
But McGuffie is an incredible athlete who has shown the ability to improve his technical capability. His mearsurables pop off the chart—a 4.36 40-yard dash, a 1.49 10-yard split, 26 bench reps, a 39.5 inch vertical jump, a 134 inch broad-jump, a 4.14 short shuttle and a blindingly fast 3-cone drill of 6.73 seconds. All of these would have been in the top five at the Combine, except the short-shuttle, which would have been in the top ten. Two of these measures (bench reps and vertical jump) would have been the best at the Combine. And all of this shows up on the field. If you watch one highlight video today, make it this one. The music isn't even terrible. It may be more impressive than some Barry Sanders highlight videos:
He also has the natural unteachable abilities you want out of a receiver. He has excellent in-air adjustments and body control with the ball in the air and a surprising catch radius for a player of his size. With good hands and a natural ability to catch the ball away from his body, McGuffie seems set to learn the other, important, parts of playing a receiver in the NFL. He has fantastic lateral agility and the ability to cut after reading a defender. His vision is nearly as much an asset as his speed, and he has incredible balance.
He did play receiver in his last year in college and didn't suffer a single injury after going through the transition, which is somewhat encouraging. Unfortunately, he didn't pick up enough in his short year to work his way into the draft, showing extreme rawness as a route-runner. He'll tip off routes, only to recover with his athleticism. He doesn't run with precision and only has experience running a few routes from the slot, which really limits his development.
He hasn't shown he can beat press coverage, although 603 receiving yards in his first year as a receiver is somewhat encouraging. But he still needs to learn a lot, like sinking his hips, keeping route discipline, reading defenses, outpositioning defensive backs, creating space, playing with awareness of the sideline, attacking the ball in the air, etc. He hasn't made difficult catches, although he has held on after tough contact.
Given his injury history and the fact that he transferred to Rice from Michigan because of homesickness (and his limited production), McGuffie will likely fall out of the draft and be a priority free agent. He's not listed here as one because he plays a redundant position (the slot) and will take a lot of time to see the field. He could end up taking more time than someone like Robinson, simply because smaller receivers tend to require more technical game. Still, if he ends up hitting his potential, he'll be another Percy Harvin or Darren Sproles.
Remember, athleticism doesn't always translate into receiving talent, as hard as it is to remember that while watching him run.
55. Michael Smith—Connecticut, 6'0" 201 pounds (Projected Round: FA, Athleticism Score: 2.5)
As a split end, Smith has a lot of the technical skills, but not the prototypical height or speed. Like others this low on the list, he will be fine if he gets coached up on the finer points of his game, but there are better versions of him. What I like about Smith is his physical game and his willingness to improve despite inconsistently hitting the field. Looking at his production, it seems like he isn't really an NFL-capable receiver (407 yards his senior year, 615 yards his junior year), but he flashes more skill than his yardage totals imply.
His release against press and movement into the route is great, and he punches out well when confronted. While his route-running is much better than players with his production, he still has work to do improving his footwork and making sure he doesn't round off his routes. In addition to that, he has good hands and a relatively wide catch radius.
Smith isn't very elusive, and again not very fast. His YAC comes from driving his legs and using strength more than dodging tacklers. Smith's will likely top out as a backup, if he achieves his potential. Still, he's intelligent and capable and worth trying out, particularly because he's a mean blocker.