What will the Vikings do with their second round pick, the 35th pick overall in the upcoming draft? Will they address their massive need at safety or will they shore up their receiver corps? Or will they go off the script completely and take a linebacker or defensive tackle or even an offensive lineman?
There are arguments to be made on all sides. The argument for taking a defensive back normally goes something like this. “Yes the Vikings need a receiver but there are lots of good receivers in this draft. It’s a deep receiver field. They can get themselves a quality guy in the third round. And anyway you can always find a receiver. Good cornerbacks and safeties are harder to find.”
There are two fallacies in that argument. One is that you can always find a receiver. Really? Then how come the Vikings can never seem to find any. And I don’t mean Percy Harvin. He’s great but he’s not a genuine downfield receiver. That’s what we’re talking about here. An old-fashioned outside field-stretching guy. They had one once upon a time. You may remember this cat. Went by the name of Randy Moss? But he’s long-gone. So is Sidney Rice, the only guy since Moss who’s come close to replacing him. Point being, if it was so easy to just conjure up a true #1 type receiver, the Vikings surely would’ve done it by now.
Second fallacy in that argument, at least from the Vikings’ point-of-view, is that this is a deep wide receiver draft. Yes it’s deep in terms of general receiver talent, but the Vikings aren’t looking for any old receiver. They’re looking for a specific type of receiver. They’re looking for the big downfield guy who can make plays and open things up underneath and be a threat in the red zone. And they would prefer one who can step in right away and produce, not someone they’ll have to nurse along for a year or two.
That deep receiver field shrinks awfully fast when you eliminate the guys who don’t fit the Vikings’ specific needs. You can forget about the guys who project as likely possession or slot receivers, so goodbye Alshon Jeffery and Mohamed Sanu. Also toss out the project guys who won’t be ready to really produce for a year or two. So long Stephen Hill and Brian Quick. Who do we have left?
By my reckoning, this leaves the Vikings with three viable options. These are Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Rueben Randle. Kendall Wright…yeah he’s fast but isn’t he just Percy Harvin 2.0? I’d toss him. Blackmon seems to have all the traits you could ask for minus the pure speed, but I don’t see the Vikings using the #3 pick on him with Matt Kalil sitting there. Only way Blackmon enters the picture is if the Vikes make a big trade that moves them down a few slots and nets an extra first or second rounder. Same thing with Michael Floyd who in some people’s eyes is actually a better prospect than Blackmon.
So now that “deep” receiver field? Realistically, it’s down to one guy. Here are the traits we’re looking for again. Speed. Size. Skills associated with a #1 receiver including red zone ability. Available when the Vikings are on the board. Able to produce right away. In light of all that, Rueben Randle is the guy.
Would it be unfair to call Randle the poor man’s Justin Blackmon? Cause it seems to me that’s what he is. The first area where Randle comes up short compared to a Blackmon or Floyd is in speed. He’s fast but he doesn’t have elite wheels. Some scouting reports say flat out that Randle is NOT a deep threat because of his lack of speed. But you don’t have to be super-fast to be a field-stretcher in the NFL. Was Sidney Rice super fast? No. But he was fast enough and became a dangerous deep threat once he got healthy and the Vikings got a QB who could get him the ball (it’s fair to ask whether Christian Ponder is a guy who can get anyone the ball).
The lack of speed on Randle may be a hang-up for some, but it’s not a huge one for me. Keep in mind here that we’re talking about an early second round prospect. He’s not going to be perfect. But even without elite speed, Randle still looks an awful lot like what the Vikings want and need at receiver. He’s 6-3. He’s got good hands. He has red zone skills. He’s physical and he will block. If you can’t get Justin Blackmon, Randle is the next best thing.
One extra credit point for Randle? He played at LSU with scrambling quarterbacks. As a result, he became very aware of the need to come back and help his QB. That’s something that will come in handy with Christian Ponder who likes to run around some (and will need to if the Vikes don’t fix their pass protection). Maybe Randle could teach this habit to the other Viking receivers. Greg Camarillo seemed to be the only guy last year who understood about coming back to the QB when he’s scrambling and he’s gone now.
So does this mean I think Rueben Randle will be the 2nd round pick for the Vikes? Honestly, if I had to bet money, I’d put it on Harrison Smith. He seems like the surest thing out there at either cornerback or safety and we know how bad the Vikings need secondary help. But Randle has to be in the conversation. I just don’t buy the argument that finding a receiver is easy, that the third and fourth rounds are filled with guys who can help the Vikings. Nick Toon and A.J. Jenkins and Ryan Broyles don’t do a lot for me.
There are lots of names out there but not many guys who fit the bill. Randle fits the bill. The question is, can the Vikes afford to overlook other needs and address receiver as high as the second? That’s what Rick Spielman has to figure out. I hope he has plenty of Pepto Bismol on hand.