Vikings 'need that big-play guy' at receiver, but can draft provide?
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Two years ago, Bernard Berrian took a pay cut to $1.9 million, caught seven passes in five games and was so ineffective and disinterested the Minnesota Vikings cut him in late October.
Last year, the Vikings took a $2 million flyer on Jerome Simpson, who stayed out of trouble after serving his three-game drug suspension but wasn't healthy and finished with 26 catches.
Star halfback Adrian Peterson regularly commands a safety in the box, and the split end runs the majority of intermediate to deep patterns in Bill Musgrave's offense. Yet the two men installed as bargain-bin starters there since Musgrave's hiring have combined for all of 365 yards and no touchdowns in 17 games.
"We need that big-play guy," coach Leslie Frazier said this past week. "It may not be the No. 1 need on our team, but from an offensive standpoint, if we can get that big-play guy down the field, you would think it would just open up some things for our entire offense."
Can they get it in this draft? That remains to be seen, despite early projections that suggest all but one of the top receivers could be on the board when the Vikings select at No. 23.
In a Sunday afternoon workout here at the NFL scouting combine, Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds -- sixth-fastest among receivers at 6-foot-2 and 216 pounds -- but also displayed raw route-running and a seeming lack of body control.
Other bigger-bodied players who could be selected in the first round include Tennessee's Justin Hunter (6-4, 196), who had catches of 40-plus yards in five games last season and ran the 40 in 4.44 on Sunday; and Cal's Keenan Allen (6-2, 206), who didn't work out here because he's recovering from a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
One of Sunday's standouts was West Virginia's Tavon Austin, who ran the 40 in 4.34 seconds -- second among receivers only to Texas' Marquise Goodwin (4.27). But at 5-8½ and 174 pounds, Austin probably is better suited to a role like that of Vikings flanker Percy Harvin.
Another potential first-round pick, Robert Woods (6-0½, 201), was highly productive at USC and had a good day catching the football here. Oregon State's Markus Wheaton, among others in the second tier of what scouts consider a deep class, also helped himself on Sunday.
"There's a talented group of receivers," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. "At what point those guys start coming off the board has yet to be determined. But I think you'll be able to get some potential help there by drafting one or two of those guys."
It's possible Simpson, 27, could return on another one-year deal at the right price, but he won't be a starter. Career backup Devin Aromashodu, 28, is a free agent. Veteran Michael Jenkins, 30, is due a $2.425 million roster bonus and figures to be released.
The only other split end on the roster is practice-squad holdover Chris Summers, who has intriguing size (6-5, 215) but hasn't appeared in an NFL game. The Vikings also figure to pursue help in free agency, where Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace will be the top speed threat available.
"We got so much single safety for Adrian a year ago -- and for good reason, when you've got a guy who's rushing the ball the way he was," Frazier said.
"But you'd like to be able to take better advantage of the one-on-one coverage -- and we did at times, but not as consistently as I'd like for us to be able to. So, if we can get that big-play threat on the outside, you would think that would make us better."