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Worth The Reach?

Posted Apr 25, 2013

NFL GMs and scouts spend most of their time each year analyzing tape, watching practices, tapping sources, and conducting in-person interviews to evaluate prospects and determine which players have what it takes to play in the League. The countless hours of hard work are done to ensure that the players they select are worthy of where they’re selected.

Realizing value is the friend, reaching for a player is the enemy.

But every now and then a player with a certain set of traits comes along, and the thought creeps into the minds of these talent evaluators that this player just might be worth a slight reach.

Are there any such players in this draft? Surely, there must be. Who they are, we don’t yet know. Let’s take a look at one idea in each round, not for the Vikings specifically but for any team looking to add talented players to their roster…

 

1st Round – WR Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech)
Patton is characterized as a 1st-round “reach” here not because he doesn’t have the talent of a 1st-rounder, but because he plays in a position group that is remarkably deep. He was one of my favorite players to watch at the Senior Bowl this past January. In 2 seasons at La Tech, Patton was a 2-time All-WAC performer who racked up 2,544 receiving yards and 24 TDs. He is a skilled and savvy route runner who is also a magician along the sidelines and has a knack for getting behind coverage on the outside. Patton is fast and quick with good size (6-0, 204), he’s a natural hands catcher, he plays bigger than he looks and he’s good after the catch.

NFL.com Ranking: 2nd-3rd Round

2nd Round – DB Tyrann Mathieu (LSU)
Mathieu is one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft because at one point he was one of the most decorated defensive players in recent memory and not long after he was dismissed from LSU. Suffice it to say, character concerns and deficient size for his position will scare many away entirely and will cause many others to rate him lower than his talent would dictate. On talent and playmaking ability alone, Mathieu is as good as any defender in the draft. If you’re a team with a 3rd-round grade on him, but you select late in the 3rd round, might you have to use your 2nd-round pick to get him?

NFL.com Ranking: 2nd-3rd Round

3rd Round – RB Kenjon Barner (Oregon)
If one of your requirements for endorsing a reach is that the player must possess a dominant characteristic that can’t be taught, then Barner is someone for you to consider. You can’t teach speed, and there is no better illustration of that point than the former Oregon playmaker. Barner had 50 career TDs at Oregon, including 21 as Oregon’s top RB in 2012. He was productive out of the backfield and as a returner during his college career as well. Barner has tremendous straight-line speed and short area quickness. He’s also outstanding at making defenders miss, anticipating running lanes, staying balanced and accelerating through a hole. He needs to improve his lower-body strength, pad level when carrying the ball and ball security, but that’s why he’s a mid-round prospect and not an early-round prospect. His undeniable speed and knack for finding the end zone might make him worth a slight reach, though.

NFL.com Ranking: 4th Round

4th round – P Brad Wing (LSU)
When you select a kicker in the 6th round and he turns out to be a Pro Bowler as a rookie, you have equity built up to draft a punter. Will the Vikings do so, and if they do who will it be? I don’t know. But in reading up on a few of them, it’s hard not to notice the left-footed Australian kid who played at LSU. Wing was an All-America choice after the 2011 season (59 punts for a 44.4-yard average) and followed that up with similar numbers and 6 additional punts inside the 20 during the 2012 season.

NFL.com Ranking: N/A

5th round – WR/KR/PR Denard Robinson (Michigan)
A big-time playmaker as a QB for a big-time program in Ann Harbor, Robison is now undergoing a position switch as he prepares to enter the NFL. A position switch is one of those easier-said-than-done propositions, so we need to allow him adequate time to make this change. Also, a hand injury sustained last season lingered and continued to slow his progress as late as the Senior Bowl and Combine. To me, though, Robison has too much experience being a game-changer on the big stage to discount him from being able to transition into a new position at the NFL level. I believe he can be a productive kickoff and punt returner at the NFL level, and I’m not counting him out from being able to hone his skills as a rotational receiver at some point, either.

NFL.com Ranking: N/A

6th Round – DE David Bass (Missouri Western)
At some point it’s hard not to wonder if the “small school” tag is too much of a factor for folks putting together pre-draft rankings. Bass, a product of Missouri Western, is generally an underrated prospect in my view. The 6-4, 262-pound terror is the 24th-ranked DE in NFL.com’s rankings, and that’s simply too low. But it might allow some team in this year’s draft to realize great value by selecting him. This is a guy who was a 4-year starter at Missouri Western and who holds the school record for career sacks. Bass made a living behind the line of scrimmage, tallying 56.0 tackles for loss and 39.5 sacks. He also started 50 straight games and batted down 22 passes during his career.

NFL.com Ranking: 4th-7th Round

7th round – TE/QB MarQueis Gray (Minnesota)
Another top-notch athlete in the midst of position purgatory, Gray will be a guy many teams will pursue as an undrafted free agent if his name isn’t called during the draft. So then why not use one of your final draft picks to secure his rights and ensure you’ll get a good look at him? Gray played QB and WR for the Gophers, but at the University of Minnesota pro day he worked out as a TE as well. I’m not sure what position is best for him, but if he lands in the right organization he might find a way to contribute. Gray was a top performer at the Combine in the short shuttle (4.30) and he has good size at 6-3, 240 pounds and with 34-inch arms.

NFL.com Ranking: 4th-7th Round