First in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.
One of the most consistent suggestions I received in the wake of last week's request was for more discussion about intriguing rookies, who in many ways represent the first stop of hope and excitement for the upcoming season. So let's start with Minnesota Vikings receiver Greg Childs, a fourth-round pick who has just emerged from an 18-month recovery from a serious knee injury.
In October 2010, Childs was projected as one of college football's best NFL receiver prospects before tearing the patella tendon in his right knee. Doctors told him it could take up to a year and a half to recover fully, which would have cost him his final season at Arkansas. Childs decided to play in 2011, but as it turned out, he might have been better off sitting out.
His 21 receptions were less than half of his 2010 total, and he put a season's worth of slow route running and minimal separation on tape for NFL scouts. He wasn't much better at the February scouting combine, running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, and suddenly one of the best receivers of 2010 was on track to be a mid-round draft choice.
The Vikings were encouraged by a better performance at his pro day; at 6-foot-3 and nearly 220 pounds, Childs ran a 4.41 and hit 41.5 inches on his vertical leap. Many fans are no doubt miffed that the Vikings didn't devote more resources toward upgrading their downfield passing attack, but if Childs is truly recovered from the patella injury, they might well get away with it.
Childs seems quite aware of his opportunity, telling the "Vikings Tonight" radio show that "I definitely have a chip on my shoulder," adding that he wants to "show everyone that I can still be one of the top receivers and that I will be a steal of this draft."
Indeed, draft analyst Matt Waldman -- writing for The New York Times last month -- considered Childs the fifth-best receiver available in the draft. Waldman wrote that Childs' pro day was indicative of a full recovery and "a return to the skills he displayed as a sophomore and junior."
The Vikings really have only one receiver position locked down, and that's wherever Percy Harvin plays. Veteran Michael Jenkins is expected to return from a knee injury, and newcomer Jerome Simpson will add a level of playmaking when he returns from a three-game NFL suspension. But if Childs can run a true 4.4 at his size, it's going to be hard for the Vikings to keep him off the field once he learns the offense.
The Vikings started him off at the traditional "X" receiver spot that Jenkins played last season, but Jenkins is more of a possession receiver and lacks the explosion Childs will have if his recovery is in fact complete.
And listening to Childs, it is.
"I'm not concerned about the knee problem at all," he said. "I'm 100 percent, full throttle, no slowing down."