NFC North: Rookie buzz

Rookie Buzz: Midseason report

November, 8, 2012
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ESPN.com's midseason extravaganza continued Thursday with some Insider analysis from Scout Inc.'s Matt Williamson. You can see an updated list of his 50 top players Insider as well as his all-rookie team. Insider

You'll need an insider subscription to see both files, but I'd like to dive into Williamson's analysis of rookie play. Five NFC North rookies appear in some form, and while I don't think he left off anyone obvious, now is probably a good time to review our class of rookies now that everyone has played at least eight games.

We'll start with the players Williamson included and go from there. Players Williamson named to his first team are noted with an asterisk (*). Those he included as an honorable mention get a plus sign (+).

Player: Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil*
Seifert comment: Kalil has solidified what was a position of weakness last season. You haven't heard much about him this season, and with left tackles, that's a good thing. Pro Football Focus (PFF) has debited him with one sack allowed this season.

Player: Vikings safety Harrison Smith*
Seifert comment: Smith has injected a level of energy and playmaking the Vikings haven't had at safety in several years. He's been credited with 52 tackles and has one interception, which he returned for a touchdown.

Player: Green Bay Packers cornerback Casey Hayward*
Seifert comment: Hayward has made three starts and leads all rookies with four interceptions and 13 passes defensed. It will be interesting to see what the Packers do when Sam Shields returns from a shin injury.

Player: Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh+
Seifert comment: If it weren't for St. Louis Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein, Walsh would be the pick here. He's connected on 19 of 20 field goal attempts, including all five from 50-plus yards, and leads the NFL with 35 touchbacks.

Player: Packers safety Jerron McMillian+
Seifert comment: McMillian hasn't started a game, but has been part of the rotation at safety in the nickel defense. He's been a sure tackler and has one interception.

Player: Detroit Lions offensive lineman Riley Reiff
Seifert comment: Reiff hasn't been needed at offensive line, so the Lions have carved out an interesting niche as a sixth lineman/tight end to help their running game. He played on nearly half their snaps last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Player: Lions receiver Ryan Broyles
Seifert comment: Broyles didn't have a reception until the Lions lost veteran Nate Burleson to a broken leg. Since that point, he has 12 receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

Player: Lions cornerback Bill Bentley
Seifert comment: Bentley started three games before a shoulder injury ended his season. It would appear he is in the mix to start next season.

Player: Chicago Bears defensive end Shea McClellin
Seifert comment: He has 2.5 sacks while playing on 44.2 percent of the Bears' snaps. That's about the playing time we expected the Bears to give him as a rookie.

Player: Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Seifert comment: Jeffery was emerging as the Bears' No. 2 receiver when he broke his hand in Week 5. At that point, he had scored two touchdowns among his 14 receptions.

Player: Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson
Seifert comment: Won the Vikings' nickel job, but did not elevate to a starting role when Chris Cook was lost to a wrist injury. That job has gone to veteran A.J. Jefferson. He has one interception, and the Vikings don't want to give him too much to handle.

Player: Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy
Seifert comment: Worthy has two sacks in eight games and has played 59 percent of the Packers' snaps.

Player: Packers linebacker Nick Perry
Seifert comment: Perry had two sacks in six games before wrist and knee injuries ended his season. He started five of those games, but was rotating with Erik Walden and Dezman Moses. All in all, the Packers' top pick had an incomplete rookie season.
Our Rookie Buzz series has had some hits and misses. It's lost two of the original four members to season-ending injury, but in the end, it appears that NFC North teams will be getting early-season contributions from a dozen 2012 draft picks, depending on health. Let's take a look at who the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings appear to be counting on:

Bears defensive end Shea McClellin
Likely role: Nickel pass-rusher
Comment: As we've discussed, the Bears could follow a playing-time model similar to what the San Francisco 49ers did with 2011 top pick Aldon Smith: Less than 50 percent, but hopeful of high production in small doses.

Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery
Likely role: No. 3 or No. 4 receiver
Comment: Has been productive in the preseason and is an especially big target down the seam.

Bears tight end Evan Rodriguez
Likely role: No. 3 tight end and/or H-back
Comment: Rodriguez has proved to be quick down the field and a nifty runner once he makes the catch.

Lions cornerback Bill Bentley
Likely role: Starter or nickel cornerback
Comment: Bentley's had a few roller-coaster trips on the Lions' depth chart, but if he is healthy he figures to be one of the Lions' top three cornerbacks.

Packers linebacker Nick Perry
Likely role: Starting outside linebacker
Comment: He's gotten almost every snap with the starters this summer, mostly to give him every opportunity to learn a new position. But his pass-rush skills are evident.

Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy
Likely role: Defensive tackle in the nickel
Comment: The Packers play their nickel defense more often than their base, which makes Worthy a quasi-starter.

Packers cornerback Casey Hayward
Likely role: No. 2, 3 or 4 cornerback
Comment: Like Bentley, he's made a few trips up and down the depth chart. But he has a chance to start soon opposite Tramon Williams.

Packers safety Jerron McMillian
Likely role: Nickel safety
Comment: McMillian is one of three players getting a chance to fill this role, competing against M.D. Jennings and Anthony Levine.

Vikings offensive lineman Matt Kalil
Likely role: Starting left tackle
Comment: This assignment has never been in doubt.

Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Likely role: Starter
Comment: He hasn't let go of a spot he earned midway through the preseason.

Vikings cornerback Josh Robinson
Likely role: No. 3 or No. 4 cornerback
Comment: Dealing with a concussion but has outplayed veteran Chris Carr to be the nickelback.

Vikings place-kicker Blair Walsh
Likely role: Starter
Comment: Has demonstrated a powerful and accurate leg this summer.

Rookie Buzz: Vikings' Audie Cole

August, 20, 2012
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Another in a series of NFC North rookies who have generated buzz. (Full series here.)

You saw it. I saw it. Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier saw it. There is no doubt that rookie linebacker Audie Cole returned interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive defensive plays from scrimmage Friday night in the Vikings' 36-14 preseason victory over the Buffalo Bills.

[+] EnlargeAudie Cole
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireRookie linebacker Audie Cole, who had only one career collegiate interception, had two picks Friday night against the Bills.
What each of us does with that information, however, could be substantively different. Many of you are calling for Cole -- a seventh-round pick from North Carolina State -- not only to earn a spot on the roster but to unseat starter Jasper Brinkley, who hasn't had an impressive preseason. I'm including Cole in a series previously reserved for high draft choices. Frazier? He's doing exactly what you would expect from a coach: Tempering expectations and politely reminding everyone that "we'll look at his entire body of work as we're trying to make a decision on what's best for our team," as he told reporters Sunday.

Cole is a big dude; he measured a bit over 6-foot-4 and weighed in at 246 pounds at the February scouting combine. But a relatively slow performance in the 40-yard dash (4.81 seconds) gave teams reason for pause when considering whether he had the range that today's NFL linebackers need. (Consider that the draft's top middle linebacker, Luke Kuechly, ran a 4.58.) Here's a sample of Scouts Inc.'s report Insider on Cole prior to the draft:
"Makes plays in pursuit but effort has more to do with it that anything else. Not a sideline-to-sideline player and has to take sound angle or risks getting sub-par range exposed. Doesn't have the burst to chase NFL backs down from behind. Gets caught up in the wash a little too much."

Cole had one interception in his college career, but when you look back at the two he managed Friday night, you see a player who anticipated throws from two veterans -- Tyler Thigpen and Brad Smith -- and didn't have much doubt about where he should go after he caught the ball.

"What some people think is a lack of speed," Frazier said, "he's really closing and moving fairly quickly. His length makes a big difference. Those quarterbacks who think they can line-drive a ball in like they did the other night because of his length, all of a sudden that pass is not a completion. It could be an interception. But he has good instincts, he has good anticipation, he's a smart football player and that can offset a guy who doesn’t have blazing speed."

Like most low-round draft picks, Cole's immediate future -- whether he makes the roster or is shuffled to the practice squad -- will be determined by his ability to contribute on special teams. But you don't have to spend much time with the Vikings' depth chart to realize that even a seventh-round draft pick has a good chance to win a roster spot this summer.

Brinkley's backup is technically first-year player Tyrone McKenzie, but it's thought that weakside linebacker Erin Henderson or veteran backup Marvin Mitchell would step in first for Brinkley if necessary.

We hadn't heard much about Cole before now, but it's hard not to take notice after Friday night's events. Preseason flashes don't always foreshadow productive careers, but they're always preferable to the alternative.

"It's what you sit the night before and think about," Cole said. "Doing stuff like that. I am trying to make the team, and I hope that helps my cause."

Rookie Buzz: Packers' Casey Hayward

August, 13, 2012
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Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated buzz. (Full series here.)

Seasoned observers take notice when a team trades up in the draft. It's a clear signal of particular affinity for a targeted player, making it more than reasonable to project both immediate and long-term plans.

So it goes for the April trade that secured Vanderbilt cornerback Casey Hayward for the Green Bay Packers at the bottom of the second round (No. 62 overall). You figured it would only be a matter of time before Hayward got a chance to earn significant playing time, and it appears that injuries and a solid training-camp performance have generated that opportunity already.

[+] EnlargeCasey Hayward
AP Photo/Kevin TerrellRookie cornerback Casey Hayward is earning work with the Packers' first-team defense.
Hayward worked with the Packers' first-team defense over the weekend after injuries sidelined Davon House (shoulder) and Sam Shields (elbow). Jarrett Bush, who opened camp as a first-team cornerback, apparently has been leapfrogged on the depth chart. It's easy to view Hayward's ascendance as a function of injuries, but the Packers' eagerness to draft him suggests he could win the permanent job outright by the end of the preseason.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters that Hayward got off to a "good start" in the Packers' preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers, and Hayward is thrilled to have countered what he said were pre-draft assessments of limited ability.

"Not too many people can come in and just start, especially at the corner spot," Hayward said, via Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com. "I feel I can start in this league. A lot of people said I couldn't be a starter -- [that] I'm more of a nickel person. I just want to come in and prove them wrong. They drafted me high, and when they draft you that high, they've got expectations for you, and I just want to live up to them. … It's my opportunity and I'm going to try to make the best of it."

You probably noticed the Chargers target Hayward last Thursday on a 36-yard pass play to receiver Vincent Brown. But when you watch the replay, you see Hayward do a nice job of recovering after biting on a double move. He caught up to Brown and got his hand near the ball as it dropped, increasing the difficulty of Brown's reception. It was an exceptional catch given Hayward's recovery. (Video here courtesy NFL.com.)

Regardless, Hayward's ascendance is of particular interest from an NFC North perspective. With elite quarterback play in nearly every locale, Hayward is one of three rookie defensive backs who appear on track for starting jobs. We've discussed the status of Detroit Lions cornerback Bill Bentley, and it appears the Minnesota Vikings are on the verge of elevating safety Harrison Smith as well.

If Hayward maintains this role, the Packers would have found immediate and prominent roles for each of their top three draft picks. First-rounder Nick Perry appears locked in at outside linebacker, and second-rounder Jerel Worthy is working as one of two tackles in the Packers' nickel defense, a scheme they ran last season almost 70 percent of the time.

Young and new players doesn't always translate into better. But given the task facing defenses in this division, there is nothing to be lost by exhausting every possibility. In Green Bay, the Packers hope they have a new, young player in Hayward who makes them better.
Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated buzz.

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- A few days ago, I asked Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli about the challenges of preparing a smallish defensive end for the rigors of run defense in the NFL. It's an important challenge facing Bears rookie Shea McClellin, and Marinelli's answer was telling.

"Hopefully we'll bring him along quickly as a pass-rusher," Marinelli said. "He's still got a lot to learn to play the run."

[+] EnlargeShea McClellin
Jerry Lai/US PresswireShea McClellin might be small for a defensive end, but the Bears say the rookie surely isn't short on speed.
That's no knock on McClellin, who is listed at 260 pounds but will probably play between 250 and 255 pounds this season. NFL teams are more than willing to sacrifice some size, and even stout run defense, to capture the kind of consistent pass-rusher that seems so elusive in this era of passing efficiency.

But it is an early indication, at least, that the Bears are readying McClellin not so much for an immediate full-time role at defensive end but rather as a situational pass-rusher who can ease his mind (and body) into the job. Consider the example of 2011 rookie Aldon Smith, who managed 14 sacks for the San Francisco 49ers despite not starting a game and playing less than half (48.2 percent) of the team's snaps.

Marinelli's scheme should help minimize the times when McClellin is lined up directly over an offensive lineman, an instance that would make him vulnerable to a power block. Among other things, Marinelli typically positions ends on what he calls the "edge," essentially over the outside arm of a tackle, or else they line up over a tight end.

But by all accounts, McClellin demonstrated enough during the first few days of training camp to suggest he has a good chance to contribute right away as a situational pass-rusher.

"What I've seen already is real," Marinelli said. "He's got exceptional speed. Boy, he's fast. And he's not just fast. It's that initial quickness. It's reaction and movement. Suddenness. If someone moves, he's off and following him. Some guys are fast with no awareness, but he sees it happening. And I believe we'll find out as we get into pads that he's very, very tough."

McClellin knows why he was drafted as well. When I spoke with him Saturday morning, he was eager to put on pads for the first time and translate his early-camp quickness into real football situations.

"I'm trying to focus in on a lot of things," he said. "Pass rush, especially. Stopping the run, I think we'll see how it goes. I think I can hold my own but we'll see how it goes."

Watching the Bears' defensive line drills, especially when matched up against the offense line, suggested McClellin has the kind of quickness and agility that can make him successful in the kind of immediate role the Bears are envisioning. He made a nice play to bat down a Jason Campbell pass after penetrating the pocket, and he also had a first step on many of the offensive linemen he faced in 1-on-1 drills before getting pushed around the pocket on several occasions. I viewed the latter as a function of developing technique more than limited skills.

"What we're trying to do is give [McClellin] a base in the fundamentals," Marinelli said, "without giving them too much so they lose their aggression."

To be continued…

Related: Our entire Rookie Buzz series can be viewed through this handy one-step link.
Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.

Safety and wide receiver are probably the two easiest positions to be fooled by in non-contact spring practices. Perhaps that's why we've already profiled two receivers in our periodic Rookie Buzz series, and now it's time to examine our first safety.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Hardin
Jerry Lai/US PresswireBears safety Brandon Hardin will rely on several skills to aid him in his rookie season, most of all his physical size.
The Chicago Bears' Brandon Hardin is making the sizable transition from a college cornerback to an NFL safety. That means his head was undoubtedly swimming during the Bears' organized team activities and minicamp. But there was no mistaking his 6-foot-3, 217-pound frame and the possibilities it suggests both as a multi-dimensional safety as well as a special teams contributor. That potential, at least, drew raves toward the end of the Bears' spring practices.

Hardin's size gives him a better chance than most safeties when matched up against the pass-catching tight ends in this division, whether it is the Green Bay Packers' Jermichael Finley, the Detroit Lions' Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler or the Minnesota Vikings' John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph. Ostensibly, his coverage skills will be further developed than most college safeties.

"The one thing that we noticed," Bears general manager Phil Emery said, "is that he's very good at using his size and physicalness at leveraging receivers. … This gives us a strong, dynamic, fast athlete to match up some of the tight end challenges that we have. … He’s 6-3, 217 [pounds.] This was a guy that was playing corner. That's a huge corner. He ran a 4.44 and a 4.42 [in the 40], so there are a lot of physical gifts there to work with."

And, to say the least, Hardin shouldn't be outmuscled in run defense.

"[H]e's not afraid of contact," Emery said. "Sometimes you worry a little bit about that with corners. They're kind of skill/finesse guys. What kind of tackler they will be if you move them to safety? I have no worry about this guy. He will come down in the box and strike people. When he's been on the backside of formations, without a wide out, where he's close down and had to come through the tight end alley, he's all about that."

Hardin didn't play in 2011 because of a shoulder injury, but Emery said he personally scouted him twice during the 2010 season. We'll have to wait until training camp to observe his desire to "strike" people, and we'll also get a better idea if he'll make the transition quickly enough to push for a starting job.

Given the Bears' revolving door at safety under coach Lovie Smith, it seems reasonable to assume Hardin will get his chance at some point this season. The Bears' top two safeties entering training camp -- Major Wright and Chris Conte -- were third-round picks as well.

Until then, you can expect Hardin to see action on as many special teams groups as the Bears can squeeze him into. But unless he proves a complete bust, a 6-foot-3 safety will get an opportunity for a prominent job sooner rather later.

Earlier: Ryan Broyles could be a gem as a slot receiver for the Detroit Lions. Greg Childs could be the downfield receiver the Minnesota Vikings are looking for. Nick Perry sure looks like the stud pass rusher the Green Bay Packers were looking for.
Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- I'll say this much: Nick Perry looks like a baaaaad man, which in this context means he looks the part of a strong, fast, mean pass-rushing outside linebacker in the mold of James Harrison or even his current position coach, Kevin Greene. Perry is 6-foot-3 and 271 pounds with less than 10 percent body fat, and he's not above rolling his jersey sleeves up during a minicamp practice to expose his biceps. In a no-pads environment in the spring, it's easy to see why the Green Bay Packers have such high hopes for their latest first-round draft choice.

But can he play the position? After all, the NFL landscape is littered annually by great athletes who can't master the finer points of playing linebacker in the 3-4. That's the real question, and it's one that can't be answered until Perry completes the transition from a college defensive end. To get a better understanding of what that entails, and how it's going, I sought out Greene after the Packers' first minicamp practice Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeNick Perry
AP Photo/Mike RoemerThe Packers expect big things from first-round draft pick Nick Perry.
Many of us would consider the techniques of dropping into pass coverage as the most difficult adjustment for a player moving from end to linebacker. Greene, however, said Perry's biggest challenge will be expanding his pre-snap vision. I thought Greene's insight was tremendous during our conversation, so be prepared for some extensive quotes to follow.

"He's coming from a situation where his head was down [before the snap]," Greene said. "He's keying one thing. Or his head's up and he's keying the hip of an offensive tackle or guard. Or he's looking at the ball. He's keying one thing.

"Now he's got to stand up in a two-point stance and has to capture all five eligibles in his vision. And he has to know what each one of those guys are. Is it a halfback,? Is it a running back? Is it a fulback? Is it a tight end? Is it the second tight end? Is it a receiver? He's got to capture all five eligibles, understand who they are and what they mean to his pass coverage responsibility. And to see motions and to see shifts in alignments, that's the hardest thing, taking a guy like this and now focusing from sideline to sideline and capturing everything."

Handling the footwork and other fundamental aspects of pass coverage should be the least of Perry's concerns, Greene said.

"I think you can get a guy that's very athletic and can do those things," Greene said. "People can drop and cover and do the things athletically that it takes to play the position. They can play with a low pad level. They're athletic enough to be in a two-point stance. All that stuff is techniques and fundamentals and I think you can coach it.

"But the thing that's hard is keeping them from being in a tunnel vision mode, something that they've done their whole career. They need to be able to say, 'Wait a second, I need to see that guy. Oh, I need to see that guy all the way across the field across from Clay [Matthews], because he just told me something.' That's the thing. That's one of the hardest things I think."

I realize the Packers didn't draft Perry to drop into pass coverage. But he's not going to get on the field regularly until he can do it, and thus the Packers won't be able to reap the presumed benefits of his pass rush until then.

And in the end, the best measure of Perry's success could be reflected in Matthews' production this season. Like all 3-4 schemes, the Packers must achieve balance from their pass rush to maximize it.

"If [Matthews] doesn't have a credible threat on the other side," Greene said, "then offensive coordinators say, 'Hey, let's just take this 52 out of the game and we'll be fine.' … But if you have another dog on the other corner, they have to say, '52, now he's tough, but we can't afford to always double team him, because they've got that big dog over there and he's hunting. So we've got to pick our spots when we double Clay, sometimes we have to solo him, because we've got to hit that guy with two on this series. Sometimes we have double him. Now we've got to double Clay with two and we're taking our chance one-on-one with this other big dog on the corner.'

"See what I'm saying? That's why it's so important."

Again, I think it will take some time before we know if Nick Perry can provide that sort of balance. But what we know now is this: His work before the snap is going to be every bit as important as what he does after it.

Earlier: Ryan Broyles could be a gem as a slot receiver for the Detroit Lions. Greg Childs could be the downfield receiver the Minnesota Vikings are looking for.

Rookie Buzz: Ryan Broyles

June, 1, 2012
6/01/12
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Latest in a series of posts on NFC North rookies who have generated some spring buzz.

You have to get past the surprise factor of Ryan Broyles' draft selection by the Detroit Lions. It's over. It happened. Then you push past the short-term obstacle of his rehabilitation from November knee surgery.

Once you get there, go ahead and start considering what Broyles might add to one of the top passing offenses in the NFL. Although he did not participate in rookie minicamp and has been limited to individual drills during organized team activities (OTAs), Broyles already has made a strong impression on Lions coaches as a potential slot receiver and playmaker down the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Andrew Weber/US PresswireRyan Broyles has made a strong impression on Lions coaches as a potential slot receiver and playmaker.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan isn't prone to exaggeration, so it's worth taking note of what he told Tim Twentyman of the team web site this week.

"Personally," Linehan said, "I thought he had the best understanding and feeling of the middle of the field as a receiver that I've seen in a long time. He understands the difference between a zone route and a man adjustment to the same route. It takes a long time to teach that to a guy that hasn't had that."

Linehan likes to use the same personnel at multiple positions, so it's fair to expect Broyles eventually to work on the outside as well. But at 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds, Broyles is built like a slot receiver and gained extensive experience playing there at Oklahoma.

Indeed, much of the Scouts Inc. pre-draft analysis of Broyles focused on his instincts and skills between the hashmarks. Among other things, Scouts reported that he:

  • "Wades through traffic well working against zone coverage."
  • "Does a nice job of finding and sitting down in soft spots."
  • "Has focus to secure catch while taking a big hit."

So what does this mean for the Lions' offense? If he returns healthy, Broyles' slot skills will add a different dimension.

We all know what Calvin Johnson can do. (Everything.) Veteran Nate Burleson has a role as a mid-range receiver, and Titus Young -- presuming he elevates his maturity level -- is a vertical threat. That leaves Broyles to work a middle area that proved so fruitful for tight end Brandon Pettigrew last season. While Pettigrew is a good athlete for his size, Broyles figures to have a better chance of making big plays after the catch.

We might be looking far into the future with that projection. It's not yet clear if Broyles will be ready to start training camp, much less participate in the early portion of the season. But eventually he will play, and the Lions are excited about it.

Earlier: Greg Childs could be the downfield receiver the Minnesota Vikings are looking for.
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.

[+] EnlargeGreg Childs
AP Photo/Genevieve RossGreg Childs insists he has fully recovered from his 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."

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