Immediately following the 2014 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings signed a series of enticing undrafted free agents. Included in this group were former Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson, who once was tagged with a second round draft grade before injury, and Tennessee State tight end A.C. Leonard, who recorded a 4.5 40-yard dash time despite his 6-foot-2, 252-pound frame. While Richardson and Leonard may very well make the Vikings’ 53-man roster, it is Eastern Illinois wide receiver Erik Lora who may not only make the Vikings’ roster but also have a noticeable impact as an undrafted rookie.
Playing for a small-conference team such as Eastern Illinois generally does not do a player’s draft stock any favors. While it may not help the player, it sometimes will provide one lucky team with a steal of an acquisition. A more in-depth look into Lora’s college career and his NFL-caliber athleticism reveals that he may just be one of this year’s undrafted free agent steals.
Lora, who stands at 5-foot-10 and weighs 203 pounds, was the favorite target of now New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. These two small-school studs went on to break a number of Eastern Illinois and Ohio Valley Conference records throughout their collegiate careers.
During his senior season, Lora caught 123 passes for 1,544 yards and 19 touchdowns. Even more impressive, this was the second season in a row that Lora surpassed the plateaus of 1,500 receiving yards, 120 receptions and 10 touchdowns. His list of accomplishments at Eastern Illinois is roughly the same length as a grocery list, making Lora undoubtedly the best wide receiver, from a statistical standpoint, the Ohio Valley Conference or Eastern Illinois have ever seen.
While Lora clearly had a successful collegiate career, his path to becoming a standout wide receiver will naturally be far more difficult in the NFL. His 4.5 40-yard dash time, reliable hands and veteran-level route running ability are impressive, but his relatively small stature as well as playing against weak college competition raises concerns.
Regardless, Lora will have a chance to make the Vikings’ 53-man roster, a feat that not even he probably anticipated he would ever reach. It has been reported that Lora is a part of a small group competing for the Vikings’ punt and kick return jobs. The group of players he is competing against includes Marcus Sherels, Jerick McKinnon, Jarius Wright and fellow small-school undrafted free agent signing Adam Thielen.
Although Lora only returned 24 punts in college, likely due to his critical role in the Eastern Illinois offense, he did have some success. During his senior season, Lora recorded an 18.8 yards per-return average while also scoring a touchdown. Making the team as a return specialist would be the ideal place for Lora to begin his NFL career, and the Vikings should have at least one spot open with Cordarrelle Patterson expected to have an increased role in the Vikings’ offense.
While becoming a return specialist likely represents the best opportunity for Lora to make the Vikings’ 53-man roster, it is possible for him to make the team as a wide receiver. Greg Jennings and Patterson will be the Vikings’ top receiving threats on the outside, but the slot receiver role is still up for grabs. Given his quickness and frame, slot receiver is the position Lora would be best served to play. This role is likely Wright’s job to lose, but he has not shown enough in his first two NFL seasons to prevent Lora from having an opportunity to steal it from him.
With a skill set and body type that, on film, resembles that of Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker, it would be hard to deny Lora an opportunity in the NFL. Expect the Vikings to, at the very least, sign Lora to their practice squad. However, do not be shocked if he makes the 53-man roster as the Vikings’ punt returner or No. 5 or 6 wide receiver.