Friday, April 17, 2015

A college-centric look at players who could be draft targets for the Minnesota Vikings

Recently, Ryan Boser wrote an interesting guest post at Vikings Territory about some of the draft tendencies we've seen from Vikings general manager Rick Spielman since he joined the franchise.

One of the tendencies that's been highlighted is that he seems to favor players who have come from college programs he thinks highly of (Notre Dame being the program commonly cited.) With that in mind, I decided to look back at every Vikings draft Spielman has been a part of (from 2007 to 2014) to see if the team did pick an unusually large number of players from a certain program or programs. The idea here is that if we know Spielman often selects players from, say, East Topeka State, then maybe we should be paying attention to draft-eligible players from East Tokpeka State at positions where the Vikings have obvious needs. Some of them might end up being future Vikings come April 30-May 2.

Anyway, here is a list of every university (that's what we call "colleges" in Canada. It's a British thing, I think.) that the Vikings have selected at least two players from since 2007:

USC (4): John David Booty - 2008; Everson Griffen - 2010; Matt Kalil and Rhett Ellison - 2012

Florida State (4): Letroy Guion - 2008; Christian Ponder - 2011; Xavier Rhodes and Everett Dawkins - 2013

Notre Dame (4): John Sullivan - 2008; Kyle Rudolph - 2011; Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton - 2012

Arkansas (3): DeMarcus Love - 2010; Jarius Wright and Greg Childs - 2012

UCLA (3): Jeff Locke and Jeff Baca - 2013; Anthony Barr - 2014

Penn State (3): Mickey Shuler - 2010; Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti - 2013

Oklahoma (3): Adrian Peterson and Rufus Alexander - 2007; Phil Loadholt - 2009

South Carolina (2): Sidney Rice - 2007; Jasper Brinkley - 2009

Georgia (2): Asher Allen - 2009; Blair Walsh - 2012

Florida (2): Percy Harvin - 2009; Sharrif Floyd - 2013

Stanford (2): Toby Gerhart - 2010; David Yankey - 2014

North Carolina (2): Travis Bond - 2013; Jabari Price - 2014

Honestly, I don't know if these numbers mean a whole lot. Take Oklahoma. The Vikings haven't drafted a player from that school in five drafts, so does Spielman really favor that program? And in 2014, despite the fact Florida State won the national championship and featured oodles of draft-eligible talent, Spielman didn't select a single Seminole during the 2014 draft. Spielman might regard the Florida State program highly (who doesn't - its packed with talent year-after-year), but he's not going to draft a player from there just because they wore a Florida State jersey.

But what fun is it to use logic in a post like this? What I'm going to do now is list some names of various players from the 12 schools listed above who play positions where the Vikings need an infusion of talent.

Maybe one of these guys will be a Viking in about three weeks time. Or maybe they will be a Brown, a Charger or (cringe) a Packer. At the very least, this is a quick way to familiarize ourselves with some draft prospects who aren't the usual suspects (Amari Cooper, Trae Waynes, Brandon Scherff, Shaq Thompson, etc.)

Inside linebacker
Eric Kendricks (UCLA): Extremely productive and instinctive, but slightly undersized linebacker who can play a position (middle linebacker) where the Vikings have no obvious starter. Expected to be drafted late in the 1st round or early in the 2nd round.

Hayes Pullard (USC): Productive four-year starter, but not big or as fast as you'd like for a linebacker with pro aspirations. Could help on special teams right away. Has a 5th-6th round grade.

A.J. Tarpley (Stanford): Intelligent, try-hard player who is not an elite athlete. Scouts project him as a special teams demon and backup material at the NFL level. Could be drafted in the 6th-7th round or signed as an undrafted free agent.

Mike Hull (Penn State): Disciplined player but not big or overly strong. Special teams fodder at this point. Like Tarpley could be drafted in the 6th-7th round or go undrafted.

Wide receiver
Nelson Agholor (USC): Not the jumbo-sized WR teams covet these days, but he's fast and could thrive in a slot receiver role. Expected to be drafted in rounds 2-to-3. There has been some buzz lately that he might go late in the 1st round.

Dorial Green-Beckham (Oklahoma): Transferred to Oklahoma but never played there. We already covered this dude in some depth in this "Get To Know 'Em" post.

Rashad Greene (Florida State): Thin but savvy player who runs routes well and has a great attitude. His size has teams wondering how durable he will be at the pro level. Could be drafted anywhere from the 2nd to the 4th round.

Ty Montgomery (Stanford): Well-built guy with great speed, but there are questions about his hands and his ability to do more than run vertical routes in the pros. Projected as a 5th or 6th round selection.

Ronald Darby (Florida State): Tremendous athlete and fast. Downside is he only had two INTs in three seasons at FSU and still has a lot to learn about playing the position. Projected as a 2nd round pick.

P.J. Williams (Florida State): Much more physical and bigger than Darby, he seems to fit the mold of what Mike Zimmer wants from his corners. His aggressiveness was used against him at college, however, and he gave up big plays. Projected to be a 2nd round selection.

Josh Shaw (USC): Big, physical and intelligent player who might not be quick or agile enough to play corner in the pros. Some expect him to be shifted to safety. Seen as a 3rd round pick.

Alex Carter (Stanford): Another big corner and three-year starter. Has the frame to mix it up with the big WRs and be a strong run defender, but gets too grabby and could be a penalty magnet at the NFL level in pass coverage. Projected to be drafted in the 3rd or 4th round.

Damian Swann (Georgia): Good size and had a productive career. But scouts say he lacks elite speed, guesses too much and his technique breaks down in games. Could be drafted anywhere from the 5th to 7th round.

Offensive guard  
A.J. Cann (South Carolina):Strong, powerful man but not the quickest or most agile. Better suited to playing in a power blocking scheme. Vikes have spent time with him during the pre-draft process - whatever that's worth. Has a 2nd round grade.

Tre' Jackson (Florida State): Massive mauler with the strength and agility teams look for in interior O-lineman, but rap on him is he relied too much on his natural ability in college and his technique isn't very good. Projected as a 2nd-3rd round selection.

Josue Matias (Florida State): Natural left guard who is better in pass protection than run blocking, which means his strengths are opposite of just about every other O-lineman currently on the Vikes roster. Has a 3rd-4th round grade.

Adam Snead (Oklahoma): Massive, nasty road grader but not very agile and pass protection is not his strength. Expected to go in the 7th round if he's drafted at all.

Strong safety
Jordan Richards (Stanford): I don't think the Vikes need to go drafting less than blue-chip prospects at the safety position - they have enough of those already - but here goes. Richards is a leader and tough player with a nose for the ball, but his 4.6-4.7 40 speed suggests he'll struggle in coverage at the NFL level. Could be drafted in the 5th-6th round.

Anthony Jefferson (UCLA): Another hard worker/high character guy who isn't very fast (runs 4.7 in the 40). But scouting reports say he can play press coverage at NFL and might even be a candidate to be switched to corner in the pros. Has a 7th round grade.

Defensive end    
Owamagbe Odighizuwa (UCLA): I can't pronounce his name yet, but he knows how to defend the run and has the long arms and athletic ability to be a force as a pass rusher. Figures to be drafted late in the 1st round or 2nd round.

Mario Edwards Jr. (Florida State): Versatile player who wins with power, but still has a lot to learn to diversify his repertoire of pass rushing moves. Projected as a 2nd or 3rd round selection.

Trey Flowers (Arkansas): With his long arms and strength, he can play left or right defensive end. But isn't the fastest guy and scouts criticize his lack of explosiveness. Could be chosen in the 2nd or 3rd round.

Henry Anderson (Stanford): If Zimmer likes tall defensive ends as much as we've been told, Anderson fits the bill. Stands 6'6, has long arms and is quick off the snap. Projected to go in the 4th round - Brian Robison/Everson Griffen territory.

Ray Drew (Georgia): Big guy who scouts say lacks ideal bulk to play inside and ideal speed to play outside. Also needs work on his pass rushing technique but has unfulfilled potential some team will want to take a chance on. Seen as a 5th or 6th round selection.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

National Friday League: Sheepish Return

The Penitent - Albrecht Durer
As I once again apologize for a flaky, unannounced hiatus, I can say I've learned something about myself. Football takes such an intense part of my energy from July through January that after it's done, I need a little time to barely think about football at all, and focus all my energies on other things. Whenever a football story broke over the past two months, here was my typical reaction:

"I need to consider my opinion about this story, so that I can write about it on the Viking blog.  ---.  I have no opinion about this story."

That's not entirely true. Here's the totality of my football thoughts over the past two months.

1. The Bills are foolish to trade any sort of asset for a highly paid established RB: when's the last time that worked out?

2. The Eagles are foolish to replace their expensive RB with another expensive RB; Chip Kelly should trust his system and go get a cheap RB to produce in it.

3. The Vikings shouldn't consider themselves to be in a position to try and please Adrian Peterson: if they're going to keep him at all, they should tell him to play for his contract or go eat a bowl of coconut. I hate coconut: that vile filth has ruined the potential of too many promising pastries. (Update: the NFL reinstated Peterson today - Friday, April 17.)

4. WHERE'S WALLACE!?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

But now I have opinions again! Now I'm ready to engage. Engage with Zorp.

It's true: Minnesota's sports teams are losers
This should surprise nobody: the Washington Post, via City Pages, runs the stats to find in the last decade, Minnesota is the least successful sports town with teams in the four major leagues. I've made frequent laments about neither the Vikings, Wolves, Twins, nor Wild have even made it to the championship round since 1991 (but the Lynx!). We may have lost a generation of sports fans who have just seen no real reason to follow sports.

But for those of us who have stayed loyal to a Minnesota team (or teams), let us celebrate our devotion. It's easy to consider yourself loyal to your teams when those teams are consistently good. The Wisconsin sports fans I know care about the Packers and the Badger football team (and when they're good, the Badger basketball team, but only when they're good). And why not? How fun would it be to declare loyalty to a team that gives you winning season after winning season? Wisconsin sports fans may point to their dry glut of the pre-Favre days, of course, but they've now had consistent success for over 20 years--fans 35 and under have pretty much grown up with success.

But Minnesota fans: we've earned our loyalty cred. We've earned it hard. If a person ever accuses you of being a fair weather fan, just point to this article and ask him/her if he/she every rooted through a glut like that. Because you, Minnesota sports fan, have been chugging along with a combination of abject futility and dashed hopes for a very long time. You're the real die-hard. You're the real hero. Now go enjoy a cold glass of water.

This is barely satire.
I've been to enough Timberwolves games over the years to find the Onion's take on the experience not quite over the top enough. Of course, I don't blame Minnesota basketball fans for avoiding the Target Center in droves. It has been such a long time since Wolves management gave us any reason to think they had any direction or plan toward success, and we've seen so many seasons when the team is flirting with the worst record in the league, that the team isn't giving us much reason to show up. I mean, there's Crunch's antics, finding out what some yahoo is willing to do for a Klondike bar, and if you're lucky you'll catch a t-shirt (someday!!!!!) or a prize falling from the rafters.

Here's the regular question I ask about the Wolves:

How many players on the current roster will still be on the roster the next time the Wolves make the playoffs?

The first time I asked this question, the correct answer would have been "zero." At this point, I'm a little more optimistic that Wiggins, Rubio, LaVine, or Dieng could be there--but only slightly, and I doubt it will be all of them.

This Runner's World interview floored me: Larry Bird is a devoted runner! He ran a five mile race two days before dropping 60 on the Hawks! He and Scott Wedman would sign up for local races! My basketball idol, a fanatic for what is now my favorite sport!

To add to the reasons Michael Jordan is the greatest.*
Michael Jordan was one of the most durable, devoted players ever: I'm not sure any professional athlete has ever been more reliable. In his career, he played NINE 82 game seasons, plus seasons of 81, 80, and 78. Every single game, Jordan had to come out to compete and win. He did this playing at the absolute height of performance the game had ever seen. And he did this without, apparently, ever wearing down, as his playoff performances are legendary. Just consider that in the three seasons after his first retirement, he played all 82 games each year and went to--and won--the NBA Finals each season. The Bulls played in 304 basketball games over three seasons, and Jordan played in every single one, and in each season he led the league in points per game and playoff points per game. That is so impressive I can barely comprehend it.

*I'd say the top three players ever are Jordan, Russell, and Kareem. I change my mind about the order every few months.

Adrian Peterson doesn't matter.
Let's set aside how anybody feels about Adrian Peterson personally right now, about what emotions you'd have about seeing him play for the Vikings again. As a player, I don't think he matters to the Vikings anymore. Unfortunately, the Vikings don't view it that way--they have (mistakenly) believed they should build around him for years, and appear to still believe that. But that is incorrect.

Making a running back the highest paid player on your team is not a way to win a championship in today's NFL. And I doubt that the 30 year old Peterson will still be on the roster when/if the Vikings are competing for a championship (which, optimistically, could be their first year in the new stadium--though super-irrational-optimistically, it'll be 2015, baby! Why not?!?!?!?!? You can't make me not believe!).

Here's what I view as the most important factors in the Vikings competing for a Super Bowl within the next five years:

1. Teddy Bridgewater developing into a good NFL quarterback.
2. Mike Zimmer establishing himself as a great defensive coach and good game coach.
3. In whatever way, making the Viking offensive line good.
4. Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith staying healthy.
5. Developing and adding talented, productive players to the secondary.
6. Ensuring that there are consistently quality receiving threats on the roster.

If I kept going, I think I'd come up with a lot more before I added "making sure a 30 year old RB making $10 million dollars a year is on the roster."

Furthermore, if the Vikings are going to eat the salary cap hit of cutting Peterson in the next few years, this would be the year to do it. And if Peterson doesn't even want to play for the team, then let him walk. There are way more important things to do to make the Vikings a championship contender.

Later, suckers!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Get To Know 'Em: Dorial Green-Beckham

Back in March of 2012 when this blog was born, Thomas Ryan - who used to run The Ragnarok site - wrote here for a time. One of the segments he came up with was the "Get To Know 'Em" series, where he looked at potential Vikings draft targets and provided analysis on these players. Thomas doesn't write for us anymore. But I think the concept he developed was a fun read and pretty useful (2 of the players he wrote about - Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson - were selected by the Vikes in the 2012 draft).

Last year I did a number of these posts (here's one on Teddy Bridgewater), and I'll be doing it again this spring as the NFL draft gets closer. I will be writing as many of these posts as I can leading up to the draft. And like Thomas, I'm relying on my own instincts and various mock drafts to select players to preview. I'm going to focus on players who could be targets for the Vikings in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft. The second post in this series was on Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. This column will look at a guy who I think is too risky to take early in the first round where the Vikes are currently scheduled to select, but is so talented he might be a target later in the draft for the Vikings - Missouri/Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.

On talent alone, Dorial Green-Beckham is a top 10 pick in this draft. But it's not Green-Beckham's talent that's in question. It's his character. In his short collegiate career, Green-Beckham got into all sorts of trouble off the field. He only played two years of college football as a result, and he hasn't played a competitive down of it since 2013.

Still, 6'5, 230-pound wide receivers who can run a 4.49 40 and have a vertical leap of 33.5 inches aren't easy to find, and those are Green-Beckham's height/weight measurements and his NFL combine 40 yard dash and vertical jump results I just listed.

With those measurables, scouting reports on Green-Beckham read like you'd expect them to read. He's a great red zone threat because he's got the size and leaping ability to beat defenders on fades and can outmuscle them to win jump balls. He can run by corners with his long strides and has an insane catch radius where he is open even when he really isn't open. He's also got fine lateral agility and wiggle where he's able to take short passes and make defenders miss without slowing down too much to do so.

Unfortunately, there are no 2014 Green-Beckham highlights or videos to show you because he didn't play in 2014. After he was dismissed from the Missouri team (more on this later), he transferred to Oklahoma, had to sit out the 2014 season because of said transfer and then decided to declare for the NFL draft before ever playing a game for the Sooners. So, we're left with 2013 footage to assess Green-Beckham. And when it comes to 2013 footage, his 7-catch, 100-yard, 4-touchdown performance against Kentucky is a great place to start.

Link to Green-Beckham vs. Kentucky video

The first splash play from Green-Beckham occurs at the 0:23 mark of the video. Missouri sends him on a vertical route down the left sideline. There's a lot of handfighting going on - something that happens all the time in the NFL - and Green-Beckham wins this easily and hauls in the pass. At the 0:58 mark, Green-Beckham shows off his red zone skills with the Missouri QB throwing a jump ball to him, which the wide receiver wins easily. Just to prove this isn't a fluke, at the 2:49 mark, his QB throws another jump ball to Green-Beckham. He gets away with a push off, but it's real subtle and isn't called, and he then locates the ball while also shielding the defender with his back so the defender can't make a play on it. DGB's third red zone touchdown catch comes at 6:40 mark of the video. At this point, it's clear Kentucky is scared shitless that Green-Beckham will score on another jump ball, so the defender gives him ample cushion at the line of scrimmage. Missouri responds by throwing a slant to Green-Beckham that he eats up and scores easily on.

Green-Beckham's most impressive play in this video is his third touchdown catch of the game at the 5:20 mark. It was just outside the red zone, at Kentucky's 22-yard line, but it's a great example of how Green-Beckham's size and length allows him to be open even when he isn't. On this play, the Kentucky defender had him blanketed, but doesn't turn and locate the ball. That was a mistake. Green-Beckham jumps as the ball approaches him and then reaches over the defender's helmet to pluck the ball and score. Nice hands and even better body control by Green-Beckham on this play. It's the kind of catch we've seen Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey make many times against the Vikes in recent years.

I'll point out one last play from this video at the 6:25 mark. It's a short screen to Green-Beckham, and Missouri threw a lot of these to him in the videos I watched. It's a route he's very comfortable doing, and here he shows his ability to weave through traffic at top speed to make a nice eight-yard gain out of nothing. It's not a spectacular play, but it does show Green-Beckham has the skill to do this well if he's asked to. I point this out because offensive coordinator Norv Turner called a number of these type of screens last season.

Of course, there are cons to Green-Beckham's game. Scouting reports refer to him as being "raw" and not understanding the full route tree yet (remind you of anyone?) That holds true from what I watched in the video. You see a lot of screens, verticals and jump ball throws in the end zone with Green-Beckham. You don't see many catches along the sidelines or intermediate stuff between the numbers. Is this because Missouri didn't choose to send him on those routes because he was so successful doing the other stuff? Or was it because Green-Beckham didn't run them that well? If it's the latter, Green-Beckham will struggle to make a consistent impact during his rookie season no matter who he plays for.

I also found that Green-Beckham didn't always come back to the ball well on shorter routes or display the best hands on those plays, which is weird because he makes some great catches on other contested routes.

But the big concern with Green-Beckham is what he'll do when he's not practicing or playing football. While at Missouri he was twice arrested on marijuana charges and got kicked off the team after he forced open an apartment door and pushed a young women down several stairs. Is he a young guy (he turns 22 on April 12) who has made some incredibly dumb decisions that he will grow out of? Or is he a guy who will keep making dumb decisions that keep him off the field during his pro career?

I get a Josh Gordon/Justin Blackmon vibe with Green-Beckham, and he seems like the kind of character concern player Rick Spielman would stay away from. However, Spielman has gambled on players with troubled pasts before - Percy Harvin in 2009 and Everson Griffen in 2010. The gamble paid off with Harvin for about four seasons. It continues to pay off with Griffen.

Is Spielman ready to gamble again on Green-Beckham? Perhaps. The Vikes are spending extra time with him. But with the off-the-field issues he's had, this isn't a guy Spielman is going to pick at #11 or even in the middle of the first round if he trades down. If Green-Beckham gets in trouble again and turns into a trainwreck of Dimitrius Underwood proportions (if that's even possible?), the Vikings are going to look extremely dumb. Spielman is no dummy.

However, taking a player with Green-Beckham's talent at the tail end of the first round or in the second round after the Vikes have already chosen another blue-chip player with less character concerns would be a lot less risky. And Green-Beckham's off-the-field issues are concerning enough that he could very well slide that far in this draft.

I almost hesitate to write this, but in the videos I watched, Green-Beckham's size, leaping ability, and long, smooth strides remind me a bit of the Vikings greatest ever draft gamble - Randy Moss.

If Green-Beckham turns out to be even half as good as Moss was - on the field, that is - the Vikings could have themselves the steal of the 2015 NFL draft at a position where they need some help.

Here are some more Green-Beckham highlights to get on the "draft DGB" train.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Are Scott Crichton and David Yankey in line to play major roles for the 2015 Minnesota Vikings?

David Yankey and Scott Crichton did not have the greatest of rookie seasons in 2014.

Crichton, a defensive end drafted in the third round, barely played on game days. Yankey, an offensive guard drafted in the fifth round, barely played on game days.

These developments were bummers for the Vikings. With last year's starting left guard Charlie Johnson struggling all year and backup defensive end Corey Wootten providing almost nothing of value when he was on the field, Minnesota could have really used Yankey and Crichton to contribute.

Now that we're a few weeks away from the NFL draft, the Vikings issues at left guard and defensive end have yet to be addressed. Johnson was released, the Vikings didn't sign anybody outside the organization during free agency to replace him (although they were reportedly interested in the Bengals Clint Boling.) Right now, it's possible career backup Joe Berger might be the starting left guard on the Vikings depth chart.

As for the defensive end spot, Wootten hasn't been re-signed, but Minnesota went after Michael Johnson hard after he was released by Tampa Bay, and had interest in Adrian Clayborn and George Selvie - who all signed elsewhere.

The Vikings may still sign some veteran help, and the team has visited with some promising draft prospects who project as guards or defensive ends at the NFL level. It's also possible that Yankey and Crichton could provide the help the Vikings need.

Chricton was highly productive as a three-year starter at Oregon State, but his scouting report from 2014 shows there were holes in his game he needed to improve on. Yankey was a highly decorated offensive lineman at Stanford, but had a reputation for possessing less than ideal athleticism. In other words, their respective games needed some work coming out of college and they weren't ready to take on major roles with an NFL team.

Some Viking fans were concerned that Yankey and Crichton didn't do squat last season. But it's not unusual for third-day draft picks to require a bit of seasoning before playing larger roles with the Vikings.

Everson Griffen didn't play much in his rookie season in 2010 before gaining more playing time as a backup in 2011, 2012 and 2013. And Brandon Fusco basically was redshirted his rookie year in 2011 (much like Yankey was) before the Vikings handed him the starting right guard job in 2012.

It's always possible that Yankey and Crichton won't be much better in 2015 than they were in 2014. But after a year of getting NFL coaching, plus learning what it takes to be a professional, we shouldn't sleep on these two guys.

The answers to the Vikes issues at left guard and defensive end might already be on the Minnesota roster.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Is the 2012 Vikings draft a sign of the times or an outlier?

ESPN's Ben Goessling writes that the Vikings have some tough decisions to make regarding various members of their 2012 draft class.

Goessling's correct. Besides striking a deal with stud free safety Harrison Smith, which I expect is going to happen at some point in the next four-to-six months, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer have to decide if left tackle Matt Kalil is their offensive line cornerstone for the next six-to-eight years, if cornerback Josh Robinson is worthy of a second contract at starting corner dollars, if Jarius Wright is worthy of a second contract at whatever the market determines a #3 wide receiver is worth, what the right price point is for re-signing a Pro Bowl kicker like Blair Walsh, and whether linebacker  Audie Cole, safety Robert Blanton and tight end/H-Back Rhett Ellison are worth retaining beyond 2016.

What strikes me about that list is the number of players (eight) from the 2012 draft class that the Vikings have to seriously think about retaining in 2016. That's a high number, and it may signal that Spielman is doing a pretty good job at drafting talent since becoming the team's general manager in January of 2012.

It's been a while since so many members of a Vikings draft class have merited that kind of consideration. Look at the Vikings drafts over the past decade. The 2005 Troy Williamson/Erasmus James draft was a complete washout. Ray Edwards and Cedric Griffin were the only guys from the 2006 draft the Vikes had to think hard about keeping beyond their rookie contracts (they wisely decided to pass on Edwards, while knee injuries messed up Griffin's career.) From the 2007 draft, Brian Robison and Sidney Rice were the two guys beyond Adrian Peterson that merited "to re-sign or not to re-sign" debate. The Vikes kept Robison but let Rice sign for big money in Seattle. John Sullivan was the only player from the 2008 draft Minnesota really had to keep, and from the 2009 draft Phil Loadholt was the only guy the franchise had to make an effort to re-sign. As for the 2010 and 2011 drafts, out of 18 total selections, Everson Griffen and Kyle Rudolph were the lone draftees that the Vikes needed to expend any energy and serious dollars to keep.

If you are only having to make a decision about whether to keep one or two players every draft, you're probably drafting poorly. And as a result, your team's record is probably not going to be a good one.

So, having to face these kinds of financial decisions about so many players in 2016 is a good thing for the Vikings. To me it signals that Spielman is stocking the roster with quality talent. The Vikings won't be able to re-sign all of that talent - other teams will outbid them for some it. But I bet Spielman will be able to keep the players he thinks are most critical to the Vikings future success. And if his 2013 and 2014 drafts ( plus the drafts he hasn't completed yet) prove to be as successful as the 2012 one seems to be, there will be ample reinforcements within the organization to replace the guys he loses.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Get To Know 'Em: Trae Waynes

Back in March of 2012 when this blog was born, Thomas Ryan - who used to run The Ragnarok site - wrote here for a time. One of the segments he came up with was the "Get To Know 'Em" series, where he looked at potential Vikings draft targets and provided analysis on these players. Thomas doesn't write for us anymore. But I think the concept he developed was a fun read and pretty useful (2 of the players he wrote about - Harrison Smith and Josh Robinson - were selected by the Vikes in the 2012 draft).

Last year I did a number of these posts (here's one on Teddy Bridgewater), and I'll be doing it again this spring as the NFL draft gets closer. I will be writing as many of these posts as I can leading up to the draft. And like Thomas, I'm relying on my own instincts and various mock drafts to select players to preview. I'm going to focus on players who could be targets for the Vikings in the 1st and 2nd rounds of the draft. The first post in this series was on Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson. Now I'm going to hone in on the secondary, and the cornerback spot in particular.

Last season I was thrilled as I watched second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes develop into the kind of player where using the words "shutdown corner" was not wishful thinking. As the season progressed, head coach Mike Zimmer trusted Rhodes to take on some of the league's most lethal wide receivers (Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery, Kelvin Benjamin) one-on-one. And Rhodes won the vast majority of those battles.

But Zimmer couldn't count on the other Viking cornerbacks who played a lot - Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson - to do the same. Wouldn't it be great if the Vikings had not just one, but two, tall, long-armed, speedy cornerbacks to shut down the opponent's passing games?

Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes could be that guy.

Waynes is tall for a corner - a legit 6'0 feet. He's got long arms that allow him to play taller than that. And he's fast. His 4.31 40 time at the NFL combine was the fastest time of any corner there. He's also not the biggest guy at 180 pounds. Waynes, and it's not just because they both have dreadlocks, reminds me a lot of Richard Sherman's - tall, gangly, lots of knees, elbows and arms coming at you. If Waynes were to play like Sherman in the NFL, the Vikings would probably sprint to hand in their pick to Roger Goodell at #11 on draft day.  

But is Waynes capable of being Richard Sherman good? His game 2014 game against Nebraska displays Trae Waynes at his best (mostly.)

(Nebraska game video.)

Wayne's played a lot of man-to-man coverage in the five videos I watched of him from the 2014 season. This makes him a guy that has the skills necessary to play in Zimmer's defensive system. Zimmer asked his corners to play a lot of press man-to-man last year. If you can't do that well, you're probably not what Zimmer is looking for.

Waynes does this pretty well. He's got the speed to stay with receivers hip-to-hip, but he also likes to be physical with the WRs and he's good at using the sideline as an extra defender on deep routes. At the 1:10 mark of the Nebraska video, Waynes is matched up with Huskers speed receiver Kenny Bell. Waynes wins the matchup easily. He angles Bell to the sideline, runs with him stride-for-stride and then reads Bell's eyes perfectly to turn and locate the ball just in time to make the interception. It would be hard to play a deep ball any better than that. We see Waynes ability to angle WRs to the sidelines and box them in again at the 7:09 mark of the video as well. This is a skill that not every corner is able to master, but Waynes has a great feel for it.

At the 3:30 mark we see an example of Waynes physical nature at the line of scrimmage. Because Waynes isn't the biggest guy weight-wise, this is encouraging. He isn't afraid to get his hands on opposing WRs in press coverage, and while he got flagged on this play, this is the kind of hand fighting corners and WRs at the NFL level engage in on almost every pass play. That Waynes is willing to do it and often won these physical battles in college should serve him well in the pros. (The flip side to this is Waynes will have a harder time winning them in the NFL where the WRs are bigger and stronger than what he faced in the Big 10.)

Overall in pass coverage, Waynes looks pretty darn good. He can flip his hips smoothly and turn and run with guys. He can stop on a dime and close on short routes in front of him. He also anticipates routes pretty well, and will jump them.

The main criticisms I've heard about Waynes is a) that he got in the habit of freelancing too much at Michigan State and b) that he was a willing, but not terribly effective, tackler. A possible example of Waynes and his freelancing ways can be seen at the 4:54 mark of the Nebraska video. On this pass play, Waynes peels off the guy he is covering when he recognizes Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong is throwing deep into the end zone. No harm was done as the pass was incomplete, but was Waynes encouraged to do this in Michigan State's system or did he just do this on his own? If it's the latter, Zimmer won't put up with this kind of bullshit. He'll expect his corners to follow their assignments to the letter. Or else. I don't think this is a major red flag, but it is something to monitor. If the Vikes draft Waynes, Zimmer and his staff will have to drill this tendency out of him.

On the tackling front, I didn't find myself closing my eyes in horror over Waynes tackling technique. But at 180 pounds, Waynes knows he isn't going to knock people around, either. So he makes a fair amount of leg and ankle tackles, but he'll wrap guys up around the waist and chest as well. He's not near as good a tackler as his old teammate Darqueze Dennard was. However, I wouldn't consider him to be a liability in run support. It is something he will need to get better at, though.

With the Vikings signing Terence Newman last week, drafting Waynes at #11 could be less of a possibility than it was before Newman became a Viking. But Newman is only going to be around one year, and Josh Robinson - the #3 corner on the Vikes depth chart in 2014 - is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2015 season and I don't see him re-signing with Minnesota if he's a backup. And what if Captain Munnerlyn has another poor season in 2015 and is cut during the 2016 offseason? What I'm saying here is the Vikings talent and depth at cornerback could take a big hit in 2016. They will need to address the corner position again in 2016. But will the Vikings be in position to draft a player of Waynes ability a year from now?

Playing in a division where you've got to face Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler two games each every season, you can never have too much talent at cornerback, and Waynes is considered the best of the college lot in 2015.

I would never predict Waynes is going to be a Richard Sherman elite level corner at the NFL level. But his track record in college, and his speed, size and knowledge of the game makes him a guy who would be tough to pass on at #11 if he's available.       

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Why it's OK that the Vikings keep signing nobody free agents

The Vikings signed three more free agents this week, and they are ... Taylor Mays, Casey Matthews, and 36-year-old Terence Newman????

This is not the offseason most Vikings fans were hoping for. Minnesota has some roster holes that need to be filled - like left guard and middle linebacker - and they've gone about addressing them by signing a couple of depth guys and a soon--to-be 37 year-old cornerback in a league that is obsessed with youth.


It's true the Vikes went after defensive end Michael Johnson hard, and they apparently were after safeties Devin McCourty and Rahim Moore as well. But those players signed elsewhere. So, the Vikings free agency plan has really sucked, hasn't it?

Actually, I don't think so. I can't deny signing a player like McCourty or Johnson or Clint Boling should have made the Vikings a better team in 2015 - on paper anyway. But the team's unwillingness to sign free agents no matter the cost indicates that general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and his staff are confident they have enough young talent to be a very good team without signing any pricey free agents.

And they might be right. Harrison Smith is a great safety. Everson Griffen was outstanding in his first year as a full-time starter at defensive end. Jerick McKinnon looks like he could be a feature running back. Xavier Rhodes looks very much like a shutdown corner. Teddy Bridgewater. Anthony Barr. Shariff Floyd. Charles Johnson. There is a lot of young, promising talent on the Minnesota Vikings. And, yeah, I  know I left out Matt Kalil and Cordarrelle Patterson. That was on purpose.

The point is, the Vikings have seen what happens when teams (including themselves) dip heavily into the free agent pool and they don't like the results. Ndamukong Suh is a fantastic player. But is signing him going to get the Miami Dolphins to the Super Bowl? In five seasons in Detroit, the Lions and Suh played in just two Wild Card playoff games. They lost both of them.

It's obvious that Spielman, Zimmer and company believe the smart play is to develop their own guys and use the money they have to pay those young guys when the time comes to sign their second contract (you know Harrison Smith is going to get his at some point over the next six months.)

Considering how many times we see teams have buyer's remorse shortly after signing big-name free agents, I'm willing to roll with this strategy for the foreseeable future - even if it is a bit boring.