Note: Adam Warwas of the fine Vikings Territory blog and I have collaborated in the past and we decided to do it again this week. And with free agency petering out and April upon us, we agreed to focus on the upcoming college draft in our blogging efforts this time around. Read on to see what Adam cooked up for his latest guest post at Kick Ass Blog.
By Adam Warwas
Despite the presence of a gazillion mock drafts across the Internet, and even more rumors and predictions available, the NFL draft is nearly impossible to predict. Still, we can’t help but try and make informed predictions and I am humbled by KAB’s invitation to try and narrow down some prospects of interest for the Minnesota Vikings.
The following list of five prospects isn’t limited to the first round. Instead, I picked five guys I simply think have a better chance than others to wind up wearing purple next season. Let’s skip any other obligatory qualifiers, and hop to it:
1. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
After Notre Dame’s superstar linebacker had his personal life, and professional career, turned upside down by one of the most bizarre stories ever it became obvious that the love football players felt for him was just as fictitious as his deceased girlfriend.
I know it isn’t popular, but I still feel that NFL teams view Te’o as one of the best middle linebacker prospects in this draft class, and that he is worth a first round pick. Rick Spielman and the Vikings desperately need a high quality middle linebacker, have an affinity for Notre Dame products, have insider knowledge of the true story behind the hoax, and could benefit once again from a top talent falling into their laps due to unusual circumstances.
More than anything I feel like Minnesota is a great fit for Te’o. If he is going to be an NFL success, I think the Vikings give him the best chance of that. He would have former teammates and alumni on both sides of the ball. He would have veteran leadership all around him on defense. Leslie Frazier seems particularly skilled at dealing with strange situations, and his scheme suits Te’o’s skill set quite nicely.
I can just feel it. Call it an extreme hunch. I’ve already come to terms with the notion that Manti Te’o seems very likely to be a Viking by month’s end.
2. Ryan Allen, P, Louisiana Tech
Punter isn’t going to be listed as a top need for the Vikings in very many places because of Chris Kluwe’s popularity, the presence of so many other needs, and, well... because it is the punter position, after all.
Last season, however, the Vikings found great success by spending a pick to draft kicker Blair Walsh earlier than most expected. They then jettisoned veteran mainstay Ryan Longwell and Walsh proceeded to be one of the most valuable players on the Vikings team.
Walsh’s success wasn’t only measured by his knack for being a dependable field goal kicker, from great distances, but also for providing the Vikings with some of the best field position of any NFL team on a regular basis. For a run-first team like the Vikings, field position is king.
Punter Ryan Allen is the only college player to ever win the Ray Guy Award in consecutive seasons and is perhaps the best punter prospect to be available in the history of the game. He placed 44% of his punts inside the 20 yard line last season and led the nation with a 43.5 net yard average. He is simply very strong legged and has the accuracy team’s love to see.
If they select Allen, the Vikings could bail on Kluwe, which would free them of his $1.4 million salary that the last season of his current contract is scheduled to pay him. They could also be rid of his off-field distractions, which Vikes special teams coordinator Mike Priefer admitted were exhausting last season.
3. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
No, I’m not some sort of Louisiana Tech fanatic, the fact that there are two of their prospects on this list is purely coincidental.
Most Vikings fans and observers have discussed this year’s crop of receivers ad nauseum and when pouring over all of the analysis, I feel like Patton is the most likely candidate to be a target of the Vikings. Patton is the type of guy that coaches want to bring aboard. He may not have elite size or blazing speed, but the guy is a technician at his position and seems as coachable as anybody else. He plays with incredibly sound fundamentals, such as his ability to run very precise routes, but also has the toughness and grittiness to battle defensive backs or go across the middle and make the tough catch.
He even excels at being a downfield blocker, which should a prerequisite for any team with Adrian Peterson on the roster, and you won’t be able to find him taking a play off no matter how much tape you watch.
The Vikings reportedly tried to trade for Anquan Boldin this offseason, which happens to be who I would compare Patton to if asked to do so. He seems like a natural fit for a team that runs a lot, wants to improve its passing game, and is readying itsel for two seasons of outdoor football.
4. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
Much has been made about Marcus Lattimore’s injury and timeline for return. It was truly a sad thing to see him injured so badly with such a bright future ahead of him.
He may not fall as far as many thought, and his future may still be bright, but the Vikings could be in a position to proactively replace Toby Gerhart (contract year) and draft a potential complement to Adrian Peterson. Lattimore’s game tape proves him to be the most complete running back prospect in this class, outside of the injury issues. He simply does it all very well.
The Vikings could be the exact type of situation that is ideal for Lattimore’s future success. Peterson could be a perfect inspiration for Lattimore as he attempts his comeback from a very similar injury, he could feel confident in the medical staff employed by the Vikings after seeing what they did with Peterson, and they have the depth chart to allow him the time he needs to properly recover before rushing into action.
In fact, they could simply let him sit for a year, and then let him replace Gerhart in 2014. The Vikings have a lot of needs heading into the draft, and it might be a difficult decision to sit a guy until 2014, but the reward might just be worth waiting for in Lattimore’s case.
5. Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green
It is hard to get noticed as a small school prospect. It is even tougher to stick out when you are entering the NFL with a group of defensive lineman that is perhaps the most talented (and deep) of any we’ll see for some time.
Chris Jones isn’t going to be a name familiar to casual observers of the draft process. He comes out of Bowling Green and, as fully expected, didn’t light it up at the NFL's scouting combine. Still, he is a bullish type of defensive tackle that will probably cause some team’s fans to collectively scratch their heads when his name is called fairly early on draft weekend. Considering the team's need for some young blood at the tackle position, those fans might be of the purple variety.
The Mid-American Conference’s defensive player of the year has done nothing but get better and has improved his production throughout his career, and I happen to think he hasn’t peaked and will keep getting better at the next level.
Jones provides a great amount of disruption at the line of scrimmage. As a senior he registered 12.5 sacks (3rd in the nation) and 19 tackles for a loss (9th). He plays a well balanced game and could immediately jump into the Vikings rotation on the line, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him being an impact starter very early in his career.