Every Vikings' fan feels the same. We all loved Percy Harvin's athleticism.
We will miss him.
Minnesota reportedly tried to land Anquan Boldin from the Ravens, but their 7th round offer was usurped by the 49ers' 6th round pick. I do not even want to believe that we had a chance to give Baltimore a 6th round pick to get Boldin. Because that is as no-brainer as wanting to make room for MLB Brian Urlacher.
Minnesota did use available salary cap room to land Greg Jennings earlier this month. Jennings became another in a growing line of ex-Packers who want to play for the Purple. And while Packer fans will tell you it was a smart financial decision, one can see through their bravado. They liked him.
More than any of us liked Harvin.
So now the NFL Draft approaches and Minnesota sits on two first-round picks, three of the top fifty-two, and five picks in the top one hundred. Meanwhile, the receiver group, sans Harvin, looks like it could use an infusion of talent.
Besides Jerome Simpson and Greg Jennings, the pool of talent is unproven. Jarius Wright showed signs late in the 2012 season. Greg Childs, a 4th round pick last year, had promise before a freak injury in the preseason. Stephen Burton, a 7th-round pick in 2011, is also present. That is pretty much it, unless you think Joe Webb may become a wide-receiver in 2013.
Lord knows he will not return as a quarterback.
So Minnesota will construct a shopping list for the Draft in late April. Hopefully, in the back of their minds is the value of what receivers have meant to this club's success over the years. In each of the four Super Bowl visits, Minnesota had a legitimate deep threat. In 1969 it was Gene Washington. I remember as a little kid the only thing I would yell all game was "throw the bomb to Washington". It kind of rhymed. And it worked. Even if Joe Kapp was the thrower. Washington averaged 17.9 yards a catch in that first Super Bowl season.
The 1973 and 1974 seasons featured John Gilliam. Chuck Foreman, a running back drafted in 1973, was the feature ball catcher in those days. Stu Voigt, a slow but steady tight end, was among Fran Tarkenton's favorite targets. Gilliam caught just 42 passes in 1973, but for over 900 yards at 21.6 yards per catch. In 1974, he only caught 26 passes, but at 22.2 yards per catch. Jerry Burns' offense was run and throw to running backs, with an occasional bomb to keep the defense honest.
In 1976, Minnesota added two new wide receivers to their roster. Ahmad Rashad and Sammy White. Rashad, a free agent, would become the best possession receiver to date, while the rookie White brought a new level of speed that would open up the opposing secondary. With Foreman doing everything and multiple receiver options, the 36 year-old Tarkenton got us back in another Super Bowl. Three in four years.
Minnesota would not get to another Super Bowl, but they had teams that came close. Very close. And in each of those seasons, a strong receiving corps was present. In 1987, the year of the replacements, Anthony Carter was on fire, and TE Steve Jordan a competent second option. In 1998, the 15-1 season featured a trio of great receivers for Randall Cunningham: rookie Randy Moss, Cris Carter, and Jake Reed. And of course, the 2009 team had rookie Harvin, with Sidney Rice, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and Bernard Berrian.
If 2013 is to be a Super Bowl return year, adding a few receivers seems important. But there are other holes. Most notably, there is no starting middle linebacker. The defensive line is aging. And the defensive backfield is missing Antoine Winfield, and was in need of help PRIOR to that fact. The landing of OL Seth Olsen from the Colts may put offensive line on the back burner.
It would not be surprising if the Vikings went to other needs with their first two picks. Or three.
Still, we should create a list just in case....
1. Cordarelle Patterson, Tennessee. 6'2, 216 lbs. Ran a 4.42 at the combine. Grades out as a top two receiver in the draft, expected to in the middle of the first round. Miami (12th), St. Louis (16th), and Pittsburgh (17th) all seem to need WRs and pick ahead of Minnesota. Houston (27th) is definitely hunting and may have to jump in front of us and them. Patterson had only one good season at Tennessee, but the talent and specs are there. A legitimate deep threat.
2. Tavon Austin, West Virginia. 5'8, 174. Ran 4.34. Many grade as top receiver in draft. He is very small, incredibly athletic and tough. Now who does he remind me of...? He had 114 catches last season, ran the ball well, and returned kicks. Austin could go anywhere in the first round, but he will not make it to the second. A slot receiver.
3. Kennan Allen, California. 6'2, 206. Did not run at combine. Also an excellent return man. Allen is more a possession receiver, as he averaged about six catches a game in his 34-game college career. Expected to go in the later first round.
4. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson. 6'1, 214. Ran a 4.57. Bigger than most, but also a bit slow of foot comparatively. Hopkins had a big final season, hauling in 82 catches for over 1,400 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hopkins had six 100 plus yard games last season. Very dependable. Returned punts.Expected to be selected in first two rounds somewhere. A possession-type receiver?
5. Justin Hunter, Tennessee. 6'4, 196. Ran 4.44. Had trouble with drops which hurt his stock. But no one denies the speed. Had better stats than Patterson for the Volunteers, including 73 catches last season for over 1,000 yards. Averaged a touchdown every six catches in college. Could go anywhere from late first to third round. Bona fide deep threat.
6. Robert Woods, Southern California. 6'0, 201. Ran 4.51. Maybe biggest pedigree of the group, but under-performed at times for USC. Anywhere from round one to three. A possession receiver.
There are more...
Possession-receivers: Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech; Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech; Aaron Dobson, Marshall.
Slot-types: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia; Ryan Swope, Texas A&M; Marquise Goodwin, Texas.
Deep Threats: Terrance Williams, Baylor; Markus Wheaton, Oregon State; Kenny Stills, Oklahoma.
The draft appears deep with mid-round receivers. Minnesota could address defensive line (Short, Williams) and linebacker (Ogletree, Reddick) with first few picks, or even a defensive back (Trufant). Some receivers will still be there with the 83rd and 99th pick.
Is there a John Gilliam, Jr.or Gene Washington clone out there?
Because it feels like we are one deep threat away....
There has been a change in red zone offenses over the last few years. Sure, it is nice to have that power running back that can blast it in from inside the five yard line. Another weapon is the tall receivers with good hands that snatch TDs away from shorter cornerbacks.
Recently there has been a swing toward finding the leaping basketball-playing TE. Guys like the Jaguars' Marcedes Lewis and Oakland's Rob Gronkowski each had ten touchdowns. Better known TEs like the Chargers' Antonio Gates (10) and the Cowboys' Jason Witten (9) also found the red zone often in 2010. Vernon Davis of the 49ers had seven TDs, and his stock is rising. So too is the play of Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions, and many others.
The Vikings have benefited from the efforts of Visanthe Shiancoe. The last three seasons Shiancoe has 145 receptions for 1,692 yards and 20 TDs. And those numbers are tainted by missed time due to injury. Shiancoe had only two TDs last year, a significant drop from the previous two.
So when the Vikings chose 6'6, 259 lb. Kyle Rudolph, a junior from Notre Dame, with the 43rd overall pick fans were curious. Some thought it a wise move right away, after all, Shiancoe is a nine year veteran and 31 years-old. There was still Jeff Dugan and Jim Kleinsasser on the roster, but that was easily rationalized as the difference between receiving and blocking tight ends. Others were upset. Why hadn't we addressed positions of greater need? S Rahim Moore, OL Stefen Wisniewski, and DE Da'Quan Bowers were all available. What were the purple brass thinking?
They were thinking Kyle Rudolph was special. He was a serious talent in two sports in high school: basketball and football. For example, in his senior season Rudolph scored 25 of his team's 52 points in a close loss to the top team in the state. He finished 2nd all-time in scoring at Elder High. He was offered basketball scholarships to attend ACC universities. But he decided to attend Notre Dame and focus on football.
At Notre Dame Rudolph became the first true freshman to ever start for the Irish at TE. He would finish with the fourth most receptions all-time at TE, despite a shortened junior year due to a hamstring injury, and an early exit to the NFL draft. In 2010 he had back-to-back games with eight receptions vs. Michigan and Michigan State.
So now it appears Rudolph has signed with the team. Suddenly, the Vikings look not-so-good at receiver, but really good at tight end. With both Shiancoe and Rudolph in the lineup, the Vikings find themselves with red zone options similar to the aforementioned TEs of 2010. Could it be that the Vikings are leaning toward having both in the lineup? Maybe Donovan McNabb and/or Christian Ponder will utilize the athleticism of the new TE?
It makes sense. Minnesota may be bringing a new look to the 2011 offense. One with an emphasis on TEs.
By Louis Villaume
Nothing is easier to criticize than an NFL Draft. Comparatively, I find no fault in the Minnesota state tax or even the sane lane. The snow plows that knock my mailbox down every year are welcomed compared to a bad pick. And it is with that thought we examine the 2011 Draft.
Before it even started there was a dismal feel to this draft. The Packers are reigning Super Bowl Champions. The Patriots had compiled a slew of picks in the early rounds. There is the stay of the injunction. Why in the 2nd round the NFL announced the lockout was back on .. talk about a party-killer.
And then it began on a Thursday Night! For the first time in thirty years I was unable to watch Minnesota's first pick of the season. The NFL keeps finding ways to challenge my desire to have a life outside it. Luckily, I was able to give up my Friday Night and most of this rainy Saturday, and I got my fill.
On to the picks.
Green Bay won the 2011 Super Bowl thanks in part to a strong General Manager and wise draft choices. QB Aaron Rodgers proved to be a gold mine and the main impetus for a cheesy champion. The Vikings decided this year to try their luck at a first round choice being a quarterback. In a draft littered with hurlers, Minnesota chose Christian Ponder from Florida State. The talking heads liked the pick for the most part. I could not help but think about Nick Fairley at the 12th selection, and his subsequent joining of the improving Detroit Lions. But I see we do need a franchise play caller, and given last year's collapse, I suppose we are in rebuilding mode.
Our 2nd round pick was a shocker. I was sure we would beef offensive line. True, we had added Chris DeGeare and Phil Loadholt in the last drafts, but the way Brett Favre was battered and given the importance of keeping Adrian Peterson happy and healthy, I was hopeful we would improve on the efforts of Sullivan, McKinnie and friends... But we went tight end. The choice of Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame sounds intriguing. At 6'6, he could be an Antonio Gates or Tony Gonzalez type of TE that becomes a deadly weapon in the red zone. Kind of like Visanthe Shiancoe. Damage control came in the news that the TEs on roster were all aging and in the final year of their contracts.
The 3rd round went by very slowly. I kept trying to remember just what the reason was for trading it away. I couldn't. Or wouldn't remember. Some things are better forgotten.
The anticipated 4th round on Saturday morning had the Vikings with an early selection. They chose DT Christian Ballard of Iowa. My first reaction was .. "Two Christians?", I immediately regressed to my days as a Timberwolves' fan, and the choosing of Christian Laettner. I hate Christians. But this Christian is a beefy tackle that is needed to replace a section of the Williams wall, along with existing solid DTs like Guion and Kennedy. I can live with that one.
The 5th round of tow selections became just one pick (with a trade) and then four in the 6th round. It was at that time I pulled myself away enough to eat and write. We grabbed Brandon Burton a CB form Utah. Definitely a need position given the fact that Lito Sheppard and Frank Walker ended up being on the field with regularity. With Chris Cook and Griffin hurt most of the season, and Antoine Winfield solid but older, this pick makes sense. Just wonder if it was soon enough to help.
The 6th round will be busy. It is back to the TV for me. Hope it keeps raining so I can justify the next three to four hours.
Early in the game the Packers moved the ball at will. Cornerback Chris Cook looked like he had on the wrong spikes, falling down, making poor cuts, and getting taken to the cleaners by James Jones. The defensive line had their now normal lack of any pass rush. E.J. Henderson disappeared. And yet Minnesota was in the game.
On offense, the Vikings ignored the fact that they had Randy Moss, choosing to throw underneath coverage to Visanthe Shiancoe and Percy Harvin. For a while it looked like the two offenses traded dinking and dunking to move the ball. Only Green Bay was doing it better. Adrian Peterson was his usual dominant self, and at game's end most Vikings' fans were unhappy that he 'only' had 23 carries on the game. AP was the best player on the field.
Late in the game mistakes cost Minnesota big. An interception returned for a TD by the Packers made it a 28-17 game. But even as the situation crumbled, I confess I was not worried. Minnesota showed it could move the ball. The talent on offense strong enough to at least give hope in an eleven point deficit in the second half. And I was right.
Back came Minnesota.
Never mind that earlier Minnesota chose not to ask for a replay on the Quarless TD. Replay did show that the ball was bobbled as he landed on the back of the end zone line. It appeared he did not fully land in bounds as his elongated backside covered both in and out of bounds. But with the quick extra-point try the coaching staff of Minnesota (Brad Childress) was left to an instant decision to challenge. And we did not. This was a 3rd down attempt that would have ended in a field goal try. Instead, it was a questionable score that meant the Vikings' final drive was from behind instead of tied.
Late in the game, as the Vikings drove for that winning TD, they made two crucial mistakes. The first was on Visanthe Shiancoe, who flipped a ball high in the air after a key first down put the Vikings inside the 15-yard line with a minute left. He was given a delay of game penalty and Minnesota was pushed back five yards. On the ensuing play, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt put his hands to the facemask of an onrushing Clay Matthews (that long-haired player you love to hate) and was awarded a fifteen yard personal foul. It was clearly a foul. I thought the referee's let holding calls go throughout the game, but they have this thing about hands to the face. The first and thirty result was too much to overcome. Percy Harvin had a foot out and the last play and the Packers coaching staff challenged for the umpteenth time in the game and won. Finally, there was a desperation throw toward Randy Moss, who looked to have three or four guys covering him.
The Vikings lose a close one.
We can blame mistakes, penalties, and turnovers. Those are a part of the game. But losing via instant replay (or lack thereof) is a new disease. One that affects non-cognizant coaches. I have defended Childress in the past because I saw it more as a player/personnel issue. But not challenging a questionable TD in a division rivalry has me concerned. Losing via the instant replay leaves me cold.
P.S. I still think we will win this thing. Our rivals are not that good.
You practice and drill, You run through the playbook. Offense. Defense. Special Teams. You focus on individual skills over and over. You fight through the conditioning heat of the summer. You watch game film. You run a scout team at your defense with the plays you expect your opponent to attempt. You motivate. Prepare.
And then you lose.
Half of the teams will in Week One.
You tell yourself it was only one game. You could certainly rationalize the loss...
In the Vikings' case it was in the Super Bowl Champions' backyard while they celebrated their Champioship season. There probably will be no tougher place to play all season for any road team. Minus the weather element advantage that northern teams possess, the Saints entered Thursdays' game with every advantage. Minnesota's offense was not ready. Sure Adrian Peterson was his powerful self, but the passing game, and in particular Bernard Berrian and Percy Harvin, was disappointing.
You could blame the coach (we like that one). You could blame Sidney Rice for not getting his surgery sooner. Brett Favre for showing up late. The list goes on...
One aspect of the team we would not point a finger at is the defense. Minnesota's defense rose to the challenge after New Orleans' opening drive for a touchdown that was quicker than a microwaved bag of popcorn. Holding Drew Brees to fourteen points? Umm, we will take it every time. Last year Minnesota's defense shut down Brees better than any other. On Thursday they had a repeat performance. Unfortunately, Minnesota lacked a receiver other than Visanthe Shiancoe, and managed a mere nine in the loss. A 14-9 loss to the Champs is not terrible. But it is also not a win.
When you lose an opener you damage that 'ego' that teams have developed througout training camp and preseason. The fans' ego takes a hit as you begin to doubt your team, even if you have great confidence in them. Suddenly you are 0-1 and one of sixteen teams that have not won. Week Two grows in significance. It becomes an important game.
The Miami Dolphins will come to town next Sunday and be the foe in the all-important game after an opening loss. Players and fans alike are needing a win. Good teams often lose, but rarely the first two games.
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