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Louis Villaume

Hamel, Minn.

Villaume: Vikings' Fans Ready for Draft

As the 2015 NFL season begins to emerge from the spring thaw, we turn our eyes to the NFL Draft. It is a kick-off to a new season, hosted this year in the Auditorium Theater in Chicago. No longer in New York's Radio City Music Hall.

A new era of the NFL.

Now is the time we look to solidifying rosters before the training camps of August. Sure that is more than three months away, but to we football fans it is the chance to rekindle our desire for team success.

With the new technology and media available, our world is filled with fans who have become experts in their team. Years ago I used to tell my young son which players had done what at the NFL combine and whom Minnesota was likely to draft. He would just nod his head in worshipped approval Now, when I tell him something I have learned through my research, wisdom and intuition he tells me three writers who completely disagree; and suggests my thinking is limited or too simple.

A new era.

The prospects of what will unfold this year are plenty. First, and foremost: the status on Adrian Peterson. Recent news has fans unhappy that AP's agent wants him out, Adrian feels unloved, and some talking heads have us trading him for as little as a 4th round pick. 

A 4th round pick?

The only way the club parts with AP is if they have a plan to replace him with something better than a Toby Gerhart. Two running backs expected to go in the first round are Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Georgia's Nick Gurley. Both are expected to be taken after Minnesota's 11th pick in the draft, yet before the end of the round. 

A trade on draft day makes sense. There are teams that have the kind of salary cap room that can afford Peterson. Jacksonville has near 37 million in cap room and there best back is Gerhart at about 3.5 million a year. Other teams with large cap space include: Tampa Bay (29 million); Cleveland (28); Oakland (25); and Tennessee (24).  And the top backs on these teams are nowhere near AP good. Just a lot cheaper.

NFL teams who might want to invest eleven million in a single running back are few. The percent teams are already shelling out for offensive players is a factor. Atlanta, for example, has 73 million already invested in their offense, compared with just 42 on their defense. Teams with lower payout to their offense and with enough cap room to add 11 million include: Tampa Bay (45); Tennessee (51); Miami (44); and Seattle (44).

The Vikings could force AP to play here despite his agent's whining. Running backs Jerrick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, and Joe Banyard each had good moments in 2014 and could be part of the plan if AP refuses to honor his contract or is traded. Not exactly inspiring, but most fans would prefer them to an unhappy, more talented back. Best case scenario: forgive and forget; Peterson wears Purple.

Luckily, the Peterson dilemma, salary caps and the first round pick(s) are only a couple pieces of the puzzle. Minnesota has to address their 1-5 record vs. the North last season. The Packers and Lions both exhibited strong offenses in 2014. Vikes' fans are excited about the play of Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes and a few others, but most want Minnesota to add to the improving defense with another cornerback like Trae Waynes of Michigan State. Certainly more young linebackers, or a defensive end would be helpful as well.

Protecting hero-in-waiting Teddy Bridgewater will be a key to 2015, and if Peterson is gone, a even tougher job. Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt are our tackles, but the fans' faith in these early draft selections is waning, The guard position is even more shaky. Brandon Fusco played in only three games in 2014 and he was missed. Charlie Johnson is no longer on the team. Early pick David Yankey did not emerge despite the chance. Only center John Sullivan seems to show up every day. Minnesota could take an offensive lineman with their 11th pick. Many like Iowa's massive tackle and Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff. However, he may not be available at the eleventh pick. 

Rick Spielman stated publicly he is trying to trade down in the draft. It is a strong economical decision that takes all the fun out of the first night of the draft. We wait for months for our first selection only to be told we will wait some more. A buzz kill at most local draft parties. But part of the pre-hype of the draft is the bluff. Why give away what you intend to do? Sounds like subterfuge.

Months ago the hype was the possibility of hooking up Bridgewater with ex-Louisville teammate DeVante Parker with their first pick. Charles Johnson looked great at the end of the season, and Mike Wallace was added in a trade with Miami. On the other hand, Cordarelle Patterson did not progress as hoped and Greg Jennings is gone. Maybe Parker or even Kevin White of West Virginia would be a good selection should Minnesota not trade down.

2015 is a new season. The NFL Draft in a new location. Fans' hopes rekindled anew.

Let the fun begin.

Villaume: Purple Season Comes to an End

Only the die-hards thought Minnesota was playoff worthy in 2014. I admit, early in the season I was one of them. It was not so much that I thought the Vikings were awesome, rather, I saw possible holes in Chicago, Detroit, and Green Bay. Jay Cutler was shaky. Detroit struggled running the ball and had bad personalities on a good defense. The Packers offensive line was suspect in places, and their defense still not very good.

I was thinking 9-7-0 might be in the hunt for the NFC North title.

Not this year. Both Green Bay and Detroit stayed strong, and now they are both 11-4-0 and fighting this week for a division crown. Each will make the playoffs.

While Minnesota struggled with the loss of Adrian Peterson early in the season, Chicago came out strong with a 2-1 start that featured a win at San Francisco. The Bears offense featured the free-throwing Cutler, Matt Forte as one of the most versatile backs in the game, and two over-sized star receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. 

But it was a Midwestern mirage.

The Bears now are 5-10, one game behind the Vikings in the standings, and the 7th-worst overall record in the NFL. Minnesota, at 6-9, is tied with four others (St. Louis, New Orleans, Atlanta, and New York Giants) for the 8th-worst record. Depending on today's outcomes, it appears we could draft anywhere from 7th to 12th in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Minnesota is 6-4-0 versus the NFL outside of their division. They are 0-5-0 within it.

The Purple will come out eager to avoid being blanked in the NFC North. I confess, I would much rather beat the Bears than be awarded a higher pick in the upcoming draft. Given the lack of recent success of players like Matt Kalil, Cordarrelle Patterson, and other note-worthy early picks it appears we are not as savvy at drafting as first assumed.

Despite losing their last two games, Minnesota has played better offensively. Teddy Bridgewater has brought excitement back to the quarterback position. Now he is only 290 yards away from a 3,000 yard season in which he started as the 3rd-stringer. His passer rating is up to 84.9, which is miles better than either Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder could produce. Of course, it is short of the 94.1 rating opponent's have against Minnesota.

Matt Asiata needs 60 yards to pass Jerrick McKinnon for most rushing yards on the team. It is near certain that the 2014 rushing leader for the Vikings will have less than 600 yards. I wonder what the over/under was for team rushing when the season started with AP in the backfield? 2000?

It is paramount that Minnesota put some effort into securing a running game for 2015. If Bridgewater is to survive a rebuilding offensive line, he will need an alternative to the pass. Adrian Peterson, along with his struggling PR and large contract, would still be an elite running back should he be allowed to play again. But will he ever play for us again? 

The loss of Peterson is by far the best excuse for our losing season. He is one of the most productive running backs of all-time. His trouble with the league for mistakes he made has tarnished a great career. Minnesotans are divided on wanting him back. But most of us can sense we are not even going to have that choice... are we?

*Running back Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin is projected by some to be a 8-15 draft selection

Greg Jennings leads in receptions with 56. Most likely he will also be the receiving yardage leader with less than 800 yards. In a land of Randy Moss, Cris Carter, Anthony Carter, Sammy White and so on... that is not good. Charles Johnson has been the most dynamic of the no-name group that supports Jennings. Jarius Wright has his moments. Patterson is now mostly relegated to the bench. 

*Wide receiver DeVante Parker of Louisville knows Teddy very well and is expected to be drafted early.

The defense has improved this year, that is clear. It is hard to get too excited about a defense that just surrendered thirty-seven points in their last game. But Minnesota is playing better defensively than they have in a long time. 

Linebacker has become a growing concern for the faithful fans. Defensive back Robert Blanton will end up leading the team in tackles. He has 106. The leading linebacker for tackles is Chad Greenway with 93 in 12 games. Jasper Brinkley has 73 tackles in 10 starts. Rookie Anthony Barr has 70 tackles in 12 starts. 

*Inside linebacker Bernardrick McKinney of Mississippi State will be available in round one.

Finally, defensive back seems to not be a bad word for the first time in a very long while. Safety Harrison Smith has proven to be a solid anchor to the secondary. It appeared that cornerback Josh Robinson improved. It was evident that cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a keeper. Captain Munnerlyn was up and down. Blanton at minimum makes a lot of tackles.

*Cornerback Trae Waynes of Michigan State might be taken in the mid-first round.

And so we watch the final game hopeful for our first divisional win. We do not like Chicago. We keep an eye on our young players. We prepare to say goodbye to others.

And wait another year.....