It is a reality that will not be easy for the mouth-breathing, Helga-Horn-wearing, purple-Zubaz-clad Vikings faithful to accept, but finishing this season with a 5-11 record is in the team's best interest. In other words, the more Joe Webb, the better. Even my wife, who is more excited about the continuous loop of the Yule Log on Ch. 45 than any Vikings game the rest of this decade, understands this.
Why? Because it is all about draft position and finding the right quarterback for the next seven to 10 years. All but two of the 12 current playoff teams have quarterbacks that were chosen in the first round of their respective drafts. It is obvious that the quarterback of the future is NOT currently on the Vikings' roster. Finding the future signal-caller is the most important task this offseason. Yes, even more than hiring a coach.
Talk to anyone who covers the NFL draft and you will hear next year's edition will have the strongest group of quarterbacks since 2004, which had Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger.
If the Vikings finish 5-11, it will likely land them with a top-11 draft pick. That selection, or by trading up a few spots, could give them the second choice on their draft board. They have no chance of getting to No. 1 for Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Local draft expert Shawn Zobel, who watches more video than the editors of Jersey Shore, and who provided scouting reports for Gophers' coaches this year (please, no jokes), was kind enough to provide a breakdown of the top quarterback prospects:
**Zobel provided an additional sentence or two on how each would work in a West Coast Offense. Obviously, it's not a lock that interim coach Leslie Frazier is kept, but with a lockout looming, he's a decent bet. If Frazier is hired full-time, some form of the West Coast would likely be retained.
(1) Andrew Luck – Stanford – 6-4 – 235 – Redshirt Sophomore
He is the top quarterback prospect that I’ve scouted in the last five years. Luck is as close to a sure-thing as you will find. A nearly flawless prospect who offers the leadership, intangibles and physical tools that a team looks for in a player to build their franchise around, he has all of the tools to develop into a Super Bowl-winner. His dad is a former NFL quarterback -- Oliver Luck -- and he’s being coached by former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh. In addition, he’s an extremely intelligent player, having been the valedictorian at his high school. Luck doesn’t possess elite arm strength, but enough to make any throw that an NFL quarterback needs to make. His accuracy is deadly, with enough velocity to deliver the ball quickly. He is extremely mobile and is big and physical enough to run through tacklers. His pocket presence and ability to evade oncoming rushers are outstanding. Luck is among the best at the collegiate level at going through his reads and progressions, which can likely be attributed to his coaching from Harbaugh. Luck is a gem of a prospect who is as close to a lock of going first overall as any player I’ve seen. This is all assuming he declares though. There’s been talk that he values his Stanford education and may want to get his degree. However, after seeing Jake Locker fall from being the likely top pick in the 2010 Draft to a questionable first rounder in 2011, Luck may not want to take that chance. For the Vikings, trading up to acquire Luck would be a home run. However, it would likely require the team to give up multiple picks and/or players in order to make it work. Luck’s ability to make precise throws in the short, intermediate, and deep passing game makes him a perfect fit for the Vikings’ offense. Reuniting him with former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart would be a nice way of rekindling the success that the two had with the Cardinal. Luck is at his best when he has a strong running game to lean on. Where else would that work better than in Minnesota? The likelihood of Luck landing here isn’t high.
(2) Ryan Mallett – Arkansas – 6-6 – 238 – Junior
This gunslinger from Texas can throw the ball a country mile. Last year, I had the opportunity to speak with an experienced high school scout in the state of Texas, and I asked him which player in his 35 years of scouting had the strongest arm. He told me “Ryan Mallett, and it’s not even close.” Mallett, with a flick of the wrist, can toss the ball upwards of 70-80 yards with no trouble. His velocity may be the best I’ve seen in the past five years, and his ability to drive the ball down the field in the passing game is extraordinary. Mallett began his career at Michigan, but transferred to Arkansas after Rich Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor and implemented the spread offense. Mallett needs to be drafted by a team that likes to throw the ball and wants to throw it early and often. He will need to have a good receiving corp in order to reach his full potential. Having a go-to receiver would really help his development, which was shown this season as Greg Childs caught 46 passes for 659 yards and six touchdowns in eight games before going down with an injury. Mallett’s improved accuracy and completion percentage were a nice surprise for scouts in 2010, as he improved his completion percentage from 55.8 in 2009 to 66.5 in 2010. Other than accuracy questions coming into the season, scouts have also questioned Mallett’s decision-making and attitude. He’s thrown 11 interceptions this season, with three coming against Alabama and two against LSU. Mallett is an extremely confident quarterback who loves to have the ball in his hands in high-pressure situations, and is the type of signal-caller that is capable of carrying his team on his shoulders. Overall, Mallett’s unbelievable arm strength is sure to win teams over at the scouting combine in February, which should result in him going as high as the Top 10 in April. Mallett isn’t quite as nice of a fit in the West Coast Offense as others on this list. He can sling the ball to any part of the field, but in terms of short-to-intermediate throws, I’d rather have others on this list, especially when you’d consider that the Vikings would likely have to trade up to draft Mallett.
(3) Cam Newton – Auburn – 6-6 – 250 – Junior
Where to begin? Cam Newton took the country by storm in 2010, throwing for 2,589 yards, with 28 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 67.1 completion percentage. Newton has been as efficient as any player in the country this season, which is a large reason why he won the Heisman Trophy. Another reason why he won the Heisman is his ability to run the ball; Newton has rushed for 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, becoming only the third player in NCAA history to throw for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in a season. As a runner, former Texas Longhorn Vince Young is the best comparison; Young is a bit more shifty and elusive than Cam, however Newton is a stronger player than Young was, with a better ability to run through defenders at the second and third level. I also believe that Newton’s arm and accuracy are both better than Young’s were when he was drafted third overall in 2006, fresh off a National Championship. Newton’s arm strength isn’t quite on Mallett’s level, but it’s as close as you’ll find in this year’s draft. His delivery and release are very quick, and while some scouts may want to tinker with his mechanics, I have no problem with them. While his 67.1 completion percentage would suggest he has excellent accuracy, there is still work to do, as he needs to continue to work on consistently being able to deliver the ball accurately, both in short throws and down the field and outside the numbers. Against the top teams on his schedule this season, Newton's completion percentage was only above 65.0 on two occasions, with a sub-65.0 against Alabama, LSU, Clemson, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and South Carolina. The reason for so much skepticism surrounding Newton is what happened before he landed at Auburn. Accused of cheating three different times at the University of Florida, Newton transferred to Blinn College where he won a National Championship at the JUCO level. In 2010, he was considered the top JUCO player in the country and signed with Auburn. That’s where things got fuzzy, as reports claim that his dad was offering his son to colleges in a “pay-to-play” plan. Whether or not that happened is not the question here; the question is whether or not he’d be a good fit for the Vikings. In my opinion, he’d be the sexy pick and the one that would make the fans extremely excited, but he’s a work-in-progress. Having played at Florida, and then at Auburn, Newton has no experience playing in a pro-style offense and would need time to adjust to playing in the West Coast offense, which is far from the spread offense he ran at Auburn. He also has only one year of starting experience at the collegiate level, and while his success this season has been quite the storybook tale for Auburn fans, it would be in the best interest of Newton’s development if he sat out for most, if not his entire rookie season to learn the new offense and adjust to the speed of the NFL. Newton could play in the West Coast offense, I have no doubt about that, but if I were in position to make a selection, he wouldn’t be at the top of my list for the Vikings.
(4) Jake Locker – Washington – 6-3 – 226 – Senior
The player who may be the best fit behind Andrew Luck for the Vikings, Washington’s Jake Locker is a player who is looking more and more like the type of guy the Vikings could be targeting this April. Last season, Locker was nearly a shoe-in for the first overall pick before he surprised just about everyone by returning to school for his senior year. With that decision, he has likely lost millions of dollars, as he now is projected as a mid-to-late first round choice, with some in the business feeling that he isn’t worth a first round pick. In 2010, Locker’s numbers have dropped, as has his accuracy, decision making, and confidence. Coming off a 2009 season in which he recorded a 58.2 completion percentage, scouts were hoping he’d be able to get that number above the 60.0 mark, which is an unofficial requirement that many scouts have for an elite quarterback. Instead, Locker’s completion percentage dipped to 56.6. Locker has a strong arm, with the ability to make any throw an NFL quarterback needs to make, and possesses ideal mechanics and footwork for an NFL prospect. A former top recruit out of Washington who decided to stay home and play for the Huskies, Locker has thrown for 53 touchdowns and 35 interceptions in his career. The interceptions are where scouts are most worried, as Locker’s accuracy and questionable decision making have resulted in him throwing a higher than normal number of INTs. Locker plays in a West Coast-style offense under Steve Sarkisian at Washington, which is why the fit with the Vikings would be a good one. He’s a smart player who already understands the concepts of the offense and would likely be able to come in and take over as the starting quarterback for the 2012 season. In my opinion, Locker needs a full year of development with a team at the next level before I could suggest that he’d be ready to step in as the starting signal-caller. His accuracy, and more specifically his decision making must improve if he wants to be a successful quarterback in the NFL. Adding a veteran on a one-year deal to lead the team in 2011 (assuming there is a season) who can also tutor Locker before handing the team off to him in 2012 would be an ideal scenario for the Vikings.
(5) Christian Ponder – Florida State – 6-3 – 227 – Senior
Another prototypical prospect with the arm and the intangibles to lead a team in the future, Florida State’s Christian Ponder is a player who has been under the radar compared to more high-profile prospects like Luck, Mallett, and Newton. Like the top four quarterbacks, Ponder has the arm strength that scouts look for. He can deliver the ball all over the field. A relatively efficient quarterback who makes good decisions and is rather intelligent, Ponder has dealt with an injury to his throwing arm this season, which has lowered his chances of being a first round prospect. A projected second-to-third rounder, Ponder has thrown for 2,038 yards, 20 touchdowns, and eight interceptions with a 62.2 completion percentage, down from 68.8 last year. Ponder is a player who has the natural talent and skill-set as well as the intangibles and intelligence to develop into a starting quarterback in the NFL, but up to now, he has yet to be able to put everything together, and stay healthy. He’s shown flashes of being an elite prospect, but those have been inconsistent and scouts never got a chance to see him do it consistently this season because of the injury. Ponder can make all of throws and would have no trouble in the West Coast offense at the next level. I have Ponder graded out as a second-to-third rounder who will need at least a year or two of development to get ready to compete for a starting job in the NFL. In the event that the Vikings don’t land a first round quarterback, Ponder would be a guy to target.
(1) Pat Devlin – Delaware – 6-4 – 220 – Senior
A former Penn State transfer who is following in the footsteps of former Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco in his attempt to jump to the NFL, Pat Devlin has led the Blue Hens to the FCS National Championship this season. A spread quarterback who is intelligent and makes quick and precise reads, Devlin would be an intriguing fit in the Vikings’ offense, as he’s at his best making short-to-intermediate throws. Devlin has thrown for 2,812 yards, 22 touchdowns, and just two interceptions this season with a 68.3 completion percentage. Devlin is clearly a great decision maker, having thrown only two INTs and his ability to read a defense quickly and make a strong, accurate throw is what scouts love to see; his efficiency this season has been outstanding. The only question that I have with Devlin is how he’ll adjust from playing in a gimmicky spread offense at Delaware to a pro-style offense in the NFL. His ability to make those quick throws should win him over with coaches that run the West Coast offense.
(2) Nathan Enderle – Idaho – 6-5 – 233 – Senior
Similar to Locker. He showed the talent and tools last season to play at the next level, but Nathan Enderle was a bit of a disappointment in 2010. He threw 16 interceptions as well as recording just a 56.7 completion percentage after throwing just nine INTs and having a 61.5 completion percentage last season. Enderle has fantastic mechanics and footwork and he plays in a pro-style offense at Idaho, however his accuracy was questionable this season. He seemed to lose his confidence, and he definitely needs time to develop at the next level to become a better decision-maker. A mid-round developmental prospect, Enderle is the type of kid who has everything that you look for, but will need a position coach and/or coordinator to put it all together for him. In the right fit in the NFL, he could be a gem.