VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData, Arif Hasan of Vikings Territory, Aj Mansour, who hosts Minnesota Vikings Overtime on KFAN, and Joe Oberle a long-time Minnesota based writer. The VikesCentric crew crunches numbers, watches video and isn't shy about saying what's on their minds.
The NFL Draft begins in four weeks, and given the makeup of the Vikings’ current roster, the offseason moves and the players who might be available when they pick at 11 in the first round, they could go any number of directions. I thought it might be interesting to take a historical look back at the positions the Vikings have addressed with their first-round picks.
We’ve discussed the Vikings’ positions of need here at Vikings Journal ad nauseam all offseason. In short, they seem to be set at quarterback, tight end and kicker. Beyond that it’s pretty wide open (especially if Adrian Peterson is traded). The top needs depend on whom you ask and when you ask them. Thus, I decided to take the temperature of Vikings fans with a little crowdsourcing on Twitter and Facebook yesterday. I threw out the simple question, “What position should the Vikings address with the 11th pick in the NFL Draft?”
This highly unscientific method revealed that the two most coveted positions, by far, among Vikings fans and observers are cornerback and offensive line. There were some calls for wide receiver, linebacker, defensive line and the proverbial “best player available,” but about three-fourths of the responses received in my incredibly air-tight scientific poll have been corner or offensive line. The responses are still trickling in and the next most popular response has been wide receiver.
These results didn’t surprise me too much given where we are at this offseason. I will say that I expected more wide receiver answers since it’s a sexier position and since there should be some good wideouts available when they pick. However, folks must think the Vikings are set now that Mike “No really, I’m happy to be here” Wallace is in the fold. Additionally, it seems few people are sold on the Vikings’ cornerback depth chart as being a finished product with the addition of 36-year-old Terence Newman. Either that or people didn’t realize the Vikings had signed Newman given the news has been literally and figuratively overshadowed by the signing of 6-9, 351-pound tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi.
When it comes right down to it on draft day, not much would surprise me with the Vikings’ pick at 11 – a cornerback, wide receiver, offensive lineman, linebacker or even trading down to accumulate more picks.
The discussion got me wondering: which positions have the Vikings drafted the most with their first-round picks in the past? Which have they drafted the least? So I did a little digging and found out.
Here are some Vikings’ first-round facts and figures.
Now for the positional breakdown. Here are how many players at each position the Vikings have used their 56 first-round picks on -- 28 each on offense and defense:
Running back: 10
Wide Receiver: 6
Offensive line: 8
Defensive tackle: 9
Defensive end: 10
Those positions not listed (tight end, kicker, punter, long-snapper, etc.) have not been addressed in the first round by the Vikings.
What stands out to me is the fact the Vikings have used just over one-third of their first-round draft picks on defensive linemen (19 out of 56). There have been some major hits (Eller, Page, Doleman, Keith Millard, Kevin Williams) as well as a bunch of misses (Derrick Alexander, Duane Clemons, Erasmus James and of course Dimitrius Underwood).
Another big takeaway: running back is tied with defensive end as the most popular position for a first-round draft pick in franchise history. How times have changed! There have been zero first-round running backs selected by any teams in the last two NFL Drafts. That streak will most likely end this year because of Melvin Gordon and/or Todd Gurley. Vikings fans shouldn’t be expecting either one unless of course Peterson is dealt before Draft Day.
The Vikings have used first-round picks on the three most popular positions among Vikings fans this season (cornerback, offensive line and wide receiver) 19 times combined – or equal to the number of times they have picked a defensive lineman.
If the Vikings select a cornerback in round one, as many people think and/or hope they will, it will only be the third corner taken in round one in team history. The others are Xavier Rhodes (2013) and Dewayne Washington (1994). That’s it. Using that first-rounder at the end of the month on a corner like Trae Waynes, Marcus Peters, Kevin Johnson or Byron Jones would indeed be a rare move for the Vikings. Moreover, given where most of those corners are projected to be drafted, the Vikes will trade down in the draft and still be able to get one of them.
What position do you think the Vikings will adress this season? No, I’m not suggesting Rick Spielman and his crew will draft based solely on position, plugging a hole at the expense of leaving a better player at a different position on the board. I’m just interested in where Vikings fans view them going as we sit here one month away from the draft. Give me a prediction.
Knowing Spielman, he will probably figure out a way to get two or three first-round picks again this year and make most of our prognostications correct.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData, head writer at VikingsJournal.com, co-host of the Fantasy Football Pants Party at 1500ESPN.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
In year’s past, the Minnesota Vikings approach to free agency has been rather predictable. Letting other teams jump in on the big name options, the Vikings would sit back until the second wave of players rose to the top when they would jump in at a reasonable price and fill a few needs. While that was still their base level approach in 2015, they seasoned things up a little bit with a new flare that should excite the fan base.
This free agency period was not devoid of second-tier players. They signed on with Shaun Hill, DuJuan Harris and Casey Matthews to fill the role player quota. Then this past week they signed two retread defensive backs, but they weren’t the normal variety of aging DBs we usually see come through town. As we discussed over the weekend, these are DBs who have been there and done that with Zimmer and are ready to work once again with Minnesota’s Mad Scientist.
But then the Vikings went out of body a bit also. They sought out a trade for a top-tier player, negotiated the price down to a value that was proper, and went out and got him, now Mike Wallace is a Minnesota Viking.
Now the Vikings do have a brief history of offseason trades including the one that landed Jared Allen in town back in 2008. But at the time of the Allen trade, there were people clamoring that a 1st round pick and two 3rds was too much for the troubled defensive end. I think Jared made people forget about the traded prospects and proved he was worth it over time, but that’s different than shedding a 5th rounder (and gaining a 7th for whatever that is worth) for Wallace.
Spielman literally worked his magic with this one.
The hope here is that the same personality quirk that led to Wallace’s demise in Miami, can be used to rise from the ashes and find success here in Minnesota. If it goes the other way, the wrong way, it was still only a 5th round pick that was used to acquire him, they got an extra one of those from the Bills when they traded Matt Cassel away. So in reality, they swapped out backup QBs, upgraded their 5th round pick and found a big play wideout. Not too shabby Rick.
But it was their most recent offseason move that really saw the Vikings go off the cuff, they went hopped a plane overseas and added a little international flavor to their roster. In a move that is much more expected in baseball or basketball, the Vikings went abroad and signed 6’9”, 350lb tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi.
Aiyegbusi played last season in the German professional football league after winning a league championship with his Polish team in 2013. Having expended his college eligibility by playing professionally overseas, Babatunde received a special invitation to be included at the University of Texas-San Antonio pro day and the Vikings were in attendance.
While even his highlight reels show that he’s a little slow off the ball and still has some things to work on, the Vikings had to have been enamored by his size and athletic ability. Men that big don’t move that well very often. So they sign him on, at a relative low cost, as a project. It could be the type of project that pays huge dividends for a team with an aging tackle on the right side and a question mark on the left. Or it could be nothing and Babatunde could be cut before training camp ends.
Either way, Minnesota is starting to think outside the box a little bit and so far the returns have been good.
There’s no telling if bringing in Zimmer’s former pupils, basically stealing Wallace away from the Dolphins or signing a Polish giant will help the Vikings this season, but nobody can say that they aren’t expending all options to make their roster better. The Adrian Peterson situation has hamstrung the team a bit with what they can or cannot do via free agency, but as they continue to build a young core of players, and they get creative to fill in the gaps, look forward to next year as the year they can monetarily and systematically go after a big name or two via free agency.
For now, let’s all cheer for Babatunde while I hop in line in front of Walt Disney Jr at the patent’s office waiting to claim the movie rights to his story. I’m thinking I’ll call it “My Giant...Polish Right Tackle”, or “Babatunde The Big Boy”...okay, we’re still workshopping a title.
One year ago, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was a relative unknown. Having spent twenty years coaching in the NFL all at the assistants level, he’s taken a backseat to some big name coaches like Barry Switzer, Bill Parcels and Marvin Lewis. As it often is in the NFL, these head coaches reaped the glory (and the angst) while Zimmer and the other position coaches/coordinators quietly went along and did their jobs.
So when Zimmer was hired as the head honcho here in Minnesota, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the collective fan base responded with a puzzled, “who?” But what a difference on year makes.
Sure, Zimmer turned relatively the same football team, minus Adrian Peterson, from a 5-10-1 squad in 2013 to a 7-9 team in 2014 for some concrete improvement, but where Zimmer has truly had the biggest impact with his players is in the locker room and on the practice squad with this team.
We all love the man Leslie Frazier, but as a head coach, near the end it started to be a little too much of the inmates running the asylum if you know what I mean. Players were cocking off to the coaching staff, many had checked out before the season was done; the message that Frazier was conveying was no longer being heard after three years in the position. A change was needed.
Enter Mike Zimmer.
Like I mentioned above, when the coaching search began, it’s unlikely that Zimmer was on any of the “short-lists” that the fans were putting together. But very quickly he rose to the top of the short-list within the organization.
Looking back now, with a year under his belt and plenty of player feedback from the 2014 season, you can see why he was ultimately the choice the organization made. But it’s the players that know him the best, those he spent multiple years with in Cincinnati and Dallas, that are now giving us a bit of a clearer picture to how impactful and just how good of a coach Mike Zimmer really can be.
Over the past three weeks, the Vikings, on their free agent binge, have been interviewing players they are considering to bring in for the 2015 season. As it often times ends up, a handful of those players are familiar with the situation here in Minnesota. Some have played here before (Shawn Hill), others, like Michael Johnson, Terence Newman and Taylor Mays have played for Zimmer before. It’s been comments from those players, and their desire to sniff out what Zimmer is selling up here in Minnesota, that should have Vikings fans excited for what’s around the corner.
Mays spent three seasons under Zimmer in Cincinnati and spoke very highly of him at the time, obviously the feeling remains after signing on with him again in Minnesota. Newman, interestingly enough, has had two separate stints with Zimmer already in his career. From 2004-2006 Newman worked closely with Zimmer who was the defensive coordinator in Dallas at the time and when free agency came knocking in 2012, Newman followed Zimmer up to Cincinnati for a handful of seasons before Zim signed on with the Vikings and now they are reunited once again.
Strangely enough, it was the one that got away who gave the most ringing and impressive endorsement for Zimmer during this free agency period.
Defensive end Michael Johnson flirted with the Minnesota Vikings a year ago in free agency before signing a massive deal with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Injuries and misuse led to a disappointing season for Johnson and after one year, Tampa cut him loose. Instantly back on the free agency market again, Johnson went towards what was familiar the Cincinnati Bengals and Mike Zimmer, but this time they had split so it became a race between Minnesota and Cincinnati to land Johnson’s services.
Johnson’s visit to Minnesota was no secret and reporters were able to catch up to him at the airport and at Manny’s after the team’s meeting, that’s when Johnson said some intriguing things about our head coach.
“No lie. Before it all started, I though, ‘OK, I’m probably going back to Cincinnati,’” Johnson said. “If [Zimmer] wasn’t up here, I wouldn’t have thought twice about coming [to Minnesota]. I mean, he’s got that type of pull. That’s what makes the whole situation so hard. They got a great coach up here.”
Asked to elaborate a little about what sort of draw Zimmer has for his players, Johnson said this.
“Coach Zimmer is the mad scientist. He can have me doing whatever and I’ll play my tail off.”
Not a bad endorsement from a guy who ultimately chose to go back to Cincinnati where all of his friends and some family were.
These thoughts from Zimmer’s former players echo some of the comments we’ve heard from Vikings players over the past season, only they know him even better.
It’s the results on the field that really count, but in most cases the results on the field cannot be achieved without results off the field and that is where Zimmer is most vying for his players attention. Creating a new full-size team film room was one of his first objectives so that the team could bond and learn together. That’s his mentality, we’re all in this together. From the coaches, to the players, to the equipment team, Zimmer expects the best from the entire group...and based off of previous results, he gets it.
It’s still a bit of a building project personnel wise, but be sure that no matter who the personnel is on the field for the Vikings, Zimmer will get the best out of them. And when that talent eventually develops and takes shape, look out cause we could be on the verge of something special.
There are numerous qualities an NFL team looks for in a quarterback. They include toughness, intelligence, football IQ, strong arm, accuracy, quick legs, good work ethic, prefers film work over twitter and a good night sleep over the night life. Perhaps one valued over them all is a desire to improve, and the Vikings have that in Teddy Bridgewater.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer agrees that Bridgewater has the drive and determination to get better—which is necessary when playing quarterback, a position considered by many to be the most difficult in sports. Zimmer likes what sees in Bridgewater:
“The great thing about him is he wants to work and get better every day,” he told the Star Tribune. “I feel really good about him. He’s the quality of guy that we really want to have here.”
The drive is certainly there for Bridgewater. Speaking to the Pioneer Press recently, Bridgewater said that he “wasn’t impressed” with his rookie season (even though he was the fan’s choice for the rookie of the year).
"Yes, we did some good things as a team," he said, "but we could have been much better finishing games. That's what separates championship teams and determining whether you're playing games in January or watching games in January."
Bridgewater often avoids speaking about just himself when referring to his job. When he does well and is asked about it, he responds in terms of the team. He said, like his coach, team goals are more important than winning individual awards.
"I have that same mind-set [as Zimmer]," he told the Pioneer Press. "I could care less about the single-player awards; I'm all about team success. The ultimate goal is to win championships.”
Speaking of his team, Bridgewater was working out recently in Southern California, with a group of teammates, particularly some of the players he is going to be throwing passes to next season. Bridgewater gathered with Kyle Rudolph, Jerick McKinnon, Charles Johnson and recently acquired tight end Brandon Bostick. The group was running drills, throwing passes, trying to get better. They spent time together off the field as well, bowling, playing softball and just getting to know each other better.
"It's a special time because you get to see guys off the field," said Bridgewater told the Pioneer Press. "When you're in Minnesota, we only get to see guys in their work environment. To be able to be around the guys and see how they live their everyday lives outside of football, it builds a bond, one that will eventually be unbreakable."
Zimmer, who like Bridgewater, got a new job last season, is just as serious about getting better. He is a driven individual who likes to surround himself with others of like mind. He sees that in Bridgewater.
“I know he’s spending some time with those guys,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “I believe it’s this week he has a bunch of guys coming down to see him [in Miami, his hometown]. That stuff I feel good about, the way he progressed throughout the season. We anticipate that he’ll continue to progress at that pace. He has to continue to make the right decisions and take the plays that are there for him. All of those things are going to lead to his development.”
Zimmer would like also Bridgewater to improve by building up his body. The rigors of playing quarterback in the NFL demand that players can take a hit and stay on the field. Former Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder learned that after his rookie year and came back for his second season noticeably bulked up for the coming season. Zimmer would like to see that from Bridgewater as well.
“The big thing with Teddy is he needs to add a little bit more strength, a little more weight on him,” Zimmer said. “He’s about 210 pounds, we’re trying to get him around 218, somewhere in that range.”
So, while Bridgewater is hitting the weight room, the Vikings and Zimmer should be working on putting the pieces in place around him. They have started with upgrading the receiving corps he’ll throw to in acquiring Mike Wallace in a trade with Miami. The next step is getting Adrian Peterson off his high horse (or camel) and return him to the Vikings backfield with his head in the right place.
But even more important than that is fortifying the offensive line. Bridgewater can do all the weight training and gaining he wants, but if the Vikings offensive line can’t protect him, Bridgewater will be spending more time on the injured list than behind center.
Teddy is ready to get better. He’s got the right attitude, work ethic, skills, abilities and desire to improve at his position. He’s working with his teammates to form bonds off the field so they will have chemistry on it. He’s doing exactly what you would want a young quarterback and leader of your team to do. It’s incumbent upon the Vikings that they make sure they do what is necessary to protect him and allow him to grow and develop.
"I want to have a plan before the ball is even snapped. I want to win at the line of scrimmage," he told the Pioneer Press. "I want to know where I'm going with the football, what I'm doing with protection and just sit back in the pocket and play comfortable."
Give him a decent offensive line and Teddy Bridgewater will do just that.
Head over to Vikings Journal to check out Bo Mitchell's early fantasy football rankings and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.
On Saturday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson celebrated his 30th birthday. What did you get him? A piece of your mind? A big ‘ol slice of humble pie? Maybe you went big and wrote him a reality check? Whatever you did or (likely) didn’t get him, the party went on without us. Complete with a 30 foot ice bar and a grand entrance on the back of an camel, Peterson turned the corner and became the dreaded running back over 30!
But what does that mean for his future with the Vikings? Does it make it more or less likely that he returns to the team? And is there really a precedent set for dramatically declining performance for RBs after their thirtieth birthday? Let’s find out…
It’s not like Adrian’s 30th birthday surprised anybody. We knew it was coming and this weekend just served as the place mark. So it’s unlikely that it will affect the odds that he gets traded or not. That said, there is a rare precedent set for running backs to be traded after their thirtieth birthday.
While many have swapped teams via free agency later in their careers, only one running back has been traded on the north side of their 30th birthday. On March 13th, 2014, 30-year old Darren Sproles was traded from the New Orleans Saints to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 5th round pick. Obviously the value at stake is a little different with Sproles, bringing the stakes down a bit and making the risk of a 30-year old back decline. Sproles had an average season for the Eagles on most counts but actually found the endzone rushing more last season (6 times) than any other year in his career.
It’s different with AP though. On one hand we’re talking about the best running back in the league, a guy who once ran for 2,000+ yards in one season. On the other, you have to look at an aging back, with a reconstructed knee and a year of sitting on the couch (sort of, but not really). If Adrian continues an attempt to impose his will upon the Vikings and he were to be traded for a 1st round pick, it wouldn’t be crazy, but certainly unheard of.
So how about this idea that running backs hit s severe drop off after their 30th birthday, is it reality? Let’s check out the career trajectory of a few running backs that Adrian has often been compared to through this point in his career, Emmitt Smith and Eric Dickerson.
Up until his 30th birthday, Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith turned 20 carries per game into just under 90 yards per game and nearly a touchdown per game (.91 per game). After his thirtieth birthday, those numbers dropped DRAMATICALLY to 67 yards per game and less than a half touchdown per game (.45 per game). In fairness to Emmitt, these numbers do include a heinous season with the Cardinals in 2003. Even with that season and his time in Arizona aside, Emmitt’s final four seasons with the Cowboys saw a 25 yard per game drop and a decline of nearly a half touchdown per game less.
For Dickerson, the dropoff was even more dramatic. Dickerson’s pre-30 seasons were stellar. Splitting time between the Rams and the Colts, Dickerson averaged 107 yards per game and .80 touchdowns per game. Following his 30th birthday, Dickerson’s yards per game dropped by 57 yards to 49.6 yards per game! In 41 games over his final 4 seasons, Dickerson scored only 8 more touchdowns.
Admittedly, there is a lot that could go into this theory. By the time that most of these running backs turn 30, they have had high school, four years of college and 7 or so season of NFL wear and tear on their bodies. For Smith, it was nearly 2900 carries and Dickerson about 2400 by the time they turned 30. Roughly, that means there were about that many tackles as well. Your body breaks down, your body ages and naturally you begin to slow down.
Let’s even go as far as saying that Adrian’s physical body is actually that of a 29-year old (this based off of the ridiculous theory that because he didn’t play in 2014 his body has some sort of saved energy ready to expend). Even then, Peterson already has three years of college and 2,000 professional snaps (tackles) of wear and tear on that body. And don’t forget his running style. It’s not nearly the shake and bake, avoid contact style that Dickerson and even Smith employed, nope, Adrian welcomes the contact sometimes he even initiates it.
So as you can see, there truly is some relevance to those shooting out warnings for teams that are interested in dishing over high round picks for a 30-year old running back. Still, it’s likely that Peterson will be traded and likely that someone will overspend. After all, we’ve been told time and time again that Adrian is “a freak”, “a specimen” and “not like those other backs.”
This just in, he’s still human.
With the second week of the free agency period coming to a close the next few days, it’s about to be time for the Vikings to begin shifting their attention from the rest of the players on the open market to the next task at hand.
When we last talked to Rick Spielman, he told us that each off season there are three priorities that the team takes care of. First, they look at their roster and assess the players that they have on roster or have first access to. Second, they scan the free agent market and see what sort of opportunities might be out there. And thirdly, they hone in on the incoming class of professionals and prepare for the draft.
For the most part, we’re all the way through the first and second phases of the Vikings offseason plans. As we found out with the Mike Wallace trade, there is always room for a little multitasking if the price is right, but for the most part, the Vikings are done spending in free agency.
To date, the team has signed Matt Asiata, Tom Johnson, Cullen Loeffler, Shaun Hill, Joe Berger, Mike Harris and DuJuan Harris, while trading for Mike Wallace and releasing Charlie Johnson and Greg Jennings. Factoring in another $6MM for incoming draft picks, the Vikings are currently sitting with just about $8MM left over in cap space right now. That number gives them some flexibility to sign or to sit.
Leaving just $8MM clears the Vikings of the salary cap floor minimum spending level of 89% pretty easily, but it also gives them some wiggle room to either work with the money after cuts are made from training camp or begin the process to extend the contract of safety Harrison Smith. Either way, unless a player gets cut who fits the Vikings scheme so perfectly, don’t expect the Vikings to sign many more players off the free agent heap.
That leaves the third phase in Rick Spielman’s offseason plan to be the focal point for the team’s attention going forward; hone in on the NFL Draft.
Now, in reality, they’ve been multitasking the entire time and have been paying close attention to the combine and pro days around the country quite a bit. Just this last week, both Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer were in East Lansing to check out top flight cornerback Trae Waynes. But we’re on the cusp of the time where they can clear their schedules, cancel their trips and sift through all the info that they have collected with their scout teams over the past few months.
They’ve addressed some needs through free agency, mainly adding a number one wide receiver (Mike Wallace) and then filling in some emergency roles of left guard (Joe Berger) and backup quarterback (Shaun Hill). There team looks different than it did just one month ago. The needs have shifted and priorities for those needs have certainly changed.
Oh sure, they’ll be a free agent visit here or there, but they’ll be the kind that might as well have slipped under the radar. Don’t expect to hear any news of Crabtree or Raji coming to town. The next six weeks will be meeting one on one with prospects and sorting through data to formulate their draft board.
We’ve been in the “war room” before for meetings with Rick Spielman and the Vikings draft board spans the extent of the 14’x20’ meeting room. While it’s covered up with a curtain any time we’re invited in there, you can see the tail ends of notes written and stickers placed spilling over outside the shadow the curtain is casting. Stacks of papers and shelves of binders fill the rest of the space, all data that is compiled, sorted and put to use during this period of the offseason plan.
Most of the attention is obviously placed on the high value picks that come in the 1st and 2nd rounds, but the team prepares, thoroughly prepares, for all seven rounds and then some in preparation for undrafted free agents. That takes time, collaboration and devotion.
So while it may seem that the Vikings are sitting on their hands over at Winter Park, know that in reality, it’s the tireless hours they put in now that pay dividends into the future of this squad.
The draft is 40 days away from today, I cannot wait!
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