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.
On the national scene, there is nobody more revered for predicting and analyzing the NFL Draft than ESPN Television’s Mel Kiper. Specializing on predicting the league’s draft since 1984, year-by-year Kiper’s accuracy gets better.
While Mel’s claim-to-fame will always be his legendary mock drafts, he also analyzes draft classes by each team the day after the draft concludes. Looking back to April of 2014 you can see Kiper’s grade on the 2014 Minnesota Vikings NFL Draft Class came in at a “B-”.
Kiper’s analysis centered around criticising the Vikings for reaching with the ninth overall pick and selecting Anthony Barr.
“I thought Anthony Barr was a pretty big reach based on my evaluations,” Kiper stated. “He’s a talented but raw player who lacks instincts on defense.”
With hindsight being 20/20 and having the 2014 season behind us, Kiper has now gone back to the draft boards that he graded before the season and has re-graded the 2014 draft class for each team. For the Minnesota Vikings, it was a mixed bag of criticism, but ultimately the grade did go up.
Not forgetting that third round offensive lineman David Yankey never played and sixth round cornerback Kendall James was cut before Week 1, Kiper raised his overall grade of the Vikings 2014 NFL Draft class to a “B+” in his recent re-evaluations.
The reasoning is pretty self explanatory, but here is what Kiper had to say after the fact.
“I actually knocked this draft down a peg last spring because I simply wasn’t as high on Anthony Barr as a player who could come in and provide early returns as a pass-rusher. The Vikings got him at No. 9 and I thought it was a reach; [after one season] it’s clear the Vikings have a player.”
Barr finished his rookie season with 55 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 passes defensed and 2 fumble recoveries despite missing the team’s final four games.
On the offensive side of the ball, the praise continued to rain down from Kiper.
“They also have a player in Teddy Bridgewater, who was the top QB on my all-rookie team. Sure, you can question whether he’ll become a star, but you can’t question that he looked more ready for this level of competition than any other rookie QB, and that he’s simply tough. I really like Bridgewater’s chances, and as I said then, “moving decisively to get [him] made sense, and they have the pieces around him to help him succeed.”
Teddy, one of the finalists for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award, finished with 2,919 passing yards, 14 TDs, 12 INTs and a passer rating of 85.2 after coming on strong down the stretch of the season.
Maybe the best praise though, at least for the immediate future of this Vikings squad, came for running back Jerick McKinnon.
“Jerick McKinnon got called into action earlier than we thought and looked pretty good -- I do think if he gets a lot of carries, he’s going to hit a lot of home runs.”
“All in all, Minny has to be excited about this class. Barr was pretty good, and Bridgewater has a chance to be the answer at QB. Great Start.”
For those of us who watched every one of the Vikings games this season, I think that anaysis would be tough to argue.
But since we did watch every game this season, let’s take Kiper’s surface analysis one step further.
Hitting on Shamar Stephen in the 7th round should be a BIG bonus for the Vikings draft class in 2014. Stephen was active for all 16 games and even started 3 spot-starts for injury. Backing up Linval Joseph at the nose, Stephen made his presence felt on the regular and did a good job flashing from time-to-time but plugging up the middle often.
Antone Exum and Jabari Price were both active most of the season and did a good job filling in on the special teams and giving this team a little depth in the defensive backfield when needed.
Looking back at the last three draft classes for the Minnesota Vikings, it becomes increasingly clear that Rick Spielman is figuring out his style for draft day and it’s leading to some pretty good success.
For more offseason analysis of Vikings Football including "The Top 50 Free Agency Targets For Minnesota" head over to VikingsJournal.com.
Immediately handing out letter grades to measure how well teams did in the NFL Draft can be a trite waste of time. Let’s be honest, nobody knows specifically how well the drafted players will pan out. Thus, assigning letter grades before any of them have suited up for their new teams – or even signed their contracts -- is presumptuous. It presumes the author or blogger has detailed insight on exactly how talented each player is, how hard they’ll work and how well they will fit the systems into which they’ve been drafted. More significantly, it presumes an ability to, you know, foretell the future. Coaching changes, roster changes, scheme changes, luck, suspensions, injuries, etc. are impossible to forecast.
However, my guess is that if you make your way around the Internet the next 48 hours looking for draft analysis you’ll see a lot of letter grades. They make for effective headlines. That’s about it. Show me a draft from five years ago and then maybe we can talk letter grades.
So what can we adequately ascertain in the immediate aftermath of the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason? We can gauge how well a team like the Vikings addressed their perceived needs… and not much more. We don’t know what their big board looked like. We don’t know what trades were offered or turned down. We can only surmise they followed their plan. In light of that, I’d give the Vikings a passing grade on the pass/fail system. Or maybe just a big thumbs up.
Going into the draft the Vikings appeared to have needs at every level of their defense as well as quarterback, backup running back and offensive line depth. To that end, the Vikings successfully checked every box. On defense, they wound up with two linemen, two linebackers and three defensive backs (two corners, and a corner being converted to safety). On offense, they landed a possible long-term answer at quarterback, a versatile guard and an interesting running back.
As draft day approached general manager Rick Spielman was very open about his desire to accumulate more picks – to turn his eight picks into 10 picks. That’s precisely what they did. Again, to that end, the Vikings succeeded.
Prior to the draft, I went on the record in this space predicting (like many others did) that the Vikes would trade back and go defense with their first pick and then hope one of their top-three quarterbacks would still be available when it was their turn to pick again. I also suggested on radio airwaves (and really to anyone who asked) that the Vikings might look for a pass-catching type of tailback to complement Adrian Peterson – someone like a Darren Sproles, who thrived under Norv Turner in San Diego.
We have a bingo on all of the above.
Yes, the Vikings executed their stated plan of stockpiling picks, drafted players at positions of apparent need and even fulfilled some of my educated guesses. That’s a trifecta or something.
Anthony Barr gives them a raw athlete at linebacker, the likes of which the Vikings have never had. Barr will provide immediate help rushing the passer and should develop quickly into a versatile, three-down impact defender. Watching him on tape is reminiscent of watching Jason Taylor. The ceiling is extremely high. Did the Vikings take him too early? Who knows? Again, we’re not assigning letter grades. What we know is that the Vikings really wanted him and had to take him when they did. What we’ve heard is that the Lions (11th pick) coveted him, the Titans (12th pick) really liked him and the Cowboys (16th pick) were prepared to take him. Head coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN that he heard from two other teams who picked soon after the Vikings that they would have taken Barr if he had still been on the board.
Anyone familiar with this VikesCentric space or my Twitter account (@Bo_Mitchell) knows I was beating the drum loudly for Johnny Manziel to be the quarterback the Vikings drafted. It would have been a lot of fun if they had done so. I’m a Manziel believer and love to watch him play. I think his skills will translate well enough to the NFL and his highlight reel plays will be on ESPN for years. Finding a replacement in Cleveland for rumored-to-be-suspended All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon will be tough to do so that hurts his immediate outlook, but I won’t back away from my overall Manziel assessment.
Having said all of that, I also really like Teddy Bridgewater. He won’t be as fun to watch as Manziel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bridgewater has great mechanics and footwork; he’s calm under pressure, is as tough as they come and has football smarts. His arm is plenty strong enough and the metrics suggest clearly he was the most accurate passer in the nation last season. His work in a pro-style offense in college will definitely help – as will working with coach Turner. He might never be as fun to watch as Manziel, but few will be. Bridgewater might turn out to be better than Manziel for all I know. If I had to loosely compare him to a current NFL quarterback, it would be Russell Wilson… and he’s turned out okay so far.
In third-round pick Scott Crichton and the first of their three seventh-round picks Shamar Stephen, the Vikings added more depth for coach Zimmer’s blueprint of rotating defensive linemen. The trio of sixth and seventh-round picks they made to bolster their defensive secondary should help. None appear destined to start anytime soon, but depth is crucial in this pass-happy league. The more bites of the apple you take, the better chance one pans out, so for the Vikings’ sake hopefully at least one of the three – Antone Exum, Kendall James or Jabari Price – sticks around and has an impact.
Back on offense, fifth-round selection David Yankey has the makings of a superior backup or very solid starter. He should push Charlie Johnson and/or Brandon Fusco for playing time at guard at some point, perhaps early this season.
Lastly, the pick with whom I am most intrigued is cornerback-turned-quarterback/running back Jerrick McKinnon out of Georgia Southern (their third-round pick). I’m not sure what to make of him yet but his combine numbers were absurd. It sounds like the Vikings plan to use him as a speedy, pass-catching running back and possible punt returner – their version of Sproles. He could turn out to be a great deal of fun to watch and a good change of pace to Peterson.
Letter grade: incomplete, but it looks pretty good on paper.
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
And thus began the Josh Freeman Era. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier cut open a vein on Monday, telling the assembled media that he's through making excuses for Christian Ponder, that Josh Freeman is the team's quarterback of the future, he's been given Ponder's locker and playbook and henceforth Ponder will be referred to as "He Who Must Not Be Named."
Oh, wait. None of that happened.
What Frazier actually said on Monday afternoon was that Ponder is "still our starter if he's healthy," that he "still has a bright future here with our football team" and that "it's hard to say" how Ponder's injured ribs are healing.
This non-committal song-and-dance routine was expected, because this is, after all, the National FOOTBALL League, and in the National FOOTBALL League you don't tip your hand or give away company secrets until you absolutely have to. Sure, most Vikings fans would love to turn on the 6 o'clock news tonight and see video of Frazier helping Ponder pack up his locker and Bill Musgrave waving good-bye as Ponder's SUV pulls out of the parking lot at Winter Park.
But that's not going to happen, because the Vikings (for good reason, usually) don't care what the fans want to see. The organization still considers Ponder an asset. You can question the validity of that assessment, but they're going to try to get whatever they can for Ponder, either now or later. Given that his current trade value might net them a bag of used kicking tees, don't look for a trade any time soon.
Frazier left himself some wiggle room when discussing Ponder's future with the team – that whole "if he's healthy" caveat creates a hole big enough to drive the Maddencruiser through, especially in the secretive world of the National FOOTBALL League. Don't be surprised to learn on Wednesday that Ponder's mysterious rib injury has been deemed life-threatening and ol' No. 7 will be spending the rest of the year on Injured Reserve.
In the meantime, look for Matt Cassel to start on Sunday against Carolina, and maybe even the next week at the Giants if he plays well against the Panthers. But the Josh Freeman Era is going to start sooner than later. They're not spending a couple million to look at Freeman in shorts and shells. He'll get a good, long look in the second half of the season to show what he can do with the best running back in the league, a solid offensive line (that is capable of playing much better than it has) and a head coach who isn't a raving, spittle-flecked lunatic.
So how's it going to play out? Let's take a look at a few potential outcomes:
Scenario A: Freeman plays well the rest of the season, leads the Vikings to the playoffs, signs a long-term contract to be the new franchise quarterback, Ponder is traded to Jacksonville for a seventh-round draft pick (a slight upgrade from the bag of kicking tees, but not much), the heavens rejoice, etc.
Scenario B: Freeman stinks it up, Vikings turn back to Cassel (or even Ponder, if he's not put on the IR) to run out the string, team uses its top-10 first-round pick on best quarterback available, Cassel stays on to start season until said rookie is ready to take over.
Scenario C: Freeman is so-so, leads Vikings to six or seven wins, bolts to the highest bidder next spring, Vikings stuck with best QB available around pick No. 16 and here we go again …
Personally, I could see any one of these scenarios playing out in the next three months. One thing you learn quickly as a Vikings fan is that nothing is surprising. What's your forecast? We'll take your predictions in the comments below.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to the Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.
The countdown to the Thursday night start of the NFL Draft is officially on. No, we don't have an actual clock ticking down the seconds on the wall here at the SportsData offices, but I wouldn't be opposed to the idea. Then again, I'm sure NFL Network and ESPN will have one gracing the corner of their screen soon enough.
|Vikings First-round selections|
|Defensive linemen||Wide Receivers||Linebackers||Cornerbacks|
|Erasmus James (2005)||Percy Harvin (2009)||Chad Greenway (2006)||D. Washington (1994)|
|Kenechi Udeze (2004)||Troy Williamson (2005)||Dwayne Rudd (1997)|
|Kevin Williams (2003)||Randy Moss (1998)||Fred McNeill (1974)|
|Chris Hovan (2000)||Gene Washington (1967)||Jeff Seimon (1972)|
|Dimitrius Underwood (1999)||Jack Snow (1965)|
|Duane Clemons (1996)|
|Derrick Alexander (1995)|
|Gerald Robinson (1986)|
|Chris Doleman (1985)|
|Keith Millard (1984)|
|Doug Martin (1980)|
|Randy Halloway (1978)|
|James White (1976)|
|Mark Mullaney (1975)|
|Alan Page (1967)|
|Jerry Shay (1966)|
|Carl Eller (1964)|
|Jim Dunaway (1972)|
|Vikings First-round selections by position|
I was plugging away at our palatial SportsData offices late this morning when NFL insider Adam Schefter appeared on SportsCenter telling ESPN's audience that the Vikings were in serious talks with the Seahawks about a trade involving Percy Harvin for draft picks. Not 10 minutes later my Tweetdeck feed blew up with reports that the deal was done, pending a physical.
With free agency set to get underway on Tuesday at 3 p.m. the speculation and rumors have started percolating. More than anything, Vikings fans would love to see the team address their most glaring need: a wide receiver that could, you know, get open and catch the ball and stuff. Whether Percy Harvin is on the team next year or gets sent packing via trade, the Vikes need a wide receiver or two. Or three. It is highly likely they'll draft at least one wideout, but free agency would offer more immediate help.
|Vikings (197)||AFC (5)|
|Bears (55)||Ex-Vikings (1)|
|Lions (47)||NFC (35)|
|NFL draft (30)||Packers (56)|
|Super Bowl (37)||Vikings coaches (18)|
|Vikings defense (32)||Vikings fans (86)|
|Vikings management (9)||Vikings off the field (4)|
|Vikings offense (35)||Vikings quarterbacks (13)|
|Vikings road games (3)||Vikings rookies (7)|
|Vikings roster moves (4)||Vikings special teams (6)|
|Vikings training camp (3)||Injury report (4)|
|Off the field (12)||On the road (15)|
|Quarterbacks (45)||Rookies (8)|
|Vikings draft (20)||Vikings trade talk (1)|
|Vikings players (22)||Adrian Peterson (93)|
|Anthony Herrera (2)||Antoine Winfield (15)|
|Ben Leber (3)||Bernard Berrian (7)|
|Brad Childress (7)||Brett Favre (13)|
|Brian Robison (16)||Bryant McKinnie (5)|
|Cedric Griffin (5)||Chad Greenway (27)|
|Chris Kluwe (6)||Darrell Bevell (1)|
|E.J. Henderson (4)||Jared Allen (25)|
|John Sullivan (19)||Kevin Williams (7)|
|Leslie Frazier (38)||Madieu Williams (1)|
|Percy Harvin (45)||Phil Loadholt (16)|
|Ray Edwards (1)||Ryan Longwell (8)|
|Sidney Rice (3)||Steve Hutchinson (1)|
|Tarvaris Jackson (6)||Tyrell Johnson (6)|
|Visanthe Shiancoe (6)||Brad Childress (7)|
|Darrell Bevell (1)||Leslie Frazier (38)|