VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell of SportsData and Patrick Donnelly, who has written on a variety of Minnesota sports topics. Mitchell and Donnelly are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about Chad Greenway

VikesCentric: The Vikings' first-round history at this year's 'need' positions

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 23, 2013 - 11:50 AM

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.

 
As the countdown winds down, Vikings fans and media members continue to speculate who the team will select with their bevy of picks. Most of the focus centers on four positions of need: wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback and defensive line.
 
What's that? Teams don't draft for need? They just take the best player available regardless of position. Yeah, right. And Manti Te'o had a real online relationship with a real girl.
 
Speaking of Te'o, the whole catfish saga is water under the bridge as far as I'm concerned. It was all pretty dumb. He probably lied or made up some of it to cover his butt and I'm sure he was embarrassed by the whole mess. But who among us is proud of 100 percent of what they did during their college years? [crickets] If Te'o doesn't have some kind of compulsive lying disorder, I only care about whether he can play football. Likewise, if the Vikings or any other team think he can play, they likely won't downgrade him for the bizarre episode that played out last fall or the media frenzy that's sure to follow him this summer.
 
In fact, I would not be one bit surprised if Te'o were to wind up with the Vikings. And they'll have to take him with one of those first round picks if they want him, barring some trade maneuvers to move into the early second round.  I think he goes in round one.
 
The talk of linebackers, wide receivers, corners and d-linemen got the VikesCentric crew reflecting on past first-round picks the Vikings have spent on the aforementioned positions identified most often as their need positions.
 
Let's take a glance back at Vikings history, shall we?
 
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)      
 
As you can see in the chart above, the Vikings have spent a lot of first-round picks on defensive linemen with varying degrees of success. The good includes three Hall of Famers (Eller, Page and Doleman) along with an All-Pro (Millard). The bad includes almost everyone else (I said almost), with special distinction going to Underwood as the worst Vikings draft pick of all time. In fact, the Vikings have spent more first-round draft picks on defensive linemen (18) than any position, but have not done so since Erasmus James in 2005. With Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen all entering the final year of their contracts, they may increase that number by one.
 
Here's a breakdown of Vikings first-round draft picks:
Vikings First-round selections by position      
QB RB WR OL DL LB CB S
3 10 5 7 18 4 1 2
 
An entire list of Vikings first-round picks can be found here.
 
If the Vikings do wind up taking Te'o, he will become just the fifth linebacker ever selected in the first-round by the team. Of the previous four linebackers selected, three turned out golden (Greenway, McNeill and Seimon). That's a nice precedent of success.
 
The Vikings history of first-round wide receivers has been all over the map: one bust (Williamson), one player who spent his entire career with a team other than the Vikings (Snow), one All-Pro who played just seven years (Washington)… and then the talented yet enigmatic Harvin and Moss.
 
The team's history at cornerbacks selected in the first-round is brief, as you can see. I had to double-check this one to be certain the count was correct. But it's true -- Dewayne Washington is the only cornerback the Vikings have ever selected in the first round. That's the lowest of any position aside from tight end, kicker and punter – on which they have never used a first-rounder.
 
Of course, none of this really matters to general manager Rick Speilman. I'm pretty certain he's not going to review the Vikings' first-round history by position and let it help dictate which players they'll select. It is, however, pretty interesting and pretty fun to look back at the breakdown. Besides, those among you who are card-carrying Vikings rubes might be able to use this data to stump your friends with some Vikings Draft Day trivia Thursday.
 
I'll see you at the Draft Party at Mall of America Field. Enjoy the festivities.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings Pro Bowl hits and misses

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: December 26, 2012 - 8:57 PM

The NFL Pro Bowl has become a joke of a game. Many of the players who participate in it don't care enough to break a sweat – witness last year's 100-point debacle. Many others concoct flimsy injury excuses in order to decline the invitation to the NFL's annual All-Star game. The NFL is the most dominant sports brand in the world, but it has the worst showcase for its stars. It has gotten so bad that commissioner Roger Goodell actually admitted last spring that doing away with the game was an option.

 
Expunging the Pro Bowl still remains a possibility, but it lives for at least another year -- and with it the annual debate over who made it, didn't make it and who should have made it blazes anew.
 
For a game everyone loathes, it sure stirs up a blizzard of controversy each year. Why? Because as much as the game itself doesn't matter one iota, the honor of being elected to the Pro Bowl still does. It's still supposed to reward those who are among the elite at what they do.
 
Pro Bowl recognition is a convenient and powerful short-hand for gauging a player's career. Adrian Peterson is now a five-time Pro-Bowl player. Those are among the words that will be etched on his plaque when he is enshrined in the Hall of Fame someday… only it will likely be anywhere from seven-to-nine Pro Bowls by then. The point is: in terms of how history values a player's career for the ages, Pro Bowl honors really do matter.
 
That Peterson was among the four Minnesota Vikings invited to play in this year's Pro Bowl was hardly surprising. He's been a lock for the game for a couple months now and currently would have my vote (if I had one) for NFL Most Valuable Player.
 
The Vikings other three Pro Bowlers this year are defensive end Jared Allen, fullback Jerome Felton, and rookie kicker Blair Walsh.
 
Felton's inclusion was a pleasant and well-deserved surprise. Fullbacks that actually produce some offensive stats generally get the nod, but the NFC doesn't really have any Mike Alstott types that catch a lot of passes or score a half-dozen touchdowns. Felton is being rewarded for blasting open holes for the game's best running back. That's precisely what he has been asked to do this season, and he has done so with aplomb. This will be Felton's first Pro Bowl.
 
Like Peterson, Allen will be going to his fifth Pro Bowl. Unlike Peterson, Allen might not deserve to be going to Honolulu this winter. Let's be honest, he made it on reputation more than merit for once. He's probably earned this mulligan, though. There's no denying Allen's credentials over his career. He has been the most prolific quarterback sack artist in the NFL since he entered the league. He's also very solid against the run and usually finds a way to make a handful of interceptions, defensive touchdowns or safeties each season. He was robbed of the Defensive Player of the Year award last year when he racked up 22.0 sacks, falling 0.5 sacks shy of the single-season record. I'm guessing Allen himself might admit that he didn't envision falling off to "only" 10.0 sacks this season.
 
Don't get me wrong, Jared has still had a good season -- a better one than you might think considering the injuries he's been playing through. Based purely on statistical merit, however, the Panthers Charles Johnson or Falcons John Abraham would have been more worthy selections this season. That being said, Allen will probably notch 3.0 sacks and a forced fumble on Sunday against the Packers, making his statistical differences with Johnson, Abraham and others look negligible.
 
That brings us to Walsh, who absolutely deserves to be making the trip to Hawaii as a rookie after the season he's had. Earlier today I was all set to rip the process, assuming Walsh would be omitted, but thankfully I get to save the rant for a different Viking who was robbed (more on that in a moment). Walsh is currently tied for second in the NFL with 32 field goals. His 91.4 field goal percentage ranks fifth among all kickers (second in the NFC) with at least 20 attempts this season. He set an NFL record last week with his ninth field goal from at least 50 yards out this season (missing none). Oh, and he also ranks fourth in the NFL in touchbacks with 49.
 
Compelling arguments for Matt Kalil, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield could be made.
 
Kalil stepped in and played very well as a rookie starter from Week 1, but he plays at a position loaded with blue-chip talent so it may take a year or two for him to get his turn as a Pro Bowler.
 
Greenway currently ranks second in the NFL in tackles (145) and was named as a replacement to the Pro Bowl team last year, but I can't say he deserved the Pro Bowl more than those linebackers who made it ahead of him from the NFC: namely DeMarcus Ware, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Clay Matthews. Heck, Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly has more tackles, passes defensed, interceptions and fumble recoveries than Greenway does, and he didn't make it.
 
Over at ProFootballFocus.com, where they do highly-regarded NFL scouting and grading work on every single play from scrimmage, they have Winfield ranked as the NFL's No. 1 cornerback this season. However, much of that ranking is predicated on his 14.6 mark against the run. Only two other corners have more than a 7.0 grade against the run. That's dominance. Winfield is the league's premier tackling cornerback which is nothing new. But without the splash plays like interceptions, touchdowns or suffocating coverage skills, you usually don't make the Pro Bowl as a cornerback.
 
Winfield, Greenway or even Kalil could eventually be named as replacement Pro Bowl players when others pull out for injuries or Super Bowl obligations.
 
However, the one Vikings player who was completely jobbed is center John Sullivan. Most scouts will tell you he's been one of the two or three best centers in the NFL this season. The aforementioned ProFootballFocus has Sullivan ranked No. 1 among all centers. Max Unger of the Seattle Seahawks will start for the NFC at center in the Pro Bowl. He's a deserving Pro Bowler. No argument there. The backup for the NFC, however, is Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday. Not only is he a backup for the NFC, he's a backup for his own team. Yes, you read that right: Sullivan – the center with the best grade in the NFL per PFF.com was beaten out for the Pro Bowl by Saturday, who was benched by head coach Mike McCarthy last week. And it's not like the Packers have an embarrassment of riches on their offensive line. Their line has been severely thinned by injuries all season. Ironically, the Packers' best lineman is guard Josh Sitton, and he was snubbed by the Pro Bowl process as well.
 
There you go, Vikings fans -- just another reason to detest your rivals from the East in advance of Sunday's big showdown at Mall of America Field, right? But to take your venom out on Saturday or the Packers for the Sullivan snub would be misguided. He probably wouldn't have voted for himself either – and you know coach McCarthy wouldn't have.
 
Alas, the Pro Bowl voting process will never be perfect. Congrats to the four Vikings who made it and here's hoping Sullivan – one of the biggest Vikings Pro Bowl snubs in my memory – gets the nod as a replacement between now and Jan. 27 when they suit up for this sham of a game in Hawaii.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Pondering options at QB

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: December 7, 2012 - 12:20 AM

I'll admit, I've been slow to hop on the anti-Christian Ponder bandwagon. Not that I've loved what I've seen from him on the field, but I just think it's unreasonable to expect the Vikings to already give up on their No. 1 draft pick from 2011. True, the timetable for young quarterbacks has accelerated and expectations are higher, thanks to the rookie-year success of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Heck, even the rare flashes of competence that Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill have shown this year are a step up from most of Ponder's performances. 

My main argument for supporting Ponder is that you'll never know what he's capable of until he's throwing to a full slate of NFL-caliber receivers. I even took to Twitter after the Bears debacle two weeks ago – when Jerome Simpson put on a pass-dropping clinic, and Jarius Wright and Stephen Burton were quick studies – and said dumping Ponder now would be akin to the Twins firing pitching coach Rick Anderson because he couldn't turn Esmerling Vasquez and Luis Perdomo into Cy Young winners. 

Then the Vikings went to Green Bay. Ponder absolutely gave away a winnable game with two horrendous decisions/throws, and did nothing on the plus side to overcome those errors. He was truly, spectacularly horrible, and the fact that the coaching staff didn't replace him with Joe Webb should tell you all you need to know about Webb's stock within the organization. Had the Vikings won that game, they'd be tied with the Packers at 7-5, one game behind the Bears in the NFC North, and their unlikely playoff bid wouldn't be on life support. 

When Leslie Frazier took over full-time in 2011, it looked like he had a major rebuilding project on his hands. Instead, Adrian Peterson has recovered from injury and remains in his prime as an elite tailback. The defense is still getting decent run out of veterans like Jared Allen, Chad Greenway and Antoine Winfield, and they went a long way toward shoring up weaknesses on the offensive line and in the secondary in last year's draft. 

But with Ponder flailing about in the backfield, giving away games that could be won by simply "managing" rather than putting the team on his back, the Vikings are wasting Peterson's prime. They're wasting the continued efforts of their defense and recent draftees. And they're wasting a golden opportunity to challenge the Bears and Packers, who aren't as invincible as the Vikings feared. 

Thus, presuming Ponder doesn't suddenly morph into the second coming of John Unitas the next four weeks, I've come around to the idea that the Vikings should at least consider their options at quarterback for 2013. The decision won't be made in a vacuum – it's not, "Should Ponder be the starting quarterback next year?" but rather, "Is Ponder the best of the Vikings' options at quarterback next year?" 

So let's take a look at their options. They way I see it, the Vikings could go one of three ways. They could maintain status quo and give Ponder no competition for the starting spot; they could go 180 degrees the other way and bring in a veteran to supplant Ponder from Day 1, or they could split the difference and bring in a second-tier veteran to push Ponder and at least give Frazier a backup he felt confident in calling on when Ponder puts up a stinker like he did last Sunday. (We're not going to bother considering drafting another rookie starter, because the attendant learning curve would likely keep the offense in wheel-spinning mode as Peterson, et al, get another year older.) 

So, let's take a spin around the NFL and see who the Vikings might be considering as they weigh their options for 2013 

Alex Smith – His $7.5 million salary is guaranteed on April 1, 2013, meaning he'll get the axe as long as Colin Kaepernick doesn't completely fall apart during the final few weeks of the season. Jim Harbaugh traded up to draft Kaepernick in the 2011 draft, and he'll give the former Nevada star every chance to prove his worth and make him (Harbaugh) look like a genius. 

Kevin Kolb – He's due $9 million in 2013, with a $2 million roster bonus. Even though rookie Ryan Lindley isn't tearing it up, it's possible that between Lindley and John Skelton, the Cardinals will be happy to let Kolb go and choose from the two much, much cheaper options. Also, Kolb has pretty much stunk when he's played, so … he's got that going for him. 

Matt Flynn – His contract was worth $10 million guaranteed, and $19.5 million over three years. The Seahawks might just hang onto him for that investment, although if they decide that Wilson is their present and future, it's possible Flynn will be on the market. How fun would that be? First Favre, then Flynn? Packers fans would be apoplectic. 

Chase Daniel – The Saints' backup will be a unrestricted free agent. It's hard to say what he's capable of doing in the NFL, because Drew Brees doesn't take a play off. But he might be worth a sniff as a quarterback to challenge Ponder. 

Michael Vick – There's no way the Eagles pay him the $15.5 million he's owed in 2013, and they'll probably have a new head coach anyway, somebody who will want to make his mark on the Eagles roster. Thus, Vick will be a free agent. But does he have anything left? Will he be a fit in Bill Musgrave's offense? Will Musgrave even be the Vikings' offensive coordinator? So many questions … 

Matt Leinart – He'll be an unrestricted free agent, and he's making just $700,000 with the Raiders in 2012. Oakland has hitched its wagon to Carson Palmer, so Leinart would likely jump at the chance to challenge for the job. But isn't he just a left-handed Christian Ponder? 

Matt Cassel – He's due $16.5 million over the next two years, and it's likely the Chiefs have seen enough from him. But isn't he just a right-handed Matt Leinart? 

Chad Henne – The Jaguars are in a similar position as the Vikings. Do they stick with their 2011 first-round draft choice, who's been underwhelming thus far? In this case, Blaine Gabbert might have more rope to work with because the Jags aren't close to contending. They're more likely to let Henne walk, thus dodging his $2.6 million salary for 2013, and rolling the dice on Gabbert. 

Matt Hasselbeck – He'll be 38 next September and he sure looked like he was done when the Vikings schooled him in October. But Jake Locker is the future in Tennessee, and with $5.5 million due Hasselbeck in 2013, it's possible the Titans will gamble on Locker with Rusty Smith as the backup, meaning the former Seahawks Pro Bowler could be available as a veteran mentor and possible challenger to Ponder. 

Ryan Mallet – He was in the same draft class as Ponder, but slipped to the third round due to rumors of drug use. He's apparently kept his nose clean thus far in New England, but he's signed to a team-friendly contact and there's no way Bill Belichick trades his insurance policy for Tom Brady for anything less than a price the Vikings should not be willing to pay. 

Matt Moore – The Dolphins are obviously smitten with Tannehill, meaning they could save $2.5 million by letting Moore walk after this season. He showed promise at the end of the 2009 season, when he went 4-1 down the stretch for Carolina, including a three-TD, no-interception performance against the Vikings. But he went 6-7 as a starter for Miami in 2011 and would be little more than competition for Ponder if the Vikings were to bring him aboard. 

There are a handful of potential free agents not even worth discussing – Derek Anderson, Jimmy Clausen, Rex Grossman, Kyle Orton, Colt McCoy, Tarvaris Jackson, Tyler Thigpen – and at least one other – Joe Flacco – who won't be hitting the market. 

So, looking at our list, there's probably only one guy out there (Smith) who would become the starter the moment he sets foot in the locker room at Winter Park, a couple of guys (Flynn, Daniel) with intriguing potential, a couple players (Kolb, Cassel) who had their chance as starters and failed spectacularly, some possibly washed-up has-beens (Vick, Hasselbeck) and never-weres (Leinart, Henne, Moore). 

Are any of them better options than starting next year with Christian Ponder as the only quarterback option on the roster? That's up to Rick Spielman and – perhaps – Frazier and Musgrave to decide. 

Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData and a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook. He's covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.

VikesCentric: Why has the defense been so much better?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 9, 2012 - 1:38 PM

Just by watching the Vikings play this season you can see that their defense is executing better. The improvement has been apparent both on the field and on the scoreboard. Undoubtedly, Christian Ponder's game management, Percy Harvin's game-changing plays, and Blair Walsh's leg have all been major contributors to their 4-1 start. But more than any other factor, their strong defense has been responsible for their first-place standing.

 
Putting your finger on exactly why the Vikings are playing better defensively is harder to do. They aren't pressuring the quarterback quite as well as they did last season when they tied for the NFL lead in sacks and Jared Allen threatened the single-season sack record. They aren't returning turnovers for touchdowns a la the Chicago Bears, with whom they share the top spot in the NFC North. They are permitting opponents to convert on third downs at a 44.2 percent rate – the exact same rate at last season, ranking among the bottom third of defenses in that department.
 
Even so, they are definitely playing better. As head coach Leslie Frazier put it Monday during his press conference, "They’re playing with great energy, you can see the guys are playing with confidence, they’re in the spots they should be, and when they’re in those spots they’re able to make some plays for us."
 
In other words, they're not making highlight-reel plays, but they're doing what they are supposed to do. They are in their spots and making plays when they need to do so. They are executing. That alone is a significant step in the right direction.
 
Exactly how much better have the Vikings played through five games? It's admittedly a small sample size, but the first five games of this season compare quite favorably to 2011 across the board. The noted pigskin mavens at ProFootballFocus.com rank the Vikings as having the third-best defense in the NFL thus far this season, compared to 14th overall last year.
 
Here are a number of more specific areas that might make their improvement easier to understand:
 
Vikings defensive comparison
2011
NFL Rank
2012
NFL Rank
Points allowed per game
28.1
31
15.8
6
Yards allowed per game
358.2
21
304.2
7
Pass yards allowed per game
251.2
26
225.6
14
Rush yards allowed per game
107
11
78.6
6
QB rating allowed
107.6
32
84.6
12
Completion % allowed
68.2
31
61.8
14
Yards per rushing attempt
3.9
6
3.2
2
Passes defended
50
31
32
3
 
As you can see from the table above, they remain rock solid against the run, truly one of the five or 10-best run defenses in the league. They have not allowed any run longer than 15 yards this season. No other team in the league can make such a claim. However, their improvement against the pass (so far) has been the biggest differentiator. Look at the QB rating allowed stat. In 2011, their 107.6 mark was the second-highest allowed in the history of the NFL. It was like facing Tom Brady (105.6 rating in 2011) or Drew Brees (110.6) every week. They've got that number down into the realm of mere mortal quarterbacks this season – and in a passing league, that's pretty important.
 
Chad Greenway is playing like a Pro Bowler and ranks second in the NFL with 53 tackles thus far. If I had to pick a Vikings defensive MVP through five games, he'd be my choice. However, fellow veterans Kevin Williams and Antoine Winfield are looking more and more like they did three years ago. That definitely helps. As does the emergence of Jasper Brinkley at linebacker and the improved play of the secondary.
 
Oh the secondary -- so horrible last season and so pleasantly surprising this season! The stats tell the story. But the story has its new characters. Aside from foolishly putting his hands on an official this past Sunday and earning an ejection, rookie safety Harrison Smith has provided the secondary something it's lacked in, well, an awful long time: a hard-hitting intimidator. It also helps, as Frazier alluded to, he's been in the right place at the right time and he's making plays -- as evidenced by his six passes defensed. The same should be said for fellow rookie, cornerback Josh Robinson. He's probably been the most pleasant surprise. We knew he could run. We knew he had ball skills. His tackling has really stood out, though.
 
And maybe it's as simple as that. Be where you are supposed to be and tackle. The Vikings have done that so far this season, with rare exception.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Ten Players Who Will Make or Break the 2012 Vikings (Part 1)

Posted by: Updated: July 25, 2012 - 8:52 AM

First, allow myself to explain… myself. This list is not intended to be a list of the 10 best players on the Minnesota Vikings. Everyone knows that Jared Allen is really good, and that he’s going to sack the opposing quarterback roughly once per game. We all understand how good Adrian Peterson is, and that the Vikings offense is infinitely more effective and dynamic when he’s on the field. We know that Antoine Winfield is still one of the best all-around cornerbacks in the NFL when he’s healthy. Obviously, the season will head South in a hurry if Allen stinks, AP isn’t 100%, Winfield gets injured, Matt Kalil goes bust, and Percy Harvin misses time with migraines. So, you won’t see those names on this list. Instead, what you’ll see are the names of the ten players I believe will make or break the Vikings in 2012.

By “make,” let’s assume that the best-case scenario is a playoff berth this year. Barring the unlikely event that every player on this list instantly turns into a Hall of Fame caliber player, the Vikings are a long shot to even make the playoffs, let alone do something crazy like advance to the Super Bowl. So, the playoffs are the upside. “Break” would essentially be the worst-case scenario (i.e. last season). If the Vikings are to make the playoffs, they’ll need their stars to be healthy and productive, and they’ll need huge contributions from the majority of these players. We’ll start with five today in Part I, with the rest to come in Part II.

CB Chris Cook – Cook has more to prove in 2011 than any other Viking, and it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that his ability to stay on the field and out of trouble might be the single most important determinant of the team’s success in 2012. It’s obviously too soon to anoint him as anything other than a talented player with potential, but he was undeniably the team’s best cover corner early last year (this highly recommended article by ESPN’s Kevin Seifert shows how dramatically the team’s pass defense collapsed after Cook left the lineup after Week 6). There were other factors (and other injured players) that contributed to the catastrophic 2011 pass defense, but Cook had already stacked up favorably in man-to-man coverage with Calvin Johnson against the Lions in Week 3 and was starting to develop into the shutdown force the Vikings envisioned when they grabbed him with the second pick of the second round of the 2010 draft. If Cook proves capable of covering the Johnsons, Nelsons, and Marshalls of the NFC North, it will allow the Vikings to more easily compensate for other weaknesses in the secondary.

S Harrison Smith – You don’t need me to tell you how awful the Vikings secondary was last year. The focus fell mainly on a rag-tag bunch of cornerbacks that failed miserably to plug the gaping holes left by an injured Antoine Winfield and a suspended Chris Cook, but the team’s safeties were atrocious. Hussain Abdullah was at least somewhere near average, which is extremely high praise in comparison to Mistral Raymond, Tyrell Johnson, and Jamarca Sanford (the latter of which graded out as literally the worst safety in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus). Smith was brought in to start on Day 1, and his ability to provide some sort of presence in the middle of the field – both as a ball-hawk in the secondary and as a run-stuffer in the box – will help dictate how the Vikings stack up against the high-powered passing attacks of the NFC North.

LB Erin Henderson – If Henderson plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder this year, it won’t be hard to determine why. Coming off a breakout season in 2011 that saw him become an NFL starter for the first time and one of the best outside linebackers in the league (according to Pro Football Focus, Henderson graded out as the fourth-best OLB, third-best against the run), Henderson found himself in the awkward position of not being wanted. He made headlines with a public rant about his belief that the Vikings weren’t offering him what he felt he deserved prior to free agency, but when the Vikes called his bluff and then no other teams stepped up to the plate, he signed a team-friendly one-year deal worth “only” $2 million. It’s a prove-it contract for a young player the league obviously doesn’t quite believe in just yet, and you can bet Henderson is out to prove his 2011 wasn’t a fluke. With his brother E.J. no longer part of the equation, Henderson will be asked to continue his improvement in 2012. With the unproven Jasper Brinkley expected to take over at middle linebacker, it’ll be on Henderson and Chad Greenway to lead this linebacking corps. The team undoubtedly wants Henderson to prove he’s deserving of a more lucrative long-term contract; if he does, the middle of the field will be in good hands.

K Blair Walsh – Let’s be honest; you want Blair Walsh to fail. Yes, you. You hated that the Vikes “wasted” a 6th-round draft pick on a kicker, and you couldn’t believe it when they kicked fan and locker room favorite Ryan Longwell to the curb in favor of a stupid kicker who couldn’t even kick field goals very well during his senior year of college. You’re just waiting for him to miss his first game-losing three-ball as time expires, at which point you’ll take to the message boards to vilify General Manager Rick Spielman for his inability to build an NFL franchise and sing to the heavens that the Vikings would have won that game if Longwell was still their kicker. But what if Walsh doesn’t fail? What if he makes the kicks he’s supposed to? What if he nails a few from 50-plus yards? What if he actually can kick the ball into the end zone and pin the opponents back at their own 20-yard line? What if a defense that can use all the help it can get benefits greatly from an opponent having to drive 80 yards every time instead of 70? What if Spielman was right about Walsh? What if lopping Longwell’s millions off the books allows the Vikings to pursue a higher profile free agent next offseason? What if Spielman’s youth movement starts to pay immediate dividends? Simply because the situation is so intriguing – both on the field and in the front office – Walsh is a key player for the 2012 Vikings.

WR Jerome Simpson – The offseason reports on Simpson have been equal parts meaningless and glowing. Vikings coaches would have us believe they found the steal of the century in Simpson, another young player who seemingly fits perfectly into the offense as a deep threat the team so sorely lacked last season. And, frankly, he does. His career arc would suggest that the 2008 second-round draft pick is ready to turn into a serious threat for 70 catches, 1,000 yards, and six-to-eight touchdowns. But that’s what Bernard Berrian’s pre-Vikings career arc might have suggested too, and Berrian didn’t come shackled with a three-game suspension for having violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. If Simpson can stay on the field and effectively stretch the defense, everyone from Christian Ponder to Percy Harvin to Kyle Rudolph to Adrian Peterson will have more room to operate. If not, the team will need a huge contribution from a batch of mediocre veterans (Devin Aromashodu) and mid-round draft picks (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright) to step up in a big way.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and the Managing Editor of LeagueSafe Post, a new fantasy football content site. He has written for Vikings.com and is a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on 100.3 FM KFAN. Follow him on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

Reviewing a decade of drafts

Posted by: Patrick Donnelly Updated: April 26, 2012 - 12:33 PM

How will we look back on the Vikings' 2012 draft? The Purple could reap a harvest of multiple Pro Bowlers, consistent starters and quality reserves, as they did in 2007 and 2003. They could bring aboard a heap of busts that would make the 2005 draft look decent by comparison. Or they could land somewhere in the middle.

Let's take a look at their last 10 drafts to see how each group of rookies stack up. For the purposes of our discussion, we've sorted the picks into the following categories: 

Pro Bowlers: Actually selected to the Pro Bowl roster, not named as a replacement for an injured player or a Super Bowl participant

Starters: Have started at least eight games in a season, either for the Vikings or another team

Reserves: Made the Vikings' roster but did not start at least half of a season

Never made the roster: They might have played for somebody else, but they never made the Vikings' 53-man team.

And away we go …


2011

Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Christian Ponder (1), Kyle Rudolph (2)
Reserves: Christian Ballard (4), Brandon Burton (5), DeMarcus Love (6), Mistral Raymond (6), Brandon Fusco (6), D'Aundre Reed (7), Stephen Burton (7)
Never made the roster: Ross Homan (6)

 

2010
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: None
Reserves: Chris Cook (2), Toby Gerhart (2), Everson Griffen (4), Chris DeGeare (5), Joe Webb (6), Mickey Shuler (7), Ryan D'Imperio (7)
Never made the roster: Nate Triplett (5)

 

2009
Pro Bowlers: Percy Harvin (1)
Starters: Phil Loadholt (2), Asher Allen (3), Jamarca Sanford (7)
Reserves: Jasper Brinkley (5)
Never made the roster: None

 

2008
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Tyrell Johnson (2), John Sullivan (6)
Reserves: J.D. Booty (5), Letroy Guion (5), Jaymar Johnson (6)
Never made the roster: None

 

2007
Pro Bowlers: Adrian Peterson (1), Sidney Rice (2)
Starters: Marcus McCauley (3), Brian Robison (4)
Reserves: Aundrae Allison (5), Rufus Alexander (6)
Never made the roster: Tyler Thigpen (7), Chandler Williams (7)

 

2006
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Chad Greenway (1), Cedric Griffin (2), Ryan Cook (2), Tarvaris Jackson (2), Ray Edwards (4)
Reserves: Greg Blue (5)
Never made the roster: Tyrone Culver (6)

 

2005
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Troy Williamson (1), Erasmus James (1), Marcus Johnson (2)
Reserves: Ciatrick Fason (4), C.J. Mosley (6)
Never made the roster: Dustin Fox (3), Adrian Ward (7)

 

2004
Pro Bowlers: None
Starters: Kenechi Udeze (1), Darrion Scott (3), Mewelde Moore (4)
Reserves: Dontarrious Thomas (2), Nat Dorsey (4), Rod Davis (5), Jeff Dugan (7)
Never made the roster: Deandre' Eiland (6)

 

2003
Pro Bowlers: Kevin Williams (1), E.J. Henderson (2)
Starters: Nate Burleson (3), Eddie Johnson (6)
Reserves: Onterrio Smith (4), Mike Nattiel (6), Keenan Howry (7)
Never made the roster: None

 

2002
Pro Bowlers: Bryant McKinnie (1)
Starters: Brian Williams (4), Nick Rogers (6)
Reserves: Raonall Smith (2), Willie Offord (3)
Never made the roster: Edward Ta'amu (4), Chad Beasley (7)

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