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.

Posts about NFL draft

VikesCentric: Draft Guru Raises Vikings Grade In 2014 NFL Draft Re-Grade

Posted by: AJ Mansour Updated: January 24, 2015 - 9:06 AM

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.

VikesCentric: The Vikings shouldn't draft Melvin Gordon

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: January 8, 2015 - 7:50 AM

I hear a lot of Vikings fans hoping that the Vikings select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III with the 11th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. I like Gordon as much as anyone. I think he’ll be a very good NFL running back. I also don’t think the Vikings should take him – nor do I think they will.

Gordon is one of two players I’ve been asked most about since the season ended with regards to whether the Vikings will take them at 11 in the draft. The other is talented Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. As I stated in my first mock draft of the offseason, I don’t see any way Cooper slides out of the top 10 and falls in the Vikings’ lap at 11. If Rick Spielman wants the best wide receiver in this year’s draft, he’ll need to trade up and get him.

As for Gordon, I didn’t have him going in my top 20. Not yet anyway.

Before all my neighbors from across the border start yelling and name-calling, let me clarify. Gordon is the best running back in this year’s draft -- due in large part to the ACL injury suffered by Georgia running back Todd Gurley in November. Truth be told, Gurley was the best running back I saw this season but the knee injury sabotaged his first-round draft value. Even so, Gordon has the explosiveness to be a feature NFL running back, if there is such a thing anymore.

In fact, as things stand now, Gordon projects as potentially the only running back to go on Day 1 of the draft. He might go in the top 20. He might even go top-15. I might have him included somewhere in the top 15 of my future mock drafts if it becomes apparent that a team is strongly considering taking him. Overall, he might very well be one of the 10 best players in this year’s draft.

However, he’s a running back, and running backs as a position are no longer valued by NFL teams the way they once were. Even five years ago, Gordon might have been a top-five pick in the draft. In case you hadn’t noticed, though, today’s NFL is all about the passing game.

Both this season and last season only 13 players topped 1,000 rushing yards. In 2012 that number was 16. In 2011, 15 players topped 1,000. In 2010 it was 17. In 2009 it was 15, 2008 had 16, 2007 had 17 and in 2006 there were 23 players with more than 1,000 rushing yards. The “one star running back” system is eroding. Most teams now favor a running back committee – like the Patriots have done for years. Five of the eight teams that played in the Wild Card round of the playoffs last weekend employed a backfield by committee approach (Panthers, Ravens, Colts, Bengals, Lions) for a good chunk of the season. The Ravens finally settled on one back (Justin Forsett) while injuries eventually forced the Cardinals into a committee backfield.

Last year, not a single running back went in the first round of the NFL Draft. The Tennessee Titans made Bishop Sankey the first running back selected in the second round with the 54th overall pick. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati one pick later and Carlos Hyde was taken by the 49ers two picks after that in a mini run on running backs. I like Gordon better than all those guys, which is why I think he goes in the first round – just not to the Vikings.

The Vikings squeezed 1,108 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns from the duo of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon this season. They got 1,549 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns from the duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart the season before. That’s a difference of 27 rushing yards and 0.25 touchdowns per game. For argument’s sake, let’s say the Vikings part ways with Peterson this offseason and choose to retain Asiata (he’s a restricted free agent). Let’s also say McKinnon gets even a little better in his second season and the Vikings do something to improve their offensive line, even a little. If all these very feasible things occur, my guess is the Vikings could squeeze something around 1,500 yards and 10-12 touchdowns out of their running backs next season. And that might be selling them short – there are NFL observers who feel McKinnon could develop into a pretty solid NFL running back. Heck, he averaged 4.8 yards per carry in part-time duty as a rookie so why not?

Is it really nice to have an elite player like Peterson in the backfield? Of course. Would it be really cool to have Gordon in Vikings purple? Absolutely. However, it’s just more of a luxury than a necessity at this point.

The Vikings – and pretty much every other team in the top 20 of the draft – have more pressing needs than a stud running back. In case you missed it, the Vikes have holes to fill at offensive line, linebacker and wide receiver -- and could also use help at cornerback and safety. They can’t plug all those holes in free agency.

When the Vikings’ front office self-scouts their most pressing needs, I’m guessing running back is not near the top of the list.

This is the point where someone usually reminds me (read: scolds me) that teams should always take the best player available rather than draft for need. That’s great in theory. If your team is without a glaring need – or perhaps has needs that can be adequately addressed in latter rounds, by all means take the best player available. However, 10 teams passed on J.J. Watt four years ago when they shouldn’t have, so you can’t tell me the “best player available” strategy is always in play. And if Jameis Winston slides to 11 in the draft this year, I’m guessing the Vikings won’t take him, even if he’s the top-rated player left on their war room draft board. They have a quarterback last I checked.

In short, the Vikings have bigger fish to fry. Get a guard, get a tackle, get a wide receiver or get a linebacker... then maybe later in the draft if there’s a value pick at running back, grab him. This is a pretty good running back draft class. If Peterson is gone, the Vikings might select one later on to complement McKinnon. There will still be good ones available in the third and fourth rounds.

Gordon looks like he’ll be a very good NFL player so I’m not knocking his talents at all. I’d really, really like to get him in my dynasty fantasy football league this summer. He’ll help whatever NFL team he goes to.

I just doubt it’s going to be the Vikings.

Go to VikingsJournal.com for more on the NFL Draft and all the speculation on the Vikings landing Larry Fitzgerald.

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

VikesCentric: Vikings’ draft earns passing mark (but not a letter grade)

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: May 10, 2014 - 10:03 PM

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

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: Why isn't there a Vikings Fest?

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: January 28, 2013 - 9:18 PM

I take my son to Twins Fest every year and I'm always impressed by the turnout of baseball-hungry fans at the spring-can't-get-here-fast-enough celebration. Yeah, I know attendance was down a bit this year, but that'll happen when your team loses 195 games in two seasons. This year we went on Sunday – the final day of Twins Fest in what might turn out to be the final time the Metrodome hosts the event. After my son got Joe Mauer's autograph and before he got Miguel Sano's autograph, we strolled the jam-packed aisles of collectibles. He was looking for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout rookie cards while I eyed stuff I didn't need like a green seat from old Metropolitan Stadium and an Alan Page bobble-head.

 
After seeing all the Vikings memorabilia interspersed with the baseball stuff, it hit me: why isn't there a Vikings Fest? You know… a Vikings version of Twins Fest. Surely I'm not the first one to think of this, right? This thought has had to occur to others before me, maybe even the guy standing next to me looking at the Fran Tarkenton autographed jersey.
 
A few hours later, as I carefully navigated my way down the icy, slushy streets of downtown Minneapolis I was convinced the Vikings should have their own team festival. After all, if the Twins can lure thousands of fans to trudge through the snow for Twins Fest, surely the Vikings could do even better over a late spring/early summer weekend.
 
Then I wondered: why don't any NFL teams hold a team festival of some kind? As far as I know, none of them do. There has to be a good reason because it seems like a no-brainer. What was I missing?
 
The NFL reigns supreme as the most popular American sport and shows little inkling of imminent decline despite what Bernard Pollard might think. A Vikings Fest would undoubtedly be an annual hit among fans of the Purple, regardless of their on-field success, and would do a lot of good for the Vikings Children's Fund or whatever charity they choose. The team has sold out a million straight games at one of the worst stadiums in existence and virtually every television in the state is tuned to the Vikings game on Sundays during the season. Fans can't get enough of them.
 
Such was the genesis of this VikesCentric post.
 
So as a public service to the thousands (or at least dozens) of people who have also wondered why there isn't a Vikings Fest, I decided I'd check with the Vikings and ask if they'd ever considered such an event. I received a quick response from the good folks at Winter Park, and what they told me made a lot of sense.
 
It was pointed out to me that the Vikings do in fact host many fan-friendly events every year that raise money for the Vikings Children's Fund. In fact, there's one coming up in a few weeks – the "Arctic Blast" Snowmobile Rally on Feb. 9-10. The Vikings Draft party in April is their largest annual gathering and I was told the team is "in discussions about expanding the typical Thursday night event during the first round of the NFL Draft with a second event that will be open to a broader array of fans on that Saturday."
 
That sounds promising. They always have current and former players mingling with fans at the Draft Party, signing autographs and posing for photos. But an expansion of the event could get fans closer to a Vikings Fest kind of vibe.
 
I was also reminded the Vikings host the "Ride for Life" Motorcycle Rally, the VCF Golf Tournament and the "Bowl with the Vikings" night. In addition, they have a "Taste of the Vikings" event that'll set you back $150 if you want a ticket (last year's price). But they get pretty much the entire roster at the event and it benefits their "Summer Lunch Program," a partnership with Second Harvest Heartland that I'm told has provided millions of meals for underserved children in the metro area. These are all great events that raise a lot of money for worthy causes.
 
Nope, the Vikings don't have an actual "Vikings Fest," but there's no shortage of opportunities for fans of the Purple to interact with their favorite football team. Oh and then there's training camp. Every year, 50,000 to 60,000 Helga Horn-adorned fans make the trek to Mankato to watch practices and get autographs.
 
By this point of my exchange with Vikings headquarters I was feeling a little defeated. My Vikings Fest idea seemed like a moot point.
 
But then, toward the end of our email conversation, I was told that the team is "discussing internally the creation of an additional fan-friendly fundraising event for the VCF. Those conversations will continue moving forward."
 
A-ha! Could there be a Vikings Fest in the offing? Maybe when the new stadium opens?
 
It seems a little superfluous given all the other events on the Vikings slate, but I still think the idea has merit. They might not need it, but I have no doubt it would be huge. What say you, Vikings fans? Would a Vikings version of Twins Fest interest you? If so, when and where would you like to see it held?
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Assessing the free-agent wide receivers

Posted by: Updated: January 9, 2013 - 9:21 AM

Like it or not, the Vikings are committed to Christian Ponder for 2013. They will hopefully bring in a tested veteran to push Ponder, mentor the young quarterback, and provide insurance, but I highly doubt Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, or Alex Smith will be calling Winter Park home.

Instead, Rick Spielman will likely place their No. 1 priority on shoring up and improving the offensive talent around Ponder, and that starts with assessing and upgrading the wide receiver situation. The "assessing" part of the equation is key, as the first step in the Vikings' offseason plan will be to figure out what to do with the enigmatic Percy Harvin. Let him play out the final year of his deal and hope he plays nice? Trade him? Offer a long-term deal?

Harvin's situation requires its own blog post, but his status will obviously impact how the Vikings build the rest of the wide receiver group. Let's assume, as Leslie Frazier asserted earlier this week, that Harvin will be back in 2013. I'd then like to see the Vikings pay Phil Loadholt, pay Jerome Felton, and open up the purse strings for a talented wideout who is ready to step into the starting lineup opposite. Who will be available and a good fit?

(Note: I'm only including known free agents at this point. I'm not going to predict any potential cap casualties such as, for instance, Anquan Boldin.)

A-Level Talent
There will be five top-tier talents available, but I'm going to cross three off the list right away:

Wes Welker, Patriots: The prolific pass-catcher turns 32 this May, duplicates too much of what the Vikings already possess in Harvin and Jarius Wright, and needs to be in a high-volume passing attack. Pass.

Mike Wallace, Steelers: He has grumbled about not getting the ball this season and about the Steelers not throwing deep often enough. I love the explosiveness, but I can't imagine he would entertain joining an offense that lacks a vertical passing attack and requires him to share with Harvin and Adrian Peterson.

Victor Cruz, Giants (RFA): Keep dreaming.

That brings us to…

Greg Jennings, Packers: Vikings fans know his talents all too well, and we seem to get a kick out of signing former rivals. Jennings turns 30 this coming September, and he has broken down in recent seasons, missing eight games in 2012 and three contests in 2011. I have little doubt that he'd look good in Purple, but the price tag could be troublesome. Vincent Jackson, who is turns 30 this month, signed a five-year, $55 million deal with the Buccaneers last March. Jennings boasts a better statistical resume but also brings his injury history, so five years and $55 million could be in the ballpark for what he ultimately receives. Would you pay it? It feels steep and risky to me right now, but ask me again in two months.

Dwyane Bowe, Chiefs: The Andy Reid hiring may mean the Chiefs will be more serious about bringing Bowe back, but if he hits the market and if the Vikings are willing to spend big, he would be my top target. Bowe, who is a year younger than Jennings, carries some baggage, but he is also the big-bodied, No. 1-type receiver who makes sense opposite Harvin. And it doesn't hurt that he is accustomed to catching passes from terrible less-than-perfect quarterbacks. We need play-making wideouts who can consistently win 50-50 battles (and instill confidence in Ponder to throw those type of passes) and Bowe will be the best option on the open market.

Second Tier
Brian Hartline, Dolphins: The market for Hartline will be very interesting to watch. If the Dolphins don't re-sign him early, Hartline could linger on the market and either (1) get a ridiculous desperation offer from a team that misses out on Wallace, Jennings or Bowe or (2) end up with a low-end bargain deal. He underwhelmed for three years before exploding for 1,083 yards this season. Nearly one quarter of that total came in one game (253 yards, Week 4), and he managed only one touchdown all season. I don't want the Vikings to be the ones who gamble on his breakout year being for real.

Danny Amendola, Rams: A slot receiver who was only healthy enough to play 12 games over the past two seasons? Where do I sign up?!? Amendola isn't a good fit for the Vikings right now, but I'm already anticipating someone like the Patriots, Broncos or Saints turning a cheap two-year contract into 200 catches over the next two seasons.

Danario Alexander, Chargers (RFA): The Chargers aren't letting him leave.

Other Guys
Donnie Avery, Colts: I'd take him at the same deal the Colts paid him this season (one-year, $615,000), but he is likely to receive a couple million to be some team's No. 3 wideout. I'd be okay with Avery if the price is decent, but I don't think he's an upgrade over...

Jerome Simpson, Vikings: Yep, we're already to that point in the free agent rankings.

Kevin Ogletree, Cowboys: He starred in the Cowboys' season opener (114 yards, two scores) before fading into the background and losing reps to Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley. He's worth a look on a cheap one-year deal to replace Devin Aromashodu.

Domenik Hixon, Giants: He's not sexy, but Hixon is one of the mid/lower-level receivers I'd like the Vikings to take a look at. He can be a veteran leader, runs good routes, has shown sticky hands, chips in on special teams, and should be fairly cheap.

Brandon Gibson, Rams: The 25-year-old wideout started 34 games for the Rams over the last three years, but I'll forgive you if you didn't notice. He set career-highs with 51 catches, 691 yards, and five touchdowns this season and received positive marks from both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders. He is another mid/lower-tier guy that I like as long as the price tag is reasonable.

And with that, we've quickly dwindled down to names like Randy Moss, Ramses Barden, Braylon Edwards, Jabar Gaffney, Devery Henderson, and Mohamed Massaquoi - receivers who rabid fans don't dream about in January when trying to dig for difference-making talents. At this point, we're better off turning our attention to the early rounds of the NFL draft, which will be a hot topic for the coming months.

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