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 Vikings finished out one of the most depressing weekends in recent franchise history with an embarrassing showing against a New England Patriots team that looked as good this week as the Vikings did last week.
It’s difficult to properly characterize the game, but there were failure in all three phases of the game. While it might be intuitive to argue that the defense was not as bad as their field positioning made them, it’s important not to overcorrect and recognize how, after the first quarter, New England was extremely efficient at moving the ball.
On offense, Minnesota had a promising first drive that was washed away almost entirely by the subsequent drives, plagued by turnovers and bad decisionmaking.
Like most offenses, it starts and stops with the quarterback. While not having Adrian Peterson may be a blow, Cassel’s inclination to hold on to the ball for too long, lock on to receivers or make bad decisions isn’t because of Peterson. While it may be the case that Peterson affects coverage—an effect that is likely overstated—31 other teams don’t have Peterson and their quarterbacks do not tend to throw four interceptions.
It may be pedantic to point out that not every interception was his fault—indeed, he shared blame with Asiata and Jennings for two of his interceptions—it would be missing the point to emphasize the nuances. Cassel had little feel for the pocket, missed open receivers and was effectively blistered by New England’s different defensive looks.
As for the running backs, the Vikings couldn’t get much done on the ground. The Vikings’ longest run was 13 yards, picked up not on a designed run, but a Cassel scramble. The second-longest was a seven-yard direct snap to Matt Asiata, more the function of a trick play than genuine running ability.
This isn’t as much because of the offensive line or blocking as it is the talent of Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon. Because McKinnon didn’t get much play, most of the offensive running woes can be lain at the feet of Asiata, who averaged only 2.8 yards a carry. His vision and decisionmaking at the line was good, but there were more than a few times that his limited burst really hurt him, especially on runs to the outside.
On the other hand, Asiata is excellent in the passing game, both as a pass-catcher and as a pass blocker. While Asiata doesn’t have an extraordinary skills resume when it comes to route running and so on, he has very good hands and can move around in zones to find open spaces.
As for the offensive line itself, there was not much interior pressure given up by Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan or Brandon Fusco, though all three could have done more to create better alleys in the running game, largely putting together an average run blocking night. Penalties on Sullivan and Fusco could make Johnson the better look lineman of the three, although they ran behind Johnson less than they did the other two.
On the outside, Matt Kalil was abysmal. Giving up several sacks and pressure, Kalil had perhaps the worst game of his career. Typically not a sustained worry if a tackle happens to have a bad game, this continues the trend of subpar play since his rookie year, which is increasingly long ago. He perhaps put in the worst performance of the day.
On the other side of the line, Phil Loadholt had some good stretches of play, punctuated with occasional lapses, both as a pass protector and run blocker. Though this is how you would characterize most average offensive linemen, it’s significant to point out that his highs were higher than most offensive tackles.
The receivers were not a lot of help. Greg Jennings is a very, very good receiver, but he’s not good enough to consistently beat Darrelle Revis, who’s cobbling together his resume to resurge as the league’s best cornerback. With Revis on Jennings almost all night, there wasn’t much Jennings could do to get open. The interception Revis grabbed was in part due to Jennings pulling up mid-route, too.
Cordarrelle Patterson had his share of wins and losses in the passing game, losing out against Logan Ryan twice after a good gain for a first down against the very same. He had a spectacular run after catch, as he’s due to have at least one a game, but his impact was largely marginal and that in part has to do with the fact that he still has a lot of trouble with receiver fundamentals.
Jarius Wright, aside from a baffling run near the beginning of the game, was alright, but still had a lot of mistakes. He was certainly open far more than he was targeted, but his targets did not produce particularly rich outcomes.
Kyle Rudolph started out with a fantastic game, but three drops (though I imagine that total will be different for different people, given how involved defenders were on some of them) and though I have consistently argued that Rudolph’s hands are more inconsistent than he’s given credit for (his drop rate is league average; he makes up for his spectacular catches with routine drops at times), this was extremely uncharacteristic for him, and he even seemed rattled.
Both Rudolph and Ellison had good games as blockers as far as I could tell. Marqueis Gray received a few snaps, but not enough to really evaluate.
The defense will be penalized in the box score more than is fair, but that doesn’t mean they did well. ESPN 1500's Andrew Krammer did do a good job, however, of contextualizing the importance that field positions and turnovers played by pointing out the Vikings only gave up six points on drives started by punts or the kickoff, and gave up 24 points on drives from turnovers.
Still, field position is interdependent, and the defense giving up bad field position to the offense will lead to a bad field position on the following drive for the defense. In this case, the defense, outside of the first quarter, was particularly scary. Tom Brady ended with a passer rating of 102.3, and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 7.0. Compared to his former backup, Matt Cassel, the difference is stark (39.1, 0.1). For context, the league average last year was 5.9.
Despite abysmal play by the interior offensive line last week from the Patriots, the Vikings couldn’t find ways to create pressure with their front four. Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joseph were both quiet in the game, and it wasn’t until Tom Johnson arrived that interior pressure manifested itself, not just with a sack but with pressure. Linval Joseph couldn’t get off his blocks as quickly as he did last week and Floyd was quiet.
On the edge, both Robison and Griffen let high-profile edge runs get by them, though Robison in general was the better of the two—he produced more pressure and needed to be manipulated more by his opposing tackle than Griffen, who had not just a bad game against the run, but a silent game against the pass, with very few pressures if any at all.
Chad Greenway had a good game. Aside from a high-profile pass deflection, he racked up smart play and generally solid tackles (though again it would behoove analysts not to simply count up his tackles as a few were downfield). With a quarterback hit and a tackle for loss, Greenway’s all-around game was better than his peers around him.
Jasper Brinkley didn’t take too many snaps after the first drives, but still played very well against the run without having to worry too much about being targeted in the passing game. Anthony Barr on the other hand, had a much worse game, especially early on. The Patriots were finding ways to target him by either scheming receivers into his zone or willing to gamble that Gronkowski was the better player than him with the ball in the air. The Patriots were often right.
When Gerald Hodges entered, he couldn’t do as much as his specialty would demand in terms of making sure that players like Gronkowski were obviated from the game.
In the secondary, things were a bit more iffy. On the positive side of things, Josh Robinson and Harrison Smith clearly had very good games, with Robinson virtually absent of targets while Harrison Smith only looked questionable when in man coverage against Edelman in the slot. Harrison did a very good job against the run, with two highlight stops and eight overall tackles. He was difficult to run against.
Robert Blanton was better than worse, and performed a myriad of roles well, bracketing Gronkowski at times, while at other times carrying individual receivers. He was a pass-rusher, deep safety and in-the-box defender, depending on the play, and performed well enough if not spectacularly.
On the other hand, corners Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn were liabilities. Munnerlyn gave up a few receptions, spotlighted by a touchdown, and had some issues working off the edge to make a presence in the run game. Rhodes had more problems in pass coverage, and though at least one of his three penalties was perhaps poorly called, there’s no question that the aggregate of the play was dismal.
Aside from being massively out of position or playing with surprisingly poor recovery speed, he missed tackles and allowed some fairly large gains on the ground for receivers.
All in all, the good defensive players could not make up for the anemic performance from the rest of the corps, and despite the fact that the Patriots scored almost entirely off of turnovers, it would be wrong to call that acceptable play from the defense.
While it normally is a rather perfunctory note, special teams played a big role in the Vikings loss, with a few of Jeff Locke's punts, a 57-yard boomer aside, causing issues in the field position battle.
With that, Ellison (my bad, it was Matt Kalil, which is appropriate)—despite his good blocking in plays from scrimmage—was the one who gave up Jones' unreal block, scoop and score on the field goal try. In one punt return attempt, the Vikings only had nine men on the field.
It was a disaster.
Yesterday morning we all woke up with Adrian Peterson as one of our “favorite” football players. Sure he has his personal issues off the field, just as we all do, but on the field, he was the man. Then the news breaks yesterday afternoon and terms like “reckless negligence” and “child abuse” begin to be thrown around pretty loosely. By the end of the night, when the actual story starts to form, we’re left with a perplexing situation, a couple of them in fact.
What’s your stance on corporal punishment? What should the government’s stance on corporal punishment be? How does the NFL react to something like this? How do fans react to something like this?
There are many specific questions that all lead towards one that envelopes them all. Where do we go from here?
What a difference a day can make. Since the news of alleged child abuse broke yesterday afternoon, Adrian has gone from scheming a way to beat the Patriots on the field to long phone calls with his lawyer attempting to avoid potential jail time. The least of his worries may be coming from a league that, amidst one of their worst weeks in history, is ready to throw down the hammer on offenders if only just to prove a point.
On the heels of the Ray Rice situation the NFL has enacted and put into place a more strict, cut and dry policy against domestic abuse. The policy states that a player could be subject to six games without pay after a first offense and that mitigating circumstances could push the penalty longer.
In its infancy, the focus of this policy has been directed towards violence against women. The video release of Ray Rice’s elevator tirade made it all the more real and incredibly necessary this week. But to a person with some semblance of common sense, child abuse would likely fall under the umbrella of domestic abuse as well which means that, pending the outcome of the investigation, Adrian could be facing a six game penalty from the league.
For this week, the Vikings did the right thing and on their own volition deactivated Peterson from their game against the Patriots.
At least the NFL doesn’t have a whole lot on their plate right now.
We all know that’s actually not the case and Peterson’s situation likely rounded out what will forever go down as one of the worst week’s in the history of the league.
With Goodell’s feet firmly placed against the fire already, he will be forced to act on this Peterson case and the fallout will likely pin Adrian as his sacrificial lamb.
But the new NFL policy was not developed for this sort of a situation. It was put in place to protect women from an epidemic of domestic abuse that was and is running through a league of overly empowered, testosterone driven men. But if the policy protects adult women from the men in their lives, it would only make sense that it also protects young children, four-year-old boys, from those same men.
There is still a lot that we have to learn about this case as it goes through court system. Peterson, who turned himself in to Houston police last night, has an uphill battle to fight against not only the prosecutors but a society enraged by violence and empowerment from professional athletes.
Corporal punishment has long been a hot button topic of conversation in this country. Generations of past were raised with spankings, belts and paddles as a regular part of their childhood. It was simply part of life. But it might be time for our country, as a nation, to instill some level of federal distinction on what is and what isn’t considered child abuse.
No matter your view on spanking, when yesterday’s news broke about Adrian beating his 4-year old son with a tree branch, how did it make you feel?
If you’re anything like me, your eyebrows were raised. If you’re from the south, where punishment via switch is a little more common, it may have seemed like nothing to you…at least until the pictures came out. When those photos depicting the wounds left on the poor 4-year old boy came out, I hope that the opinion changed for everybody. There’s no way you will convince me that it wasn’t too far and we all should have jumped up and been outraged. Red backsides were present in my Minnesota childhood, but bruises and lacerations are when you’ve crossed the line.
As a boy who witnessed my own parents mentally struggle with their own corporal punishment dilemma, and saw first hand the shift from spankings, away from “hitting” their kids and towards other forms of punishment, isn’t it time that America puts some sort of standard together?
I’m not calling for the outlawing of spankings, but when part of the country thinks it’s okay to hit your child with a stick and the other is outraged by it, truly how united are we?
As I mentioned above, there’s a lot more to this story that will play out and answer some of these questions for us. By all accounts, Adrian is cooperating with authorities in Houston as we speak. He’s not running from the situation and he’s not denying that the wounds in question were left there by him. But as this continues to play out, as Adrian re-assesses his actions, as the NFL attempts to handle the situation and as the court system determines the difference between corporal punishment and child abuse, I hope that we as a society are paying attention. I hope that conversations are being had about all of these situations. We are a nation that has long since learned from the mistakes of our past and unfortunately for them, the mistakes of celebrities play out in the public far too often. I hope that we can learn from this, change the way we operate, if only a little, and stand up tall on the other side better people, better families and a better nation.
It’s been equated before that the New England Patriots are to football what the New York Yankees have been to baseball. The dominant team of their era, led by their captain who is so cool, so calm, that winning almost seems to a part of his biological makeup. They’re the evil empire that looms over top the league for years at a time, forming a dynasty and having their way with almost every foe that stands in their way.
While the Yankees did so primarily through a loophole in the salary cap/luxury tax relationship, the Patriots did it on the backs of a duo, so daunted, so unparalleled that the artists might already be in the early stages of molding each of their bronze busts in Canton, Ohio.
Even if it is only because of their grandiose success, many refer to the Patriots as the NFL’s “Evil Empire.” Breaking it one step deeper, giving them this Star Wars themed nickname makes a bit more sense, and it also gives me an excuse to completely nerd out on too of my favorite things, the NFL and Star Wars. It then immediately becomes clear to me that if New England is the Evil Empire, then Bill Belichik is the scheming and powerful Darth Sidious while Tom Brady is his pimped out, über talented Sith Lord (insert Darth Vader here).
On the matter of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, you have a man who is sitting on the cusp of history as he enters TCF Bank Stadium this weekend. With 199 regular season wins in his pocket, Belichick is looking to become the sixth NFL coach to hit the milestone (Don Shula, George Halas, Tom Landry, Curly Lambeau and Marty Schottenheimer).
In 14 seasons as the head coach of the Patriots Belichick has accounted for thirteen winning seasons (2001-2013). One of only three coaches with 100 more wins than losses over his career, he has three Super Bowl rings and an undefeated season under his belt as well.
Recently, Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning had this to say about Belichick. “Coach Belichick is the best coach that I’ve ever competed against. I think it’s safe to say he’ll go down as the greatest NFL coach of all-time. His teams are always well-coached, always well-disciplined, and you know it’s going to be a 60-minute fight. To me, that speaks to his coaching.”
As Peyton said, Belichick coached teams are always disciplined and tough. One other thing that they are, at least during his time in New England, is Bill Belichick teams have always been led by their Darth Maul, their Darth Vader…Tom Brady.
Outside of three attempted pass during a 2000 fill-in job, their careers have almost completely overlapped in New England. With Belichick taking over as coach in 2001 and Brady taking over as starting quarterback the same year, two of the best the game has ever seen teamed up to form a dynasty that will always be remembered as one of the league’s most dominant.
Brady has lead the Patriots to 148 victories in 192 regular season starts since 2001, compiling a .771 winning percentage and giving him the best record of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era (since 1966). Leading his teams to all three of the New England Super Bowls under Belichick, Brady sits on the verge of crossing the 50,000 yards passing mark (602 away) and becoming just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to join that club.
Lethal, yet stunning, Brady finds ways to silence his opponents in a way that only he can. With four 30 touchdown seasons, six 4,000 yard passing seasons and 19 career 4-TD games, Brady is a dangerous combination of attitude and athleticism and he brings it onto the football field on a weekly basis.
Together, Darth Sidious and Darth Vader, er Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have put together one of the most potent offensive attacks in the history of the league. Calculated and precise, they pick apart defenses on the legs of Bill’s defensive genius (the force) and the precision of Tom Brady’s arm (a sick, red colored light saber).
In fact, the duo of Belichick/Brady are the winningest tandem of head coach/starting quarterback since the 1970 merger. Their 148 wins tops Dan Marino and Don Shula (116) for the most victories while their .771 winning percentage tops Ken Stabler and John Madden (.756) as well. With 192 starts and counting under Belichick’s tutelage, Brady looks to extend his all-time marks against the Vikings this weekend.
While it would be easy to sit back and roll over for the Evil Empire this weekend at The Bank, the Vikings need check the blueprints and fly along the Death Star’s trench this week to exploit any and all weaknesses in the super weapon’s armor that they can find.
With Matt Cassel (Obi Wan Kenobi) under center, Adrian Peterson (Luke Skywalker), Greg Jennings (Han Solo) and Cordarrelle Patterson (Yoda, because of all the cool flips and stuff) led by head coach Mike Zimmer (Admiral Ackbar), the galaxy has never before been more convinced that the Vikings may very well be equipped to battle the Empire this weekend in a Galaxy far, far away (aka, TCF Bank Stadium).
On one hand, Vikings fans need to take a deep breath and realize their squad just manhandled a Rams team that doesn’t appear to be very good and was using their second and third-string quarterbacks. On the other hand, the Week 1 victory was different for many reasons and should be cause for a dash or two of optimism.
Those who watched Sunday’s 34-6 dismantling of the Rams knew they were watching a different product on the field – from the aggressiveness and improved tackling on defense to the imagination on offense.
This is a different-looking Vikings team that’s already starting to produce some different results.
I mean seriously, when was the last time the Vikings even won a road game? Um, that would be Dec. 23, 2012 when they inexplicably pounded a 12-2 Texans team 23-6. That’s also the last time the Vikings held any opponent to six points or less. The last time before that was their 34-3 shellacking of the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs following the 2009 season. And the last time the Vikings held an opponent to six points or less in a regular season game prior to 2012 was their 24-3 win over the Falcons to open the 2007 season.
Here’s a few more “last times” from Week 1.
The last time the Vikings won by as many as 28 points on the road was Sept. 28, 1994 at Chicago.
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points on the road in Week 1 was their 40-9 victory over the Saints to open the 1976 season. That’s 38 years ago. No current Vikings player was even alive 38 years ago. Not even Cullen Loeffler (he’s the Vikings’ elder statesman at 33).
The last time the Vikings won by 28 points under a first-year head coach was 22 years ago under Denny Green when they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati on Sept. 27, 1992. Rich Gannon threw for 318 yards and four touchdowns in that game. Terry Allen rushed for two touchdowns and caught another. Cris Carter had 11 receptions for 124 yards and two touchdowns. And the Vikings picked off Boomer Esiason four times. Yeah, that was a while ago.
I love this one despite the meaningless nature of preseason games: the last time the Vikings won all four of their preseason games and then won in Week 1 was – wait for it – the 1998 season. Yes, that season. You know, the one in which they went 15-1 and then made it to the NFC Championship Game and… I’ll stop there. No, I’m not comparing the 2014 Vikings to the 1998 Vikings.
The last time the Vikings had a wide receiver gain 100 yards rushing in a game, as Cordarrelle Patterson did on Sunday, was… never. Not even Percy Harvin managed that trick in a Vikings uniform.
The last time the Vikings returned an interception for a touchdown, as Harrison Smith did on Sunday, was Dec. 16, 2012 by Everson Griffen against the Rams. The last time a Vikings player returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was… Harrison Smith, who did it twice in 2012, against the Bears and the Cardinals at home. The last time someone other than Smith returned an interception for a touchdown against someone other than the Rams was in 2010 when Jared Allen did it in the last game of the season against the Lions.
The last time the Vikings won on the road without getting either 100 rushing yards or a touchdown from Adrian Peterson was, once again, that 23-6 game against Houston in December 2012. Since Peterson came into the league in 2007, the Vikings have now won just four road games in which he has been held under 100 yards and out of the end zone.
So yeah, Sunday’s game against the Rams was definitely different.
Give yourself permission to feel good about that first victory, Vikings fans. Optimism, yes. Unbridled merriment, not yet. We’ll hold off on saving up money for playoff tickets or planning a Super Bowl parade route for now. However, we might revisit that notion if the Vikings find a way to take out the Patriots on Sunday.
On that note, one more “last time” stat: the last time the New England Patriots (0-1) started a season 0-2 was 2001. That’s a long time ago. They also won the Super Bowl that year, beating (kind of ironically) the Rams 20—17.
Head on over to VikingsJournal.com for a detailed breakdown on how Sugaring the A-Gap is head coach Mike Zimmer’s Pressure Du Jour and a fun look at Cordarrelle Patterson’s epic 67-yard touchdown run against the Rams.
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.
Zero touchdowns, zero rushes, zero yards, zero snaps. That’s how Adrian Peterson’s stat line reads for this year’s four game preseason session. While every single one of his teammates was out on the field getting into game shape for this weekend’s season opener, Adrian stayed on the sidelines simply observing.
But there wasn’t any nagging injuries pushing him to the side, there was no differing viewpoint with the coaching staff. Nope, it was just the plan from the beginning to keep Peterson sidelined throughout the exhibition season.
This idea isn’t anything new for the rookie coaching staff. In each of the previous two seasons, Adrian has had the same empty stat line through the preseason.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Peterson said this week. “For me even more so, not participating in the preseason…The first couple years [of sitting out] it was hard. I’m a savvy vet now so I understand the big scheme.”
The idea behind this concept is to protect him. Keep any and all needless wear and tear off his body and he should last longer. Seems to make sense.
“I’ve been in the league for a long time,” Peterson continued. “Preseason, there’s a lot that comes with that, wear and tear on the body and taking chances as well. We’d just rather not take any chances. We’ll take chances, but take them in the regular season when it counts.”
So, with no in-game practice, no contact and no full speed play, what can we expect from that man that we so affectionately call “the best running back in the league” when he takes to the football field for the first time this year against the Rams on Sunday?
If history is any indicator, Adrian isn’t missing much by sitting out of the preseason.
In seasons where he hasn’t seen any carries during the preseason (2012, 2013), Adrian is averaging 88.5 yards per game in the first week of the year. He also has five touchdowns over those two games and is averaging over 5 yards per carry (5.06).
Extend that out to full season statistics in years where he has no preseason activity and Peterson is averaging 1,681.5 yards per year in those seasons. That’s more than 300 yards better than in seasons where he has played the preseason (1,350.4 yards).
But what about against this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams?
Admittedly, this year’s Rams squad is a different bunch than the group that Peterson most recently faced in 2012, but there are a few hangovers. That said, the last time Adrian took the field against St. Louis it was a Week 15 matchup in which Adrian ran wild for 212 yards including a career long 82-yard touchdown run.
“I remember that game,” Peterson said earlier this week. “From the secondary on down, those guys were talking so much noise. Then we ripped the long run on them and they got quiet. Hopefully things play out the same way [this year].”
AP also remembered getting off to a fast start last year in the Vikings week one matchup against the Detroit Lions. On his first carry of the 2013 season (again, zero preseason reps), Adrian cracked off a 78-yard touchdown run!
For what it’s worth, Adrian is predicting the same sort of success this weekend against the Rams.
“Touchdown, first run,” Peterson told us with a smile on his face.
It’s now the third year of Adrian being confined to the sidelines during the preseason and just like AP is finally figuring out the value in it, it appears that the fans are learning as well.
It goes without saying that we would all like to see Adrian on the field as much as possible during any point in the season. But if this week’s opponent, the St. Louis Rams, can teach us anything, understanding the balance of the risk and reward for playing during preseason is an important medium to find. They lost their starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending ACL injury during this preseason.
But if there was still any doubt remaining in your mind, hopefully Adrian’s highlighted track record of success can provide a little added comfort as well. He will be fine. He’s a professional, and he’s still the best running back in the league.
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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
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