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: Counting down to Training Camp

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: July 19, 2012 - 12:03 PM

The Minnesota Vikings sent out their training camp media release yesterday – yet another clear indication that the real start of the football season is imminent.

Truthfully, the NFL really never takes time off. Whether it's the Scouting Combine, NFL Draft, OTAs, free agency, minicamps, or players getting arrested for "too much idle time," America's sport never strays far from the headlines. And of course fantasy football drafts have already begun.

Apparently the NFL powers-that-be know their limits, though, or else last week's Supplemental Draft (in which one player was selected) would have been televised.

Be that as it may, the real fun begins next week, as every NFL team reports to their training camp, with the first (the Arizona Cardinals) reporting on July 23. The Vikings will file into Mankato on Thursday and will hold their first practices on Friday amidst throngs of purple-clad fans and a mob of media members hanging on Percy Harvin's every word, waiting for the next "controversy."

I'll be part of the aforementioned "mob" as Vikings camp gets underway, in order to get a first-hand, up close look at the 2012 edition. Yeah, I'll be as interested as anyone to see if Harvin stirs the pot again or if we find out anything more about Adrian Peterson's knee and/or arrest (the three primary storylines as camp kicks off) but I don't expect we'll get anything new on any of those fronts.

The Harvin thing is being swept under the rug (i.e. being handled internally) by the Vikings braintust and you can bet Harvin has been encouraged to do the same and only address football questions from the media in Mankato.

As for Peterson, the most I'd expect to see him doing in Mankato is individual drills on the side. The Vikings will very likely begin with him on the training camp physically unable to perform list and then play his recovery by ear. His court date has been moved to August 6 and we presumably won't know anything more about that situation until then.

Assuming the chains don't move on the Harvin and Peterson sagas for now, I'll have my eyes on numerous other situations as the Vikings prep for their preseason opener on August 10 against Randy Moss and the 49ers in San Francisco, including: Who wins the job at right guard? What's the secondary – with two rookies seeing a lot of playing time -- look like? Does Jasper Brinkley appear ready to hold down middle linebacker and is he really finally healthy? Will Jared Allen school Matt Kalil or will the All-Pro take it easy on the promising first-round pick? Do Jarius Wright and Greg Childs have the goods to contribute immediately in the passing game? Are the Vikings really set with the Blair Walsh project at kicker or will they bring in some competition? Did brainy QB Christian Ponder pick up a PHD or MD in his spare time this offseason or just grow a beard and do a lot of fishing and golfing when he wasn't watching film?

Since this is a blog and has a comments section and stuff, let's put it to good use and compile additional questions that keep Vikings fans up at night as the team prepares for 2012. What will you watch for in camp? Are you going to Mankato to get your own scouting report? Let me know what you're watching. 

 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Vikings secondary can only get better

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: June 19, 2012 - 8:31 AM

The Vikings are holding their three-day mandatory mini-camp this week at Winter Park and one of the most mandatory things they need to figure out between now and their Week 1 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is how to improve their secondary.

Actually, it shouldn't be too difficult to improve given how low the bar was set last year. The Vikings' secondary was bad -- historically bad -- in 2011.

Their Quarterback Rating allowed (107.6) was the second-worst mark in the history of keeping track of such things. Their eight interceptions were tied for the lowest in the league despite the fact they also tied for the NFL lead with 50 sacks. There was a lot of pressure from Jared Allen and company, but little to show for it. They couldn't cover or produce turnovers.

That's a bad combination.

Getting Antoine Winfield back from last year's broken collarbone will obviously help a lot. So too will getting some kind of return on investment from 2010 second-round pick Chris Cook. Cook's off-field issues coupled with the sudden retirement a few weeks ago of 2009 third-round pick Asher Allen underscores the Vikings' biggest problem in the secondary: they haven't drafted particularly well.

Actually, that's being kind. Their drafting of defensive backs over the last 12 years (starting with the 2000 NFL Draft) has been nothing short of catastrophic.

Consider the following: from 2000 to 2011 the Vikings drafted a total of 18 cornerbacks and safeties. Those 18 defensive backs have played a grand total of 38 seasons in the NFL – or slightly more than two seasons per player – and have combined for just 35 interceptions. Do the math. That's less than two career interceptions per defensive back that the Vikings have drafted since the turn of the century. It's also less than one interception per season. That's not good.

Are interceptions the only way to measure the value of a cornerback or safety? Absolutely not, but it's a very good metric. And when you consider that more than half of the interceptions (20) from those 18 players came from two just players -- Cedric Griffin and Brian Williams -- it's even more unsettling.

Compounding the problem, the Vikings have shown a particular penchant of swinging and missing on defensive backs as high as the second and third rounds, including the aforementioned Allen and Cook. Tyrell Johnson (2008 second round) left this offseason with two pickoffs to his credit in four seasons. Remember Marcus McCauley (2007 third round), Dustin Fox (2005 third round), Willie Offord (2002 third round) and Eric Kelly (2001 third round)? The four of them combined for five career interceptions.

But many of those players were selected under previous player personnel regimes, some during the "triangle of authority" years.

Recently-anointed general manager Rick Spielman is undoubtedly ready to turn the page, starting with this past April's draft. You can bet Spielman is counting heavily on this year's third-round selection, lightning-fast corner Josh Robinson out of UCF, to buck the unfortunate Vikings' draft trend of early-round misfires in the secondary.

The very early reports on Robinson are exactly what you'd expect of a guy who ran the fastest 40 at the combine: he's a blur. The Vikings also appear to have struck gold with their second first-rounder from this year's draft, safety Harrison Smith. If the two of them can contribute right away – and Smith definitely should since he's penciled in as a starter – and other offseason additions such as former Bears corner Zack Bowman and former Ravens corner Chris Carr are even serviceable, the Vikings secondary will be better in 2012.

It's far too early to tell just how much better they'll be, but let's face it: they can't be worse. I'm boldly predicting an improvement to mediocrity and a return to double-digit interceptions.

Hey, it's a start.

VikesCentric: About that sixth-round kicker

Posted by: Updated: May 1, 2012 - 9:26 PM

After an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the Vikings’ first-round draft picks on Thursday night, the rest of NFL Draft Weekend turned into a bit of a snoozer for most Vikings fans, and Saturday’s somewhat controversial selections seem to have drawn a fair amount of angst amongst the Purple Faithful. In particular, the selection of Georgia kicker Blair Walsh in Round 6 has seemingly caused the most outrage amongst Vikings fans and detractors alike.

In the end, I fall on the side of the naysayers on this one, but I’ll get to that in a bit. First, there actually are several arguments in favor of the move. 

To start with, incumbent kicker Ryan Longwell is 37 years old (he’ll be 38 by the time the season starts) He missed six of his 28 field goal attempts in 2011, and missed five of his 13 attempts from beyond 40 yards. He’s also still owed $7 million over the next three seasons, with a cap hit of another $2.6 million on top of his base salary. From a pure business standpoint, it makes little sense to pay a 38-year-old kicker with obvious limitations coming off one of the worst seasons of his impressive career $7 million when a rookie would cost a tiny fraction of that cost. The $2.6 million cap hit (Longwell’s $3.5 million signing bonus, spread evenly across the life of his 4-year deal) would be a tough pill to swallow, but continuing to pay Longwell through his age 41 season might be throwing good money after bad. Even if Walsh misses a bunch of field goal attempts (he made just 74 percent of his kicks in college), would it really matter in 2012? Are the re-building Vikings just a couple of field goals away from the playoffs next year? Is paying a kicker who may be past his prime like one of the best in the league really a good allocation of Zygi Wilf’s money?

There’s also a case to be made that jettisoning the weak-legged Longwell in favor of the stronger Walsh is also a savvy move from a pure football standpoint as well.

Longwell’s major limitation is his inability to produce touchbacks on kickoffs. In 2011, he ranked 28th in the NFL with just 19 kickoffs, and he ranked 34th by forcing touchbacks on just 24.7 percent of his kicks (in part because of this, the Vikings ranked 31st in the NFL in average opponent starting position, according to Football Outsiders' drive stats. Vikings opponents started the average drive at the 31-yard line, while the 49ers defense/special teams led the NFL by forcing opponents to start each drive, on average, at their own 24-yard line). 

That might not seem very important, but according to people who are a lot smarter than me, it is. According to an article on a website called Advanced NFL Stats, touchbacks are a lot more valuable than you might imagine. The article is from 2009 and is therefore somewhat outdated, but the findings remain valid today. You can see all the nerdy details here if you’d like, but the highlights of the research done by Brian Burke at Advanced NFL Stats are these:

Using a concept called Expected Points, Burke concludes that a touchback is worth the rough equivalent of half a sack (to drastically oversimplify things, this means that forcing a team to start out at their own 20-yard line twice in a game has roughly the same negative effect on the expected points that team’s offense will score as does sacking the quarterback once). 

  • The average field position for non-touchback kickoffs is the 32-yard line. Therefore, each touchback saves 12 yards of field position, which results in the opposing offense having to attain one more first down than they would have otherwise in order to get into scoring position. According to Burke, “the average first down conversion rate in the NFL is 67%, so a touchback turns a TD drive into a FG drive or a FG drive into a punt 33% of the time.”
  • For the sake of argument, let’s assume Walsh makes the team as a kickoff specialist, or just beats Longwell out for all of the place-kicking duties, and is able to boot 33 touchbacks in 2012, which was the league average for the top 32 kickers in 2011. According to Advanced NFL Stats’ Expected Points, Walsh’s addition, purely in terms of field position and allowing fewer points, would be the equivalent of the Vikings having added a defensive player who produces 6.5 sacks this season. And when you consider that the top 10 kickers in 2011 all booted at least 40 touchbacks, Walsh’s impact could be even greater if his leg proves significantly stronger than Longwell’s.
It’s a fancy way of saying what should be obvious – starting field position does matter in the NFL, and the ability of a kicker to produce touchbacks and prevent long kickoff returns is a factor in winning and losing games.
 
Of course, this is an argument that really only works for winning teams. Or, at least for teams that aren’t in full-scale rebuilding mode. Carrying that extra kickoff specialist in an effort to gain 50 percent more touchbacks makes sense for a playoff team looking for every little edge. On a deep roster filled with above-average NFL players, eating a roster spot on a kickoff specialist is probably more valuable than carrying that ninth offensive lineman, seventh cornerback, or sixth wide receiver. But, realistically, the Vikings aren’t a playoff team, and shouldn’t be making decisions like one, and the reality is that spending an asset – even if just a sixth-round draft pick – on a kicker just isn’t worth it. 
 
Over the last 10 years, only 23 placekickers have been selected in the NFL Draft. Only a handful of those 23 have gone on to make a significant impact in the NFL (the short list of high-impact kickers who were actually drafted includes Mason Crosby, Nate Kaeding, Stephen Gostkowski, Josh Scobee, Josh Brown, and Mike Nugent). Overall, just 10 of the 23 kickers drafted over the past 10 years were still on an NFL roster in 2011.
 
That’s a pretty bleak success rate. When you consider that a kicker has to be viewed as the absolute best of the best in college to be drafted at all, the fact that over 50 percent of them fail miserably is not exactly a ringing endorsement for spending a pick on a kicker.
 
And that’s essentially what it comes down to. The Vikings need players all over the field, and passing up the opportunity to draft a developmental player at any number of positions in favor of selecting a kicker that is more likely to fizzle than make any kind of meaningful impact wasn’t the wisest use of their assets. 
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is also a contributing writer at Vikings.com and a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
Follow Christian on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

VikesCentric: Two holes plugged within three hours

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 27, 2012 - 11:00 AM

The Minnesota Vikings filled two of the most glaring holes in their starting lineup within a span of three hours Thursday night, selecting USC left tackle Matt Kalil and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with a pair of first-round selections.

 
It was a crazy and entertaining evening for die-hard NFL fans, and it went by quickly despite the eight draft day trades and slower-than-necessary start.
 
And by slower-than-necessary start I mean: why wasn't Andrew Luck already standing on the stage as Commissioner Roger Goodell opened the draft? Everyone knew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the first two picks, so why waste everyone's time? Why wait for Luck to take a call on his 2004 flip phone and talk to what could only have been every member of the Colts' front office?
 
Unnecessary.
 
Put him next to the commish, let them exchange a bear hug, give him a hat and jersey, snap a few thousand photos and move on. The action-packed first round could have come in under three hours had the parties involved not felt the need to milk the moment. But milking the moment year-round is one of the things the NFL does best. Fans just can't get enough of it and the NFL knows it.
 
Nevertheless, Vikings' fans had to appreciate every moment of last night's three-hour tour since their team came away with one of the best hauls.
 
A shrewd pre-draft trade by general manager Rick Spielman sent the Vikings' third overall pick to the Cleveland Browns for their fourth overall pick plus their selections in the fourth (118th pick), fifth (139th pick) and seventh (211th pick) rounds. The result: the Vikes got the left tackle they would have taken at three plus an additional three assets for Day 3 of the proceedings, bringing their total number of picks to 13 in the seven rounds.
 
Trading back up to grab Smith – a smart, versatile defender that looks like the future quarterback of this secondary -- with the 29th overall pick sealed the deal on what has the look of the most successful Vikings' first round since Adrian Peterson fell into their laps in 2007.
 
Well played, Mr. Spielman.
 
The Vikings' braintrust is receiving universal praise for their craftiness and quality selections on Thursday, and I suspect Spielman isn't done wheeling and dealing.
 
Of course grading any team immediately following the draft – much less following one round of the draft – is silly. Yes, the Vikings have to like what happened Thursday and they are in position to fill even more holes in their roster over the course of the next six rounds, but let's wait two or three years before we hand out grades.
 
All of these first-round picks are destined to be Pro Bowlers in the eyes of those who drafted them and their adoring fans, but if history is any indicator only a third of them will be.
 
I did some digging for SportsData last week and found that over the past decade, 319 players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (the Patriots didn't have a pick in 2008 because of "SpyGate") and only 98 of them (31 percent) have made even one Pro Bowl. Just 55 (17 percent) have made multiple Pro Bowls.
 
What did the numbers say about players selected at Kalil and Smith's positions? Just eight of the 39 offensive tackles selected in the last 10 first rounds of the NFL Draft have been to a Pro Bowl while nine of the 16 safeties picked in the last 10 first rounds have made the trip to Honolulu.
 
Notwithstanding the fact that the NFL may soon do the wise thing and eliminate future Pro Bowls, there is no guarantee the Vikings' two "can't-miss" picks will turn out to be Pro-Bowl caliber players.
 
For now, at least they look like two new starters, and that's good news for Vikings fans because there were a lot of holes that needed filling on this team.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President 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: Do the Vikings have the assets to get back into Round 2?

Posted by: Updated: April 27, 2012 - 9:43 AM
After trading back into the late first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith on Thursdy night, the Vikings no longer own a second round pick. That could make tonight's NFL Draft action relatively boring for fans of the Purple, unless the team can find a way to move back into the second round. Here's a look at whether they have enough assets to make that happen if they see a player they covet.
 
The Vikings still own 10 remaining picks, as follows: Round 3, pick 3  [66th overall - i.e. 3.3 (66)], 4.23 (118), 4.33 (128), 4.39 (134), 5.3 (138), 5.4 (139), 6.5 (175), 7.3 (210), 7.4 (211), 7.16 (223). Picks 128 and 134 cannot be traded because they were compensatory picks awarded to the Vikings by the NFL.
 
Using last year's draft as a guide, it's going to be tough for the Vikings to get too far up in Round 2 without their own No. 2 as a bargaining chip. 
 
In 2011, the 49ers acquired the 36th overall pick from the Broncos, and it cost them a lot; three picks, including the 45th overall pick, a fourth-rounder, and a fifth-rounder. Later in Round 2, it cost the Colts a fifth-rounder and their own second-rounder just to move up four spots in the middle of Round 2. Perhaps the most realistic example involved the Patriots, who traded their own 2nd-rounder (No. 60 overall) to the Texans for Houston's early third and fourth-round selections.
 
So, without their own second-round pick to barter with, it looks unlikely that the Vikings will be able to get into the early portion of the second round (unless they're willing to talk about trading future second- or third-round picks). However, with their own early third and fourth-round picks, it's feasible that they could move into the latter half of the round if a player they want is still available.
 
And if they do, look for the Patriots to be involved. After uncharacteristically moving up two different times in the first round on Thursday night, the Pats have only two picks left in the entire draft, and both are second-rounders (2-16 and 2-30). The Patriots have made an art form out of trading down and stockpiling picks, so it wouldn't be surprising at all if Bill Belichick is looking to trade at least one of his two second-rounders in exchange for multiple picks later in the draft. It won't be cheap, though. As mentioned above, the Pats squeezed early picks in rounds three and four from the Texans for the 30th pick in the second round. The Vikings could conceivably make a similar deal for New England's 2-30 pick with their own 3.3 pick and perhaps 4.23 and a sixth or seventh-rounder, but getting all the way up into the middle of the second round might not be an attainable goal.
 
On a side note, for years NFL general managers used a trade value chart that assigned a value to each pick in the draft, and made trading picks a matter of pure mathematics. The trade value chart was based on the old, pre-lockout NFL economic environment. After last year's collective bargaining agreement implemented a rookie wage scale for each pick in the draft, the value chart is essentially obsolete. For the sake of argument, though, if we use the old value chart to analyze the potential of trading into Round 2, New England's 2.16 pick was worth 420 points, while the Vikings' 3.3 pick is worth only 255, with their own fourth, fifth, and sixth-round picks being worth a combined total of just 122 points. That essentially means that even if the Vikes were willing to trade all of their remaining tradable draft picks, they still wouldn't have enough "value" to get to the middle of Round 2.
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is also a contributing writer at Vikings.com and a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
Follow Christian on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

Trading down would be ideal

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 26, 2012 - 9:15 AM

As company spokesmen, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have done a nice job of drumming up interest among possible suitors for the third overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. By publicly declaring the Vikings' interest in left tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon – three top talents at positions of Vikings need – they have turned up the heat on trade talks.

 
At a minimum, their pitch is plausible.
 
It's not like they've announced serious interest in Trent Richardson, this year's top running back on the board. Nobody would believe that of a team that currently has the NFL's highest-paid running back on their roster, regardless of the surgically-repaired ACL in Adrian Peterson's knee.
 
Despite the purple smokescreen what's clear is that the Vikings' primary goal is to trade down rather than choose between Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon. They've said repeatedly that the pick is available and it makes sense for them to move back. By doing so, they could acquire more draft picks, and still net a very good player in round one. In fact they might still get Kalil if they don't trade down too far.
 
The Vikings' interest in Blackmon feels the most like a smokescreen. Blackmon has the ability to be a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but he's not in the same class as recent elite prospects such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. The third overall pick is a little too high for him. It's one thing to reach a little for a player in the third or fourth round. You can't do that with the No. 3 overall pick.
 
As local NFL Draft guru Shawn Zobel points out in his 2012 Draft Preview, this draft class is loaded with wide receivers that can be had in latter rounds. "With 40+ [wide receivers] that could make valid arguments as to why they should be drafted, it's hard not to wonder if it'd also be smart to wait on a receiver this year," Zobel points out. "And when you consider that there will be potentially second-to-third round value in the fourth-or-fifth round this year, I'd expect some teams to hesitate when considering drafting a wideout early."
 
With all that receiver help available, the Vikings could easily grab a pretty good one in the second, third, or fourth round.
 
At No. 3, talent is clearly still the most important factor. The old adage of taking the "best player available" may be trite, but it's smart. That said, basing draft day decisions purely on talent could lead a team with the third pick to take the aforementioned Richardson – a running back whom many are calling the most complete back to come out of college since Peterson in 2007.
 
That's why the best player available approach has to be mixed with at least some consideration of need and position scarcity – how deep the talent pool is at a given position. The Vikings don't need Richardson at all – or at least not nearly as much as they need a left tackle, shut-down corner, or wide receiver… or linebacker or safety for that matter.
 
If the Vikings are unable to find a suitable dance partner in round one, they will have to stay put. That's not a bad thing. They'd still have their choice of Kalil and Claiborne at that point: two players who meet both the criteria of elite value and desperate need. Neither would be a reach.
 
Of the two, Kalil is the more attractive based on position scarcity. This is shaping up to be a very good draft for cornerbacks and not so deep for tackles. Thus, the Vikings could still nab a good corner later in the draft if they miss out on Claiborne in round one.
 
The market for the Vikings' pick has heated up. The Buffalo Bills are reportedly inquiring about moving up from No. 10 to get Kalil and the New York Jets really want to move up from 16 to get Richardson. The Buccaneers at No. 5 really like Richardson and Claiborne. When the clock starts ticking down, my guess is the Vikes will find a way to trade back and collect more picks to help fill their long list of needs.
 
Prediction: if they stay put at No. 3, Claiborne will be wearing purple. If they trade back, Claiborne will be snapped up ahead of them and the Vikings will try to land Kalili or the draft's other top left tackle, Riley Reiff. With the extra picks, they should still have enough assets left to go get a quality wide receiver and cornerback in the second and third rounds on Friday.
 
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

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