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: 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

VikesCentric: Reel for Kalil

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 29, 2011 - 2:05 PM
With their beloved team sitting at 1-6, most Vikings fans have already begun looking ahead with an eye toward re-tooling the roster in the offseason, specifically via next year's draft. That's why Vikings fans should be sure to tune in tonight for the nationally-televised college football game between the Stanford Cardinal and USC Trojans – but not for the reason you might think.
 
No, this has nothing to do with the "Suck for Luck" campaign, which is currently all the rage in the markets with the worst NFL teams. I don't think the Vikings are going to suck badly enough to land the No. 1 pick (i.e. Stanford's once-in-a-generation quarterback Andrew Luck) with such horrible teams as the Dolphins, Colts, and Rams currently ahead of them in line.
 
While you can certainly feel free to enjoy watching Luck play quarterback tonight (ABC at 7 p.m. CT), the player Vikings fans should be scouting instead is USC left tackle Matt Kalil.
 
Yeah, I know, scouting an offensive lineman isn't nearly as sexy as scouting a quarterback, but I'm trying to be both realistic and optimistic on behalf of Vikings fans. The Vikes will still have to be pretty bad to have a chance of drafting Kalil because by all accounts he is the best offensive line prospect in this year's draft. And it's not particularly close.
 
The name should sound familiar. His older brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the team the Vikings will play Sunday, the Carolina Panthers. Ryan was a second-round pick of the Panthers in 2007 and has been to the Pro Bowl twice since then. He currently snaps the ball to Cam Newton, who was the top overall pick in this past spring's draft.
 
And while I fully expect Luck to be a better quarterback than Newton (yes, he's that good), those in the know fully expect younger brother Matt to be better than big brother Ryan. That's saying a lot.
 
Indeed, Matt Kalil will be a highly-coveted pick in the draft next spring according to nationally-recognized NFL Draft expert Shawn Zobel, who I spoke with today before sitting down to pound out this blog entry.  On Shawn's web site, DraftHeadquarters.com, he calls Kalil a "top-five overall prospect."
 
I asked Shawn for more details, and here's what he told me:
 
"Kalil is as polished of an offensive tackle prospect as we've seen enter the draft in the past five years. He's on the level of where Jake Long and Joe Thomas were when they were coming out of Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively. Kalil offers a terrific combination of size, strength, and athleticism for an offensive lineman. He projects as a franchise left tackle capable of protecting the blind side of his quarterback for the next 10-15 years."
 
Does that sound like someone the Vikings and their fans might have some interest in? I know Christian Ponder's answer.
 
In order to turn their ship around, the Vikings are going to need at least three of the four basic building blocks of most successful NFL teams. Most importantly, they need a very good quarterback… which they hope they will eventually have in Ponder. I'm not breaking any news in suggesting the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
 
Secondly, they need an end or outside linebacker to pressure the quarterback, which they clearly have in NFL sack leader Jared Allen. Another basic building block is a very good cover corner or even shut-down corner (of whom there are very few in the world -- none on the Vikings' current roster).
 
And lastly they need a stalwart, lights-out left tackle to protect that quarterback. That's Kalil.
 
Drafting Kalil would absolutely give the Vikings a building block. It would lock down one of the five most important positions on their team for the next decade.
 
So forget about "sucking for Luck," Vikings fans. If your team wins only a few more games this season they will be in pretty good position to add Kalil to their team in the draft. He's the guy Vikings fans should be eyeballing. He's the player Vikings fans should be campaigning for. Should we call it the "Reel for Kalil" or the "Keel for Kalil" campaign? I'm not sure which I like better, so I'll as VikesCentric nation to chime in below with the slogan they like best.
 
Share your comments below. "Keel for Kalil" or "Reel for Kalil"? Or something else I'm not clever enough to have thought of?
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: The woeful secondary

Posted by: Updated: October 25, 2011 - 3:40 PM

There is absolutely no guarantee that Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield would have made a lick of difference against the shockingly efficient Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the absence of the Vikings’ top two defensive backs exposed just how painfully weak the Vikings’ secondary really is.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin is a mere shell of the player he was prior to blowing out his knee (the first time) in the 2009 NFC Championship game. He’s lost at least one step per ACL surgery (two in total), appears to be completely devoid of confidence, and should no longer be considered a starting-caliber player. Problem is, the Vikings don’t have anybody better.

I can’t think of (or find evidence of) anything that Asher Allen does that’s better than your average street free agent. Safety Husain Abdullah has been the culprit on two separate back-breaking touchdown bombs in the last two weeks alone. The other Week 7 starting safety, Tyrell Johnson, was, until Sunday, playing behind a former seventh-round draft pick who isn’t very good either (Jamarca Sanford).

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the porous secondary is that the Vikings have attempted to address the situation via the NFL Draft repeatedly. They just haven’t done a very good job.

Dating back to 2006 (Griffin in Round 2), the Vikings have burned five picks within the first three rounds on defensive backs.

Tough to blame anything but bad luck on Griffin, who was developing into both a sound tackler and an excellent cover corner just before the fateful overtime kickoff in the 2009 title game on which he blew out his knee for the first time.

But after that, it gets ugly. Third-rounder Marcus McCauley (2007) started nine games in his rookie season before being benched and then released after the 2008 season, then playing in one game for the Lions in 2009 before his brief career came to a merciful end.

In 2008, Tyrell Johnson was chosen in Round 2. Johnson started seven games in his rookie season and 15 games in 2009 before being benched in favor of mega-bust Madieu Williams and the undrafted Abdullah in 2010 and losing a training camp battle to Sanford this year. For the record, Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades Abdullah as the 74th-“best” safety in the NFL (out of 90 that have earned a grade by PFF’s game charters) this year in terms of pass coverage. Sanford (82nd) and Johnson (85th) are even worse.

Allen, a third-rounder in 2009, was burned repeatedly when forced into action in the place of an incarcerated Cook on Sunday. According to PFF, Rodgers threw Allen’s way 10 times, completing nine of them for 108 yards. Of the 98 cornerbacks that have been ranked by PFF this season, only five have graded out worse than Allen in pass coverage.

Which brings us to Cook, the 2010 second-rounder (after trading out of Round 1) who has garnered attention far more for his off-the-field antics than anything he’s done on it. In fairness to Cook, he’s actually been playing very well this season. He’s been used to shadow elite receivers from Vincent Jackson to Calvin Johnson and held up remarkably well. According to Pro Football Focus, Cook has allowed 60% of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, but he’s done a very good job limiting the damage to just 187 total yards and one touchdown in just over four games.

Then again, judging character is just as important as judging skill, and the early returns indicate that the team may not be able to depend on Cook, no matter how well he plays when he's in uniform, in the short or long-term.

The absence of Winfield really can’t be overstated here. He’s been PFF’s No. 1-ranked cornerback twice in the last four years (and hasn’t dropped out of the top 12 in the same span), and despite getting older and becoming increasingly injury-prone, the secondary is completely different when he’s not on the field.

With a healthy Winfield and an unjailed Cook, things wouldn’t look quite so dire, but the safety situation is nothing short of disastrous, and both the unbearable lack of talent at safety and the lack of depth at cornerback is directly traceable to the inability of the front office to land NFL-caliber starters in the draft, despite using high picks in an attempt to do so.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com, the 2011 Maple Street Press Vikings Annual, and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

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