Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.
Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.
Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.
With the 2014 NFL draft a month away to the day, now seems like a good time to check in to see whom the growing number of NFL draft analysts have the Vikings picking in their latest first-round mock drafts.
Sneak preview: Their need for a long-term solution at quarterback is a reoccurring theme.
While a few notable draft analysts project that the Vikings, who need a major turnaround on defense, will address the defensive side of the ball with the eighth overall pick, the consensus is that the Vikings will select a quarterback in the first round for the second time in four years.
One quarterback in particular is being linked to the Vikings a lot.
Dan Kadar, SB Nation: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. “Although media reports may disagree, choosing Bridgewater with this pick wouldn't be a reach,” Kadar wrote. “In fact, he's our top-rated quarterback. In a sense, this would be the anti-Christian Ponder choice. Instead of reaching for a quarterback, the Vikings could sit at eight and get the best one available.”
Dan Brugler, CBS Sports: Bridgewater. “The Vikings have been linked to Bridgewater in recent weeks and if he's still on the board with this pick, could they really pass on him? I don't see how and they shouldn't,” he wrote.
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. “At face value, Johnny Manziel and Mike Zimmer may seem like an odd couple -- but sometimes those situations work out the best,” Miller wrote. “His style of play may not be prototypical, but you can certainly appreciate his skill set and the ways in which he makes a defense uncomfortable. No one will understand that better than Zimmer given his background as a defensive coordinator.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. “If I were to rank the two or three likeliest teams to trade out of their first-round pick, the Vikings would be right in the mix,” McShay wrote. “But if they stay put, I think the Vikings take the best player available, either offensive tackle Jake Matthews or cornerback Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State. I'll go with Gilbert, the top corner prospect on our board who has excellent speed, size and playmaking ability.”
Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. “The re-signing of Matt Cassel gives Rick Spielman plenty of options on draft day,” Brooks wrote. “He could replace Kevin Williams with a Geno Atkins-clone who is an ideal fit in Mike Zimmer's aggressive scheme.”
Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “The Vikings still have Christian Ponder under contract, and they re-signed Matt Cassel. But Zimmer will still have a problem if he expects either of those guys to lift the Vikings out of the cellar in a very tough NFC North division," he wrote. "Bridgewater was maligned by many after a less than impressive pro day, but he has a lot of skills, he sees the field well, and though his ceiling may not be as high as Manziel’s or [UCF quarterback Blake] Bortles’, that may appeal to Zimmer, who wants a quarterback he doesn’t have to worry about.”
Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. “With Jared Allen gone, the Vikings are in desperate need of a defensive playmaker,” Farmer wrote. “Barr fills the bill.”
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. “The Vikings won't take just any quarterback at this spot in the draft for Norv Turner's offense,” he wrote. “If Carr is available he makes the most sense. Minnesota may have to jump over Oakland to get him.”
Matt Smith, NFL.com: Bridgewater. “They have a Pro Bowl left tackle in Matt Kalil, a Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson and two solid receivers,” he wrote. “The need is a quarterback who is able to navigate all of those tools as efficiently as possible.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “His so-so pro day performance didn't help his cause one bit, and we're now down to debating whether he should be throwing with or without a glove,” Banks wrote. “That's the way the pre-draft fault-finding process works, especially for first-round quarterbacks. But the Vikings might represent a pretty soft landing for Bridgewater, who wouldn't have to be rushed onto the field with veteran Matt Cassel re-signed and ready to handle the starting job this season.”
The Vikings have agreed to terms with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to a three-year deal and re-signed defensive tackle Fred Evans on a one-year deal, according to two NFL sources. The team will also sign cornerback Derek Cox to a one-year deal, according to another NFL source.
Munnerlyn will receive up to $15 million with $7 million guaranteed. He arrived on Wednesday night and was expected to meet with the Bucs and Jets if the two sides couldn’t reach a deal on Thursday.
"I had other visits set up but the number that Minnesota offered me was the number I was looking for," Munnerlyn said on a conference call Thursday. "I was like, 'Man, instead of leaving this offer out there I'm just going to take this. I think this team is on the up. They got a lot of talent."
Munnerlyn, 25, spent all five NFL seasons in Carolina. Listed at 5-9, 195-pounds, Munnerlyn returned five of his seven career interceptions for touchdowns. Munnerlyn had career highs in tackles (74), sacks (3 ½) and tied a career high in pass deflections (12) last season.
He said head coach Mike Zimmer's scheme sold him to sign to Minnesota.
"It's the defensive side -- I wanted to be comfortable," Munnerlyn said. "I think it's the same defense we run in Carolina, the same style and the same scheme. They broke down a couple things that I liked, and I was like, 'Man, this is just like Carolina.'
The Vikings wanted a four-year deal, but Munnerlyn signed a three-year deal so he could recieve his third contract before turning 30.
Munnerlyn expects to start and shift to nickel when called. He said he's had a similar role over the last three years with the Panthers.
"I'm kind of used to doing it, and I kind of like it," Munnerlyn said. "At first I didn't see how those guys covered guys in the slot. I was like, 'Man, it's very tough.' But it takes patience and time to get it, and I think I've got it down."
Munnerlyn, a seventh-round pick, said he's always had to prove people wrong about his height and whether he could play outside corner. He said when he first got into the league one of his Panthers' coaches showed him footage of former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield. Munnerlyn said he's since attempted to emulate Winfield's play on the field.
"I started watching film on him, and I kind of stole some of his game and brought it into my game," Munnerlyn said. "I don't hit as hard as he do. He can really bring it when he tackles, but I try and make the tackles when they come at me and make plays just like him."
Cox, 27, is listed at 6-1 and 195 pounds. He spent last season with the Chargers but was cut this month after signing a four-year, $20 million deal last year. Cox, who was a third round pick by the Jaguars in the 2009, appeared in all 16 games last season and recorded one interception and 34 total tackles. Cox has 13 career interceptions.
The Vikings now have eight corners on the roster with Munnerlyn and Cox. They already have Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Marcus Sherels, Robert Steeples, Shaun Prater and Kip Edwards under contract at the moment.
The signings also means that Chris Cook, who is an unrestricted free agent, likely won’t return to the Vikings. He’s visiting with the 49ers at the moment, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Cook, the Vikings’ second round pick in 2010, didn’t record an interception in four seasons. He’s dealt with a number of injuries throughout his career and missed a career-low four games last season. Cook was also inconsistent when he was on the field despite his size, 6-2 and 212 pounds, and athleticism to play cornerback.
Evans' signing shouldn't impact whether the Vikings continue to pursue unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is visiting with the team at Winter Park at the moment.
Evans' signing will help add depth at the position. The Vikings only had four defensive tackles, including Linval Joseph, under contract before Evans re-signed.
The Vikings have been active in free agency establishing their defensive line. Evans will be the third addition on the defensive line along with Griffen and Joseph.
If the Vikings strike a deal with Melton during his visit, the team would be two-deep at defensive tackle and signal the end of Kevin Williams' tenure. He's spent all 11 seasons with the Vikings since he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2003.
Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is a self-proclaimed “fixer.” He’ll accept every challenge to work his magic and fix a player, even unrestricted free agent cornerback Chris Cook.
Zimmer and Cook spoke on Monday, according to Cook’s Twitter account where he Cook said Zimmer “told me like it is.”
If it's in the cards I look forward to having him at the helm— Chris Cook (@Cook_Isle) March 4, 2014
When asked about his impression of Cook from the meeting, Zimmer said, “I don’t know. My impression is that he probably shouldn’t be tweeting our conversations.”
Zimmer doesn’t know how to tweet, but he’d like to keep those conversations private. But “The Fixer” does think Cook has potential despite an underwhelming four seasons with the Vikings.
“He’s a guy that has some ability that I’ve had some luck in the past with, getting guys to play good that have ability,” Zimmer said. “So if he comes back here then I’m going to coach him as hard as I can and see if I can get him to play good.”
Cook saw Zimmer's comments on Twitter and responded. Once again, Zimmer doesn't know how to tweet and only knew that Cook tweeted the two met on Monday.
So I guess I can't say that I had a conversation with a coach now.. Ok— Chris Cook (@Cook_Isle) March 6, 2014
Didn't even give any details and y'all take off and run with it like I gave a word for word break down ..— Chris Cook (@Cook_Isle) March 6, 2014
Other notes from Zimmer’s lunch and film session with the media on Thursday:
* The Vikings released wide receiver Greg Childs and defensive tackle Letroy Guion.
* Zimmer wants every Vikings free agent back, including quarterback Matt Cassel, defensive ends Jared Allen and Everson Griffen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams (all were asked), but he knows that won’t be the case.
“But there comes a point where money that they’re getting, or money that they’re asking or money that we’re willing to pay; there’s a line there somewhere,” Zimmer said. “If it crosses the line on that part or if it crosses the line on how much they’re willing play then we understand that it’s not going to happen. But we’d like to have them if it can work out.”
Zimmer said he’s not sure if it will happen but wants Cassel back. He’s recently expressed that to Cassel in a conversation.
“He’s got a bunch of pretty girls looking at him right now,” Zimmer said. “And he wants to explore and see what’s best for him. I don’t blame any of these guys. In free agency, I think that’s why they have the rules is that they get a chance to go see what their market’s worth. Then if they find a better situation than what they think is here then I think that’s everywhere.”
* Zimmer still hasn’t decided whether he will call defensive plays next season. He will use the first two preseason games to experiment with the situation.
“ I think on Sundays I do a pretty good job as far that kind of stuff. So I feel if it can help us best win games by me starting to do it then I will, but I haven’t made that decision totally yet.”
* The Vikings also announced their offseason schedule. Veteran mini-camp will be from April 28-May 1, rookie mini-camp from May 15-18 and mandatory mini-camp from June 17-19.
The morning after a 48-30 win over the Eagles, we take a look at the Vikings’ snap distribution on offense and defense.
Offense: 75 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 75 snaps (played 100% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – DNP
Cassel finished with the fourth most passing yards (382) among quarterbacks on Sunday and the only one in the top seven to win. He went 26 of 35 with two touchdowns and an interception, finishing with a 116.6 passer rating. The Eagles defense was ranked 29th in total defense entering the game, but it was the only team in the NFL that didn’t allow over 21 points since Week 5.
That streak is now history.
RB Matt Asiata – 65 (87%)
FB Jerome Felton – 28 (37%)
RB Joe Banyard – 5 (7%)
The average wasn’t pretty (1.7), but Asiata scored his first three career touchdowns in his first career start. Asiata became the first player in a first career start to rush for three or more touchdowns since former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper. He remarkably received 30 carries in the game for 51 yards.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE Rhett Ellison – 64 (85%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (67%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 42 (56%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 36 (48%)
TE Chase Ford – 35 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 23 (31%)
WR Joe Webb – 17 (23%)
Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown. He had 13 targets, more than double the receiver with the second most targets (Patterson had six). Cassel has made Jennings worth every dollar the Vikings paid him in the offseason.
C Joe Berger – 75 (100%)
G Charlie Johnson – 75 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 75 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 75 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 75 (100%)
T J’Marcus Webb – 7 (9%)
G Joe Baca – 3 (4%)
Berger filled in at guard for Brandon Fusco, and the offensive line did a good job protecting Cassel for most of the game. A good example was Cassel’s 57 yard touchdown to Jennings. The offensive line bought him enough time to hit Jennings in stride. Cassel was still sacked three times though.
Inactives: QB Josh Freeman, RB Adrian Peterson (foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), G Brandon Fusco (knee), TE John Carlson (concussion)
The Vikings scored 48 points without Peterson and Gerhart. That says enough about Cassel’s day.
Defense: 69 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 65 (94%)
DE Brian Robison – 58 (84%)
DE Everson Griffen – 42 (61%)
DT Kevin Williams – 37 (54%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 32 (46%)
NT Letroy Guion – 22 (32%)
NT Fred Evans – 20 (29%)
DT Chase Baker – DNP
Allen and Robison finished with two sacks each and seem to mirror each other in that category down the stretch. They combined for six of the team’s 10 quarterback hits. Williams also had two quarterback hits.
The most impressive aspect of Sunday’s game was how the defense limited Eagles running back LeSean McCoy to eight carries for 38 yards. To put that in perfective, Asiata had 22 more carries than the league’s leading rusher.
LB Chad Greenway – 69 (100%)
LB Audie Cole – 67 (97%)
LB Erin Henderson – 11 (16%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 1 (1%)
Henderson saw an increase in snaps, particularly short yardage downs, but the Vikings remained almost exclusively in the nickel. Cole led the unit with seven tackles and a quarterback hit. Greenway had five tackles.
CB Marcus Sherels – 69 (100%)
CB Shaun Prater – 69 (100%)
FS Harrison Smith – 61 (88%)
SS Robert Blanton – 59 (86%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 47 (68%)
FS Andrew Sendejo – 30 (43%)
CB Robert Steeples – DNP
Smith didn’t start the game but that’d be hard to tell based on the amount of snaps he received. He was rotating with Sendejo, but Smith took over at safety in the second half. He finished tied with a team-high eight tackles with Blanton.
The cornerbacks had a good day without three players although Eagles quarterback Nick Foles finished with 428 yards. Prater got his first career NFL start and an interception against his former team. Sherels finished fourth on the team with six tackles.
Inactives: CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), CB Chris Cook (knee)
The morning after the Vikings 23-20 overtime win over the Bears, we take a look at the snap distribution on offense and defense
Offense: 86 snaps
QB Matt Cassel – 61 snaps (played 71% on offense)
QB Christian Ponder – 25 (29%)
Ponder left the game due to concussion symptoms right before halftime, but the offense was more effective under Cassel, who’s responsible for all three wins this season.
Cassel went 20 of 33 for 243 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He finished with an 80.7 quarterback rating. Ponder was 3 of 8 for 40 yards.
RB Adrian Peterson – 78 (91%)
FB Jerome Felton – 38 (44%)
RB Toby Gerhart – 7 (8%)
It took the Vikings five possessions to take advantage of the Bears worst-ranked run defense in the NFL. But once they started, they relied heavily on the shoulders of Peterson, who had 35 carries for 211 yards (both season highs).
Peterson was healthy enough where the team didn’t use Gerhart as much compared to last week against the Packers where Peterson played 65 of the team’s 81 snaps (Gerhart spotted him on 14 plays).
Wide Receiver/Tight End
TE John Carlson – 78 (91%)
WR Greg Jennings – 50 (58%)
WR Cordarrelle Patterson – 48 (56%)
TE Rhett Ellison – 45 (52%)
WR Jerome Simpson – 40 (47%)
WR Jarius Wright – 31 (36%)
TE Chase Ford – 10 (12%)
WR Joe Webb – 5 (6%)
Something about Cassel brings out the best in Jennings. He caught his third touchdown this season, all thrown by Cassel, and led the team with seven receptions for 78 yards. Jennings had just one catch for two yards with Ponder. Carlson also had a solid game with four receptions for 61 yards.
Patterson started over Simpson for the third straight week and received a season-high 48 snaps. He’s had over 40 reps in three straight games, but the rookie finished with one catch for four yards. Patterson did, however, score on a 33-yard run in the second quarter
G Charlie Johnson – 86 (100%)
C John Sullivan – 86 (100%)
T Phil Loadholt – 86 (100%)
G Brandon Fusco – 86 (100%)
T Matt Kalil – 86 (100%)
As it’s been for most of the season, the starting unit played the entire game against the Bears. Cassel and Ponder were sacked a combined five times in the game (Bears defensive end Julius Peppers had 2.5 sacks), but the Vikings ran for 283 yards.
Defense: 66 snaps
DE Jared Allen – 58 (88%)
DE Brian Robison – 56 (85%)
DT Kevin Williams – 45 (68%)
DE Everson Griffen – 33 (50%)
NT Letroy Guion – 29 (44%)
NT Fred Evans – 22 (33%)
DT Sharrif Floyd – 21 (32%)
The front line had three of the team’s four sacks (Allen, Robison and Floyd) and hurried Bears quarterback Josh McCown six times.
Guion had five fewer snaps than he did in his return last week against the Packers (34). Evans, who had 17 reps last week, played more as a result.
LB Audie Cole – 66 (100%)
LB Chad Greenway – 64 (97%)
LB Marvin Mitchell – 20 (30%)
LB Larry Dean – 2 (3%)
Although he was suited up on the sideline, linebacker Erin Henderson did not play for a second consecutive game. He missed last week's game due a personal issue, which was revealed Henderson was arrested for an alleged DWI on Nov. 19.
Cole replaced Henderson last week in his first career start and has played the entire game in consecutive weeks. He had nine tackles and a pass deflection.
Greenway left the game during the overtime session due to a wrist injury he’s played through for over a month, but he only missed two plays. He tied for a team-high 10 tackles, three for loss, and a sack.
FS Andrew Sendejo – 66 (100%)
CB Xavier Rhodes – 66 (100%)
SS Jamarca Sanford – 66 (100%)
SS Robert Blanton – 45 (68%)
CB Chris Cook – 43 (65%)
CB Marcus Sherels – 24 (36%)
Rhodes put together another good game with six tackles, one for loss, and a nice pass deflection in the end zone against Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Cook was ejected for making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the third quarter. It left a thin unit to rely on Sherels, who typically plays a spot corner, to play opposite of Rhodes and Blanton as the nickel corner.
Jeffery broke the Bears’ franchise record with 249 receiving yards. He also had 12 receptions and two touchdowns, both against Cook.
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