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.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on Tuesday that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the most NFL ready quarterback in the draft, ahead of Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCF’s Blake Bortles.
He thinks Bridgewater, Manziel and Bortles are locks as the top three quarterbacks, but he likes that Bridgewater’s offense at Louisville had him under center, in the pistol and shotgun while incorporating three-step and five-step drops. He said Bridgewater reads more than just half the field and not as big of a “wild card” like Manziel.
Mayock still likes Manziel, though he’s different from any quarterback he’s evaluated before, and compared him to Vikings Hall of Fame quarterback Fan Tarkenton and Doug Flutie. He was impressed watching Manziel on tape against Alabama but felt he got frustrated in the pocket against LSU and Missouri.
“The more he was in the pocket, the more frustrated he got. He started to lose his accuracy, he started trying to escape the pocket way before he needed to, and I feel like he doesn’t like being confined. He likes those open spaces. We’ve got to evaluate him a little differently because of that.”
Mayock said the NFL will catch on to this quickly, but he does believe in Manizel’s arm-strength, athletic ability and passion for the game.
“I believe in the kid,” Mayock said. “I think he’s going to be a top-10, if not top-five pick, but you’re going to have to live with some of those negative plays in addition to the positive ones.”
Mayock isn’t sold on Bortles’ arm strength and wants to see him throw at the NFL Combine this week. Bortles announced on Twitter that he will throw.
Dreamt about the combine since I was a kid! Fired up to compete in all aspects of it, especially throwing!— Blake Bortles (@BBortles5) February 18, 2014
He’s not ready to say that Bortles or Bridgewater are All-Pro quarterbacks, but he thinks both will be really good.
Outside of his top-three quarterbacks, he thinks Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr is a late first round pick and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could go in the second or third rounds with LSU quarterbackZach Mettenberger as a Day 3 quarterback. Mayock didn’t think Mettenberger was a first or second round pick before tearing his ACL because he stares downs receivers and gets rid of the ball late. He said Metternberger has a lot to learn and won’t be an immediate starter, but Mayock likes his size and arm strength.
If one of the top three quarterbacks aren’t on the board when the Vikings are on the clock with the eighth overall pick, Mayock said this is the deepest and probably best draft class in the last 10 years.
Other notes from Mayock’s media conference call:
* Buffalo Linebacker Khalil Mack is a top-five pick in Mayock’s eyes. He thinks he’s the best edge rusher in the draft behind South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He thinks Mack runs like a safety as well and can even cover tight ends.
*Mayock thinks Clowney has the physical makeup to be the best player in the draft, with even a greater upside than defensive end Mario Williams entering the 2006 NFL Draft, but he’s uncertain about Clowney mentally.
“How important is it to him when he gets a big paycheck to become the best player in football or is he just going to be happy to become a millionaire?” Mayock said.
*Mayock thinks Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert can step in on Day 1 as starters. He thinks there are starting corners in the draft in the third and fourth rounds as well.
* Mayock said Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam is a “tweener” prospect with the size of a linebacker and the skill set of a defensive end. He thinks Sam will be a third-to-fifth round pick.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said quarterback Christian Ponder “will be here” next season but the team still plans to address the need at quarterback in the offseason.
Ponder will enter the final year of his rookie deal and expected to make $3.2 million in base salary and bonuses. All of that money is dead money however, meaning it would still count against the cap if the Vikings opted to cut Ponder.
"Christian will be here; I don’t anticipate anything -- him not being here," Spielman said on Friday.
The 12th pick in the 2011 NFL Draft hasn’t solved the Vikings’ problem at quarterback over the last three seasons. He played just nine games last year and threw for a career-low 1,648 yards after playing all 16 games in 2012.
Spielman said he’s interested to see when Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner get a chance to work with him.
“We’re not closing the door on anything and any player here,” Spielman said. “We’ve been through on personnel and our coaches and it’s a lot different when they’ve looked at our players and how they can utilize them this way or that way. I’m anxious to see when they get out there and get on the field with these guys that they’ll get a true sense of what they’re strengths and weaknesses are and how they can utilize it within their systems.”
Spielman hasn’t closed the door on bringing quarterback Matt Cassel back either, but he said the organization will bring in two quarterbacks in during the offseason. With a younger quarterback in the draft a sure lock at this point based on what Spielman and Norv Turner have said over the last two weeks, Spielman hinted he’d be open to bringing a veteran to “mentor” whoever the organization selects.
Other notes from Spielman’s 50-minute interview:
*Spielman said defensive end Michael Sam’s decision to openly announce he’s gay will not impact his draft stock with the organization. He said it’s wrong if a team does change its status on Sam because of his announcement and plans to judge him purely on football.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is the center of an independent review regarding claims from former punter Chris Kluwe of anti-gay remarks.
“I know that we will make sure that our culture is created where he could fit in to our locker room,” said Spielman on if the Vikings select Sam in the draft.”
* The Vikings completed their staff by hiring head strength and conditioning coach Evan Marcus and assistant strength and conditioning coach Jeff Hurd on Friday. Marcus has 22 years of coaching experience and spent the last three seasons as the University of Virginia's Director of Football Training and Player Development. This will be Hurd's 29th year coaching and was the strength and conditioning coach during Turner's tenure as the Chargers head coach from 2007-2012.
We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.
Position: Wide receivers/Tight ends
On the roster: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Kyle Rudolph, Greg Childs, Kamar Jorden, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, Chase Ford
Free agents: Jerome Simpson, Joe Webb
Outside of the quarterback position, Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner has some good pieces to play with on offense. We looked at running backs on Wednesday, and Turner has the power ground game in place with running back Adrian Peterson. He also has the deep passing threat with some of the wide receivers and tight ends on the roster.
The Vikings finished 23rd in pass offense last year, averaging 214.2 yards. They didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, which was more a reflection on the inconsistency at the quarterback position. Greg Jennings led the unit with 68 receptions, 804 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson also had four receiving touchdowns to go along with three rushing and two on kickoff returns. He was eased into the game plan and proved to be just as dynamic in the final month of the season and former Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. Patterson could be in line for a monster sophomore season with Turner as his offensive coordinator given how Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon led the league last year in receiving yards with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer as his quarterbacks.
Jerome Simpson was second on the team with 726 receiving yards, but he will be a free agent this offseason. He started his career with the Bengals in 2008, the same year Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer joined as a defensive coordinator. There’s some familiarity there, but Simpson, 28, has signed a one-year deal in consecutive seasons now with the Vikings. He said during the season he wanted to show that was worth a multi-year contract. Simpson also pleaded guilty to a third-degree DWI and careless driving charges to a Nov. 9 arrest but avoided jail time.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he hasn’t heard from tight end John Carlson on whether he’s made a decision to return. Carlson said retirement could be an option this offseason with the amount of concussion he’s suffered during his career.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph suffered a broken foot he suffered nine weeks into the season. Rudolph, Jennings and Patterson will be a nice trio of weapons for the next Vikings’ quarterback. That doesn’t even include wide receiver Jarius Wright and tight end Chase Ford. Both had a few solid performances last year (Wright blew right by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman on a double move for his first touchdown catch last year) and mentioned by Spielman and some of the young talented players on the roster that Zimmer will inherit.
We'll take a daily look at where the Vikings' roster stands at the moment position-by-position leading up to our NFL Combine coverage next week.
On the roster: Christian Ponder
Free agents: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman
We start this series with the biggest need on the team. The Vikings shuffled through three quarterbacks, including one they acquired in October (Freeman), and finished 23rd in pass offense averaging 214.2 yards a game. The offense as a whole averaged four more total yards per game (344.3) than the Broncos’ record breaking pass offense (340.3).
Cassel exercised his right to opt out and become a free agent last week, which leaves Ponder as the only quarterback on the roster. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, general manager Rick Spielman and offensive coordinator Norv Turner all have said they’re open to the possibility of bringing Cassel back.
Ponder will enter the final year of his rookie deal next season. Even as inconsistent as he’s been during his career, it might be wise for the Vikings to keep Ponder. Cassel should draw interest from a few teams given the weak crop of free agent quarterbacks and the number of teams that need a quarterback this offseason. Not every quarterback in the draft will be ready to start in Week 1, which is where Cassel, Ponder and even Freeman can serve as temporary quarterbacks. All have plenty of experience as starters but likely won’t be considered as long-term solutions at the position.
Plus if the franchise did get rid of Ponder, the move wouldn’t create cap space. He’s on the books for $3.2 million next season and all of it is dead money, meaning it would count against the cap regardless.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has already said the team feels it needs a young quarterback in the offseason. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said he’s seen 10 quarterbacks, in person and on tape, so far but expects to lean on Turner’s expertise. With Turner’s experience as an offensive coordinator and a head coach, it’s a good thing to have him in the room to assess quarterbacks in an important offseason for the franchise.
The Vikings haven't announced their new coaching staff, but Scott Turner, son of new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, will be the quarterbacks coach.
Scott Turner has been meeting with quarterbacks here at the Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Ala., as the Vikings explore options for the May draft.
Former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is headed to Philadelphia to be the Eagles quarterbacks coach under Chip Kelly, it was reported by Fox Sports' Alex Marvez. The Eagles lost their quarterbacks coach, Bill Lazor, who is the new OC for the Dolphins.
The Vikings quarterbacks coach last season was Craig Johnson. The only change the Vikings have acknowledged on their web site in the coaching roster was Zimmer replacing Leslie Frazier as head coach.
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd both met with Scott Turner, they said. Both Thomas and Boyd said the interviews went well. Thomas said his session lasted about 15-20 minutes, but new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer wasn’t present. Thomas impressed scouts at the weigh-in on Monday checking in at 6’5, 250 pounds.
Thomas, Boyd and Miami quarterback Stephen Morris all struggled during the North’s practice on Tuesday dealing with high winds.
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