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.
Nineteen NFL scouts were on hand at Gophers pro day on Monday. That doesn’t include the Vikings, who brought an army to watch prospects like Gophers defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen and Concordia defensive end Zach Moore. (Gophers beat writer Joe Christensen has more on how the prospects did at pro day on the Gophers blog.)
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator George Edwards were just some of the Vikings on hand along with a number of position coaches and scouts. They arrived right before players began position drills and helped with that portion of the event. They also received a tour of TCF Bank Stadium after Pro Day, where the Vikings will play for the next two seasons.
“I was kidding these coaches all that I know they can do right now is watch tape,” Spielman said. “I haven’t seen them coach yet, so they were all excited that they got an opportunity to get up here and get on the field a little bit.
“That tells you what coach Zimmer is about. We have to go through our process, but I can’t wait until we’re about to get out on the field because I know him and just to see our coaches out there working with the kids and working on technique and things like that. That’s what they’re here for.”
Hageman, Vereen and Moore only participated in the position drills since they participated in the rest of the activities at the NFL Combine last week, but Spielman said the team treats this Pro Day like a local workout. The Vikings have previously invited players that partcipated at Gophers Pro Day to rookie mini-camp and even training camp, including wide receiver Adam Thielen, who was in attendance on Monday.
“You never know what you’ll find, but there’s a lot of hidden talent up in these areas that you never know what you’re going to come across,” Spielman said.
Other notes from today:
*Spielman again said he doesn’t expect the Vikings to use their franchise tag. The deadline to apply the tag is at 3 p.m. CT.
Three players have been tagged so far: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and Jets kicker Nick Folk. Redskins reportedly will tag linebacker Brian Orakpo if they can’t reach a deal before the deadline.
*Spielman said the Vikings will make at least nine Pro Day trips in March. Here’s a few notable Pro Days to watch for this month:
March 5: Texas A&M, Wisconsin
March 6: Clemson, Missouri, Nebraska
March 7: Northern Illinois, Ohio State
March 11: Michigan State
March 12: Alabama, Oklahoma, USC,, Michigan
March 13: Oklahoma State, Oregon
March 15: Florida
March 18: Florida State
March 19: Baylor, Lidenwood, Virginia Tech
March 20: Notre Dame, Stanford
March 25: North Carolina
March 26: Texas
The Vikings made eight selections in the 2010 NFL Draft following a 12-4 season that ended a win away from a spot in Super Bowl XLIV. Only four of those players selected were on the roster last season and all will be free agents this season.
The team has since gone 24-39-1 with more coaching changes, two, than playoff games, one.
The Vikings didn’t operate with a general manager at the time but general manager Rick Spielman was Vice President of player personnel and handled the draft, but former head coach Brad Childress had final veto power on all personnel moves. Spielman didn't have the final say as he does now.
“Different philosophy back then,” Spielman said. “It was a different structure back then. Some haven’t panned and some have, but I think what we’ve done since then is go back and assess and analyze and I know exactly what went wrong with the ones that didn’t make it and what went right with ‘em. But we’ve used that as we’ve gone forward especially over the last two draft classes. Basically that’s my total responsibility now."
Well, a lot didn’t pan out. When asked about the philosophy in the draft, Spielman repeated, “I’ll just leave it at that it was a different philosophy.”
It’s a big reason why the Vikings have struggled to remain consistent and now have an emphasis to build through the draft. Here’s a look at who they picked and some notable players they missed in each round.
The Vikings traded their 30th overall selection to the Lions for a second (34th) and seventh (214th) pick. They also swapped fourth round selections.
The Lions drafted Cal running back Jahvid Best, who retired due to his concussion history.
Noteworthy players after selection: OT Rodger Saffold to the Rams (33rd overall pick; second round)
With the second pick in the second round acquired from Detroit, the Vikings selected Virginia cornerback Chris Cook. The team needed a cornerback and Cook had the size and athleticism listed at 6-2 and 212 pounds at the time, but he turned out to be a bust.
Cook hits free agency without an interception in four seasons with the Vikings. He missed the final 10 games in 2011 due to an ongoing domestic assault arrest that was he was later found not guilty. He was cleared on gun charges that same year prior to the arrest.
On the field, Cook couldn’t stay healthy. He played 12 games last season, a career-high, but he wasn’t productive. He was ejected in Week 13 against the Bears after making contact with an official after allowing a 46-yard touchdown catch to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who previously had an 80-touchdown against Cook and set the franchise record with 249 receiving yards.
Noteworthy players after selection: S T.J. Ward to the Browns (38th overall); TE Rob Gronkowski to the Patriots (42nd overall); LB Daryl Washington to the Cardinals (47th overall)
The Vikings traded up to the 51st overall pick, swapping second round picks with the Texans and giving their third round pick, to select Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.
He served as Adrian Peterson’s backup and had his most productive season when Peterson tore his ACL in 2011. Gerhart has a career-high 109 carries for 531 yards.
Both Cook and Gerhart are free agents this offseason and it doesn’t appear that either will return. Gerhart wasn’t a bust however and will draw some interest from other teams as a possible starting running back.
Noteworthy players after selection: DE Carlos Dunlap to the Bengals (54th overall); LB Sean Lee to the Cowboys (55th overall);
The Vikings didn’t have a third round pick due to the Gerhart trade.
Noteworthy players after selection: WR Brandon LaFell to the Panthers (78th overall); WR Eric Decker to the Broncos (87th overall); LB NaVorro Bowman to the 49ers (91st overall); TE Jimmy Graham to the Saints (95th overall)
After swapping fourth round selections with the Lions, the Vikings drafted USC defensive end Everson Griffen with the 100th overall selection.
He was considered to be a first round pick but there were questions about his effort and off the field issues. Following his rookie season, Griffen was arrested twice in three days for public intoxications and driving with an invalid driver’s license.
Griffen made just one start in four seasons behind defensive ends Brian Robison and Jared Allen. He’s so versatile that the Vikings used him at all four positions on the defensive line during his tenure.
Griffen and Gerhart were clearly the two best players the Vikings selected in the draft but both were primarily backups over the last four years. Though Griffen has expressed interest to return, the Vikings will have a difficult time bringing him back. There aren’t many good 4-3 defensive ends in the draft and free agency.
Noteworthy players after selection: CB Alterraun Verner to the Titans (104th overall); TE Aaron Hernandez to the Patriots (113th overall); TE Dennis Pitta to the Ravens (114th overall); DT Geno Atkins to the Bengals (120th overall): S Kam Chancellor to the Seahawks (133rd overall; fifth round); WR Riley Cooper to the Eagles (159th overall; fifth round)
With the 161st overall selection, the Vikings drafted Wake Forest offensive tackle Chris DeGeare. He was wavied and signed to the practice squad in 2011 and released right before the start of the 2012 season. He spent that season on the Titans’ practice squad.
DeGeare has signed a reserve/future contract with the Giants in January.
The Vikings also had a compensatory pick and selected Gophers linebacker Nathan Triplett with the 167th overall pick. He was cut in preseason and spent three seasons with four teams after the Vikings. He wasn’t signed with a team last season.
Noteworthy players after selection: DE Greg Hardy to the Panthers (175t5th overall; sixth round); RB James Starks to the Packers (193 overall; sixth round); WR Antonio Brown to the Steelers (195th overall; sixth round); WR Trindon Holliday to the Texans (197th overall; sixth round)
With the 199th overall pick, the Vikings selected UAB quarterback Joe Webb. The team got good value for Webb, who served as a wide receiver, running back, quarterback and special teams.
However, his tenure with the Vikings will be remembered for his performance in the franchise’s last playoff game. He was the starting quarterback in the 2012 NFC Wild Card matchup against the Packers due to a deep tricep bruise quarterback Christian Ponder suffered in the final regular season game against Green Bay.
Webb became the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a postseason game after not starting in the regular season. He went 11 of 30 for 180 yards with an interception and a fumble in the 24-10 loss.
Noteworthy players after selection: WR Marc Mariani to the Titans (222nd overall; seventh round); DE George Selvie to the Rams (226th overall; seventh round)
The Vikings selected Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler Jr. with the 214th overall pick and Rutgers linebacker Ryan D’Imperio with the 237th overall selection. Shuler Jr. was cut twice by the Vikings in 2010 and 2012. He spent last season on the Falcons practice squad.
D’Imperio switched from linebacker to fullback was cut in 2012 by the Vikings. He retired before the start of last season after signing with the Giants.
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.
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: Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Gerald Hodges, Simoni Lawrence, Michael Mauti
Free agents: Desmond Bishop, Marvin Mitchell, Larry Dean (restricted), Erin Henderson (released)
The Vikings have already made two roster moves at linebacker this offseason. They released Erin Henderson and signed former Gophers linebacker Simoni Lawrence, who spent the last two seasons in the CFL.
There’s some young talent on the roster that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and his son, linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, will inherit in Audie Cole, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.
Cole, who will turn 25 by the start of next season, started at middle linebacker when he replaced Henderson during the season before spraining his ankle. His recorded a sack during his rep as a starter on an A-gap blitz against the Packers and finished with 13 tackles. He matched that performance with 13 tackles against the Ravens two weeks later.
The seventh round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft at worst will be a serviceable special teams player and backup linebacker given his aggressive mentality. He’ll have a shot to earn a starting position in training camp either at middle or inside linebacker.
Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were used sparingly on defense and mainly on special teams, but the Penn State linebackers will also get a shot at a larger role next season. Mauti, 24, made it through his rookie season playing in 14 games after three torn ACL injuries in a five-year span at Penn State. If his knees can hold up, the seventh round pick in last year’s draft has always had the potential as a starting inside or middle linebacker.
Hodges, 23, played in 11 games during his rookie season. He was projected as an outside linebacker last year in the draft but was hardly used at the position with Chad Greenway on the roster.
Zimmer will get a chance to work with the young linebackers before the draft in May. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could be available when the franchise is on the clock with the eighth overall selection.
Greenway started all 16 games for a fifth consecutive season, but his play regressed last season playing through two broken bones in his wrist for most of the season. Greenway, 31, was graded 34th among 35 qualifying 4-3 outside linebackers by Pro Football Focus. Greenway is expected make a base salary of $6.4 million next season, which trails just running back Adrian Peterson on the roster. It might benefit the franchise to restructure his contract this offseason if it needs more cap space.
“He is as tough an hombre as there is for him to play linebacker with a broken wrist through a lot of the season,” Spielman said on Friday. “I know that is healed and healthy now. He would never make an excuse for that either.”
Vikings tight end John Carlson said he’s not done playing football and will continue his career next season despite his concussion history.
Carlson finished the season on injured reserve due to a concussion he suffered in Week 14 against the Ravens. It was his third concussion in six NFL seasons. He reportedly also suffered two more concussions at Notre Dame.
Carlson, who will turn 30 by the start of next season, has a yearly evaluation in the offseason with his wife and indicated in December that retirement might be an option, but not a foregone conclusion, when they discussed about his concussion history.
“I never once said I was going to retire; I said I’m going to evaluate this just like I do every year,” Carlson told the Star Tribune on Saturday. “I’ve gone through that process, and I feel great.”
Carlson said the evaluation gives him and his wife a plan for the offseason, including what doctors Carlson should visit and his training program, to prepare for the following season.
The Litchfield, Minn. native said he’s received good feedback from doctors he has seen. After tight end Kyle Rudolph broke his foot in Week 9, Carlson had 283 yards and a touchdown in five weeks as the starter before suffering the concussion. Carlson finished the season with 32 catches for 344 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a serious thing, but I’m not ready to be done,” Carson said. “I’m not done and the doctors are telling me that it’s OK that I’m not done.
“But the way it was kind of taken by other people was, ‘Oh he’s done. He’s got a concussion.’ This is football. Guys get concussions; a lot of guys cover concussions up, and they hide them. I haven’t done that because I don’t want to do that. I value my health, and I also value my career in this opportunity. Once you shut it down, you really can’t go back. The end is the end.”
Carlson signed a five-year contract worth $25 million in 2012 but restructured the deal last year. He would like to return to the Vikings next season, but he’s unsure about the team’s plans at the moment with new head coach Mike Zimmer.
The Vikings front office has started evaluating the roster and general manager Rick Spielman said on Friday the organization will look to move on from some current players that may be under contract. Carlson’s agent will meet with Spielman at the NFL Combine next week.
“Every year is a new year and a new opportunity,” Carlson said. “I’m excited to have an opportunity. I hope it’s here with the Vikings. I don’t know what’s going to happen and a lot of things are out of my control, but I’m excited to be healthy, to feel good and to get the feedback that I’ve gotten.”
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