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.
A lot has changed in the sports world since the last time I compiled whom NFL mock drafters were projecting to the Vikings for the blog. The Wild are one Game 7 win away from their first playoff series win in more than a decade. Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA. And Teddy Bridgewater is no longer worthy of a top-10 pick, at least in the eyes of some draft analysts.
Remember the last time I did this mock draft roundup? Five of the 10 draft analysts I randomly picked had the Vikings selecting the Louisville quarterback with the eighth overall pick.
Now? He is allegedly plummeting down draft boards, and the mock drafters are scrambling to account for it. Only one of the 10 analysts I picked is projecting Bridgewater to the Vikings now.
So who are all these guys mocking to the Vikings instead? Start scrolling to see a small sample.
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. “Obviously, the current tandem of Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder isn't the long-term answer,” Kiper wrote. “On the other hand, the presence of both provides a reasonable basis for drafting a quarterback, because there's no need to simply force-feed a rookie the starting role out of the gate. I think Bortles will benefit from some time in the system before he's forced to handle first-team reps. I'll say again that Bortles is a very good athlete with excellent pocket instincts and can benefit from his ability to create some yards with his legs, as we've seen from a few other young quarterbacks recently.
Brian Baldinger, NFL.com: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. “Mike Zimmer has always done it through defense everywhere he's been,” Baldinger wrote. “As much as they need a quarterback, Barr would be a great fit for Zimmer. He's only played linebacker for two years, but I think his upside is all in the NFL. Two years from now I think he'll be a Pro Bowl player.”
Pat Kirwan, CBS Sports: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama. “Why take a quarterback here and ignore a position where the Vikings need a day one starter?” he wrote. “They can come back in the second round for [LSU quarterback] Zach Mettenberger.”
Dan Kadar, SB Nation: Bortles. “Minnesota has one of the poorest quarterback situations in the NFL,” he wrote. “If Bortles is there with the eighth pick -- and he may not be -- he should be the choice for the Vikings. No other position will make as much of an impact on the franchise.”
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh. “Best player on the board or quarterback? The Vikings desperately need an identity at quarterback, something Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater could bring to Minnesota,” Brugler wrote. “But more of a ‘sure thing’ might be the direction here and Aaron Donald would be Mike Zimmer's new Geno Atkins.”
Don Banks, Sports Illustrated: Bridgewater. “How low will Teddy go? That's the popular question that seems to be sparking wide-ranging debate as this year's longer-than-usual draft season unfolds,” Banks wrote. “While some mocks have him even falling out of the first round these days, I can't see how that worst-case scenario unfolds, and I'm pushing back against the anti-Bridgewater movement. The Vikings seem like a nice fit.”
Aaron Wilson, Baltimore Sun: Donald. “Donald has an array of pass-rushing moves, including a great swim move for a shorter defensive lineman. Donald isn't small, just short,” he wrote. “He overpowers blockers with an impressive charge and dominated at the Senior Bowl. The Vikings have moved on from Kevin Williams and could use a player like Donald to plug into his spot.”
Charles Davis, NFL.com: C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. “So much discussion about a QB going here,” he wrote, “but with new head coach Mike Zimmer, a longtime defensive coordinator, in town, a defender gets the nod.
Thor Nystrom, Rotoworld: Bortles. “Anthony Barr and Aaron Donald will be discussed, and Peter King reported that the club won’t take a QB here, but I’m banking on Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner not being content with their futures in Matt Cassell’s shaky grip,” Nystrom wrote.
Todd McShay, ESPN: Bortles. “The Vikings need a long-term answer at quarterback, but the presence of Matt Cassel (who did not play terribly last season) would allow for Bortles to sit for at least part of his rookie season, which is an ideal situation for him,” McShay wrote. “He has prototypical size and good mobility, and I think that issues with his mechanics are fixable.”
We have spilled a fair amount of digital ink these past few days on the subject of fifth-year options. And if you’re still unsure about how they work, you should probably familiarize yourself.
That’s because no one will be making more of these decisions in the next few years than Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, who has drafted five players in the first round the past two years.
In 2012, Spielman selected left tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick then traded back into the back end of the first to nab safety Harrison Smith. Last year, he drafted defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes (with the first-rounder acquired in the Percy Harvin deal) then jumped back into the first to select wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, too.
In the case of Smith, assistant general manager George Paton explained last year that they simply wanted Smith and had the draft assets to strike the deal with the Baltimore Ravens to make it happen. But an added bonus was that the Vikings will get Smith for five years instead of four.
Which begs the question: Will NFL teams, especially the ones eyeing up quarterbacks early in the second round, attempt to move into the first round to gain that extra year of contractual control?
“It could be a consideration because look at San Francisco with Colin Kaepernick,” former NFL agent Joel Corry told me this week. “Assuming everything checks out with this Miami incident, he is going to be at a minimum of $18 million per year on his next deal. If they had traded up into the bottom of the first round [in 2011], they’d have him locked up for another year.”
Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports also had the same thought, and he spoke with an NFL G.M. about it.
"Things have changed with all the good players from that 2011 first round and it's going to cost more to get a team to move out now,” the G.M. told Kirwan. “Back in the old days teams liked to move out of the bottom of the first to avoid the contract expense but now it's reversed."
Just something to think about as the first round winds to a close two weeks from tomorrow.
The Vikings have yet to exercise quarterback Christian Ponder’s fifth-year option for the 2015 season, according to the NFL Players Association’s records. The deadline to do so for 2011 first round picks is on May 3.
Some teams have already done so: The Texans picked up defensive end J.J. Watt option, the Chargers exercised defensive lineman Corey Liuget’s option, the Jets picked up defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson’s option and the Ravens did the same with cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Cowboys will reportedly pick up offensive tackle Tyron Smith’s option as well.
The 2011 draft is the first class to go through the fifth-year option process since the new collective bargaining agreement. The top ten picks have their salaries decided by the average top ten highest salaries for players at the same position the previous year.
In Ponder’s case, he falls in the next category as the 12th overall pick. The same formula is used for picks 11-32 except it’s the average of the third through 25th highest salaries last year.
Watt, who was selected just before Ponder, will receive $6.96 million in 2015 based on the third through 25th highest defensive end salaries.
Of course for quarterbacks, that number will be larger. Crunching the numbers, it’ll cost the Vikings around $10 million when looking at the quarterback salaries from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (third) down to Cardinals backup quarterback Drew Stanton (25th). It isn’t fully guaranteed however unless Ponder is on the roster on the first day of the league year. However, it is guaranteed if Ponder gets injured.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman declined to discuss the possibility of fifth-year option for Ponder at the NFL Combine in February. When asked if there’s a reason would not option a player just to retain his rights, Spielman said, “Those are things that we’ll discuss internally.”
It'd be surprising if it happens given Ponder's production and there doesn't seem to be much value in excercising the fifth-year option. At $10 million, it'd be difficult to trade Ponder. Outside of that, the only other option would be to cut him before the 2015 NFL calendar begins.
The Vikings will look to draft a rookie quarterback in the draft and signed Matt Cassel to a two-year deal in the offseason. Ponder seems to be the odd man out in the team's future plans.
In his prime, Antoine Winfield, who last played for the Vikings and in the NFL in 2012, was one of the NFL’s better cornerbacks at covering shifty slot receivers. If he got beat, he usually wrapped them up and limited the damage. He was a good blitzer and excellent run defender, too.
Last season, though, the Vikings did not have a reliable defensive back who could consistently stick with slot receivers. Three Vikings played more than 50 snaps in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. They were, in order of most snaps played, Josh Robinson (212), Robert Blanton (201) and Marcus Sherels (119). Sherels and Robinson allowed the most yards per coverage snap among slot defenders, according to Pro Football Focus. Blanton was the best of that bunch, but quarterbacks still had a 121.0 passer rating when targeting him while he covered slot receivers.
Enter Captain Munnerlyn, who was solid when operating in the slot for the Carolina Panthers.
While it wasn’t exactly Munnerlyn Island, he allowed just 1.09 yards per snap in coverage the past two years, a number that would rank among the top 12 qualifying corners in 2013, per PFF. He also surrendered just one reception for every nine coverage snaps, which was respectable. He was beaten for just one touchdown in 803 snaps in the slot while picking off a pair of passes.
“When I’m on the field, I’m the big difference. I can make a whole lot of plays in this defense,” Munnerlyn, who with 3.5 sacks last season was also an effective blitzer, said Tuesday at Winter Park. “Start outside and then slide in to play the nickel back. That’s what I’m going to do. Start outside and slide into the nickel back. Make plays. Bring the physical toughness to this secondary and go out there and get my hands on some balls and take them to the house.”
Munnerlyn has seven career interceptions. He returned five of those picks for a touchdown.
While Munnerlyn again acknowledged that he would start on the outside and move inside in sub packages, he said he isn’t sure which sideline he will defend in the base defense. Xavier Rhodes usually lined up as the left cornerback as a rookie. Munnerlyn was on the left a lot, too.
“We haven’t talked about what side. Doesn’t matter,” said Munnerlyn, who signed a three-year, $15 million contract last month. “I played both in Carolina before. So it doesn’t matter.”
And given how often offenses use three or more wide receivers -- it was on more than half of the snaps across the NFL in 2013 -- Munnerlyn will be lining up in the slot a lot of the time anyway.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will work out for the Vikings on Saturday at Winter Park, according to a report from ESPN's Adam Schefter. It has also been reported that Bridgewater will be at the team's Top 30 gathering on Monday and Tuesday.
The Vikings had a private workout with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday, an NFL source confirmed to our Matt Vensel.
The team has been in contact with Garoppolo since the East-West Shrine game. From there, Garoppolo earned a spot on the Senior Bowl roster, where the Vikings again reached out to Garoppolo. He was also at the NFL Combine and Director of College Scouting Scott Studwell was at his Pro Day.
It’s noteworthy that offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn’t get a chance to watch Garoppolo at the East-West game or at the Senior Bowl. His son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, was at the Senior Bowl as head coach Mike Zimmer was assembling his coaching staff.
While Garoppolo did throw at the Combine, where he measured at 6-2 and 226 pounds, but this could be Turner’s first shot of watching Garoppolo in person. The Walter Payton Award winner for FCS most outstanding player led the FCS with 5,050 passing yards.
The Vikings met with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger on Thursday following his Pro Day. They’ll remain busy next week with their “Top 30” event scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.
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