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.
Perhaps a little early to look at draft boards considering the uncertainly of some players declaring for the NFL Draft, but Lousville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater topped MMQB's Andy Staples' third edition of the Big Board. Staples covers colllege football for Sports Illustrated.
Bridgewater has been labeled as the best quarterback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft since the start of the season by most draft pundits. Lousvile faces Memphis on Saturday in what could be Bridgewater's final home game if he declares for the draft.
South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was second, followed by UCLA senior linebacker Anthony Barr.
Other notable quarterback rankings in Staples' top 25
7. Oregon redshirt sophomore Marcus Mariota
10. Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Johnny Manziel
11. Georgia senior Aaron Murray
15. Alabama senior AJ McCarron
18. Clemson senior Tajh Boyd
19. LSU senior Zach Mettenberger
With six games left, the Vikings are in the hunt. Perhaps not a hunt to be proud of, but there’s an incentive at the end of a season that currently stands at 2-8: the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Jaguars currently hold the league’s worst record at 1-9, but there’s a four-way tie for the second pick at the moment between the Vikings, Buccaneers, Texans and Falcons all at 2-8 to round out the top five. The Bucs defeated the Falcons, 41-28, on Sunday coupled with losses from the Vikings and Texans to create the four-way tie.
In an event of a tie in the standings, the first tiebreaker component is strength of schedule. The team with the lowest strength of schedule percentage wins the tiebreaker and rewarded the better draft selections. Here’s how the four teams fare in SOS.
With that said, here’s the current NFL Draft order
The Vikings are in pretty good shape here, for now. If they end up in a tie with the Jaguars as well down the road, the Vikings win the tiebreaker against them as well. The Jaguars have the NFL’s best strength of schedule (.624).
Other than the Falcons, the other four teams in the top five have a dire need at quarterback, including the Vikings. Most draft pundits speak highly of the quarterback prospects in the upcoming draft, led by Oregon redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Mariota, Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M redshirt sophomore Johnny Manziel, if they opted to leave school early and declare for the draft.
Mariota went 19-of-26 for 288 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-21 win over Utah. Bridgewater went 19-for-29 for 203 yards in a 20-13 victory over Houston. Manziel did not play Saturday due to a bye week.
Here’s how their season totals matchup:
Mariota: 183-285, 2,819 yards, 25 TDs, 0 INTs
Bridgewater: 219-309, 3,048 yards, 24 TDs, 3 INTs
Manziel: 230-315, 3,313 yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs
Remember all that exuberance Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman had late night back on April 25 and again the next afternoon? Spielman had hit the trifecta, landing three first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd at No. 23.
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes two picks later.
And then, after a blockbuster trade with New England, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was added to the mix with the 29th overall pick.
Spielman was glowing when he introduced the three picks at Winter Park upon their arrival the next day.
Media saw the 1-2-3 package -- three potential difference makers at three positions of need -- and lauded the Vikings for their vision and aggressiveness.
The most optimistic of fans began wondering whether the most memorable draft in franchise history had just taken place.
And now? Well, the Vikings are in the final hours before training camp begins in Mankato and none of those three difference-makers has signed his rookie contract.
Time to panic, right?
Our one-word response: Re-lax. It’s no big deal.
Honestly. It’s not.
Don’t forget, a year ago the Vikings top draft pick, left tackle Matt Kalil (selected at No. 4 overall) didn’t finalize his deal until the day players reported to training camp. Kalil put ink to paper in an office at Winter Park, then got in a car with quarterback Christian Ponder and zipped down to Minnesota State University to join the action.
Didn’t miss a meeting. Didn’t miss a walk through. Didn’t miss a practice.
Might we expect the same for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson? We might.
And yet even if none of the three picks were to sign on Thursday, here’s a few things to digest to keep it all in perspective.
In other words, the chances of any of the Vikings’ three first-round picks missing significant time is next to none. And no one is anticipating any sort of lengthy holdout for any of the three players.
Furthermore, don’t forget that Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson all participated in the team’s rookie mini-camp in May followed by three weeks of Organized Team Activities and another week of mandatory mini-camp. So it’s not like they haven’t already had a chance to make a first impression on teammates and the coaching staff. They've already been through plenty of early orientation.
So what’s the hold-up with these contract you might ask? It’s just the nature of the beast. Deadline pressure is fast becoming a factor in negotiations, influencing a staring contest in which teams don’t want the distraction of the headlines that'd come with top draft picks not locked up before camp begins. And rookies don’t want to be late to their first training camp.
But what must be reiterated is that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was installed in 2011, there really isn’t a whole lot for first-round picks and teams to haggle over. With the new rookie salary structure, first-round picks fit into slots with the maximum value of their deals having very little wiggle room. All first-rounders get four-year deals with a fifth-year team option.
Most often at the center of these first-round pick negotiations: a) the amount of guaranteed money in the deal; and b) the inclusion or exclusion of offset language, which is essentially fine-print provisional details teams try to install to relieve themselves of financial responsibility in the event that they eventually cut a first-round pick, whom another team then signs.
Getting a little too technical here now, right?
So here’s another thing to keep in mind. As of Wednesday morning, 14 of 32 first-round picks were unsigned. So it’s not as if the Vikings are dragging their feet and behind the rest of the NFL. There’s a general waiting game that occurs as players and teams try to keep tabs on the contracts signed by rookies in similar pick range. And so it goes.
The agents for Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson are making their closing arguments. And at Winter Park, Vikings Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski is working to iron out every last detail in the contract verbiage.
The priority: getting all three players to Mankato for the first team meeting, which will occur Thursday evening. That’s a gathering that head coach Leslie Frazier stresses. A year ago, Frazier believed he could set the tone for an entire season with his introductory address at training camp and stressed the importance of having all 90 players present. Last year, Frazier used that meeting to deliver a sermon on focus and preparation. He asked players to avoid outside distractions. He told them to ignore the widespread prognostications that said that, after 2011, the 2012 Vikings were more of a laughingstock than a playoff contender. And Frazier insisted his players develop an identity from the very first training camp practice as a group that was united and prided itself on playing smart, tough, disciplined football.
That may sound like Disney-movie fluff to some. But many teams, especially young ones, take that first coaching address to heart. And even with outsiders laughing at the 2012 Vikings' playoff aspirations, the players followed their coaches lead and began thinking big immediately and working accordingly.
So yes, from top to bottom of the Vikings’ organization, there’s recognition that Frazier's emphasis on Thursday night’s meeting has merit. That will likely have a bit of influence on the late stages of negotiations with Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson. But it won't be a make-or-break factor in the business side of things. Even with all three players still unsigned, there is no reason whatsoever for worry.
Before long, the looming contract issues with three promising rookie talents will be finished. So rest easy.
Two of the Vikings' three seventh-round picks are in.
First, with the 213th overall pick, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Mauti -- whose father and brother also played at Penn State -- was a very highly-touted player coming to Penn State. But a series of injuries derailed much of his college career. Among those injuries are three ACL tears. The first, sustained before the 2009 season, wiped out that year for him. He came back with a very strong 2010 season, with 67 tackles -- 5.5 for loss -- and two sacks. But another ACL tear four games into the 2011 season ended that year.
He came back to play in 2012. He had 96 tackles and three interceptions before yet another ACL tear, sustained against Indiana, ended the season with one game to go. After the final injury he sent a letter to every NFL team expressing his love for the game and determination to return from yet another surgery and play in the NFL.
Mauti, who played both strongside and middle linebacker at Penn State, said he hopes to be cleared for practice in time for training camp.
When healthy Mauti is considered a very instinctual player, stout at the point of attack. Lack of speed and his injury history will work against him.
With the 214th pick the Vikings took North Carolina guard Travis Bond, a huge (6-6, 329-pound) right guard.
Bond was the starter at right guard his final two seasons at North Carolina. His size and strength make him an intriguing prospect, but his tendency to play high and difficultly using his hands effectively made him last until the seventh round.
And, finally, with the 229th pick in the draft, the Vikings drafted Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins.
The Vikings used the 28th pick in the sixth round (the 196th overall) on UCLA lineman Jeff Baca, who grew up in California going to Bruins games with his father, who is now deceased.
Baca made 45 career starts at UCLA, including eight at left tackle as a true freshman. Overall, he started 25 at guard and 20 at tackle. He also played some center at the Senior Bowl. He was a second-team all-Pac-12 by the coaches in 2012 and was named the team’s outstanding senior of the year on offense.
He was academically ineligible in 2010. In 2011 he hurt his ankle during spring practice and needed surgery. He returned in time for the second game of that season, starting at tackle the rest of the year.
Baca is considered to be one of the more tenacious blockers in this draft class, especially adept at pass protection. But, even at 6-3 and 302 pounds he is not overly large by today’s offensive line standards.
Baca said in a conference call that he was thrilled with the prospect of blocking for Adrian Peterson, was comfortable playing any position on the offensive line and said his versatility and athletic ability were his strongest points.
About that 2010 ineligibility? He said he was a pre-med major his first two years at UCLA. In the spring quarter of 2010 he took Spanish, biology and chemistry, failing two of the three. After that? "I changed my major to political science and ended up making the honor roll seven of the eight quarters after that," he said.
So, the moral of that story is that being a politician is easier than being a doctor? "Absolutely," he said.
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