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 29th overall pick in their first year of existence, your Minnesota Vikings selected Fran Tarkenton, quarterback, Georgia.
It's been pretty much downhill ever since as far as the Vikings and the drafting of quarterbacks are concerned.
Since the NFL was a 14-team league back in 1961, Tarkenton was a third-round pick even though he was 29th overall. All he did was last 18 seasons, 13 with the Vikings, and throw 342 touchdowns, pile up 47,003 passing yards and make the Hall of Fame.
Since Tarkenton was selected, the Vikings have taken 24 more swings at drafting quarterbacks. Based on our research of the stats at profootballreference.com, 12 of those 24 quarterbacks (yep, 50 percent) never played a regular-season game for the Vikings. And if you include Bill Cappleman (1970) and Gino Torretta (1993), who each played only one game in one season, that's 14 of 24 picks (58.3 percent) who played fewer than two regular-season GAMES for the Vikings.
Next month's draft will be the Vikings' 54th NFL draft. They've NEVER selected a quarterback in the top 10. Never. That could change with the Vikings picking eighth and -- rumor has it -- in desperate need of a young franchise QB.
It took the Vikings until their 17th draft to take a quarterback in the first round. Tommy Kramer, at No. 27 overall, was a success, lasting 13 years with the Vikings and 14 in the NFL.
It would be another 22 years before the Vikings dipped into the first round for a quarterback, taking Daunte Culpepper 11th overall. Fans have always had a love-hate relationship with Culpepper, but he was a good pick. He played six years for the Vikings, would have won the 2004 league MVP if not for Peyton Manning, and would have had an even better career if not for the devastating knee injury in 2005.
With Culpepper at the height of his career and still months from blowing out his knee, the Vikings had no use for a guy named Aaron Rodgers when the 2005 draft rolled around. So with the seventh and 18th picks overall, the Vikings took Troy Williamson and Erasmus James, respectively. The Packers took Rodgers seven picks later.
The guy Rodgers replaced in Green Bay, a fella named Favre, contributed to the next mistake the Vikings made when it comes to QBs and first rounds. With Favre ending his two-year run in Minnesota with the first convincing retirement talk of his career, the Vikings knew they needed a quarterback.
The NFL lockout prevented them from signing their typical stopgap big-name veteran quarterback before the draft was held. So the Vikings essentially panicked and reached for Christian Ponder at No. 12 and later complicated the mistake by signing an out-of-gas Donovan McNabb. And while the still-active and still-Purple Ponder still has a chance to prove himself worthy of a first-round pick, let's just say the odds are stacked heavily against him. The Vikings haven't said it's over for Ponder, but you might have noticed that their GM, head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach have spent a month or so kicking the tires on every top college quarterback from coast to coast.
So, to recap, that's 53 drafts and three first-round QBs taken by the Vikings. Here's the breakdown:
Quarterbacks drafted by the Vikings since joining the NFL in 1961: 25.
Quarterbacks drafted by the Vikings in the top 10 since 1961: 0.
Quarterbacks drafted in the first round by the Vikings since 1961: 3.
Tommy Kramer (27th overall, 1977), Daunte Culpepper (11th overall, 1999), Christian Ponder (12th overall, 2011).
Quarterbacks drafted by Vikings who never played a regular-season game in the NFL: 7.
Mike McFarland (1961, Round 20); Mailon Kent (1962, Round 20), John Hankinson (1965, Round 8), Jim Haynie (1968, Round 15), Bill Salmon (1976, Round 10), Chad May (1995, Round 4), John David Booty (2008, Round 5).
Quarterbacks drafted by the Vikings who never played a regular-season game for the Vikings: 12.
The seven immediately above as well as Brian Dowling (1969, Round 11), Neil Graff (1972, Round 16), Mike Wells (1973, Round 4), Brent Pease (1987, Round 11), Tyler Thigpen (2007, Round 7).
Quarterbacks drafted by the Vikings who played only one season for the Vikings: 2.
Bill Cappleman (1970, Round 2, appeared in 1 game, attempted seven passes), Gino Torretta (1993, Round 7, appeared in 1 game, did not attempt a pass).
THE GOOD: It hasn't been all gloom and doom since the Tarkenton pick. Wade Wilson, an eighth-round pick in 1981, played 17 NFL seasons, including 10 with the Vikings. He went 27-21 as a Vikings starter. ... Brad Johnson, a ninth-round pick in 1992, played 15 NFL seasons, seven over two stints with the Vikings. He won a Super Bowl, but not with the Vikings, of course.
THE BAD: The 2006 draft will be remembered as a relatively weak one overall. But trading up in the second round for a small-school prospect named Tarvaris Jackson was the impetus (along with Culpepper's injury in 2005) behind the current state of the Vikings' quarterback situation. But, hey, without a swing and a miss on T-Jack, we never would have experience Favreapalooza three years later.
THE UGLY: It was a much different era. College players weren't scrutinized before the draft the way they are now. Plus, there was no free agency and fewer situational players, so depth wasn't as big a deal. A group of veterans would stick together for years while draft picks were essentially tossed aside. So keep that in mind as we throw out the Cappleman pick in 1970. He was the 51st overall pick out of Florida State. According to profootballreference.com, he played two NFL seasons, including one for the Vikings. He attempted seven passes and completed four in his one and only appearance for the Vikings. According to Vikings.com, Cappleman was traded for a fourth-round pick in 1973. The Vikings used that pick on another quarterback, Mike Wells, who never played for the Vikings and lasted only seven games in one NFL season.
It didn’t take Cam Cameron long to decide that he had a special talent in Zach Mettenberger.
It was the second scrimmage of spring football down in Baton Rouge last March. Cameron had just joined Les Miles’ coaching staff at LSU after a five-year stint with the Baltimore Ravens and was getting one of his first intimate looks at the weapons he would have at his disposal in his first season as offensive coordinator. Mettenberger made a strong impression, rifling touchdown after touchdown in the scrimmage.
“You could really see the arm talent. He’s a big, imposing guy,” Cameron said in a phone interview Tuesday. “He might have thrown double-digit touchdowns. That was the first of those moments. … I remember telling Les, ‘This guy’s a winner. We’re going to win with this guy.’ And it turned out that way.”
A year later, Cameron is marveling at Mettenberger again, though the circumstances are much different. The 22-year-old will participate in quarterback drills at LSU’s pro day today, a little over three months after he had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament he shredded in his left knee.
The Vikings are one of a handful of a quarterback-needy NFL teams that are eager to see where Mettenberger stands in his recovery and to get a closer look at Mettenberger’s powerful right arm.
“He’s come as far in a short period as any guy I’ve ever seen. He just had an ACL injury and he is going to have a full workout tomorrow. He is 85 or 90 percent and he’s throwing the ball extremely well,” said Cameron, who will lead Mettenberger’s workout today. “But [the injury] was tough on him.”
When Mettenberger suffered the injury in a win over Arkansas on Nov. 29, he was wrapping up a breakout senior season in which he completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards and 22 touchdowns. He averaged 10.4 yards per attempt and his 171.4 passer rating ranked fourth in the country, trailing Florida State's Jameis Winston, Baylor's Bryce Petty and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
Mettenberger didn’t sulk after suffering the devastating knee injury. Cameron said he was heavily involved in the preparation for the Outback Bowl and helped tutor freshman quarterback Anthony Jennings before LSU’s win over Iowa. He then had surgery on Jan. 2 and started to attack his rehab.
Despite the injury and concerns about his elongated delivery, lack of mobility and decision-making, Mettenberger is viewed as a second-day prospect by many draft analysts because of his prototypical size -- he is 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds -- and his arm strength. And if he has a good workout today on that rebuilt left knee, he could come of the board between Minnesota’s eighth and 40th overall picks.
The Vikings have legitimate interest in Mettenberger, according to two league sources, and general manager Rick Spielman, coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- who had Cameron on his Washington Redskins staff two decades ago and helped shape some of Cameron's offensive philosophies -- will meet with Mettenberger privately after his pro day, something they have done with other top quarterback prospects.
At some point, they will surely ask Mettenberger about the circumstances that led him to LSU.
Before his freshman season started at Georgia, Mettenberger was dismissed from the program after an incident at a bar in which he was charged with underage possession of alcohol, disorderly conduct and misdemeanor sexual battery, amongst other charges. The alcohol-related charges would be dismissed, but Mettenberger pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery. He spent the 2010 season at Butler Community College in Kansas before transferring to LSU for the 2011 season.
“He’s had some adversity in his life, which is a good thing,” Cameron said. “No one wants to go through an ACL, but he’s kind of wired to attack things that are difficult. He hasn’t had it easy growing up. He had some adversity at Georgia. I think all of those things have helped him mature.”
Last year, Cameron compared Mettenberger to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who led the Ravens to the Super Bowl in 2012 (after Cameron was replaced by Jim Caldwell late in the regular season). On Tuesday, Cameron said that Mettenberger’s arm strength still reminds him of Flacco. He added that Mettenberger has toughness like Jim Harbaugh. He said his work ethic and competitiveness reminds him of Drew Brees. And he noted that Mettenberger has big hands like Antwaan Randle El.
“He’s weather-proof,” he said. “Teams in the AFC and NFC North are really going to like his guy.”
Obviously, Cameron is a bit biased -- if you couldn't tell by the big names that he just dropped -- but he believes Mettenberger is worthy of a high draft pick.
“He’s a guy you can win a championship with. And that’s all that matters,” Cameron said. “Is he better than a lot of guys who have gone in the first round? Absolutely. Does that mean he’s a first-round draft pick? Depends on how a team views him.”
We won’t know just how favorably the Vikings view him until next month’s NFL draft.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are on their way to Louisiana to check out another of the draft’s quarterback prospects.
The Vikings will be in Baton Rouge on Wednesday to check out quarterback Zach Mettenberger at LSU’s pro day and, according to my colleague Master Tesfatsion, they will also meet with Mettenberger privately, something they have done with other quarterback prospects such as Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater.
Mettenberger tore the ACL in his left knee in LSU’s win over Arkansas on Nov. 29. He had knee surgery on Jan. 2 and missed the Senior Bowl and the NFL scouting combine because of the injury. He has rehabilitated the injury enough to participate in LSU’s pro day, where he will be throwing in front of NFL talent evaluators for the first time since his injury. His offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, will lead the workout.
Mettenberger has the size and tools of a prototypical pocket quarterback. He was listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds last season and he has one of the strongest arms of this draft class. His skill set appears to be a fit for the vertical offense that Turner has run throughout his career.
Mettenberger blossomed as a senior, completing 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He averaged a whopping 10.4 yards per attempt for the 10-3 Tigers.
The 22-year-old is considered by most draft analysts to be a second-round or third-round prospect, but a strong performance on his surgically-repaired knee could boost his draft stock.
The Vikings have the eighth and 40th overall selections in May’s NFL draft.
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.”
Dane 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.”
If you aren't a child and your memory is intact and you're an NFL fan who has somehow managed to maintain the ability to think for yourself, you've probably already flagged Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's "flags" comment concerning Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In fact, in the up-is-down, down-is-up world of pre-draft misdirection, some of you probably heard or read Zimmer's highly-publicized comments and came away thinking, "Hey, maybe the Vikings like this kid more now than they ever have."
As Master Tesfatsion posted Monday, here's what Zimmer told 104.9 The Horn in Austin when asked about Johnny Football:
“We asked him all kinds of questions. ...There are some flags that come up. All of the things that happened out in Los Angeles, the commercials and all that stuff (Manziel had a cameo in a recent McDonalds commercial with LeBron James); the position of quarterback in the NFL is such an important position and the reason these guys need to be a totally football-minded guy is the pressure of the position and being the face of an NFL team and doing everything right. That’s the thing you want to know about him -- will he be into work early every single day? Will be the last to leave? Will he be the guy that is working the hardest to get better?
“There is a change, otherwise all of these other quarterbacks that have come up through the years would have made it, from the college game to the NFL game as far as the speed of the defense and some of the complexities of the different defenses. So that position has got to be a position that really eats, breathes, and sleeps football where he is going to take it upon his shoulders to win. At least the Peyton Manning’s, Drew Brees’ of the world have done that and really all we have to go on in the NFL is past history.”
First of all, it's always nice to hear a coach say something that doesn't cause a veteran NFL media member's eyeballs to glaze over. Secondly, Zimmer didn't say anything that's out of whack with logical thinking by those of us in the non-football genius camp. Anybody who sells "Johnny Football" as his persona is likely heading in one of two directions: Superstar or future draft-day punch line. Try making that call with your job hanging in the balance.
What we can't deduce from Zimmer's comments, however, is how he or the Vikings actually feel about Manziel. Honesty isn't the best policy in the NFL. It's treason come spring time.
Two years ago, Rick Spielman took over as general manager. He had plenty of time to convincingly hide the team's slam-dunk affection for left tackle Matt Kalil with the third overall pick. He also had the benefit of glaring needs that matched two other top-five caliber prospects in receiver Justin Blackmon and cornerback Morris Claiborne. For competitive reasons, Spielman even managed a straight face when saying repeatedly that all three were ranked evenly on the Vikings' draft board. (Maybe his fingers were crossed).
Spielman also managed to get people to let their guards down on the value of left tackles. He'd ask people to name the nondescript left tackles that protected some of the game's greatest quarterbacks.
“There’s the adage that you go back and forth on – is the left tackle that important or is it more important to have playmakers on offense?" Spielman said before that 2012 draft.
Spielman wasn't doing anything wrong. In fact, he was doing everything right. Let's just try and remember that from year to year when we're tempted to put too much weight on what anyone affiliated with the NFL says about the draft before the draft.
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