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.
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 on Thursday.
On the roster: Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Josh Robinson, Robert Steeples, Brandan Bishop, Robert Blanton, Mistral Raymond, Andrew Sendejo, Shaun Prater
Free agents: Chris Cook, Marcus Sherels (restricted)
In the final part in this series, we’ll analyze the 31st worst pass defense in the NFL last season starting with the cornerbacks. The Vikings will have to address a glaring need at cornerback either through the draft or free agency
Chris Cook will finish his four-year stint with the Vikings without an interception. The second round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft couldn’t stay healthy over the last four years and failed to play a complete 16-game season. It’s hard to see the Vikings bring him back in the offseason.
They already have two young cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes, who injured his ankle late last season following a solid rookie season, and Josh Robinson, who finished the season on injured reserve due to a fractured sternum. They probably need to add two more new faces at the position with Marcus Sherels as a restricted free agent as well.
Safety is perhaps the only position on defense that won’t have any turnover with Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford. Smith suffered a turf toe injury that forced him to miss eight games last season. Sanford was excited once the Vikings announced the hiring of head coach Mike Zimmer and looked forward to his aggressive style of play, which should fit Sanford well. It’d be difficult to find upgrades from both safeties in the offseason.
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.”
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: Defensive line
On the roster: Brian Robison, Chase Baker, Letroy Guion, Sharrif Floyd, Kheeston Randall
Free agents: Jared Allen, Fred Evans, Kevin Williams, Everson Griffen, Justin Trattou
Outside of quarterback, the defensive line is the weakest unit on the team this offseason. Brian Robison is the only returning starter from last year with Jared Allen, Fred Evans and Kevin Williams all unrestricted free agents.
While Allen and Robison each had solid sack totals (Allen finished with 11.5 and Robison with 9.5), it was an average season for the unit. The defensive line lacked a consistent pass rush, which didn’t help a young secondary that finished 31st in pass defense allowing 397.8 yards per game.
The run coverage was better but still average compared to the rest of the league. The Vikings finished 16th allowing 110.4 yards a game.
Allen and Williams will turn 32 and 34 by the start of next season. It’d be best if the franchise parted with both players and looked for upgrades either in free agency or the draft. Barring any setback, it’d make sense for defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd to take one of the two vacant starting defensive tackle spots next season.
Griffen on the other hand would be worth to pursue in free agency. The franchise tag period began on Monday and will be open for the next two weeks. It’s hard to see the Vikings use their franchise tag this offseason, but Griffen would make the strongest case out of the team’s free agents. He would receive $12.6 million next season however if the team did tag him, which would be the second most for any franchise tag position.
Quarterback: $16.2 million
Defensive end: $12.6 million
Wide receiver: $11.6 million
Cornerback: $11.3 million
Offensive lineman: $11.2 million
Linebacker: $11 million
Defensive tackle: $9.2 million
Running back: $9.1 million
Safety: $8.1 million
Tight end: $6.8 million
Kicker/Punter: $3.4 million
There aren’t many pass rushers in free agency and the draft, while the demand is high. Griffen, 26, spent the last four years as a backup to Allen and Robison and made just one start in four seasons. He has played in every game for the last three seasons and can be used anywhere on the defensive line.
He wants to return but will likely draw the most interest of the Vikings' free agents this offseason.
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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