Four quarterbacks were taken in the first 10 picks of the 2018 NFL draft: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (No. 1, Browns), USC’s Sam Darnold (No. 3, Jets), Wyoming’s Josh Allen (No. 7, Bills) and UCLA’s Josh Rosen (No. 10, Cardinals).
The Vikings are 1-1 so far against the group, with a 27-17 victory over Rosen and Arizona on Sunday and a 27-6 loss to Allen and Buffalo in Week 3.
On Sunday, they will get a shot at Darnold, the most polished of the four quarterbacks. The Jets are 3-3, coming off back-to-back victories over the Broncos (34-16) and the Colts (42-34).
Coach Mike Zimmer was asked what he thought of the challenges his team will face in East Rutherford, N.J.
“They’re very aggressive defensively, get a lot of turnovers. We can’t turn the ball over,” he said. “Offensively, they give you a lot of different variations. They run the run-pass option and give you a lot of different options, a lot of no-back formations, quarterback is talented, they have some fast receivers and they’re running for [130.3] yards per game. We’re going to have to do a good job on the run game.”
Darnold has thrown for 1,346 yards (20th in the NFL), nine touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 59.8 percent of his passes. Last week he had his best game as a pro, throwing for 280 yards and completing 24 of 30 passes with two touchdowns and an interception in beating the Colts.
His 83.7 passer rating is the highest of the rookie class.
The Vikings secondary has struggled this season, giving up 267 passing yards per game (19th in the NFL), but Zimmer thinks the group is ready.
“It has improved quite a bit,” he said. “We have been working real hard at some of the things — third downs haven’t really been an issue, it has been first and second downs, those are the ones we’ve been getting on. We’re working harder and harder on those.”
And while Zimmer wouldn’t say his team found themselves in defeating the Cardinals last week, he did think the game was a step in the right direction.
“It’s one week, so we did some good things in that ballgame and hopefully we can continue to do more,” he said. “We ran the ball effectively, had some big runs, and it was good we played good defensively.”
Offense steps up
Zimmer’s Vikings teams have never been ranked higher in total offense than in total defense, but so far this season the offense is 10th in the league in yards per game (391.2) while the defense is 16th in yards allowed per game (359.7).
Zimmer said he thinks the offensive line is starting to gel as a group.
“I like them, these guys are all tough guys,” Zimmer said. “I think [tackle Brian] O’Neill is getting better, [center Pat] Elflein is starting to really come into his own, [guard Tom] Compton played well last week, [guard Mike] Remmers, you know, still learning the position but keeps getting better.”
O’Neill steps in
O’Neill, the second-round draft pick out of Pitt, played his first full game as a starting offensive lineman last week when he took all 71 snaps at right tackle.
How did he feel about his performance?
“Any time you get that many snaps, there is going to be a lot of details and fundamentals you want to clean up, but you know, that’s what we always focus on is how we can get better,” O’Neill said. “I try to focus on the things I can improve on and there is definitely a lot of them.”
The veteran linemen have helped him make the transition to the NFL, he said.
“I have learned a ton and none bigger than the mind-set and the approach you have to have coming into work every day, and how serious they take it and how detailed their work is. Just how to be a professional,” he said.
Fleck talks Spielman
JD Spielman, the Nebraska sophomore and son of Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, will face the Gophers this Saturday. He has become one of the most productive wide receivers in college football, even as the Cornhuskers have struggled to an 0-6 record.
The Eden Prairie graduate grabbed 13 receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns in his first three games, but has since taken off.
In a 42-28 loss to Purdue on Sept. 29, he had 10 receptions for 135 yards and two scores. The following week he torched Wisconsin in a 41-24 loss for 209 yards on nine receptions (23.2 yards per catch) and another score. Last week in a 34-31 overtime loss to Northwestern, he had eight receptions for 76 yards and one score.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said that when game-planning against the Cornhuskers, Spielman is at the top of his list.
“I know he is from the state of Minnesota and he is a special football player and they’re lucky to have him because he is very dynamic and does a lot of things,” Fleck said. “He can beat you in so many ways.
“He can dissect a zone coverage on his own. He can beat you in man coverage. They put him in the backfield to hide him. They do a lot of things to make sure they get him the ball.”
And Fleck isn’t fooled by the Cornhuskers’ record, saying they’re a much better team than that shows.
“They could be 5-1, 4-2, and probably even ranked by now,” he said. “They have lost some games in some weird, oddity-type situations. If I told you how they lost the game, you wouldn’t believe me. They have a tremendous freshman quarterback [Adrian Martinez] who is dynamic in the run and the pass. They have three wideouts that can really play. They have a really good offensive line, tight ends are in the mix and some really physical backs. On defense, they play a 3-4, aggressive, they fly to the ball. And on special teams, they create field-position battles for you.”
• Gophers senior Jordan Murphy was named to the Karl Malone Award preseason watch list for the best power forward in college basketball. Also on the list was former DeLaSalle star Reid Travis, now playing at Kentucky after transferring from Stanford.
• Pro Football Focus announced their midseason all-Big Ten team and had Gophers senior Blake Cashman as one of three linebackers. They wrote: “Cashman is second among Big Ten linebackers with 26 defensive stops as he’s also had success as a blitzing linebacker.”
• Former Timberwolves forward Nemanja Bjelica started for the Kings in a 123-117 loss to the Jazz on Wednesday and scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, two assists and one steal. Ex-Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio played 22 minutes but had only one point and four assists for the Jazz.