With the 2013 NFL Draft only a few days away, I take a final look at the state of the current Minnesota Vikings roster and try to identify the most pressing needs. This first article will center around the offense with the second part focused on the defense/specialists. After the roster review, I provide some draft day options that fit the Vikings schemes with round projections and analysis.
On offense, the positions that could be upgraded via the draft are wide receiver, left/right guard and swing tackle. Both quarterback and running back could use depth if the right player is available.
On the roster: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
The Vikings enter the 2013 season with Christian Ponder as the unquestioned starter. Ponder will carry the weight of the “make or break” tag on his shoulders all year. Entering his third season, he will be expected to improve upon a passing game that was rated 31st in yards per game (171.9) in 2012. When the Vikings lost to the Packers in the Wild Card game, it confirmed that the Vikings did not have the best plan B in the ultra-athletic, yet erratic Joe Webb. This led to the Vikings signing Matt Cassel, the 30-year-old former Kansas City starter to sit behind Ponder. Cassel is a much better fit for the West Coast offense that the Vikings use which could spell the end of the line for Webb. Webb is entering a contract year with the Vikings and head coach Leslie Frazier has already said that he could move Webb to another position. That leaves McLeod Bethel-Thompson who has a cannon for an arm but has yet to play an NFL snap as the likely number three quarterback in training camp as of today.
While Ponder may prove to not be the franchise quarterback that his lofty draft status demands, the Vikings aren’t likely to spend any higher than a 4th round pick on a quarterback in 2013. The quarterback position is consistently over-drafted which means names like Matt Barkley, EJ Manuel, Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson and Matt Scott could be gone before the Vikings are on the clock in round four.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ QUARTERBACKS
Tyler Bray, Tennessee (6-6, 232)
Tremendous arm strength, but seems to force throws instead of using safer options. Lacks mobility but upside is as high as any QB prospect in draft.
Landry Jones, Oklahoma (6-4, 225)
NFL size and enough mobility to extend plays. Good arm strength and average accuracy, but too erratic at times with questionable decision-making. Stares down targets, showing poor footwork when pressured. Has upside.
Zac Dysert, Miami (OH) (6-3, 231)
Has natural talent to be a day two selection, but he’s a work in progress who has shown just average accuracy on the types of throws he’ll be asked to make in the NFL. Will likely slide to a day three selection.
Sean Renfree, Duke (6-3, 219)
Traditional drop back passer with NFL size. Strong arm works through progressions well. Shows excellent chemistry with receivers and is a confident thrower. Coached by David Cutcliffe who mentored Eli and Peyton Manning.
Colby Cameron, Louisiana Tech (6-2, 212)
Good athlete with quick feet. He doesn’t have the size/speed that NFL teams look for but is smart with the ball and tough as nails. He has a quick release and just enough zip to make the outside throws. In college, he was a team leader and showed great ability under pressure. His college teammate was top WR prospect Quinton Patton which could be a nice combo for a team to draft.
On the roster: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Jerome Felton (FB), Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard
The reigning NFL MVP resides here…not much more needed to say here. What is a concern is the depth behind Adrian Peterson. Toby Gerhart has been a fantastic addition behind Peterson since he was selected in the 2nd round (51st overall) in 2010. But Gerhart is eligible to be a free agent after the 2013 season and could prove too expensive for the team to resign. Neither Matt Asiata or Joe Banyard possess the skill set to be the caddy to All Day. The team could look to the future and find the replacement for Gerhart like they did in 2010 when Chester Taylor was not resigned. The other need that this offense will need to replace is the third down role that Percy Harvin filled in the past few years. Harvin was basically used as the pass-catching threat and the change-of-pace out of the backfield. It would be ideal if the Vikings could find a player that could fill both roles but that would likely mean drafting a player on Day Two of the draft. They did this in 2010 with Gerhart but the need seemed bigger then but was still surprising they went that early on a runningback.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ RUNNING BACKS
Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (5-10, 205)
Improved immensely as a senior, and managed to clean up his fumbling issues. His speed, shifty hips, and one-cut ability will make him at least a nice NFL change-of-pace back. Pass protection skills are still a work in progress.
Giovani Bernard, UNC (5-8, 202)
Has some medical questions to answer, but the redshirt sophomore played through the pain, and at a very high level. He has great receiving and pass protection skills. Has punt return experience.
Andre Ellington, Clemson (5-9, 199)
Elite straight-line speed, yet he still shows patience when following his blockers. Productive and tough inside runner, but his size and limitations in pass protection could leave him as a rotational runner in the NFL.
Stepfan Taylor, Stanford (5-9, 214)
Technically sound, and well rounded back that isn’t necessarily good at one thing. Safest back in this class due to his ability to not only pass protect, but to catch the football, which will make him invaluable on third downs.
Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina (5-11, 221)
Extremely intriguing blend of power, balance, vision and production. Major questions on durability and how much of the same player he will be going forward after major injuries to both knees in consecutive seasons. While his talent suggests a late first-round pick, it’s much more likely that he is a Day 3 pick.
Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State (5-8, 216)
Power back that has some wiggle. Became more explosive and powerful, something that had been missed in previous seasons in his game.
Kenjon Barner, Oregon (5-9, 196)
Elite speed, and weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. Has numerous concerns, including fumbles, pass protection, and the tendency to try and bounce everything to the outside. Could be an extremely dangerous weapon in a running back committee and as a kick returner.
Ray Graham, Pitt (5-9. 199)
Torn right ACL in 2011. Less explosive in 2012 but could still show the rare elusiveness and top-end speed he once showed. He could be one of the steals of the 2013 draft if he checks out medically.
On the roster: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Chris Summers
This position group is certainly under construction even after the addition of Greg Jennings due to the loss of Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins. Harvin and Jenkins were the top two receivers from 2012 but the unit struggled mightily as a whole. The veteran Jennings is a quality locker room player at wide receiver and will be an example to the younger receivers on this roster. Jennings will be the featured pass-catcher along with TE Kyle Rudolph for Christian Ponder but they need more players to step up. Jerome Simpson was resigned after an injury rendered him ineffective in 2012. His return will be to provide a depth threat to the passing game that has been lacking over the years, but there is no reason to believe he is the answer. Jarius Wright had a good rookie season replacing Percy Harvin after Harvin was lost to a season-ending injury. He will be counted on in 2013 to take steps forward. Burton has the size/speed combo but is still very raw and will get one more chance to prove himself. Childs is recovering from a devastating double knee injury and his NFL future is in doubt. Summers is another raw athlete at receiver and will get a long look in training camp. He remains a project.
The Vikings could look to trade up to get either of the two top receiver prospects in Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin but GM Rick Spielman has a lot of holes to fill. A trade up into the Top 15 could cost more than the Spielman would like to pay.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ WIDE RECEIVERS
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (6-1, 214)
“Nuke” has NFL body and hands. Sets up his routes well and attacks the ball at its highest point. He has fluid body control and the focus to be a reliable starting WR option in the NFL.
Robert Woods, USC (6-0, 201)
Racked up big numbers throughout his career with his foot quickness and burst after the catch. Had a right ankle that bothered him at multiple parts of his career must continue to stay healthy. Needs to catch the ball more consistently downfield. Thrives on short to intermediate patterns.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee (6-4, 196)
2011 breakout year cut short by left ACL tear. He missed no time in 2012, but drops which was not an issue prior to injury. Mistakes seemed more mental rather than physical limitations. Has the ability to separate with smooth routes and upside is very high.
Keenan Allen, California (6-2, 206)
Smooth outside pass-catcher, with the height, speed and ability to win jump balls required of a No. 1 target in the NFL. Has the talent if his knee and ankle check out medically.
Quinton Patton, La. Tech (6-0, 204)
Acrobat along the sideline and a vertical stem threat, but needs to improve attacking the ball when contested. Possesses the hands, route-running skills, and toughness to, eventually, be a very good starter.
Markus Wheaton, Oregon St. (5-11, 189)
Uses track speed to break off long runs from short routes and get behind defenders for big plays. Not solely limited to the slot, and likely should be able to test defenses horizontally and vertically.
Terrance Williams, Baylor (6-2, 208)
Uses his size, quick feet, and speed to be a playmaker. Still learning the full route tree, but he’s a big, fast receiver with great body control who is also a willing and able blocker.
Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech (6-2, 217)
Physical specimen with strong hands who overpowered defenders in his routes and after the catch. Immature/character concerns. Not a quick-twitch, vertical threat, but is a big, physical receiver who works well across the middle, and has a tremendous deal of talent.
Ryan Swope, Texas A&M (6-0, 205)
Former running back that put up great numbers at the combine, including a 4.34 40-yard dash, but he does not consistently play at that speed. His quick footwork when breaking off routes is his best asset. Best used as a slot, since that is where he posted his best work.
Chris Harper, Kansas St. (6-1, 229)
Moved from quarterback to receiver and has taken time to develop. Not extremely tall, he has a muscular frame, particular in his lower half. This along with his speed makes him a tough cover, and an even tougher player to bring down with the ball in his hands.
Aaron Dobson, Marshall (6-3, 210)
Has strong hands, length, and good concentration to snatch high and wide passes. Does well tracking the ball over his shoulder and makes acrobatic one-handed catches. Can make a catch with a defender draped on him. Not an elite athlete.
Tavarres King, Georgia (6-0, 189)
Lacks tremendous size, and his hands have also been an issue at times, allowing potential big plays to slip through his fingers. He’s a very fluid player, with impressive quickness and balance.
Aaron Mellette, Elon (6-2, 217)
Won’t win with long speed or athleticism, but has displayed the ability to make catches in traffic and win with technical route running. Good height to be a solid possession receiver at the next level.
T.J. Moe, Missouri (5-11, 204)
Tough, gritty wide receiver. Built to play the slot receiver position, due to his compact build, toughness, and physicality.
Ace Sanders, South Carolina (5-7, 173)
More dangerous as a returner than a receiver at this point in his career. His secure hands and toughness, however, could make him a dangerous target out of the slot in the right offense.
Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech (6-2, 204)
Raw to the game from an overall technique perspective, but is a gifted athlete. Very fast, has good flexibility, and is explosive out of his cuts, which makes him a weapon as a receiver. Needs to improve his blocking.
Conner Vernon, Duke (6-0, 196)
His hands are what intrigue as he managed to become the all-time ACC leader in receptions and receiving yards. Projects as a “big slot” in the NFL.
Brandon Kaufman, Eastern Washington (6-5, 216)
Very tall receiver, who is a dangerous vertical threat. Tracks the football well and is adept at catching the ball at its highest point. Needs to prove that he has enough speed and physicality in order to be more than a red zone threat.
On the roster: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison (FB/TE), LaMark Brown, Chase Ford
Kyle Rudolph returns after his MVP performance at the 2012 NFL Pro Bowl. As he looks to build off of that performance the Vikings hope that John Carlson returns in full health. If Carlson can return the trio of Rudolph, Carlson and Rhett Ellison are solid. GM Rick Spielman could avoid having to draft a tight end this offseason especially after Carlson agreed to a salary reduction.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ TIGHT END
On the roster: Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, Kevin Murphy, Troy Kropog, DeMarcus Love
Drafting LT Matt Kalil with the fourth pick of last year’s draft seemed to be a no-brainer at the time, but it paid off even more than expected. The former USC star will hold down that position for the next dozen years at a high level. The team opted to resign RT Phil Loadholt to a very high contract rather than starting over at the position. This ensures the team will have continuity on the offensive line. After Kalil and Loadholt there are only question marks. Murphy, Kropog and Love have not shown the potential to be quality replacements to either starter. The Vikings could look to secure a Swing Tackle in the draft with the free agency departure of Geoff Schwartz this offseason.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD ~ OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Daniel Bakhtiari, Colorado (6-4, 299)
Played his entire career on the edge at tackle, but could have to move inside in the NFL. Needs to gain weight as to not get jolted on first contact, but possesses a mean attitude to finish off blocks and could be a late second-day selection.
Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech (6-4, 306)
Fairly raw football player. Moved around both sides of the ball, seeing time at left tackle and defensive tackle then played some right guard and finally as the starting right tackle as a senior.
Xavier Nixon, Florida (6-6, 321)
Length and the athleticism to be a starting tackle in the NFL. Too inconsistent. Improved from a technique standpoint, and doesn’t fully utilize his length, athleticism, and surprising strength.
Brennan Williams, UNC (6-6, 318)
Vicious run blocking right tackle. Limited solely to right tackle because of his height, and lack of athletic ability. He was considered a second-round prospect coming into this senior season but didn’t show enough to maintain draft status.
Garrett Gilkey, Chadron St. (6-6, 318)
Best chance at NFL success likely will be on the inside where he can be better protected. Big, surprisingly athletic and willing to put in the work, he could emerge as a developmental starter.
Reid Fragel, Ohio State (6-8, 308)
Converted from tight end to offensive tackle. Left tackle frame, but started all 12 games in his final season on the right side and showed very little trouble anchoring against stronger pass rushers. His experience is limited on the left side, but could be groomed to block on the blind side or make a career on the right side after adding weight. Still learning the position, but has potential because of his overall athleticism.
Luke Marquardt, Azusa Pacific (6-9, 315)
His size and length give him a chance to be a mid-round pick with upside -– if he can take the coaching imparted him by Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Jackie Slater to handle the step up in competition.
On the roster: John Sullivan ( C ), Charlie Johnson (LG), Brandon Fusco (RG), Joe Berger (C/G), Seth Olsen (G), Tyler Holmes (G)
The Vikings starting center is set with the return of John Sullivan. Sullivan is the linchpin of the line but is recovering from a minor surgery. He should be back in time for training camp. The Vikings resigned his insurance policy which is veteran G/C Joe Berger. Berger has experience starting at both center and guard. The starting guard spots are another story. Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco were adequate last year, but the spot can still use an upgrade. At a minimum, looking for cheap labor in the draft to give that position some competition and depth makes sense.
More than likely, top prospects like Jonathan Cooper and Chance Warmack are off the board before their pick, but if either’s there, the team would have to consider them. They are more likely to address this position group on day two or three.
MY VIKINGS DRAFT BOARD – OFFENSIVE GUARD/CENTER
G Larry Warford, Kentucky (6-3, 332)
Is a powerful drive-blocker, with unexpected foot quickness and downfield hustle. Has size, strength, and surprising nimble feet to step into a starting lineup at the next level immediately.
G/C Barrett Jones, Alabama (6-4, 306)
Decorated player that has played every spot on the line while helping the Tide win three BCS championships in the last four years. Has spent most of his time on the interior, which is where he projects best in the NFL. While not the strongest or most athletic lineman, his versatility, intelligence and high character should get him penciled in at guard or center.
G Hugh Thornton, Illinois (6-3, 320)
Has a wild off-field story, coupled with some off-field mistakes, but he has become a versatile lineman (started at both tackle spots and weak-side guard) and a solid mid-round interior prospect for zone-blocking teams because of his upper-body strength and foot quickness.
G/T Dallas Thomas, Tennessee (6-5, 306)
Three years of starting experience at left tackle, before moving to guard in his senior season. Great flexibility. Ability to anchor into his blocks. Best fit as an offensive guard, but is capable of playing left tackle.
G Alvin Bailey, Arkansas (6-3, 312)
The rare guard that alternated sides of the line during games depending on the formation, Bailey is blessed with a natural anchor to limit his opposition’s momentum. The issue is the Razorback’s technique, whether it be in tight spaces with a lack of hand use or poor posture leading to a limited amount of push or balance. Durability is not an issue, as Bailey started every game he played in college, but an NFL team will need to translate tools into consistency.
Click the link to see my final 7-Round Minnesota Vikings 2013 Mock Draft and see which of my draft targets were still available in this Mock Draft.
Click the link to see my breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings 2013 Defensive/Specialists draft day targets.