It’s draft night and you’re the Vikings. When your turn to pick comes along at #11, you’re given a choice between Michigan State CB Trae Waynes (a player you allegedly “love”) and Iowa OL Brandon Scherff.
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Which player do you choose? The potential shutdown corner or the potential man-crusher at left guard?
I have no problem with anyone who says you have to take Waynes. At this point, Waynes looks like a great pick at #11 given his talent and scheme fit. But there’s a really strong case to be made for Scherff as well.
On the surface, the case for Waynes might appear to be stronger. The Vikings have Terence Newman penciled in as their starting left cornerback but he’s old and was only signed to a one-year deal. Meanwhile, the Vikings appear decently covered at left guard with Joe Berger on board for two years plus 2014 draft pick David Yankey.
You could argue that the cornerback need is more pressing than the left guard need. It’s also worth noting Rick Spielman’s draft history which would tend to indicate against him taking a guard as high as #11.
But occasionally you encounter a player who blows up all your carefully-worked-out arguments and it’s looking more and more like Brandon Scherff might be one of those players.
Stories of Scherff’s athletic prowess are becoming the stuff of legend. Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen lays out the stories in this piece, including one about the time Scherff nearly blocked a man through a wall in practice:
"Watching the play unfold from the end-zone camera, left tackle Brandon Scherff stood out. Massive with a 6’5″, 319-pound frame, he showed good footwork in creating an angle to the second level of the defense, swallowed up a linebacker and started driving the kid across the screen.Five yards. Ten yards. Fifteen yards. Twenty yards.He kept going—legs moving, hands inside, power overwhelming from the point of attack. He would have blocked this guy all the way to Cedar Rapids if the wall at the indoor facility, 15 yards out of bounds, hadn’t gotten in the way."
Bowen also shares this semi-legendary video of Scherff pulling off a ridiculous weightlifting feat last summer:
Bowen explains why this is so impressive:
"Scherff’s current max on the squat is 655 pounds, and he did his first 400-pound hang clean during his sophomore year. But the number that stands out is the 443-pound hang clean that created a lighting storm of buzz on social media.The core strength and speed needed to generate the force to move that kind of weight is unheard of in football circles."
Scherff wowed scouts in his work outs at the combine and Iowa pro day, posting numbers some describe as freakish. Everyone raves about his work ethic and attitude.
From the Vikings’ point-of-view, there’s more to the Scherff argument than just the scouting material. The Vikings’ offensive line situation remains a touchy matter after last year’s debacle and Scherff is someone who could go a long way toward rectifying all that.
The Scherff argument goes beyond his obvious value at left guard, the Vikings’ iffiest offensive line spot. Because Scherff could actually project as a right tackle in the NFL and possibly even a left tackle if certain footwork issues can be cleaned up.
I don’t need to remind fans what happened last year with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, the Vikings’ supposed Pro Bowl bookends.
After seemingly solidifying his status as a top 10 right tackle in the league, Loadholt struggled through a subpar run before suffering a season-ending injury. Loadholt’s performance was not helped by the injury to right guard Brandon Fusco, but even before Fusco went out, there were questions about Loadholt’s pass protection.
And of course there was Matt Kalil. With Christian Ponder relegated to non-entity status, Kalil became the favorite target of fan ire, and his play on the field certainly warranted the criticism.
Most expected third-year-man Kalil to battle back from his weak sophomore season but instead he seemed to regress even further, becoming a huge liability in pass protection. The more beloved rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater had his health endangered by Kalil’s pass blocking whiffs, the louder fans cried for Kalil to be replaced (despite there being no one on the roster worthy of starting in his place).
Things became so dire for Kalil that Vikings coaches were even forced to make public statements in his defense. Kalil’s year reached its nadir during a confrontation with a fan in the parking lot after a loss to the Packers, an incident that called Kalil’s entire mental state into question.
In Kalil’s defense, his performance did improve slightly late in the season after he supposedly worked through some balance issues related to his lingering knee problems. But that one uptick did little to dispel the impression that Kalil has now been certified as a draft bust.
To hear Vikings coaches and front office people tell it, Kalil is in little danger of being replaced in 2015. But you heard the same things being said about Christian Ponder right up until the moment the Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater.
The question is this: Have the Vikings seen enough in three years to make a call on Matt Kalil, or do they need one more season to make the decision?
This is where a player like Brandon Scherff becomes very intriguing. It’s not just the talent he brings to the table, it’s the flexibility he would afford the Vikings. He’s a day 1 starter at left guard but his potential at tackle would give you the luxury of evaluating Kalil with the knowledge that a possible replacement is already on the roster.
Sure, the Vikings could just cut bait on Kalil now and draft his replacement, but why not give it another year? This could be the thinking inside Winter Park. Giving up on Kalil now would mean cutting ties with a former high first rounder for a second straight year, and I’m sure that’s not a pill Rick Spielman wants to swallow.
Scherff represents a best-of-both-words solution for Spielman: The team gets an immediate starter at left guard, and it gets man who could step in at left tackle if Kalil is unable to get his act together (or at right tackle if the decision is made to move on from Phil Loadholt before his contract is up). And don’t underestimate the motivational impact Scherff’s presence could represent for Kalil, a player who seems to need a little kick in the butt.
It wasn’t just Matt Kalil’s bad on-field performance that left a sour taste in many people’s mouths last year, it was the way he comported himself in the face of criticism. You have to wonder if Kalil possesses the mental toughness to battle through his problems and become the player the Vikings envisioned when they spent the #4 overall on him in 2012.
With Scherff, attitude does not appear to be an issue. Everyone raves about his work habits and his practice demeanor and the way he takes coaching. This doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would respond to criticism by blowing off the media or going after fans in the parking lot.
The floor on Scherff is “solid left guard,” and the ceiling is “Pro Bowl left tackle.” A player with that much potential upside, whose athletic ability is arguably off the charts and whose intangibles are reportedly superior, will be hard to pass up at #11 regardless of “need.”
Given all the steam for Trae Waynes at 11, many fans would no doubt be disappointed if the Vikings bucked the mock drafts and went with Scherff instead. But Scherff might be the better prospect and the better pick for Minnesota.
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