Access Vikings

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.

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Vikings draft positional primer: Linebackers

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated April 25th at 5:30pm 301305811

Each day this past week, we have broken down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we conclude the series with a look at the linebackers.

When it comes to analyzing the Vikings’ current roster and guessing breaking down what they’ll do in the 2015 NFL draft, no position is more intriguing and confounding than linebacker.

On the one hand, they have promising youngsters they really like as Chad Greenway’s eventual heir apparent (Gerald Hodges) and Jasper Brinkley’s replacement (Audie Cole, Casey Matthews or dark horse candidate Michael Mauti).

On the other hand, the temptation of linking them to a dynamic, three-down playmaker to use alongside potential All-Pro Anthony Barr seems too irresistible.

University of Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman has been called a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine who could be available in the second round. Washington’s versatile Shaq Thompson, who could play three downs inside and eventually replace Greenway as an outside starter, is a first-round possibility, but more likely a target if the Vikings trade down from No. 11.

But would it be all that bad if the Vikings stood pat?

When Cole was asked to start at middle linebacker at Green Bay as a rookie in 2013, he had 18 tackles and a sack in his NFL starting debut. When asked to start outside in last year’s finale, he had 14 tackles. He also has ideal size and strong instincts.

Meanwhile, in a start against the Jets, Hodges made one of the top two defensive plays of the year, leaping for a one-handed interception and returning it for a touchdown 12 seconds into the game.

The Vikings also like Mauti, haven’t fully given up on Brandon Watts and quietly signed Matthews, who started 11 games in Philadelphia a year ago.

So the Vikings certainly are prepared to stand pat. But can they resist the temptations?

PROJECTED STARTERS: SLB Barr, MLB Cole, WLB Greenway.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT: Matthews’ signing wasn’t a big splash or much of a ripple. But don’t be surprised if the 26-year-old former Eagle ends up being Brinkley’s replacement. He made 11 of his career 16 starts at inside linebacker in Philly’s 3-4 defense last year.

LEVEL OF NEED: Medium with an asterisk. There are intriguing youngsters throughout the depth chart. But if a dynamic playmaker is sitting there on Day 1 or 2, it will be difficult for the Vikings to take a pass. The second round appears to be the hot spot for temptation.

FIVE PROSPECTS TO REMEMBER: Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Washington’s Shaq Thompson, UCLA’s Eric Kendricks, Miami’s Denzel Perryman, TCU’s Paul Dawson.

OUR BEST GUESS: Unless Beasley falls to them (very unlikely) or they trade down, the Vikings won’t be tempted on a linebacker until the second round. But we think they’ll look elsewhere in Round 2 because they invested mightily in that position last year (Barr) and already have young players they really like.

–MARK CRAIG

NFL Draft Truth or Hype: ex-Washington cornerback Marcus Peters

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 24th at 4:03pm 301240591

We’ll take a daily look at some of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and tell you whether they’re worth the hype or not.

We analyzed Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes on Thursday. Now let’s focus on Washington cornerback Marcus Peters. …Well, I should say ex-Washington cornerback.

Peters was kicked off the team in November and his character has come into question during the draft. He was suspended twice last season before head coach Chris Petersen ousted Peters from the team for throwing a tantrum on the sideline and being late to meetings. In 2011, he failed a drug test for marijuana and in 2013 he was suspended a quarter in Washington’s bowl game for an undisclosed infraction.

He comes in with a lot of baggage, but Peters’ talent suggests he’s one of the best cornerbacks in this class.

By the Numbers:

Redshirt Freshman (13 games): 44 tackles (26 solo), three interceptions, one touchdown, 11 passes defended, two tackles for loss

Redshirt Sophomore (13 games): 55 tackles (44 solo), five interceptions, nine passes defended, one forced fumble, one touchdown, one sack, 3.5 tackles for loss

Redshirt Junior (nine games): 30 tackles (25 solo), three interceptions, seven passes defended, four tackles for loss

Peters definitely has better stats than Waynes in a pass happy Pac-12 conference. He finished with 11 career interceptions and 27 passes defended in 35 games. He had just 22 starts however due to his character issues and run-ins with Petersen and his staff.

NFL Combine/Pro Day results:

40-yard dash: 4.53 seconds

Bench press (225 pounds): 17 reps

Vertical: 37.5 inches

Broad jump: 10 feet, one inch

Peters’ 40-yard dash time was outside of the top 10 and over two-tenths of a second slower than Waynes, who led all defensive backs with his 40-yard dash time (4.31 seconds). He was in the top 10 with his bench press and vertical, but Peters didn’t post any eye-popping measurements.

The Film

Though Peters was constantly in trouble, there’s enough snaps to get a good idea of what kind of cornerback he was in college. Listed at six feet and 197 pounds, Peters played with an edge at the position. He’s very confident, some may say cocky, and did a really good job knocking receivers off their routes in man coverage.

A really good example of that last year was Peters’ battle with Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen Stong, who I consider the third best wide receiver in this class. It was a great matchup to watch all game (that included winds strong enough to knock out the ESPN feed and derail both passing attacks), and Peters did about as well of a job on Strong as any other corner last year.

 

Peters seems like one of those prospects that can run faster on the field than he can in a 40-yard dash. He’s got some wheels on him and good instincts to provide some eye-raising plays in coverage or in the backfield. It’s what made Peters so good as a blitzing cornerback

 

Peters will need to polish his technique, but he’s no different than some of the other top cornerbacks in this draft.

But which Peters will you see at practice and during the heat of the moment? These prospects are trained and programmed to say the right things during the interview process, so it’s not a surprise Peters has gone on a media tour touting that he’s a changed man. It’s what he should be doing to bump his stock up and get more money on his rookie contract. I can’t hate on that.

It makes me a little weary to take Peters in the first round, despite his talent, because of the character concerns. There isn’t too much that separates Peters from Waynes, LSU cornerback Jalen Collins, Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson and I’ll even in Connecticut CB Byron Jones. They all have the ability to play corner in the NFL and will be considered in the first round.

If we’re just taking into context what he’s capable of doing on the field though, Peters would probably be ranked as the top cornerback over Waynes. He’s the real deal, but he needs to control his emotions first and foremost. If a team thinks it has the proper infrastructure in place to take on a player like Peters, say like the Seahawks, I’d pull the trigger. But Peters is definitely not for every team.

Verdict: Truth

Vikings draft positional primer: Wide receivers/Tight ends

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 24th at 12:38pm 301213851

Each day this week, we will break down where the Vikings stand at certain positions heading into next week’s NFL draft. Today, we continue the series with a look at the wide receivers and tight ends.

Charles Johnson was the Vikings’ No. 1 receiver by default last season. That won’t be the case during quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s second season.

The Vikings provided their franchise QB with a downfield threat, trading for wide receiver Mike Wallace with the Dolphins, and they’ll likely add another weapon to Bridgewater’s arsenal in the draft.

The team released veteran receiver Greg Jennings, but everyone else returns at both wide receiver and tight end. It’s a fairly young, and unproven, unit with Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright and Adam Thielen. The Vikings opted not to pick a wide receiver last year in what will likely go down as one of the best receiving classes in NFL history, but they’ll have some options to upgrade the position.

Two of those include a college teammate of Bridgewater’s (Louisville’s DeVante Parker) and a Miami Northwestern High School teammate of Bridgewater’s (Alabama’s Amari Cooper).

It’s also a big year for tight end Kyle Rudolph. He received a contract extension last year during training camp but has played only 17 games over the last two seasons due to injury. He’ll need to show durability, but Rudolph’s position is safe. Yes, even with a good prospect like Gophers tight end Maxx Williams in the draft.

Projected starters: Wallace, Johnson and Rudolph.

Don’t forget about: Wright has made strides over the last two seasons in a limited amount of playing time. He has speed and the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands, like the 87-yard screen for a touchdown to beat the Jets in overtime last year.

Level of need: High. This is the final year that Wallace has guaranteed money remaining on the five-year deal he signed with the Dolphins. In the event the Vikings move on from Wallace next year or Patterson doesn’t develop into a playmaker, the Vikings need to have someone to pair with Bridgewater for the foreseeable future.

Five prospects to remember: Cooper, Parker, West Virginia WR Kevin White, Oklahoma WR Dorial Green-Beckham, USC WR Nelson Agholor.

Our best guess: If Cooper magically slides down the board at No. 11, this is a no-brainer. He’s by far the best wide receiver in this class, but that likely won’t happen. Parker should be available, and he’ll likely receive strong consideration, but there’s enough depth at the position that the Vikings can address the need later if there’s a nice defensive prospect still on the board.

History of the draft picks: No. 228 overall

Posted by: Mark Craig Updated April 24th at 7:24am 301193001

Heading into the draft, we will give the recent history at each of the Vikings’ seven draft slots.

We will continue this series with pick No. 228, the sixth of the Vikings’ seven selections. The slot has a Minnesota connection. Lydon Murtha, a 2008 All-State offensive tackle at Hutchinson High School, was taken there by Detroit in 2009. But he never played for the Lions. He was claimed off Detroit’s practice squad by the Dolphins and played in nine games over three seasons before his career ended in 2011.

Before we look at the good, bad and ugly, here is a list of the last 10 players to go 228th overall:

2014: Zach Hacker, K, Redskins

2013: Jawan Jamison, RB, Redskins

2012: Jeris Pendleton, DT Jaguars

2011: Jabara Williams, LB, Rams

2010: Reggie Stephens, C, Bengals

2009: Lydon Murtha, OT, Lions

2008: Chris Chamberlain, DB, Rams

2007: DeShawn Wynn, RB, Packers

2006: Jarrad Page, DB, Chiefs

2005: Shaun Nua, DE, Steelers

The good… Well, there isn’t much to pick from. Chamberlain started 16 of 59 games in four years with the Rams and two with the Saints. But we’ll go with Page, who started 45 of 74 games with four teams, including the Vikings briefly in 2011. He spent four years with the Chiefs and a year in New England. In 2011, when the Vikings’ secondary was decimated by injuries, he ended up in Minnesota for five games in what would be his final season.

The bad… Let’s call it a multi-player tie. Seven of the 10 have played fewer than 10 games. Nau, Jamison and Stephens never played a game and are out of the league Hocker hasn’t played a game, but is still in the NFL. He made the Redskins’ practice squad and is now with the Dolphins.

The ugly… It’s a bad group overall, but the worst of the worst was Nau. He’s the only one of the batch who didn’t even make an NFL roster or a practice squad as a rookie and never played in the NFL.

Having the Vikings ever picked 228th? No. So this will be their best 228th pick ever. Or their worst.

Best 228th pick in NFL history? Easy. In 1951, the Los Angeles Rams selected a 6-1, 230-pound defensive end named Andy Robustelli in the 19th round. He played five years with the Rams, nine more with the Giants and joined the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971.

Big thanks to Pro Football Reference and their invaluable Draft Finder for making our work easy.

NFL Draft Truth or Hype: Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Posted by: Master Tesfatsion Updated April 23rd at 6:04pm 301135081

We’ll take a daily look at some of the most talked about prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft and tell you whether they’re worth the hype or not.

I’ve been so obsessed with the edge rushers in the draft that I haven’t analyzed a single cornerback in this series yet. Well, that changes now starting with Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.

It seems as if 90 percent of the mock drafts (rough estimate) pairs Waynes and the Vikings with the 11th overall pick. He’s viewed as the top rated cornerback in the draft by many people at six feet and 186 pounds. Could he fill the need for the Vikings of a lockdown cornerback alongside Xavier Rhodes?

By the Numbers:

Redshirt Freshman (nine games): five tackles, (two solo), ½ sack

Redshirt Sophomore (14 games): 50 tackles (35 solo), three interceptions, five pass defended, 1.5 tackles for loss

Redshirt Junior (13 games): 46 tackles (34 solo), three interceptions, eight pass defended, one sack, two tackles for loss

Waynes started 27 games in his final two seasons at Michigan State and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year. He received second-team All-American honors from Athlon Sports, Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.

NFL Combine/Pro Day results:

40-yard dash: 4.31 seconds

Bench press (225 pounds): 19 reps

Vertical: 38 inches

Broad jump: 10 feet, two inches

Waynes had the fastest 40-yard dash time at the NFL Combine among cornerbacks and finished tied for fourth on the bench press. Waynes appeared to have fared well during the draft evaluation, especially with the impressive 40-yard dash time.

The Film

You can immediately tell Waynes is an aggressive corner that can hold his own in man-to-man coverage. It’s clear that’s where he’s comfortable at, and Michigan State heavily relied on his man-to-man ability at the boundary cornerback position. Per NFL.com, he gave up just two touchdowns in the last two seasons.

 

I like his physicality, though at times he’s overaggressive and puts him out of position, and how he was capable of playing on an island every week consistently. Waynes was always around the ball too. Though his technique might be off, Waynes was capable of making a play if a quarterback tested him.

 

The biggest knock on Waynes is his aggressive play can lead to penalties. In both examples, you can see Waynes grabbing and making contact with the receiver while the ball is in the air. Sometimes that’ll be called for pass interference, as Waynes witnessed firsthand in college.

He also at times can appear a little sloppy in his mechanics. There were a lot of plays where Waynes took an unnecessary step that slowed him down or put him out of position. I was surprised he ran the fastest 40-yard dash time at the combine because there are some plays where Waynes’ speed doesn’t translate on the field.

 

There aren’t too many eye-popping plays you’ll find with Waynes, which could be why some have knocked whether he’s really the best cornerback in this draft. But I don’t want to see flashy plays from a cornerback. I just need him to get the job done, and Waynes got the job done in college. I think he’ll have the ability to get the job done as well in the NFL, especially if someone like Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer gets his hands on him to clean up his technique. It’s clear to see why a lot of mock drafts have the Vikings picking Waynes. He has the length, aggressive and speed that fit well in a Zimmer defense.

The margin between Waynes and some of the other top cornerbacks is narrow, but I think he’ll be a solid cornerback in the NFL and worthy of a first round pick.

Verdict: Truth

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