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.
Some see mock drafts as pure entertainment. Others see them as completely pointless. But while even some of the best draft analysts are throwing darts when it comes to projecting how the first round of the NFL draft will play out, these mock drafts can serve a purpose, even to NFL teams.
In the days leading up to the draft, after their draft boards have pretty much been set in stone, most teams, including the Vikings, do their own mock draft exercises to make sure they are prepared for the twists and turns of the draft, especially the first round, which is the best show on television.
So in the spirt of that, between now and April’s draft we will participate in an exercise I’ve dubbed “Off the Board,” in which we theorize about how the Vikings might proceed with their 11th overall pick based on the draft-night drama that unfolds in front of them. I’ll come up with a new scenario every couple of weeks. Remember, this is more about the draft process than the actual picks.
For the debut installment of “Off the Board,” let’s explore the scenario of what might happen if each of the top three wide receivers go in the top 10 picks, a very real possibility after Kevin White and Amari Cooper blew up the combine and DeVante Parker did nothing to drop his stock with a solid showing himself. Barring an unexpected off-the-field incident or a fluke injury before draft, I think it’s safe to say that White and Cooper will be long gone by the 11th pick, and Parker could, too.
I’m not saying the Vikings definitely want to get Teddy Bridgewater a receiver, but it’s a definite need. So what might they do if the top three guys are all gone? Let’s start mocking and take a guess.
1. Buccaneers: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State. Winston came off as a little cocky during his Q&A with media on Friday, but I personally had no problem with that. His interviews with teams were infinitely more important due to his off-the-field issues, and Winston reportedly made favorable impressions there. As for his on-field performance, Winston opted to throw and did not disappoint.
2. Titans: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon. Mariota also gets points for throwing at the combine instead of waiting until his pro day. He, too, was sharp and also showed off his speed in testing. I could see the Titans taking a front-seven defender as they continue to switch to a 3-4, but in the end, I think they will end up taking whichever quarterback the Buccaneers don’t pick or auction this pick off.
3. Jaguars: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. The Jaguars have some good young wide-outs in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marquise Lee, but none of them profile as a true No. 1. White, who ran a 4.35 40-yard dash at 6-foot-3, would give strong-armed quarterback Blake Bortles a big-play threat.
4. Raiders: Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama. Welp, there goes another wide receiver. Cooper fared well in the 40-yard dash, but his performance in receiver drills impressed more. A smooth route-runner, Cooper has been compared to Reggie Wayne. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr would like this pick.
5. Redskins: Dante Fowler, DE/OLB, Florida. Fowler backed up his explosive game tape with a nice week in Indy. The Redskins will need another edge defender if/when they let Brian Orakpo walk.
6. Jets: Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska. Gregory is a tweener type being projected to go in the top 10 or so picks. Maybe the Jets prefer a different edge defender, but we’ll drop Gregory here.
7. Bears: Leonard Williams, DE, USC. This big end could very well end up being the first defender selected. The Bears, who are switching to a 3-4 defense under John Fox, could get a perfect fit.
8. Falcons: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri. I can see new Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a defensive guy, drafting an impact defender with his first pick, like Mike Zimmer did with Anthony Barr a year ago.
9. Giants: Erik Armstead, DE, Oregon. A tricky projection. The Giants may select another offensive lineman here. But they often target defensive linemen early, and Jason Pierre-Paul is a free agent.
10. Rams: DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville. There goes the third receiver. They claim they’re keeping Sam Bradford, so let’s give him another target. Somewhere Teddy Bridgewater frowns.
11. Vikings: Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa. In this scenario, the top-tier receivers are gone, and taking, say, Dorial Green-Beckham, might be a reach. It might also be too early to select a cornerback or an outside linebacker like Shaq Thompson, so a trade-down might be an option. But if the Vikings stay put in this scenario, they would be able to get their hands on their favorite offensive lineman. I don’t know right now if that’s Scherff or someone else. But his ability to play either guard or tackle should appeal to the Vikings, who need reinforcements at both positions after the line struggled in 2014.
OK, your turn. Leave a comment to tell me who you would want the Vikings to pick in this scenario.
The Vikings signed linebacker Brian Peters from the Canadian Football League on Monday. Peters spent the last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, leading the team with 78 tackles last year. The 26-year-old also had three sacks, two interceptions and one defensive touchdown.
Peters is listed at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds and played safety while at Northwestern. He’s the 11th linebacker on the Vikings roster, though Jasper Brinkley and Dom DeCicco are slated to become free agents in March. It’s a position that head coach Mike Zimmer said is thin in the draft and free agency.
Peters is the second player the Vikings have signed from the CFL this offseason. The team signed cornerback Jalil Carter to a reserve/future deal on Jan. 15. The Vikings also added defensive end Leon Mackey from the Arena Football League last month on a reserve/future deal.
INDIANAPOLIS —- On Thursday morning, head coach Mike Zimmer talked about figuring out what your players do best and putting them in a situation to thrive. He also mentioned the importance of versatility, like linebackers who can be sub-package defenders and dual-role defensive backs.
Maybe he had Washington linebacker/safety/running back Shaq Thompson on his mind. Maybe he didn’t. But no player at the combine personifies versatility like the Huskies’ Swiss Army knife.
Most teams see him as a linebacker, and Thompson made it clear yesterday that he is not going to be a running back. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock projects him as a safety and some teams probably do, too. Whoever picks Thompson will get to decide what he is, but he prefers to be a linebacker.
“That’s where I feel the most comfortable,” Thompson said yesterday. “I like to be up by the line of scrimmage. I feel like I’m physical enough. I’m not the biggest guy, but I have a lot of heart.”
In 2014, his junior year, he made 81 tackles for the Huskies. He forced two fumbles and picked off a pass. He was a terror on special teams. And he averaged 7.5 yards per carry as a part-time back.
Whatever he is, the Vikings have some interest. He met with Zimmer this week at the combine.
Outside linebacker isn’t a pressing need for the Vikings. They used their first-round pick last year on Anthony Barr. Gerald Hodges and Audie Cole impressed while filling in when Chad Greenway missed four games due to a couple of injuries. They also like 2014 late-round pick Brandon Watts.
But with Greenway possibly on the chopping block due to his age and $7.1 million salary and with Zimmer looking for more defensive playmakers, Thompson could be a first-round fit for the Vikings.
In theory, Thompson could play in Greenway’s old spot in the base defense, and his athleticism and skill set could allow him to be used in sub packages and make plays as a hybrid linebacker/safety.
“Even if a guy is better than me, I’m not going to think he’s better than me,” he said of playing in space. “My confidence is going to be high. I’m going to feel I can guard him. I’ll never be on the field thinking somebody’s better than me even if they are. That’s the mindset you have to have.”
We have a long way to go until the draft, but Thompson is a guy you should probably keep tabs on.
INDIANAPOLIS —- The most-anticipated numbers of the NFL’s annual scouting combine are in.
No combine drill generates more buzz than the 40-yard dash, especially when it comes to the wide receivers. The running backs are sprinting on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium as I type this and the cornerbacks run tomorrow. But wide receivers! Flash! Flamboyance! This gets everyone’s attention.
That includes the Vikings, who have a need at wide receiver and might even select one 11th overall.
The top three receiver prospects in this class all helped themselves today by running the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. West Virginia’s Kevin White ran a blazing 4.35 at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. Alabama’s Amari Cooper ran a 4.42. And Louisville’s DeVante Parker clocked in at 4.45.
My knee-jerk reaction: It’s safe to say Cooper and White will be long gone by the Vikings’ first pick.
Other noteworthy 40 times include Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham, who looked like a stud while running it in 4.49 seconds at 6-foot-5. And Michigan’s Devin Funchess was a dud, ranking dead last among the receivers at 4.70 seconds. That reinforces the notion that Funchess will be considered a move tight end and not a wide-out, though Jimmy Graham is proof that a job title can be irrelevant.
Unofficially, 20 wide receivers ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds today. So there’s a lot of speed in this draft. Here are the top 10 times at the position, led by one of the best in recent history.
1. J.J. Nelson, UAB, 4.29 seconds
2. Phillip Dorsett, Miami, 4.33
3(t). Chris Conley, Georgia, 4.35
3(t). Tyler Lockett, Kansas State, 4.35
3(t). Kevin White, West Virginia, 4.35
6. Kenny Bell, Nebraska, 4.40
7. Tre McBride, William & Mary, 4.41
8(t). Amari Cooper, Alabama, 4.42
8(t). Devin Smith, Ohio State, 4.42
10(t). Mario Alford, West Virginia, 4.43
10(t). Sammie Coates, Auburn, 4.43
INDIANAPOLIS —- In case you didn’t pick up the paper today, my daily story from the NFL scouting combine was on this year’s wide receiver class, which isn’t as great as last year but still strong.
At least three wide receivers are considered locks to go in the first round this year, and a few others could end up joining them. But they will be hard-pressed to produce like Odell Beckham Jr. and Co. did this past year, when 10 wide-outs had at least 48 receptions as rookies.
The talent and depth of that class, followed up by another good one in 2015, led to a lot of NFL coaches and general managers being asked why so many college receivers come pro-ready now.
“We’ve talked a little bit about that. From a throwing standpoint in the National Football League, you end up throwing the ball quite a bit. I think the college game has really helped,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “It’s helped because they’re throwing the football more and these guys are having more opportunities to run the routes that we run and go against these different coverages that are little bit more sophisticated at the college level and have to make adjustments on those coverages. I think from a quarterback’s standpoint, tight ends and wide receivers, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco theorized that the development starts before college even.
“Maybe the advent that so many teams run spread offense and throw the ball so much, we’re seeing more receivers at this level that are much more polished,” Telesco said. “Most of these kids through high school, there are 7-on-7 camps in the summer time, and in college, these receivers have been running routes, and a lot of routes, for a long time. It’s a repetition game, so many we’re starting to see some of that at this level.”
Alabama’s Amari Cooper was asked for his thoughts on why he and his peers are more pro-ready. He didn’t have an explanation but did say he expects to make an instant impact, too. And I’m sure fellow wide-outs like WVU’s Kevin White and Louisville’s DeVante Parker feel the exact same way.
|Fla Gulf Coast||67||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||74|
|William & Mary||66|
|Utah Valley U||44||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||64||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||66||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||64||FINAL|
|San Jose St||51||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||49||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||47||FINAL|
|Long Beach State||70|
|SE Missouri St||89|
|Coll of Charleston||56|
|San Diego St||46|
|New Mexico St||0||Postponed|
|Stephen F Austin||102||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||59||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||54|
|Sam Houston St||52||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||77||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||42||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||82|
|San Diego State||58||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||54||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||67|
|Mount St Marys||68|
|San Jose St||81|
|Stephen F Austin||69||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||68|
|UC Santa Barbara||57||FINAL|
|(7) Oregon State||73|
|(21) Fla Gulf Coast||78|
|Long Beach St||69||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||62|
|New Mexico St||80|
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