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.
I don’t have intimate knowledge of how the Vikings have stacked their draft board. I would try to break into Rick Spielman’s office, but my editors tell me that would be unethical. And illegal, they say, too. I considered contacting Miss Cleo for assistance but remembered it’s not 1998 anymore.
But while I unfortunately don’t know precisely what the Vikings plan to do in the NFL draft, I do feel I have a pretty good understanding of their needs and how they go about their draft business.
So because I can’t get enough of the draft and you can’t get enough of the draft, I decided to try my hand at a seven-round Vikings mock draft using FanSpeak.com’s handy draft simulator.
I’m aware that I might go 1-for-7 on this and I would be ecstatic if I hit two or three. I’m not too worried about that, though. The purpose of this exercise is simply to project how the draft might play out and which positions the Vikings will prioritize and when. This mock draft, which does not allow for trades, should also serve as a reminder that you can’t always get what you want.
So without further ado, here is my seven-round Vikings mock draft. Be sure to take a screen grab and mock me later, which I’m sure the Vikings will do after I strike out on all seven of these picks.
1st round (11th overall): Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State. I was tempted to select Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker with this pick, like my colleague Mark Craig did in his entertaining mock draft in today’s newspaper. But I do believe that coach Mike Zimmer feels his secondary can be a lot better even though the Vikings did soar to seventh in the NFL in pass defense last season. Most mock drafts have the Vikings selecting Waynes here, and I see the logic. He has good tape and measurables and he ran well at the combine. And the Vikings must find a cornerback to pair with Xavier Rhodes for the long term, and I don’t think that player is on the roster now.
2nd (45th): A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina. Left guard should be a priority for the Vikings in this draft. Charlie Johnson really struggled last year and was released. Joe Berger was brought back, but ideally he would be their top backup on the interior. Perhaps David Yankey will be ready to compete this year, but he was not strong enough physically to do it as a rookie. The Vikings in recent years have tended to target interior lineman in the later rounds, so perhaps this might be too early for a guard. But Cann is a powerful run blocker who should be ready to play right away.
3rd (76th): Eric Rowe, S, Utah. With middle linebacker being a perennial need for the Vikings, I was hoping that TCU’s Paul Dawson would still be on the board here. He went a few picks earlier, though. But Rowe was still available, and he is an intriguing player. He was measured at 6-foot-1 at the combine and he was a top performer among defensive backs at every combine drill. He played cornerback last year, but he had been a safety before then. As I wrote for Tuesday’s newspaper, it has become difficult to find a good safety in the draft, but Rowe may have the skills to grow into one.
4th (110th): David Johnson, RB, Northern Iowa. Spielman is on the record as saying that he feels this is a really deep, talented class of running backs. I have been saying for several weeks now that I don’t believe the Vikings will trade Adrian Peterson. But that probably won’t keep them from taking a talented young back like Johnson, whom the Vikings reportedly hosted at Winter Park for a pre-draft visit. Johnson is 6-foot-1 and he tipped the scales at 224 pounds at the scouting combine. He impressed in drills there, too. In theory, he could be groomed to one day help replace Peterson.
5th (137th): Lynden Trail, DE, Norfolk State. At 6-foot-7 and 269 pounds, and with arms that are nearly 35 inches long, Trail looks a lot like the kind of defensive ends Zimmer had with the Bengals, including Michael Johnson, the free agent they failed to woo last month. Trail is said to be a raw prospect, and there are questions about how he will transition from small-school Norfolk State, where he had 19.5 sacks in three seasons. The Vikings, who also had Trail in for a Winter Park visit, need reinforcements at defensive end, and he might be a project worth taking on for Zimmer.
7th (228th): Amarlo Herrera, MLB, Georgia. I would have liked to address this need sooner, but after the second round of the draft the talent there really dropped off. Zimmer might feel the same way, too. At the combine, he remarked that it wasn’t a great class for middle linebackers, especially ones that can play all three downs. Herrera isn’t the fastest or most athletic prospect, and he’s a little short, but he is a smart, instinctive player who reportedly lined up the Bulldogs defense last season. He has some coverage ability, too, so perhaps he could develop into a three-down player.
7th (232nd): Austin Hill, WR, Arizona. This is another need I would have liked to have gotten to earlier, especially with such a deep, talented group of receivers. Alas, you can’t get to every need unless you make trades and move around the draft, something Spielman will try to do but I couldn’t in this trade-free mock draft. Hill is an interesting prospect. He is 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, and the Vikings lack a receiver with his size. He missed all of 2013 with a torn ACL and his 2014 numbers weren’t close to his 2012 numbers. But it’s worth taking a flyer late on a receiver with his skill set.
Your turn. Use the draft simulator I linked to above and post your seven-round mock below.
Rejoice! The NFL draft is finally upon us.
The first round starts tonight, so it won’t be long until all those mock drafts become outdated and irrelevant. But while the latest ones are freshly-published and somewhat relevant, let’s take one final look at the players the most notable of draft analysts are linking to the Vikings at pick No. 11.
Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes continues to be the popular pick, though Mike Mayock of the NFL Network has the Vikings selecting Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker — perhaps only because Waynes went in the top 10 in his mock. There are a couple of other dissenters, too.
Here’s a look at which players a dozen draft analysts and NFL insiders think the Vikings will take:
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Waynes. “The top three wide receivers are off the board, and they get immediate help at cornerback while pushing Captain Munnerlyn to a better position in the slot,” he wrote.
Peter King, Sports Illustrated: Waynes. “Might be too light at 186 to be the kind of physical corner many teams would want, but the only highlight I saw of Waynes in run defense put the kibosh on that: In the 2013 Big Ten championship game, he made a physical stop of Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde (40 pounds heavier) for no gain,” King wrote. “Mike Zimmer needs two good physical cover corners, and adding Waynes to Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikes two first-round young players at that position.”
Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Parker. “Parker was Bridgewater’s teammate from Louisville,” he wrote. “Parker can high-point the football, and was highly productive when on the field.”
Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Waynes. “While the Terrance Newman signing was good for depth, the Vikings still have a need at cornerback and could draft the top defensive back on their board with this pick,” Brugler wrote.
Charles Davis, NFL Network: Kevin White, WR, West Virginia. “My top-ranked WR comes off the board here, and immediately helps second-year QB Teddy Bridgewater,” he wrote. “Louisville WR DeVante Parker will be a consideration, as will Michigan State CB Trae Waynes.”
Matt Miller, Bleacher Report: Marcus Peters, CB, Washington. “Waynes is a good player, but he’s not the NFL-ready talent Marcus Peters is,” Miller wrote. “Yes, Peters has some off-field baggage after being dismissed from Washington, but he’s the type of prospect head coach Mike Zimmer can turn into an All-Pro talent. Peters needs hard coaching and a leader he trusts, and Zimmer has both the experience and leadership to be that person.”
Todd McShay, ESPN: Waynes. “This is another pick I’ve made a few different times during the draft process, but it continues to make sense,” he wrote. “The Vikings need a press-man corner opposite Xavier Rhodes, and Waynes is the best cornerback prospect in this class who figures to fit best in press-man or Cover 2 alignments.”
Josh Norris, Rotoworld: Waynes. “Everything points to the Vikings selecting a cornerback. So will it happen? I could see one of three names: Waynes, Byron Jones and Kevin Johnson,” Norris wrote. “Waynes is a press corner (or man in his zone) who uses length and frame to stick with receivers and combat the catch point.”
Peter Schrager, Fox Sports: Waynes. “Waynes could go earlier, depending on team needs in the top 10. He is a 6-foot, 186-pound corner who starred in a man-to-man defense at Michigan State,” he wrote. “Don’t forget, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a defensive backs coach at heart. Xavier Rhodes showed flashes last year; here’s his battery mate.”
Jason La Canfora, CBS Sports: Waynes. “After passing on Aaron Donald a year ago, nose tackle Danny Shelton could be their guy, but I say they go with who many believe to be the best corner in the draft,” he wrote. “So many capable deep passing attacks in their division. A potential shutdown corner makes sense.”
Jamie Newberg, Scout.com: Waynes. “I am so tempted to change my Minnesota mock pick to wide receiver Devante Parker but I have gone with Trae Waynes from practically the beginning,” he said. “I still have strong feeling that the draft’s top corner will be picked inside the top 10.”
Nate Davis, USA Today: Waynes. “The Vikes must contend with Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson, Golden Tate, Alshon Jeffery and Randall Cobb, among others, twice a year,” Davis wrote. “Bolstering the secondary with a talented cover man like Waynes aces the common sense test.”
Mike Zimmer famously said last year that Pro Football Focus, perhaps the most respected football analytics site out there, should be taken with a grain of salt. But if you believe Rick Spielman, the Vikings have taken a bigger bite into the analytics movement than ever before.
“We really took another step forward this year from the analytics,” Spielman, the general manager, said yesterday. “We really grew that department and how we’re looking at analyzing some things.”
The word of the day at Spielman’s annual pre-draft press conference was “analytics,” so much so that if it were an episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” no one would have left Winter Park with a voice. He brought up analytics in his opening statement and was asked about them five times.
Spielman wasn’t exactly forthcoming, but here’s what we learned about the team’s use of analytics:
1. Spielman said the Vikings have hired an outside consultant to provide “unique things from an analytics standpoint.” That person — Spielman wouldn’t say if it was a man or a woman, but he did slip up and say “the analytics guy” at one point — has been working with pro scout Scott Kuhn and Mike Band, a Vikings staffer, to not only come up with usable analytics but also contextualize them for Spielman and members of the front office and coaching staff who aren’t as savvy with numbers.
2. Spielman was adamant that the media shouldn’t read too much into the analytics stuff because he said the Vikings still prioritize breaking down game tape first and foremost. “You’re always going to make decisions based on your experience your gut,” he said. But he said when it comes to individual prospects, they might use tem to break ties between similarly-graded players at a position.
3. The Vikings looked at draft prospects over “the last five or six years” in “numerous areas” from an analytic standpoint in the hopes of identifying trends about why prospects did or didn’t pan out.
4. Analytics played a big role in the selection of Jerick McKinnon last year. Spielman didn’t go into specifics, but the running back’s exceptional athleticism have been quantified by SPARQ scores.
5. The Vikings also used analytics to try to gauge the value at each draft slot to try to see how much of a difference there was between, say, the 30th and 45th players in the draft. And that’s not all they looked at, according to Spielman. “We’ve got analytics on how far you trade back and front on the board. We’ve got analytics on the players and all of the different things we collected there. We’ve got analytics on the successes of positions and where you have to take those,” he said. “That’s all part of it. Analytics has become a lot more significant part of this than it has been in the past.”
Heading into the draft, we are giving the recent history at each of the Vikings’ seven draft slots.
We conclude this series with pick No. 11, the first of the Vikings’ seven selections. To say the 11th pick is rich with historical greatness would be an understatement. Seven Hall of Famers have been selected 11th overall. And there will be more to follow. The last 10 players to be picked 11th overall have combined for 21 Pro Bowl appearances.
Before we look at the good, bad and ugly, here is a list of the last 10 players to go 11th overall:
2014: Taylor Lewan, T, Titans
2013: D.J. Fluker, T, Chargers
2012: Dontari Poe, DT, Chiefs
2011: J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
2010: Anthony Davis, T, 49ers
2009: Aaron Maybin, DE, Bills
2008: Leodis McKelvin, DB, Bills
2007: Patrick Willis, ILB, 49ers
2006: Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos
2005: DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys
The good… There are three choices. You take any two and I’ll be happy with the third. Willis recently retired with five first-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowls. Ware earned All-Pro first-team four times and went to eight Pro Bowls. Watt just won his second Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award and has been first-team All-Pro three times while going to three Pro Bowls.
The bad… “Bad” is a stretch for Cutler, but considering the strength of this group, the heightened expectations that come with quarterbacks and how little he did for the team that picked him, we’ll put Cutler here. In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick. He has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls. Two years later, Cutler was the 11th overall pick. Denver traded him after he went 17-20 in his first three years.
The ugly… Easy. Maybin. He lasted only two years with Buffalo, two with the Jets and was finished. He had one career start, with Buffalo in 2010, and six sacks, all of which came with the Jets in 2011.
Having the Vikings ever picked 11th? Yes. Twice. They picked defensive end Derrick Alexander in 1995 and quarterback Daunte Culpepper in 1999. Alexander never made a Pro Bowl in five years. Culpepper played seven years with the Vikings, making three Pro Bowls.
Best 11th pick in NFL history? Like we said, there are seven Hall of Famers and more that will reach the Hall once they’re eligible. The Hall of Famers are receiver Michael Irvin (1988), receiver Fred Biletnikoff (1965), receiver Paul Warfield (1964), guard Billy Shaw (1961), defensive end Doug Atkins (1953), halfback Frank Gifford (1952) and defensive tackle Leo Nomellini (1950). If I had to pick, I’d go with Nomellini, the former Gophers standout. He was first-team All-Pro six times and made 10 Pro Bowls in a 14-year career with the 49ers.
Big thanks to Pro Football Reference and their invaluable Draft Finder for making our work easy.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman’s stance on running back Adrian Peterson didn’t change on Tuesday. Two days before the NFL Draft, Spielman once again said the Vikings intend to bring Peterson back this year.
“Adrian Peterson is under contract, his suspension was lifted and we’re looking forward to having Adrian Peterson back here as a Minnesota Viking in 2015,” Spielman said. “And that’s the end of the story.”
The NFL reinstated Peterson on April 17, and he has been cleared to participate in all team activities. He’s been a no-show during the voluntary offseason workouts at Winter Park and likely won’t participate during organized team activities next month. The big question remains where Peterson will show up to the first mandatory team gathering, minicamp, in June or if the Vikings fulfill the wishes of Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, and trade the 2012 NFL MVP.
Spielman was asked if the Vikings would not trade Peterson. He responded with a stutter before ultimately downplaying the idea of trading Peterson.
“I think coach Zimmer stated it pretty clear that we have no interest in trading Adrian Peterson, and we don’t,” Spielman said. “Adrian made a mistake. He’s paid the price for that mistake. I think if our organization didn’t believe in Adrian Peterson, he probably wouldn’t be here today. And that’s from our ownership on down, we believe in Adrian Peterson. I also know we’re a pretty good football team with Adrian Peterson in our backfield as well.”
Peterson will receive $12.75 million this season with the Vikings. He played just one game last season after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault on his son on Nov. 18.
We’ll find out on draft night whether Spielman remains true to his word.
|Washington - WP: D. Fister||1||FINAL|
|NY Mets - LP: D. Gee||0|
|Philadelphia - WP: S. Gonzalez||6||FINAL|
|Miami - LP: J. Cosart||2|
|Toronto - LP: J. Francis||7||FINAL|
|Cleveland - WP: M. Rzepczynski||10|
|Cincinnati - LP: J. Cueto||0||FINAL|
|Atlanta - WP: J. Teheran||5|
|Tampa Bay - LP: S. Geltz||2||FINAL|
|Baltimore - WP: T. Hunter||4|
|Chicago WSox - LP: J. Danks||3||FINAL|
|Minnesota - WP: R. Pressly||13|
|Detroit - WP: A. Sanchez||6||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: J. Guthrie||4|
|Seattle - LP: C. Smith||6||FINAL|
|Houston - WP: P. Neshek||7|
|Pittsburgh - LP: R. Liz||2||FINAL|
|St. Louis - WP: M. Socolovich||3|
|Milwaukee - WP: W. Smith||5||FINAL|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: P. Strop||3|
|Oakland - WP: S. Gray||7||FINAL|
|Texas - LP: Y. Gallardo||1|
|LA Angels - LP: J. Weaver||0||FINAL|
|San Francisco - WP: T. Lincecum||5|
|Colorado - LP: K. Kendrick||6||FINAL|
|San Diego - WP: J. Shields||8|
|Arizona - LP: E. Marshall||0||FINAL|
|Los Angeles - WP: J. Howell||1|
|NY Yankees - WP: A. Warren||8||FINAL|
|Boston - LP: J. Kelly||5|
|Sporting Kansas City||1|
|New York City||1|