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.
With the NFL draft just over a week away, we are starting to get a consensus among the draftniks when it comes to whom the Vikings will select with their 11th overall pick.
Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff and Louisville wide receiver Devante Parker still show up in the mock drafts of some notable national analysts. But Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes is the team’s pick in the vast majority of the latest first-round mocks.
Which probably means there is no chance the Vikings are going to pick him.
No, I see the logic of drafting a cornerback in the first round, and the Vikings have definitely shown interest in Waynes, who many feel is the top cover guy in the draft, in the pre-draft process. If I did a mock, he would probably be the player I would be mostly likely pencil in at pick No. 11.
Which probably means there is no chance the Vikings are going to pick him.
Anyway, let’s take a look at who 10 prominent draftniks are mocking to the Vikings in Round One.
Todd McShay, ESPN: Waynes. “The Vikings could still afford to upgrade their wide receiver depth chart even after the Mike Wallace trade,” McShay wrote. “But the cornerback position opposite Xavier Rhodes is a bigger need. Coach Mike Zimmer ideally wants two corners who can hold up in press-man coverage, and Waynes is the best cornerback prospect in this draft and best-suited for press-man, with very good straight-line speed and technique. In Rhodes and Waynes, Minnesota would have a very good pair of corners.”
Charles Davis, NFL Network: Waynes. “The Vikings continue to make strides, fulfilling the image of coach Mike Zimmer by becoming a very good defensive team,” Davis wrote. “Waynes is an immediate starter and producer.”
Rob Rang, CBS Sports: Waynes. “Given the caliber of receivers Minnesota faces in the NFC North, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer push for another long, lanky corner for his scheme, especially should the top talent at the position fall in his lap,” Rang wrote.
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,” Newberg wrote. “I still have strong feeling that the draft’s top corner will be picked inside the top 10. But by who?”
Mel Kiper, ESPN: Waynes. “Waynes becomes a pretty decent value as the top cornerback in the draft,” he wrote. “The Vikings have a need there and, at a position where I feel like the transition from college to pro is as pronounced as it is at any place on the field, Waynes has the range of skills that add up to a guy who can help out early in his career. The Vikings are in decent shape up front, but they lack both depth and size at cornerback, which is no fun in this division.”
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.
Lance Zierlein, NFL Network: Scherff. “Perfect match,” Zierlein wrote. “The Vikings would likely race this pick to the podium if it works out that Scherff is available.”
Doug Farrar, Sports Illustrated: Waynes. “Do the Vikings need a receiver for Teddy Bridgewater?” Farrar wrote. “You bet they do, but this is such a deep receiver class, and head coach Mike Zimmer needs a top-flight cornerback to pair with Xavier Rhodes even more. … Waynes isn’t a perfect cornerback, but he’s aggressive, plays well against top opponents, and he can establish leverage on deep passes. If he can develop more toughness against the run, Minnesota could have one of the better young cornerback duos in the NFL.”
Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Parker. “The Vikings grabbed Mike Wallace via trade but let’s be real. They’re not set at the position,” Brinson said. “Parker could end up being the best wide-out in this draft and he spent time playing with Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater already. Get him his guy.”
Eric Edholm, Yahoo Sports: Waynes. “Have no illusions: Terence Newman signing with the Vikings does not preclude them from drafting a cornerback high,” Edholm wrote. “Waynes fits the Mike Zimmer mold, and adding another man-cover corner — along with the underrated Xavier Rhodes — allows Zimmer to be very aggressive with the talented defense he’s building there.”
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 defensive backs.
The Vikings believe they found their quarterback of the future last year. Now, they might want to consider stopping Green Bay’s quarterback of the here and now.
Aaron Rodgers rules the NFC North with a high-powered passing attack that has toyed with the Vikings for, well, far too long. Although Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is a respected defensive mind and noted DBs Whisperer, he’s also 0-2 against the Packers and 1-5 in the pass-happy NFC North.
In two games against the Vikings last season, Rodgers completed 67.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns, no interceptions and passer ratings of 138.7 and 109.7. Overall, NFC North QBs threw 10 touchdown passes and just two interceptions against the Vikings. And we won’t even bring up what happened to poor Josh Robinson in Chicago.
Oops. Sorry, Josh.
The Vikings’ secondary has two young potential Pro Bowl/All-Pro performers in cornerback Xavier Rhodes and free safety Harrison Smith. The other two starters — strong safety Robert Blanton and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who is better suited as the No. 3 corner — are priority targets for an upgrade.
At No. 11 overall, the Vikings should be in prime position to take the top defensive back available. Most experts believe that player to be Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes. The top safety, Alabama’s Landon Collins, is rated slightly lower in the first round and could be available if the Vikings were able to trade down and acquire more picks.
Projected starters: RCB Xavier Rhodes, LCB Captain Munnerlyn, FS Harrison Smith, SS Robert Blanton.
Don’t forget about: It’s easy to forget Antone Exum Jr. since he played only 16 defensive snaps a year ago. But 2014 was a developmental year that could help him make a run at an open strong safety competition. Exum played cornerback his last two years at Virginia Tech and was coming off a torn ACL that limited his senior year.
Level of need: High. The Vikings need to generate quality competition with the hope of upgrading left cornerback, strong safety and overall depth. Free agent pickup Terence Newman presents competition for Munnerlyn, but he’ll be 37 on Sept. 4.
Five prospects to remember: Connecticut CB Byron Jones, Washington CB Marcus Peters, Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson, Fresno State FS Derron Smith, Florida State CB P.J. Williams.
Our best guess: The temptation of adding an elite young corner opposite Rhodes no doubt has the Vikings seriously considering Waynes at No. 11. How could it not, considering the tools needed to climb the NFC North’s Mount Rodgers? If they let him pass, look for the Vikings to take a cornerback within the next two rounds. Jones could be a strong value in the second round.
The Vikings regular season schedule was officially announced on Tuesday. They’ll open the season at San Francisco to face the 49ers on Sept. 14. It’ll be the second game of the Monday night doubleheader during Week 1.
It will be the Vikings’ seventh season opener on the road since 2008. The only year in that stretch that they’ve started the season at home was in 2012 against the Jaguars.
It’ll be the Vikings’ 57th game on Monday night and the first since 2013 when quarterback Josh Freeman against the Giants in Week 7.
The tradition continues with the Vikings closing the regular season against an NFC North opponent. They will travel to Lambeau Field to face the Packers in the season finale. The 109th meeting will mark the first time these two teams meet in January for a regular season game. It’s the first time since 1996 the Vikings will close the season at Lambeau Field. Since 2000, every regular season has concluded against a divisional opponent.
The Vikings will play their final home game at TCF Bank Stadium in Week 16 against the Giants. They will move into their new stadium in 2016 after playing outdoors for two seasons.
Here’s the full Vikings schedule:
Week 1 (Sept. 14): at San Francisco (Monday night)
Week 2 (Sept. 20: vs. Detroit
Week 3 (Sept. 27): vs. San Diego
Week 4 (Oct. 4): at Denver
Week 5: BYE
Week 6 (Oct. 18): vs. Kansas City
Week 7 (Oct. 25): at Detroit
Week 8 (Nov. 1): at Chicago
Week 9 (Nov. 8): vs. St. Louis
Week 10 (Nov. 15): at Oakland
Week 11 (Nov. 22): vs. Green Bay
Week 12 (Nov. 29): at Atlanta
Week 13 (Dec. 6): vs. Seattle
Week 14 (Dec. 10): at Arizona (Thursday night)
Week 15 (Dec. 20): vs. Chicago
Week 16 (Dec. 27): vs. New York Giants
Week 17 (Jan. 3): at Green Bay
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.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m intrigued by some of the top edge rushers in this draft. We’ve already looked at Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and now we’ll review Missouri’s Shane Ray.
He’s featured on ESPN’s Draft Academy, which follows a few prospects around before the NFL Draft. It’s a really good show and touches Ray’s rough background. His father, Wendell, was a star defensive end at Missouri but left Ray and his mother at an early age. I can’t find a link but make sure you have a tissue in hand when if you watch it.
Ray went on to play the same position as his father at the same school. He’s listed at 6-3 and 245 pounds.
By The Numbers:
Freshman (12 games): 16 tackles (eight solo), 2.5 tackles for loss
Sophomore (14 games): 39 tackles (27 solo), 4.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, one touchdown, two forced fumbles
Junior (14 games): 65 tackles (47 solo), 14.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles
Ray set Missouri’s single season sack record last year while earning SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He also received consensus first-team All-America honors, ranking third in the country in sacks and tackles for loss. Similar to the other edge rushers we’ve reviewed that are expected to go in the first round, Ray was a really good pass rusher in college last year.
NFL Combine/Pro Day results:
40-yard dash: 4.64 and 4.65 seconds
Bench press (225 pounds): 21 reps
Vertical: 33.5 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet
Ray only participated in the bench press at the NFL Combine due to a foot injury he suffered against the Gophers in the Citrus Bowl. He ran the 40-yard dash at Missouri’s pro day and his times would’ve slotted him with the third fastest time for a defensive end. Stacked up against the linebackers however, and Ray’s 40-time would be outside the top 10.
Maybe it’s due to his background, but Ray plays with a lot of anger and rage once that ball is snapped. It’s all controlled, but you can tell that football was his outlet in life express his emotions. He wants to destroy the quarterback, and I love that.
Compared to Gregory and Beasley, Ray is the better pass rusher. As a 4-3 defensive end, he was very unpredictable as a pass rusher. The example above shows his ability to counter inside, but he could also bull rush and speed rush from the outside. He’s more powerful and more advanced with his hands than Gregory or Beasley. Ray could also rush as a three-technique defensive tackle on third downs.
He threw around a lot of offensive linemen in college surprisingly despite only weighing 245 pounds. That’s the biggest concern with Ray is where exactly will he play in the NFL. He appears to be too light as a defensive end, but I think that’s where Ray will succeed in the NFL. The issue with just assuming someone can just throw on weight is you’re not exactly sure how a prospect’s body will respond to playing a new weight, but I wouldn’t be too concerned with Ray. The biggest concern might be losing some of his quickness, but he’s such a good pass rusher that a lot of his skills can translate to the next level.
I don’t think he’s an outside linebacker, however. He moves a lot better with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end than he does dropping back into coverage. It just doesn’t appear to be a fluid movement and comes off looking stiff on tape. Outside of his size, there aren’t too many flaws on tape. He is what he is — a good pass rusher and a disruptive defensive lineman.
If the Vikings had their choice between Ray, Gregory or Beasley at No. 11 though, I think I’d pick Beasley. He’s the only one versatile enough to play both defensive end and linebacker. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer loves that kind of flexibility from his defensive players.
Ray should be selected within the first half of the first round, though. It would make a lot of sense for the Falcons to pick Ray with the eighth pick because their defensive line couldn’t produce a pass rush last year. Ray would be an instant upgrade.
Verdict: Truth as a 4-3 defensive end. Hype as a linebacker in any scheme.
The 2015 NFL regular season schedule will be released tonight at 7 p.m. CDT. Both ESPN and NFL Network will also air “schedule release specials” if you’re sick of watching “The Big Bang Theory.”
We have known for a few months now which teams the Vikings, who finished third in the NFC North in 2014, would play this season and where. The Vikings play the NFC West and AFC West this year, in addition to the six games with their own division and two others against other NFC teams.
But we don’t know when the Vikings will play those specific teams. That changes tonight.
Vikings’ home opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Seahawks, Rams, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants.
Vikings’ away opponents: Bears, Lions, Packers, Cardinals, 49ers, Broncos, Raiders, Falcons.
|Kansas City - J. Vargas||5:10 PM|
|Cleveland - C. Kluber|
|Toronto - A. Sanchez||5:10 PM|
|Boston - J. Kelly|
|Chicago WSox - H. Noesi||6:05 PM|
|Baltimore - U. Jimenez|
|Tampa Bay - N. Karns||6:05 PM|
|NY Yankees - A. Warren|
|Washington - D. Fister||6:10 PM|
|Atlanta - E. Stults|
|NY Mets - D. Gee||6:10 PM|
|Miami - J. Cosart|
|Milwaukee - J. Nelson||6:10 PM|
|Cincinnati - J. Marquis|
|Pittsburgh - V. Worley||7:05 PM|
|Chicago Cubs - J. Hammel|
|Seattle - T. Walker||7:05 PM|
|Texas - Y. Gallardo|
|Detroit - D. Price||7:10 PM|
|Minnesota - T. Milone|
|Philadelphia - C. Hamels||7:15 PM|
|St. Louis - J. Lackey|
|Colorado - T. Matzek||8:40 PM|
|Arizona - C. Anderson|
|Houston - C. McHugh||9:10 PM|
|San Diego - J. Shields|
|San Francisco - T. Lincecum||9:10 PM|
|Los Angeles - B. Anderson|
|Tampa Bay||6:00 PM|
|NY Islanders||6:30 PM|