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.
Looking at the Vikings’ CURRENT roster, which includes a pretty good running back who’s, um, well rested, here’s one man’s opinion of the top four needs heading into the first round of the draft, which will be held in what will seem like 3,457 days …
1. Receiver: Not just any receiver. A big, fast, prototypical No. 1-type receiver with some polished route-running skills. (Google: Big receivers/Bears/Lions/really hard to defend). There’s no guarantee Cordarrelle Patterson will put in the work or grasp what is necessary to be an elite receiver, so the train moves on. If he wakes up, great. The Vikings would have two elite big receivers for Teddy Bridgewater to look for.
2. Left guard: The offensive line just flat-out isn’t good enough and another first-round investment might be due. Four of the positions — left tackle, center, right guard and right tackle — are manned by young guys who are either doing a good job, are capable of doing a good job and are here because the team invested heavily in them financially and/or through the draft. Charlie Johnson won’t be brought back and David Yankey is a fifth-round pick who never saw the field this season. An elite left guard would help the line overall and could steer left tackle Matt Kalil’s career back to the path it should be on.
3. Strong safety: Free safety Harrison Smith should have made the Pro Bowl and would have gotten more All-Pro consideration if the team had been better. Now imagine placing another elite, first-round caliber safety next to him. Someone with the same instincts, tackling ability and versatility. Might come in handy for those Green Bay games against a QB who is about to win his second MVP award and has thrown 477 passes and 38 touchdowns since his last pick at Lambeau Field
4. Cornerback: Josh Robinson, for the most part, played better than expected as the No. 3 corner in his first season with Mike Zimmer and his staff coaching him. But he’s a shaky No. 3 in the NFC North. Plus, there’s no guarantee the Vikings will remain as healthy in the secondary as they were in 2014. Anyone who saw the team play in 2011 and 2013 knows what happens to a defense when the secondary is ravaged by injuries. Also, Captain Munnerlyn was an upgrade from Chris Cook, but he didn’t reach a level that screams automatic starter for 2015. So if things line up a certain way and corner is the top talent on the board in Round 1, take him and move Munnerlyn to the No. 3 nickel slot spot if you have to.
Although the top four needs were listed in order, we aren’t saying automatically take a receiver first, a guard second, etc. The Vikings have enough needs that every position, except quarterback, should be in play when they pick 11th overall. Just pick the greatest talent and make the necessary adjustments.
Four rookies made the Pro Bowl this season. All four were selected below the 11th pick. Any one of them would fit with the Vikings, even the one who is a defensive tackle because, well, he’s that good and those big fellas don’t play every snap.
The Giants got receiver Odell Beckham 12th overall. He’s going to win offensive rookie of the year. The Rams took defensive tackle Aaron Donald 13th overall. He’ll likely win defensive rookie of the year.
At No. 16, the Cowboys got guard Zack Martin. All he did was earn All-Pro honors. At No. 17, the Ravens took linebacker C.J. Mosley, a playmaker who helped Baltimore’s defense go on the road and win at Pittsburgh in last week’s wild card round.
Obviously, the Vikings also did well for themselves, picking up linebacker Anthony Barr at No. 9 and Bridgewater at No. 32. Whether the Vikings give Barr help on defense or Bridgewater help on offense should come down to the best player, not a preconceived notion of which position should be filled by which round.
First-year eligible nominees Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace and the late Junior Seau are among the 15 modern-era finalists that will be considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015, the Hall announced tonight.
Joining them are nine modern-era players and three coaches, including former Gophers quarterback and Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy, a finalist for the second straight year. Those 15 finalists are joined by two contributor finalists – former team executives Bill Polian and Ron Wolf – and former Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff, who was announced as the senior finalist in August.
Kicker Morten Andersen, who scored a record 2,544 points during a 25-year career, played one season (2004) with the Vikings. The other 10 modern-era finalists are running backs Jerome Bettis and Terrell Davis; receivers Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison; coaches Don Coryell and Jimmy Johnson; linebacker Kevin Greene; defensive end Charles Haley; guard Will Shields; and safety John Lynch.
The Hall’s 46-member board of selectors will meet and choose the Class of 2015 in Phoenix on Jan. 31, the day before Super Bowl XLIX.
The senior candidate and two contributors will be discussed separately and voted on. To be selected, they need 80 percent of the vote.
The modern-era candidates will be discussed. The field will be trimmed from 15 to 10 and then to five. Those five will be voted on and will need at least 80 percent of the vote to get in.
Warner was a two-time NFL MVP who took two teams – the Rams and Cardinals – to three Super Bowls. He won Super Bowl MVP honors while helping the Rams beat the Titans.
Seau played 20 years for the Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots. He made 12 Pro Bowls and was Associated Press first-team All-Pro six times.
Pace, who played left tackle for the Rams when Warner took them to two Super Bowls, played 13 seasons and was a seven-time Pro Bowl pick. He was first-team AP All-Pro three times.
Although they’ve been eligible before, this is the first year as a finalist for Davis, Johnson, Polian, Wolf and Tingelhoff.
Tingelhoff played from 1962 to 1978. This is his 32nd year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
Sitting on a plane set to leave for Minnesota and a second tryout with the Vikings, Duron Carter spoke briefly about why he thinks he’s a much hotter NFL commodity now than he was the last time he visited Winter Park in the spring of 2013.
“It really was just me finally learning how to be a professional,” said Carter, the 23-year-old son of Vikings Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter. “Just handling the day-to-day business. Just staying focused. I’ve always been confident in my ability. I realized it’s about going out and taking advantage of it. It’s been a tough road, but I’m getting there.”
Carter, a 6-5, 205-pound receiver, said he will meet with Vikings receivers coach George Stewart over dinner tonight. He’ll be at Winter Park at 8 a.m. Friday for his workout.
Carter, a CFL All-Star with the Montreal Alouettes in 2014, said he already has had recent workouts with Tampa Bay, Indianapolis and the Chiefs. He has nothing scheduled after Friday at this point, but said he may also visit Carolina, San Francisco and Cleveland. He can’t sign with any team until next month.
“I can’t say what I’ll do after tomorrow,” he said. “The right situation will come up and I feel like I will know when that happens.”
In April of 2013, Carter was one of 30 players invited to a rookie minicamp. He was a tryout invitee, but didn’t receive a contract offer. He went to Canada, where this past season he caught 75 passes for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I like Minnesota and I’m familiar with the area and the team,” Carter said. “I like the direction the team is heading and it would be a good opportunity to play with Teddy [Bridgewater]. I’ve known about Teddy because we grew up in the same area down in Miami.”
Carter, who was born in Fort Lauderdale, went to St. Thomas High School. Bridgewater went to Miami Northwestern.
“Teddy was a little younger, and we never played,” Carter said. “But I watched him play in the state championship one year. He’s a great player.”
Carter has been traveling a long road to prove that he can be trusted with an opportunity.
He went to Ohio State, his father’s alma mater, in 2009. He caught 13 passes, but missed the Rose Bowl because he was ruled academically ineligible. He transferred to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and caught 44 passes for 690 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games in 2010.
He transferred to Alabama in 2011, but poor grades kept him off the field again. Eventually, he was suspended for undisclosed reasons and transferred to Florida Atlantic. But he never played there, either.
Cayden Cochran, Coffeyville’s starting quarterback in 2010, used his Twitter account to post this about Duron a couple years ago: “The team that drafts Duron Carter will get the most lazy, whiny & non-work ethic player the nfl has ever seen. I played w/him. Horrible person & will be a complete cancer to any team on the board.”
I talked to Duron before his tryout with the Vikings in 2013. He admitted that he needed to grow up.
“College football is the minor leagues of the NFL and I really messed that up,” Duron said. “I guess I had to grow up. But school just didn’t interest me.”
I also talked to Cris about Duron in 2013. Cris wasn’t happy about his son’s college career, but said an NFL career was a possibility if he could make some changes in his life.
Cris, of course, became one of the greatest examples of what can be accomplished by making life changes. Cut by the Eagles and claimed by the Vikings for $100, Carter overcame alcohol and cocaine addictions to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
“Very few have taken the route to the NFL that Duron has taken,” Cris said. “It may take him some time, but he’s got enough talent. He’s got really good size, good speed [4.54 40-yard dash], and his route running is probably his strength. He has good hands. If he makes the necessary changes in his life, he’s got a chance to make it in the NFL.”
Duron wore No. 13 during his rookie tryout with the Vikings in 2013. In the CFL, he wore No. 89. If he were to sign with the Vikings and ask for No. 80, he’d have to ask his dad for permission to wear it since it has been retired by the team.
“Nah, I wouldn’t ask for No. 80,” Duron said. “That’s my old man’s old number. It belongs to him. I was 89 in Canada. I was 13 when I tried out there in 2013. I might want to keep 89 though. It worked for me in Canada.”
Duron Carter, the son of former Vikings wide receiver and Hall-of-Famer Cris Carter, is scheduled to work out for the Vikings at Winter Park tomorrow. He is expected to arrive in the Twin Cities today.
You may recall that two years ago the Vikings invited Duron Carter, who went undrafted after finishing his collegiate career at Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, to their rookie minicamp.
But Carter, who had just turned 22, was too raw of a prospect for the Vikings to keep around.
The 6-foot-5, 205-pound wide receiver ended up taking his talents north of the border, and he blossomed while playing in the Canadian Football League. After catching five touchdown passes in his first season, he was a CFL All-Star in 2014 with 75 catches for 1,030 yards and seven scores.
Carter has since drawn interest from several NFL teams. According to his father, Duron worked out for the Colts and Chiefs this week and has visits scheduled with the 49ers and Browns next week.
Of course, the Vikings — assuming they like what they see from Carter this time around — can keep him from making those upcoming visits with a strong contract offer and a chance to compete.
The fact that the Vikings have a poised young QB in Teddy Bridgewater and that Charles Johnson, a little-known receiver when the Vikings nabbed him from the Browns’ practice squad, became their top playmaker down the stretch may help their case should they try to convince Carter to sign here.
Jasper Brinkley did everything the Vikings asked him to do this past season, though it wasn’t a ton.
Brinkley was the starting middle linebacker in the team’s base defense, but while he played in all 16 games, he only played 42.5 percent of the defensive snaps. Third cornerback Josh Robinson and reserve linebacker Gerald Hodges, who ended up starting seven games due to injury, played more.
“I was happy with the opportunities I was given,” Brinkley said last week. “It’s all I could ask for.”
Brinkley got the job done as a run stuffer on early downs. He made 75 tackles and forced a fumble while finishing the season as Pro Football Focus’ eighth-ranked middle linebacker against the run.
For what the Vikings paid him — $830,000 total in salary and bonuses — Brinkley was a bargain.
But at the same time, the Vikings could be looking to upgrade at the position. Brinkley is one of only two starters who are slated to become free agents (fullback Jerome Felton will be the other once he opts out of his contract). And with veteran outside linebacker Chad Greenway possibly on the way out of town depending on how things go this offseason, linebacker will again be an area of need.
Brinkley came off the field in passing situations when the Vikings trotted out their nickel personnel. Greenway and top 2014 draft pick Anthony Barr were the two linebackers in that package.
But if the Vikings can find a three-down middle linebacker who can cover, something they didn’t trust Brinkley to do, they could take care of two birds with one stone. That player could be in the middle on early downs and then stay on the field with Barr in the nickel package when teams have to pass.
Of course, finding the next Navorro Bowman, Bobby Wagner or Luke Kuechly won’t be easy.
While Brinkley said as he cleaned out his locker that “everybody wants to be an every-down guy,” he is also a team player who is aware of his limitations (and will continue to work hard to try to keep them from being limitations in the future). And even if the Vikings decide to replace Brinkley as a starter, there may still be a role for him as a reserve here, where he started his career in 2009.
“[We’ll] just see where it goes, man,” Brinkley, who turns 30 this summer, said when asked about his future. “See where the wind blows. Hopefully it’s back here again, because I have a lot of ties to this place. It’s where I was drafted as a rookie. I’ve played a fair amount of football here.”
|Team Irvin||7:15 PM|
|Coll of Charleston||51||FINAL|
|William & Mary||78|
|Fla Gulf Coast||54||FINAL|
|Mount St Marys||52|
|Stephen F Austin||79||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||68|
|Miss Valley St||65|
|Cal State Fullerton||49||FINAL|
|UC Santa Barbara||68|
|Central Conn St||53|
|North Dakota St||71||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||53||FINAL|
|East Tenn St||64||FINAL|
|South Dakota St||76||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||44||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||69|
|Long Beach State||64||FINAL|
|San Diego St||73||FINAL|
|Central Conn St||77|
|East Tenn St||69|
|Stephen F Austin||64||FINAL|
|Sam Houston St||65|
|(24) Western Ky||63||FINAL|
|Miss Valley St||61|
|Mount St Marys||74|
|San Diego State||36|
|(6) Notre Dame||74||FINAL|
|SE Missouri St||55||FINAL|
|New Mexico St||68||FINAL|
|Utah Valley U||58|
|No Dakota State||66||FINAL|
|Long Beach St||52|
|Fla Gulf Coast||61|
|UC Santa Barbara||50||FINAL|
|Cal State Fullerton||54|