With rookie camp around the corner and a number of undrafted free agents ready to show off and prove they earn a spot at camp (odds are a tryout will make a significant push and steal one of their spots). We don’t know much about them, but I’ve been able to watch something on all but two and have asked @FCSScout, Shaun DePasquale, to help me out with those two.
I ended up being more optimistic than is reasonable on this class, and called more to make the roster or practice squad than typicall do in a year, which is either bad for my evaluation skills or good for the Vikings’ UDFA pick up this year. In no particular order:
A.C. Leonard, TE Tennessee State
An incredible pickup, AC Leonard was one of the most athletic tight ends available in the draft. I saw him on a number of Top 100 boards, and that’s not too far off. Leonard moves like a player 50 pounds lighter when in routes and his gliding in the passing game gives him an unfair advantage against some of the FCS players he abused. Leonard can integrate his excellent measureable athleticism with on-field talent, and he displays body control. He also has good hands and tracks the ball well in the air. He has a great release off the line and can win underneath or up the seam. He beat press coverage regularly, though could show some technique work there. His agility is surprising as well. The former Florida commit can box out defenders for the ball and position himself to create exclusive space, and route-running is sufficient. He’s not the greatest in-line blocker but does show some flashes in space. There are very few athletic equals at tight end (with class-best broad jump and 40-yard dash times), and he even outperformed Eric Ebron at the combine. There are a number of off-field concerns for him and he was kicked off the Florida team. The fact that he’s 6’2″ doesn’t help, making him short for a TE and not quite the matchup nightmare that Troy Niklas and Eric Ebron are. The biggest issue I see with him is how slow he is off the line of scrimmage, both in passing and blocking. This alone could keep him off a roster (or more likely limit him to exclusively special teams play), but if he improves this could end up making the squad as the fourth TE.
Isame Faciane III, NT Florida International
Isame Faciane was a three-year starter at FIU with decent production but fantastic technique, especially for an undrafted free agent. While he didn’t put together the best measureables at his pro day, he plays with more on-field speed and strength than you’d expect. He anchors very well, even against double teams, and he’s less of a pass-rusher because of his burst. He has good leg drive and fights through blocks when need be, and he also moves well in small spaces, managing to redirect traffic and plug running lanes. Unfortunately, his size makes him a less-than-ideal nose tackle and he’ll have to put on weight to earn that role. If he was quicker, this would not be much of an issue, but his reaction time exceeds his acceleration. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him beat out a player like Tom Johnson to get on the roster, but I expect Faciane, whose DL coach at FIU is the Vikings’ current DL coach, to make the practice squad this year and make the squad proper next year, like Chase Baker did.
Zac Kerin, C Toledo
Kerin largely fell out of the draft due to a hamstring injury, but still has a number of things to work on. He anchored the NCAA’s best offensive line (or one of the best, if you don’t buy the strength of MAC defensive linemen), but he has the size, speed and strength to be an NFL offensive lineman—hitting all the benchmarks at 6’5″ 310 pounds and a 5.06 40-yard dash. He’s athletically capable, but not gifted enough to cover his technique issues. His struggles in the East-West Shrine game probably dropped him out of the draft entirely, but his handfighting already put him in trouble. While he’s generally solid in footwork, he still had issues holding run blocks and keeping defensive players off the ballcarrier. Further, he may be an interior player only because even though he was decent pulling as a center in Toledo, his lateral agility and balance weren’t generally NFL-caliber. He’s a very smart player with great awareness, but it remains to be seen if he has the technique or athletic skills to use it. At this stage, I doubt he makes the practice squad.
Measured just under 5’9, and a stout 205 pounds at Wagner Pro Day. Although suffering from a nagging back injury, Williams still pulled off a 4.65 official 40 yard dash. Showed good strength with 19 bench press reps (1 more than the husky Lorenzo Taliaferro put up at the NFL Combine). On the field, rushed for over 4,400 yards and 42 touchdowns over his career. Saw a dip in production in senior year as teams keyed in on him alone with literally no threat of a passing game (Wagner QB’s combined for 7 touchdowns, 17 interceptions & completed only 48 % of their passes in 2013)… junior season Williams rushed for 1,328 yards with 13 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry…sophomore year Williams rushed for 1,338 yards with 14 touchdowns and a 4.9 ypc average in a more balanced offense. Flashes game-breaking ability on tape, good cut-back ability, vision, balance and burst in the open field. Famously hurdled a defender vs. Bryant in 2012. Workhorse back in college that will break a big gainer if given enough carries. Has proven durable over the last 3 seasons as the team’s best and most game-planned player. Hard worker..driven individual with excellent character, absolutely no red flags. Will make a 53 man roster and prosper if given the right opportunity.
Pierce Burton, OT Ole Miss
The first thing you notice about Burton is his pad level, which is pretty high. He plays tackle like a guard, which is to say he pushes up instead of out, even when it would serve the team better to let the edge rusher overrun the play. He plays with strength and aggression, but I would like to see him initiate contact more at the second-level, as he often slows up and waits for the blocker to meet him. He does a good job moving opposing DL’s hands and does better against counter-moves than you might think based off of your initial impression of him. Unfortunately, I think he doesn’t have a good understanding of where an offensive lineman may get attacked and gives up a lot of leverage that way. He also needs to read the opposing DL much better. His punch is great and he exhibits macro-awareness, for all of the micro-awareness he lacks, and picks up blitzers well. He also keeps his feet moving and likes to punish players, especially speed-rushers for getting at him. He has had, however, an excellent development curve at Ole Miss. For all that I like about him (mostly as a guard prospect, where I think he switches to), I don’t think he makes the practice squad.
Kain Colter, WR Northwestern
A dual-threat quarterback whose height and passing skills weren’t quite up to NFL par and took some snaps at receiver with Northwestern. Perhaps best known for leading the union fight against the NCAA, Colter showed surprising receiver ability at the Senior Bowl. He plays with soft hands and his route-running is shocking if nothing else, with more-than-adequate precision. I’m not sure he can handle NFL physicality, but he may be one of the better QB-to-WR converts we’ve seen in recent years. Colter shouldn’t be able to beat out Lora for a spot on the roster and I’m not sure he’ll have the kind of developmental intrigue of Rodney Smith or Adam Theilen to get him a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Jake Snyder, ER Virginia
Jake Snyder is a player that I like that could have been drafted in the seventh round in a more traditionally thin edge rusher class, and the truth is I think he’s better than some of the players at his position who were drafted. His awareness and bend are at NFL level and I like his initial speed, though he hurts himself with an average-to-poor first step (the NFL places and outsized importance on this, so it’s not a huge surprise he went undrafted). He generally rushes with two moves: a swim move and a speed rush, though he also has a bull rush that could be effective with more teaching. He effectively twists to the inside and also understands force/redirection principles, even though he occasionally overruns his rush. Snyder also makes sure to maintain run discipline and is effective in contain. He has the size and strength to compete, but unless he improves his reaction time he could wallow on the short end of the roster or the practice squad.
Austin Wentworth, OT Fresno State (NOTE: WENTWORTH IS CURRENTLY UNSIGNED BUT WAS IN THE INITIAL UDFA/SIGNED LIST THE VIKINGS RELEASED)
Perhaps the only offensive lineman of worth on the Fresno State team, Wentworth is likely swing depth. He has had issues with edge rushers and wasn’t asked to hold blocks for long, which will mean the system transition for him in the NFL would be arguably larger than it would be for his quarterback, Derek Carr. That said, he’s very athletic and played in a high-octane offense with a lot of snaps. He will likely feature at OG with OT capability. Interestingly, he looks like he can add more weight on, but came in at 314 pounds at his Pro Day. Reasonably quick for a guard, he needs to improve his strength at the point of attack. Some of this may be more about his technique and leverage than actual physical strength, as he’s flashed some strong moves at times, but whatever it is needs to be fixed. If the Vikings don’t take a chance on him (there’s a lot of quality OL talent in camp), someone else will. I expect this to happen, and he won’t clear waivers. Otherwise, he’s a practice squad candidate.
Tyler Scott, ER Northwestern
Underized as an edge rusher, Scott doesn’t have the strength to take on the 4-3 defensive end role and operate against NFL-sized offensive lineman. That said, Scott has a reputation as a hard worker and does a number of the smaller things well, from technique to play recognition. He keeps his feet moving but has been proven to be overpowered by the bigger OL in the B1G. Further, his good speed will be drowned out once he does gain weight (he’s at 257 pounds, and should add about 20 pounds more). He doesn’t have the instinct on the field that is necessary to make big waves in the NFL and he’s a little slow off the snap. The first game I watched him in was against Ohio State, whose right tackle is bad—he should have done far better. I don’t see him cracking the roster.
Erik Lora, WR Eastern Illinois
In my opinion, the more talented of the two draftable players from EIU because of Garoppolo’s pressure issues, Lora was a big driving force of the Panthers offense. He’s very productive and should be a slot receiver on the next level, and in particular has good intuition for underneath routes. He doesn’t have the size or speed to be a true deep threat but can present cheap yardage options. His short area quickness should serve him well. What’s great about Lora is that he’s one of the few small-school prospects that seems ready to play at the next level both from a technique and size perspective (he’s short at 5’10” and has small arms, but is 200 pounds). I dislike that he has to go up against Jennings and Wright for a slot spot, but I think he’s better than the other receivers besides Simpson and should make the roster at the 5th WR spot.
Antonio Richardson, OT Tennessee
FANTASTIC pickup. Size/Weight prototype, with incredible length, too. He has strength and good foot movement, and has fantastic run blocking ability. Shocking agility for his size and he tends to play with balance. There are technique issues as well as recognition issues regarding savvy DEs. He doesn’t win the second-effort battle enough, but the rate at which he wins on first contact is incredible. A strong punch and quick feet should have gotten him drafted. Some conditioning issues and issues against speed rushers, as well. Richardson fell out of the draft due to knee issues. At the Medal of Honor Bowl, Scott Carasik reported that the knee issues were “arthritic knees,” which implies he may only last a few years in the NFL, while Walter Football reports that the issues are microfracture problems in the knee, which can be repaired and could lead to a long-term career. He should make the squad despite being a UDFA.
Rakim Cox, ER Villanova
Cox’s first moment catching attention of mainstream scouts might be a good performance in the NFLPA bowl, but he had a very good season at Villanova. He’s a speed rusher that relies on bend around the edge and a good get-off at the snap, which he usually has. All the better, he tested as a speedy guy as well, running an impressive 1.63 10-yard split. His hand technique is OK and he knows how to use his arms to create leverage, but there’s a bit of a worry about his arm length (32″) and weight (260), but the second of those can be fixed in short order. When Villanova was in a 4-3, he did well enough and he was a big part in stopping Towson RB Terrance West, who had his worst FCS outing against Villanova. He’s reputed to have a high football IQ, but there’s a small scheme change for him to overcome as he comes from a 3-3-5 stack. Cox is extremely coachable and comes highly recommended from the Villanova staff. With some strength to add and leverage issues to fix, he could be a developmental player for now, and may be on the outside looking in for a practice squad invite.
Matt Hall, OT Bellhaven
Matt Hall is a massive person, 6’9″ 323 pounds, with long arms, and he benched 32 reps. He’s mostly a big-bodied run blocker, who has to answer questions about his ability to stop the speed rush, and even with his massive size may be asked to kick inside. He dominated lower competition when at Bellhaven with head coach and legend Hal Mumme, as you’d expect but comes in with some concerns. He transferred to Ole Miss from Arkansas in 2010, then transferred to NAIA school Belhaven after being arrested for DUI, simple assault, domestic violence, and other charges. He was a starter at Ole Miss to his credit. His physical traits make him an interesting long-term prospect. Should he show requisite quickness in camp, he’s a lock to make the practice squad. Otherwise, I don’t think he’s a candidate given his current film.
Conor Boffeli, OG Iowa
Boffeli is listed as a guard (and that’s what he played his senior year at Iowa), but has experience at both center and guard and is probably a swing option—he made a lot of line/protection calls and was known at Iowa to be a leader on the line. Like most centers, he’s an intelligent player both before and after the snap, and plays with awareness in space. Unfortunately he doesn’t play with an abundance of strength and is a little undersized compared to the other Vikings guards (he weighed 298 at the Combine), though both added weight after entering the NFL. Boffeli has a lot of speed for a guard and fits zone schemes, which the Vikings will probably run for a lot of their snaps. Still, the previous regime (and the Vikings still have OL coach Jeff Davidson) like strength and toughness over speed if given the choice, and I could see Boffeli as a bubble player who misses the practice squad.
Donte Foster, WR Ohio
A possession receiver prototype that needs to add size in order to fully fulfill that role in the NFL. He has decent height but good length and soft hands. A good route-runner with an ability to box out defensive backs, he isn’t really built to handle the physical game that comes with his role (at his pro day, he weighed in at 188). Nevertheless, his good leaping ability and tracking should give him the advantages he needs to keep getting chances in the NFL, and he’s always been able to set up defensive backs to create additional space. He is a practice squad candidate in my eyes.
Measured in at a stout 6’3.4, 237 pounds and ran a 4.81 40 yard dash, and excellent time for a big boy like Partridge. Dual-threat QB …3 year starter, team leader and coach’s son whom commanded respect and put team on his back …passed for 6,609 yards, 68 touchdowns & 32 interception, added 1,501 rushing yards & 36 touchdowns on the ground over the past 3 seasons. Peaked as a junior in 2012 with 2,706 passing yards, 30 touchdowns & 12 interceptions, in addition to 451 yards rushing & 18 rushing touchdowns. Production & accuracy did drop in 2013, perhaps in part to losing key contributors like RB Michael Hill (although dynamic sophomore Raphael Spencer did step up in his place) .. on tape Partridge displays the ability to operate both inside & outside the pocket, making quick decisions, accurate short/intermediate throws as well as gaudy downfield throws with ease…not afraid to take off for gifted yards & not afraid to take a hit for the extra yard…reminds this writer of Tony Romo in style…a big ball of clay with excellent intangibles to work with…if a team sticks with Partridge & devotes time into coaching him up, he is well-capable of landing on the practice squad and at least developing into a capable back-up. One of this writer’s favorite small-school QB’s in the 2014 class.
Hardly a complete list, but this is what I know.
Chris Schaudt, ER Minnesota State-Mankato
Jon Wolf, QB Minnesota State-Mankato
Dallas Bollema, LB New Mexico
John Oyloe, ER University of Mary
Seth Mathis, LB Bethel
Jon Caspers, OG Northern State
Michael Walker, RB St. Cloud State
Jeremy Reierson, TE Minnesota-Duluth
Mitch Hallstrom, WR Bethel
Alex Dean, WR Southwest Missouri State
Randall Carroll, CB Sul Ross State
Martez Shabazz, CB Minnesota
Jeremy Baltazar, CB Minnesota