Thursday, March 5, 2015
Blog Page 107

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Despite growing up on the East Coast, former NFL linebacker EJ Henderson has come to know Minnesota as home—both as a member of the Vikings and as an active member of the community.

Henderson played high school ball in Aberdeen, Maryland before accepting an athletic scholarship to play for the University of Maryland Terrapins. During his time there, Henderson notched three NCAA records: career unassisted tackles per game (8.8), season unassisted tackles (135 in 2002) and career total tackles per game (12.5).

As a junior, Henderson found himself named the 2001 ACC Player of the year, and in his final season with the Terrapins he was recognized as the nation’s No. 1 defensive player and the No. 1 linebacker.

Most Vikings fans will also know that Henderson’s younger brother Erin followed in EJ’s footsteps. Erin played both quarterback and linebacker at Aberdeen High School, and he redshirted at the University of Maryland.

Being six years apart, the Henderson brothers didn’t play on the same team together until they reached the NFL. “I pretty much played the older brother dynamic,” said EJ, “until probably [Erin’s] freshman or sophomore year in college.”[1] At that point, the dynamic shifted to more of a friendship, as the brothers had so much in common and pursued the same goals. EJ continued to hold a “big brother” role in his leadership toward the pros, and Erin traveled the same path.

EJ’s journey to the NFL proved seamless. Starting his junior season at Maryland, Henderson grasped the reality that reaching the big leagues was a very real scenario for him. At that point, his recognition stretched nationwide. Henderson said he realized the potential “right around when the draft talks started to come out”—when he saw his name included in the lists.

The linebacker entered the 2003 NFL draft and was picked in Round 2 (No. 40 overall) by Minnesota. Henderson debuted for the Vikings that season, in which he played all 16 games and recorded 32 tackles as a rookie.

Although the first couple seasons didn’t make the record books, Henderson solidified himself as a part of the roster and worked his way up.

Number 56 quickly became a fan favorite in Minnesota, consistently coming up with big tackles and showing good speed on the field.

KFAN radio personality and Vikings play-by-play man Paul Allen weighed in on Henderson’s impact with the Vikes:

“EJ is one of my all-time favorites,” said Allen. “I appreciate him so much due to the fact his career started very slowly and he turned the corner and became a stud. Along the way he became more comfortable in his skin and a more open person with guys like me.”[2]

Henderson played his entire nine-year career as a Viking, and he considers himself blessed to have done so.

His favorite memory?  Scoring against the Lions.

On October 8, 2006, Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna passed on a 4th and 10 in the final quarter. Henderson intercepted the pass, then rumbled the ball 45 yards to the end zone. Minnesota went on to win the game, 26-17.

The TD was the only score of Henderson’s career, and he says the moment stands out as a definite highlight among many great memories with the Vikings. “That was probably one of my proudest moments in the Dome.”

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Being a general manager is really, really hard.

I say that with only a little bit of sarcasm, because it’s true. It’s one of the most unforgiving jobs in sports, and fans are willing to judge a front office—whose job requires building with the long view in mind—on short term results contingent on high-variability picks. That is, if an FO makes long-term moves but misses on a high profile player, they suddenly get judged as “bad,” even though well-known GMs like Ozzie Newsome only ever drafted a good quarterback late in their careers (for Newsome, it was 2008, after 12 years with the organization and eight previous quarterback picks—including Kyle Boller in the first).

That difficult may have encouraged Rick Spielman to recently indicate that the Vikings are not set to necessarily pick a quarterback with the eighth selection in the NFL draft—though he didn’t rule it out either—in a presser held yesterday.

“The torture part of it, is you see a player sitting there when you pick who you know can help you right away, a significant player at another position, an impact player as a rookie. Then you ask yourself, ‘How do we feel about our options at quarterback in the second or third round? Is it close? Is there a big separation? Or is it close?’ We’ve broken them down in all the ways we could think of. Analytically—measuring them against their five toughest opponents, indoor-versus-outdoor, by psychological testing, and it is such a mixed bag.

“That’s a big reason why we made it a high priority to sign Matt Cassel back. Every one of these quarterbacks … nothing is a sure thing. There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning. It is such a mixed bag with each player—every one of them has positives, every one of them has negatives. And if that’s the way you end up feelings, why don’t you just wait till later in the draft, and take someone with the first pick you’re sure will help you right now?

“I agree with that coach, whoever it is. It is torturous this year.”

Spielman was responding to a query that included comments from an anonymous quote from an NFL head coach who indicated that picking a quarterback this year was a “torturous” process. Spielman took that and ran with it, further adding:

“It’s a very tortuous process this year trying to figure out these quarterbacks because there’s a lot of different flavors of quarterbacks. There’s mobile quarterbacks, there’s pocket passers, so you really have to home in and decide what type of quarterback you want, what kind of quarterback and what traits fit the kind of system you’re about to run.

“You look at the traits of the quarterbacks in here and work in our offensive scheme and adjust to some of the traits that that player possesses. It’s going to be a very interesting process as we go through our own evaluation of these quarterbacks and try to home in on the particular type of quarterback that may be best for us.”

With Matt Cassel locked down, it’s true that the Vikings don’t have a gaping black hole at the position, but I wouldn’t necessarily characterize the Vikings as a team that’s not “boxed in” to selecting a passer, as Spielman indicates. The Vikings have had one of the worst passing attacks in the NFL for the past several years, and despite the fact that Cassel at times looked better, also had several wildly bad games to go along with his spotty career.

If the Vikings want to wait on a quarterback because they don’t think any of them are franchise passers, that’s fine. But if they’re waiting on a quarterback because none of them are “Andrew Luck,” that’s asinine—no quarterbacks are Andrew Luck, and if the Vikings want to wait on a once-in-a-decade prospect before selecting one, they’ll have to find a way to make sure they can do it at the same time they have the worst record in the NFL, because no one is trading out of that spot.

Functionally, that means Spielman has told people he is waiting for the impossible before he selects a quarterback.

In my view, it’s a good thing Spielman loves to lie. Not only is picking a quarterback in the first round a vastly more successful proposition, doing so in the first 13 picks makes a huge difference.

It may depend on what your definition of “success” is, but over 40% of the quarterbacks selected in those first 13 picks are successful. Contrast that to the top of the second round, where the likelihood remains around 14%.

That’s not to say they should pick a quarterback early in order to pick one early—perhaps there is no one they grade at having a first- or early second-round talent who is available—but they shouldn’t eschew it just because they see value there.

Peter King thinks the Vikings will really be tantalized by this option, though:

There are no sure things in the draft. I don’t know why people think that if the Vikings ignore a quarterback, they’re guaranteed to get a good player, especially at the eighth pick. The odds are better, but not much (the generalized success rate for non-quarterbacks over 21 drafts between picks one and thirteen is 48%, marginally more than quarterbacks at 42%).

In this specific draft, there is a deep quarterback class but it’s not necessarily flat like the receiver class is. While I could change my view of the quarterbacks based on further study, my scouting has indicated there is a clear drop-off after Bridgewater followed by a massive drop-off after Carr, Bortles and Manziel.

There is also a good amount of quality at the top for non-quarterbacks, so it may be safe to say that the success rate there is above 50%, but not by much. This is a particularly interesting consideration because the positions where it has elite players are also positions where the draft is historically deep (and the talent distribution is much flatter). The Vikings can grab a first-round quality receiver in the third round, and a top-tier cornerback in the second. Every seven-round mock draft I’ve participated in has had first-round quality guards fall to the fourth round, and even a second-round quality guard in the seventh (though that particular mock may have been a fluke).

Nothing can improve the team more than improving the most important position on the team. A quarterback is responsible for more than half of the offensive production on a team (even when you include the contributions from non-skill players, like linemen) and may be responsible for over 25% of a team’s success. There is no other player on the team responsible for more than 5% after that, unless you scheme in order to highlight who you already know is good (like Adrian Peterson). Picking a player to improve that 5% over picking a player to improve that 25% is short-sighted.

The point is, I really hope he’s lying again.

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[NOTE FROM ARIF: We’ve got another guest post, this time from Alex Rotenberger, who argues that the Vikings have the capability to be safe at quarterback if they skip grabbing one in round one, and should therefore grab a different player. For the record, I strongly disagree, but it’s good to see multiple perspectives.

This comes at a particularly good time, as both Twin Cities newspapers—and Peter King—have reported that Rick Spielman won’t necessarily take a quarterback in the first round.

If YOU have a guest post you’d like submitted, be sure to email me at arifmhasan (at) gmail DOT com. We’d really appreciate it!]

By Alex Rotenberger

There is no doubt that the face of this year’s NFL draft is the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Texas A & M, Johnny Manziel. He is the most talked about and polarizing players by far in this deep, talented pool of prospects. In this era of the NFL, we all know that in order to compete for consistent championships, you need stability at the quarterback position. For the Minnesota Vikings, this seems to have been the missing piece for years.

Conventional logic says to grab your quarterback with the 8th selection of this year’s draft, possibly Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, or even Derek Carr. The other school of thought is to continue building a stout defense while Norv Turner develops a quarterback from the later rounds.

Looking at successful teams over the last couple of years such as the Seahawks and 49ers, this has been their formula for success. If the Vikings want to follow suit with defensive guru Mike Zimmer as head coach, they would be well suited to continue the defensive minded offseason.

The Vikings have done a great job so far adding defensive line help by adding players such as Linval Joseph, Corey Wootton, and Tom Johnson. Also the secondary has been a focus, adding Captain Munneryln and Mike Zimmer’s project Derek Cox. Still, there is an opportunity through the draft to add to the young core already in place.

One of the more appealing options for the Vikings in the first round is to trade down from the 8th selection to the mid-teens. From here, the Vikings can acquire some extra picks, probably in the middle rounds, to add depth to the roster. We all know Rick Spielman likes to move around in the draft, and this year shouldn’t be an exception. With a trade down, the Vikings would be in prime territory to address their glaring need at linebacker, by taking the top middle linebacker prospect, CJ Mosley out of Alabama. He would bring much needed stability and versatility to the linebacker corps, while also contributing in nickel situations with Chad Greenway.

NFL defenses are spending most of their time in nickel and dime packages, so the need for multiple linebackers is not as great as it once was. This gives the Vikings the flexibility to take a player like Mosley who can be a three down linebacker alongside Chad Greenway. Suddenly, a glaring weakness turns into a position of strength.

While the Vikings certainly need help at the outside linebacker position, the top prospect Khalil Mack will be long gone by the 8th selection. Anthony Barr out of UCLA could be another option, but is more of a 3-4 rush outside linebacker and wouldn’t necessarily fit the Vikings hybrid 4-3 scheme. Another option is the athletic Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State, who could be an option in the late first/early second round.

Another way the Vikings could turn with a trade back to the mid teens is in the secondary. At this juncture of the draft, the Vikings would more than likely have their choice of the top cornerbacks and safeties. Some of the top options that could still be on the board are safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, Calvin Pryor out of Louisville and cornerbacks Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State, and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State. Any of these four prospects would be a welcome addition to the Vikings secondary, which struggled mightily last season.

However, with the additions of Captain Munnerlyn and maturation of Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, an addition to this group could really solidify the position. Facing prolific offenses such as Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit twice a year, the best approach to the draft may be to build a rock solid defense, so our offense has a chance to compete.

As far as the offense, the Vikings are actually in decent shape. With a plethora of playmakers on the outside, led by Cordarelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, and of course Adrian Peterson, whichever quarterback is under center week one will be walking into a favorable situation.

The Vikings really did themselves a favor by bringing back Matt Cassel to be a bridge to the future franchise quarterback. In the meantime, Matt Cassel can manage the offense and allow the Vikings to be competitive in 2014. He is by no means a game changing quarterback, but he is also no slouch. In the games he started in 2013, the Vikings put up over 24 points a game and had a record of 4-3.

Matt Cassel is more than capable of handling this talented offense and thriving under the Norv Turner system, which yielded decent play from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer last season.

This is not to say the Vikings shouldn’t address their quarterback needs in the draft, they absolutely should. But there is no need to reach for one at the top of the first round. The Vikings are fortunate, this year’s crop of signal callers is incredibly deep, and they will have their choice unlike in 2011 when they were forced into reaching for Christian Ponder at 12.

Some intriguing prospects later in the draft that could fit the mold of what Turner is looking for are: Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, and Tom Savage. All of these prospects could benefit from sitting for a couple of years and learning from Turner and Cassel. They also would not experience the immense pressure that Christian Ponder faced a couple of years ago. Also from a front office standpoint, Mike Zimmer (first time head coach) and Rick Spielman (Fresh off the Ponder disaster) probably are not confident handing the keys to the franchise over to any of the top quarterbacks in this years draft for different reasons.

This aspect combined with the fact that Matt Cassel is coming back, point towards a defensive draft in the first couple of round, to build a rock solid foundation and use the Seahawks as a template for how to win. Defense does win championships Vikings fans, that’s what Mike Zimmer is here to do.

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