Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Blog Page 170

One of the additions made to the NFL Draft for the pleasure of us viewers at home has been the addition of former players announcing the second round selection for each team.

This year, the Vikings will be represented by former safety Joey Browner, according to reports.  Browner, of course, is well known as one of the best defensive backs to ever wear a Vikings uniform, which he did for nine seasons. Browner earned three All-Pro nods during that time, as well as six Pro Bowl honors.

It will be great to see him again in a couple of weeks.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

Leslie Frazier didn’t exactly give current offensive line backups a ringing endorsement when he said “we need a swing tackle, we don’t have that.”  He went on to say the Vikings “need more competition at the guard position” and these comments struck me as out of character for a guy that normally seems very careful about saying anything that might shed a negative light on his current roster.

On the other hand, he certainly isn’t lying.

The Vikings could use an increase of talent at the guard position, someone capable of pushing both starters, and they don’t really have a proven swing tackle on the roster.  The need is there, and it may not be a first round need, but Frazier probably isn’t sending up any smokescreens in this specific instance.

One option outside of the first round could be Syracuse left tackle Justin Pugh, standing at 6′ 4″ and 307 pounds, who was a rock solid pass protector in college but probably fits best as a utility lineman in the NFL due to his lack of size.  At Syracuse he was a redshirt freshman, started every game in the next two seasons, and then had to sit the first four games of the 2012 season due to an offseason surgery on his shoulder.  He played in each of the remaining nine games as a starter.

Pugh is a divisive prospect in the draftnik community.  Some say that his lack of size and short arms, combined with suspect strength which leads to struggles against bull rushes, will prevent him from ever having a very high ceiling.  Others say that his mobility, footwork, balance and quickness will allow him to be an immediate upgrade at guard for some NFL team.

Me?  I tend to think he is a classic “mixed bag” case and will be a bit of both.  He clearly has some physical limitations, but there is also a lot to like about his agile style of play for teams running a zone blocking scheme.  He is not only an athletic offensive lineman, but a technician that continues to develop his craft, with plenty of starting experience (37 games) to build off of.

Lastly, Pugh is known as a very high character guy with an incredible work ethic.  He has long supported worthy causes, such as the Special Olympics, and will surely make his future franchise proud with his off-field commitment to doing good.

His limited skill set may cause some teams to slide Pugh down their draft board, and he may fall as far as the third round, but that could play right into the hands of teams like the Vikings that could utilize Pugh’s attributes on Sundays.  He would be well worth a second round selection for the Vikings, and would be considered an absolute steal in the third.  He is someone to keep an eye on during day two.

Today, it was revealed that defensive tackle Kevin Williams was part of a move that seemed obvious to us all months ago, as he restructured his contract with the Vikings which will gain the Vikings about $2.5 million in cap space.

His previous deal had already paid out all guarantees and we’ve known for a long time that Williams was essentially a year-to-year at-will employee, and the Vikings could have cut him at any point this offseason with no cap penalties had they decided to do so.  The Vikings could have done just that to avoid his $7 million salary that he was scheduled to make in both 2013 and 2014.

Instead, Williams was apparently willing to take a paycut in return for some guaranteed money.

His new deal runs through this upcoming season only, and the $4.9 million salary is not only considerable, but is also fully guaranteed.  This pretty much makes it a certainty that he will be a Vikings for one more season, at the least.

Some will consider this move a sign that Williams is in his last year with the Vikings, but I’m not sure it means that.  Williams will be 34 years old next offseason, and the Vikings may simply be able to let the market establish itself for an aging tackle on the decline, and still opt to sign him if he is willing to play for a reasonable salary.  He will potentially join defensive linemen Jared Allen, Brian Robison, and Everson Griffen as free agents next offseason which could mean a significant change to the defensive line is on the horizon.

For now, however, it appears the D-Line is staying mostly intact.

What I don’t understand, and never will, is why it took so long for the Vikings to work out an obviously needed deal with a lifelong Viking.  The move has seemed so obvious for so long.  Even Williams himself brought up the issue about 10 months ago.  This issue of over-cautiousness (or procrastination) on Rick Spielman’s part has really annoyed me this offseason, not only because we saw other teams land more quality players in free agency, but because the same type of mentality led to what I will always consider a black mark in Vikings history.

Much is being made about a recent report from Peter King noting that Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman dined with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on the eve of the college’s pro day.  The Vikings also reportedly interviewed Te’o at the Scouting Combine and invited him to their “Top 30″ event at Winter Park.

Some are going to take the seemingly excessive vetting process as a sign of the Vikings level of interest in Te’o, but it may be a better indication of the level of concern teams have with Te’o’s plentiful question marks.  I have been spouting off all offseason about how much sense a marriage between the Vikings and Te’o makes, and I don’t mean to send mixed signals here, but I would caution the readers of VT to not read too much into these visits.

The truth is that the Vikings probably have some level of interest in the players they have interviewed, including Te’o, but are trying to dig as deep as they can into some of these red flags to try and find out which ones are worth the investment of a high draft pick.  The list of attendees that visited Winter Park, or at least the ones we know about, should be all the evidence you need to consider these visits as the Vikings simply doing their due diligence with guys carrying some baggage.

Manti Te’o:  The whole fake girlfriend thing.

Alec Ogletree:  Injuries and arrests in the past.

Keenan Allen:  Worrisome knee injury.

Tyrann Mathieu:  Dismissed from LSU, history of drug issues.

We have profiled each of these prospects as we view them as potential targets for the Vikings later this month, and their visits make sense, but how the visits went is far more important (and secretive) than the fact that these guys visited.

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

I know for a fact that the Vikings defense will feel the impact of Antoine Winfield’s absence, but I am not so sure that the move was really a game changer in terms of the Vikings draft plans, as the need for more quality cornerbacks is something the Vikings have struggled with since, well… forever.

Still, it couldn’t hurt to try and find someone of the same mold as Winfield, and Boise State’s Jamar Taylor seems like a natural fit for Rick Spielman to target in an effort to ease the loss of his veteran tackling corner.

Taylor (5′ 11″ and 192 pounds) played in every game as a freshman and registered 24 tackles, two for a loss, and a pick.  Then, for no other reason than Boise’s depth chart, Taylor redshirted as a sophomore before becoming a full time starter in 2010 and his ability to be a complete corner began to shine through.  That season he had 35 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, two sacks, two defended passes, and three forced fumbles.

Taylor was only able to start the first nine games of 2011 because of a leg fracture but he still managed 27 tackles, two for a loss, two picks, and six defended passes.  He was able to return for the Las Vegas Bowl where he scored on a 100 yard interception return.

After getting healthy, Taylor was able to enjoy his best season as a senior, which included starting every game, 51 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 2.5 sacks, nine defended passes, four interceptions and three forced fumbles.  His impressive senior season continued to Indianapolis where he was a Scouting Combine standout with a 4.39 forty time.

Despite not being the biggest corner in the world, Taylor plays every bit as physical as many corners that are three or four inches taller than him, and has a reputation for being a “fighter” at the position in regards to his style of play.  He has the technique and strength to press wideouts at the line of scrimmage and the recovery speed to mask any mistakes.  He shows all the fluidity you want to see in his backpedal and hip turn, and is capable of disrupting passes with a well timed high point.

Taylor isn’t as proficient of a tackler as Winfield is, but he is no slouch either.  He plays the run very well, which is important to the Vikings, and is well disciplined in run support assignments.

Taylor is not flawless.  He needs to show more discipline in coverage, he needs to improve his tackling technique, and the guy looks like Jamarca Sanford when trying to haul in an easy interception (that isn’t a good thing) but he makes up for a lot of his shortcomings by playing football in a fearless and competitive way.

When it comes down to it, despite not being one of the highest touted prospects in this class, I view Taylor as a top-25 prospect and wouldn’t be at all disappointed if he were one of the Vikings selections in the first round.  He shouldn’t be expected, if selected, to fully fill Winfield’s void but adding a guy like this would certainly be a good start.

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