Saturday, February 28, 2015
Blog Page 199

Last night’s article about my opinion that the Vikings would be a great fit for running back prospect Marcus Lattimore sparked one of the better reader conversations, or debate perhaps, that we have had so far this offseason.

Naturally, I want to give my opinion.

In the discussion, there are two basic schools of thought at play, with one thinking a team should draft for need and the other saying to take the best player available.  Some good arguments have been made, but I think my perspective is a touch different.

In a world where all the stars align, a team’s draft board would align perfectly with their roster needs.  If you desperately need a running back, then you would love to see a running back be the highest ranked player available to you when you are on the clock.

It is the General Manager’s job to try and create that perfect world by moving around during the Draft.  A perfect example of such a move could be from just last year when Rick Spielman, who needed to get his team some safety help, pulled the trigger on a trade that bounced the Vikings back into the first round where they were able to grab Harrison Smith.

It is also possible, last year, that the Vikings had a higher grade on running back Trent Richardson than they did on Matt Kalil which allowed Spielman to move back a spot and let Richardson get picked up by Cleveland, while retaining the ability to still get Kalil.

Sometimes these trades don’t always work out, however, and a team is forced to choose between their best rated player or making a slight reach in the name of filling an immediate need.  I am sure that those decisions are the hardest ones to make when the pressure is on.

If I were in charge of making such decisions (which, of course, I am not) I would see no shame in taking either approach, really, but would have a philosophy that revolves around my roster’s identity.

Let me explain.

There is something to be said for a team that uses free agency and the first round of the Draft to fill immediate needs, while using day two and day three of the Draft to reinforce an already strong part of the roster.  Drafting to get deeper and stronger at an area of your roster that already is a strength, if you will.

For example, the New York Giants in recent history have not been shy about spending early picks on defensive linemen because that was their identity, their pass rush essentially won them a Super Bowl against an undefeated Patriots team, and they didn’t want to take on any risk of losing that identity through injuries.  Their defensive line also played a big part in last year’s Super Bowl run, their second in five years.

The Minnesota Vikings have openly admitted that their offense is “built to win” by running the football.  It is their identity.

Of course, having Adrian Peterson is a huge part of that, and a lot of their future success hinges on his ability to stay healthy and stay productive.  Heck, they even have a decent backup plan in Toby Gerhart, who is a lot better as an every down back than as a player pulling spot duty.

Still, I see absolutely no problem with the Vikings using the NFL Draft to ensure that their identity, being a hard running offense, is maintained and preserved long into the future despite what unpleasant surprises may end up surfacing.

So, to finally get around to the point, that is why I would have absolutely no problem with the Vikings spending a fourth or fifth rounder on a running back.  Or a guard.  Or a center.  It may not immediately improve the running offense, but if it ensures that running game will last for an entire season and well into the postseason then I think it is a pick well spent.

Besides, if we are banking on filling our needs in round four of the NFL Draft, then Rick Spielman has already messed things up pretty bad.

I am a big fan of the Best Player Available approach to the NFL Draft because I just don’t see the downside.  There is no shame in using that player to fill a need or provide depth in an area on your roster that already has a solid starter.

Besides, if the Vikings had always drafted for need, then I don’t think Adrian Peterson ever would have worn a Vikings uniform in the first place.

I mentioned earlier this week that I had my own unique theory on which running back the Vikings should target this offseason.  My answer is a simple one:  The best one available.

South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is the only first round lock runner in the class, and it just so happens he will probably be selected much, much later.

Lattimore took the college game by storm and is easily the most complete back available this year.  He runs with explosion between the tackles, is dangerous in space, is a fluid pass catcher and capable blocker, and is a smart runner with a patience to follow his blockers that is rarely seen in young backs.  He is also known to be of high character and as a guy that leads by example.

He actually reminds me, at least in part, of our very own Adrian Peterson.

To find Lattimore’s Achilles heal, however, you need not look any farther than his knee.  When the all star runner hit the turf in pain this October, the football watching community collectively expressed their sympathy for a runner they enjoyed watching so much.

Lattimore’s ligament damage in his knee left many wondering if he would ever play football again and his availability for 2013 seemed to be in major doubt, at the very least.  He fell from the top 15 to the fifth round with that one ugly hit.  The snake-bitten running back also suffered ligament damage one year earlier, prematurely ending that season as well.

So why do I think he is such a great fit for the Vikings?  Well, for starters, because I think the Vikings are a great fit for him.

The Vikings are fairly stacked at running back, with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart cemented atop the depth chart for next season, so the Vikings could perhaps be the one NFL team willing to be patient while Lattimore rehabs his knee.

Lattimore would also have a constant source of inspiration and encouragement simply by watching Adrian Peterson, who famously worked his way back from a gruesome knee injury and topped 2,000 yards on the season.  He could be comforted by the fact that Eric Sugarman and the Vikings trainers are the same exact people that helped Peterson not only make his return, but come back even better than he already was.

Even if Lattimore turned out to be facing the worst case scenario, not being able to play in 2013, the Vikings could easily stash him on the injured reserve for a year and get him into the lineup in 2014 after Gerhart presumably becomes a free agent.

At some point I think Adrian Peterson will start to slow down and instead of being a one man show, perhaps a tandem like Peterson and Lattimore could help him elongate his career by being one half of a great backfield duo.

As of right now, with so many worries about the injuries, Lattimore is projected to go no earlier than the fourth round.  The Vikings can’t afford to spend much more money or use too high of a draft pick on the running back position, with other areas in need of help, but the can surely can afford to use a fourth or fifth round pick for a guy that is well known to be a first round talent with Peterson-like problems.

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10

One of the, umm, “benefits” of not playing in the Super Bowl is that you might just qualify for a free trip to Hawaii to play in the season’s most meaningless football game.

The Vikings will be well represented during Sunday’s Pro Bowl.  We have already noted that Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Jared Allen, and Chad Greenway will be playing.

Another alternate has made the final cut, however.  Tight end Tony Gonzalez played a hard fought game, possibly his last ever, on Sunday and will not be filling his roster spot on the NFC’s all-star squad in Honolulu.

Instead, alternate Kyle Rudolph will be suiting up.

The second-year tight end recorded 53 catches for 493 yards in his second season, doubling the number of catches from his rookie season.  He was also second among NFL tight ends with nine touchdowns, tripling his total from last year.

I have some interesting theories (or, at least, I think they are interesting) on what the Vikings should do at running back this year.  The truth is that those theories don’t really involve free agency, however, which probably isn’t all that surprising provided that Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart still sit atop the depth chart at the position.

Still, in the spirit of the offseason, I have put together my free agent ranking at the position.

Top Tier

I would be surprised to see the Vikings spend big money on a running back, as I mentioned already, but there is no denying that the traits of certain pending free agents could be attractive.  A running back that possesses an extra ability to contribute in the passing game or special teams may warrant some consideration, especially if Rick Spielman ends up dealing Percy Harvin to another team.

That is the reason that Reggie Bush tops my running back rankings for the Vikings.  I have long said that Harvin and Bush are two very similar players, despite officially playing different positions, and Vikings fans can remember all too well how Bush is capable of making a difference as a return man and slot receiver.  Besides, in Miami he was really able to come into his own as a true running back and managed to be relatively durable.

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24

The first mock draft of the offseason is really just a shot in the dark. There are so many unknowns at this point. Who’s actually going to declare at the draft? What will their combine performance be? What kind of scandals/off-the-field issues will take place?

But still, putting these things together are fun. It starts to familiarize everybody with a lot of the names we’ll be hearing for the new few months. It gets us acquainted with some of the opportunities the Vikings may have when they are on the clock for the first time at #23 (unless they trade up, of course). They serve as a starting point for discussion regarding what the Vikings should try and do in the draft.

All around, they’re just a good time.

By the time Adam and I put out our final drafts for 2012 though, I’d say we both did pretty good. As Adam mentioned in his mock draft, we both held strong to our belief that the Vikings would select Matt Kalil with their first pick (despite the endless amounts of rumors floating around up to the very start of the draft). We didn’t guess spot-on for a lot of teams (I had maybe 6-7?) but, for the most part, the draft panned out a lot like we thought it would.

Who knows what the Vikings are going to do this time. Picking at #23 is going to make things a lot more difficult to guess. When you are at #3 (or #4 if you trade down…) it’s a lot easier to surmise what the team is going to do. There are only two other players taken before it’s your turn. In our case this year, there are 22 players that will be taken off the board before we get our turn to select. Talk about endless possibilities.

So, let’s get to what I have in my first mock draft, shall we?

The first thing you’ll probably notice is that I have more quarterbacks being selected in the first round than most people do. In fact, I have two quarterbacks going in the top ten. (Mel Kiper doesn’t even have a quarterback going in the first round!) Sure, a lot of people are going to tell you that there is not a quarterback in this year’s draft class worth the number one pick. Or a top five pick. Or a top ten pick even. I’d agree with them looking at it objectively. But the truth is, a lot of these teams that are desperate for an answer at the quarterback position are not looking at it objectively. They’re looking at it hopefully. They are taking a chance and hoping that the guy they like will be the answer and the future for their franchise. And just like the Vikings did by selecting Christian Ponder much earlier than everybody thought, I believe there are a couple of teams that are so desperate for someone at the quarterback position, they will use their first round pick to try and find that center piece for their offense.

The second thing you’ll notice… Well, let’s just be honest. You scrolled straight to see who the Vikings selected. Okay, let’s talk about my selection for the Vikings.

Terrance Williams 2013 Draft

“With the twenty third pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select wide receiver Terrance Williams, Baylor.”

So, like Adam, I have also selected a wide receiver for the Vikings with their first pick. I have to be really up front and honest with you, I’m not really happy about the selection and was pretty torn when making it.

Here’s the deal: I think there are 4-5 receivers the Vikings could take at this spot that would almost be [hypothetically] interchangeable. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I’m not sure that there is a true #1 receiver in this year’s draft class – a sure thing. Somebody who can start day 1 and instantly provide the Vikes with another weapon and someone who can stretch the field. The problem is that, much like the quarterback situation outlined above, I think teams are also more likely to reach on players that they think can somehow provide a spark for them offensively – the playmakers.

In the case of my mock draft, I think there are some guys the Vikings could get better value for at positions of need but we just need a wide receiver so dang bad. There are two or three defensive tackles I think would be great for the  Vikings at this spot. But, realistically, I don’t think the Vikings leave the first round without a wide receiver.

But let’s talk about Terrance Williams for a second because I don’t want to sell him short, I do like what I see from him.

Terrance Williams is a guy who, at 6’2″ and 205 pounds, plays physical and can go up and make a play on the ball. He isn’t blazing fast but he is a straight-line runner who can stretch the field and use his larger frame to overpower and shield off defenders. One of Williams biggest concerns is his route running (as he primarily ran go routes) and his tendency to try and catch the ball with his body.  Those shortcomings are coachable though and Williams has the physical traits to potentially be the type of threat the Vikings could use.

While this is the first wide receiver I have the Vikings taking in my mock draft, I do not think it will be the last. I would not be surprised if the Vikings took upwards of three wide receivers this year. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we are looking at a radically different receiving corp in 2013. In fact, I suspect it.

Make sure to check out the scouting video of Terrance Williams below. Also, here are a couple of names I toyed with putting in that #23 spot instead of Williams:

John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
Robert Woods, WR, USC
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Brett’s 2013 Mock Draft v1.0

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