Monday, February 8, 2016

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Well, the end is near.  Or the beginning… however you prefer to look at it.

Despite no playoff games in the near future, both the Vikings and Bears have plenty of storylines surrounding them in Week 17.  Get caught up and get primed for this final Vikings game of 2014 by browsing the very fine links below:

  • Catching up with former Vikings Brad Johnson and Chris Walsh is bound to be good time.
  • Mike Zimmer is going into Week 17 hoping to win his first divisional game as a head coach.
  • Teddy Bridgewater’s last four week’s have actually been statistically historic.
  • CFL standout and Cris Carter’s son and former Vikings tryout Duron Carter will be visiting with teams, including the Vikings, in an attempt to jump into the NFL.
  • It sure would be nice to have Cordarrelle Patterson turn in a nice game heading into this offseason.
  • Vikings football is almost over.  But Fantasy Draft is just heating up with great chances to win some cash.
  • Our edge rushers will be looking to dominate the Bears offensive line for the second time this season.
  • Like a season finale of Dexter, this game is all about who lives and who gets chopped.
  • Lists of possible free agent targets are so much fun to glance at this time of year.
  • Teddy Bridgewater is starting to stack up against other starting QB’s quite nicely.
  • Josh Robinson is excited to get another crack at the Bears who abused him the first time around.
  • Charles Johnson might be playing well enough to cause the Vikings to ignore wide receiver in the early rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.
  • This is the last chance to evaluate the strong safety position and Captain Munnerlyn before an offseason of changes.
  • What one word would you use to describe Marcus Sherels?
  • Running backs coach Kirby Wilson is hoping to become an offensive coordinator sooner than later.
  • A game plan to topple Chicago and end 2014 on a positive note.
  • The new Vikings stadium is already selling tickets and making money.
  • Five things to keep track of during the season finale.
  • Fullback Jerome Felton plans to opt out of his contract following this season and become a free agent.
  • Blair Walsh is ranked 32nd in the NFL for field goal percentage, but he still thinks his future is bright.
  • If you are a stats and records type of fan then here are some fun figures to chew on before the game.
  • And now, your moment of Zen:

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The Minnesota Vikings have decided to put rookie linebacker Anthony Barr on injured reserve and have promoted linebacker Josh Kaddu from the practice squad, per Andrew Krammer at 1500ESPN:

Anthony Barr was having an excellent rookie season before his injury, and in particular showcased his range and developing instincts to help put together a surprisingly good defense. He will finish the season with four sacks, three pass deflections, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, 55 solo tackles, 15 tackle assists and a fumble return touchdown.

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The Minnesota Vikings announced that they have signed former Louisiana-Lafayette linebacker Justin Anderson to their practice squad.

It’s not as interesting as the Henry Josey signing, both because Josey has a compelling story regarding injury and because Anderson is being signed to the practice squad, not the 53-man roster. Anderson initially signed with the New York Giants after the draft, but didn’t stick because of an injury.

He’s another athletic prospect, ranking in the 71st percentile of all linebackers in weight-adjusted combine scores from 1999-2013, though not quite the “freak” that Justin Jackson was (a brief signing after the first round of cuts from the Lions, but he didn’t make the Vikings practice squad) by any reasonable margin.

Here’s Jeff Risdon’s from Detroit Lions Draft:

The leading tackler in the Sun Belt Conference, Anderson is a heads-up hitter with decent closing burst. He’s smallish at about 230 pounds and doesn’t have great lateral range, but he can drop into coverage well. He was a monster against Western Kentucky, hammering the wide receiver just after a catch and then recovering the ensuing fumble and taking it to the house. Just for good measure, he forced and recovered another fumble later in the game.

His NFL future will depend on how well he can handle bigger tight ends and faster action outside the Sun Belt. Watch for him to have a big game against Tulane, which has one of the weakest offenses in the nation.

Given the NFL’s movement towards “undersized” linebackers and projecting them as coverage guys or special teams standouts, I don’t expect his weight to be an enormous problem unless it impacts his durability further. I suspect this will allow the Vikings to backstop against further Brandon Watts injuries should they come in the offseason (as they seem to be similar players).

No word on who will be cut from the practice squad in order to make room.

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In the wake of releasing running back Ben Tate, the Minnesota Vikings have chosen not to promote anyone from their practice squad (Dominique Williams is on their practice squad right now) and instead signed former Missouri running back Henry Josey from the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad, who had previously been signed by the Philadelphia Eagles after the draft. This news comes from Michael DiRocco at ESPN

Josey suffered from an injury in 2011, tearing his ACL, patellar tendon, MCL as well as the lateral and medial menisci. In short, his knee was shredded. He recovered from that injury to put together a 1,166-yard season at Missouri in 2013 after missing out all of 2012. A local Missouri news station put together a special on his recovery:

From a scouting perspective, Josey is difficult to figure out if only because very few will know about the health of his knee and how well it will hold together. Given the talent of the Vikings athletic training staff, it’s possible they saw something stable or something they liked in their medical evaluations predraft. His combine scores as a percentile of other running backs below:

Neither extraordinarily impressive nor worrisome (it’s in the upper quartile at his position overall), but it does move away from the trend of picking athletic phenoms and “coaching them up.” Further, unless Josey has bulked up since the draft, he’s a very small running back both from a height and weight perspective. For future health concerns, this will need to be resolved soon.

On the field at Missouri, Josey displayed above-average speed and acceleration despite the injury, and likely was in the top 10 percent in terms of on-field speed. He’s no Dri Archer or Jerick McKinnon, but his speed is very good. His official score of 4.43 is extremely quick, but some scouts recorded a 4.39 from him. After the initial scrum at the line, he can be caught from behind (pretty consistently), even on breakaway runs. While there, his vision was about average, but the bigger problems came from poor balance, which undercuts his greatest asset: agility. If that balance returns as a result of recovery from knee surgery, he’ll be another good back to put in space because his agility can make him very hard to hit or track. His change-of-direction may have to rely on confidence in his knee because he had good combine scores in agility, but it might be an actual physical limitation. Though he doesn’t play with a lot of power, he’s actually a very good pass blocker and plays with good pad level, and he knows to churn his legs through contact. While he’ll get around arm tackles, he won’t drive a pile or win a stand-up collision against a linebacker to fall for additional yards. As a receiver, he’s solid and he plays with good hands technique and runs solid routes.

If anything, Josey is impressive for how fast he runs given the condition of his knee, but that alone won’t be enough. If his combine scores are more indicative of his recovery than his on-field play, then he’s worth a serious look—there’s a reason that spread-friendly Philadelphia did; he’s perfect for it. In the preseason, he finished with 6.6 yards a carry on 34 attempts for 225 yards (the second-most of any running back), and 2.5 yards after contact per attempt. He also caught three passes for 39 yards.

The reason the Vikings chose to sign him instead of promote Dominique Williams likely has to do with securing a better offseason roster. This way, the Vikings can enter training camp and workouts with both Josey and Williams instead of one or the other. Don’t expect Josey to be active next week despite signing him to the full 53-man roster.

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The Pro Bowl list was announced and the Minnesota Vikings have no selections to the squad. This is a fairly big disappointment given the high level of play from some players, like safety Harrison Smith and defensive end Everson Griffen. Outside shots like Xavier Rhodes and Jerome Felton also figured to receive votes, but not enough to make the Pro Bowl. If they are not high enough alternates on the list when players begin pulling out due to injury (or personal preference), then it will be the first time the Vikings do not have Pro Bowlers since 1983.

Everson Griffen, with a game remaining on the season, ended with 12 sacks, while Pro Football Focus has him with 11 additional hits and 38 hurries. In addition to that, Everson is credited by them to have 29 run stops, the third-most of 4-3 DEs. Advanced Football Analytics ranks Griffen as third overall in Win Probability Added of all defensive ends (3-4 and 4-3) behind Jason Pierre-Paul and J.J. Watt.

The defensive ends who made the Pro Bowl ahead of him are 3-4 DEs Calais Campbell and J.J. Watt and 4-3 DEs Demarcus Ware, Cameron Wake, Robert Quinn and Mario Williams. Three of those 4-3 DEs (Ware (10.0), Quinn (10.5) and Wake (11.5) had fewer sacks). Only Wake had more total pressures (including sacks) noted by Pro Football Focus (with 61 total pressures over Griffen’s 60), while only Quinn had a higher run stop percentage. None of them had a bigger impact in winning games by AFA’s WPA metric, and only Williams had a higher run defense grade from Pro Football Focus.

Given that Everson was generally a more impactful pass rusher than many of the selections and that he was a better run defender than many of them, this was a snub.

The safeties who made it ahead of Harrison Smith were Tashaun Gipson, Glover Quin, Earl Thomas, Eric Weddle, Kam Chancellor and T.J. Ward. In ancillary duties like pass-rushing, Harrison Smith ranks second out of all safeties in Pro Football Focus’ pass rusher productivity scores, with two sacks, three hits and five hurries. In coverage, only Gipson of the Pro Bowl safeties allowed a lower passer rating when targeted (41.9 versus Smith’s 67.9) and only Weddle and Chancellor have more total pass deflections. Gipson and Quin have more interceptions (7 and 6 respectively) compared to Smith’s 5 and of those two, only Gipson allowed fewer touchdowns (2).

Weddle, Ward and Chancellor beat out Smith in run stop percentage, though Smith had by a significant margin the highest run-defense grade from Pro Football Focus of any Pro Bowl safety. Quin and Weddle missed fewer tackles, but Quin also only had four stops in the run game. Harrison Smith had the second-highest Win Probability Added of all safeties in AFA’s analytics and the highest expected points added. He had the fifth-most “successful” plays, meaning he had more plays that resulted in offensive losses than all but four safeties, none of whom made the Pro Bowl above him.

It’s difficult to really evaluate the impact of defensive players using advanced statistics, especially ones that use down-and-distance (AFA) over individual play grades (PFF), but the margin by which Smith and Griffen exceed their competition in both measures is quite large at times and significant enough that they should have been first-team Pro Bowlers. On film, it is difficult to say Smith was worse than Ward this year, and though Glover Quin had a stellar year in Teryl Austin’s defense in Detroit, Smith played like the better safety this year.

Robert Quinn, Cameron Wake and Demarcus Ware may be riding on latent recognition as defensive ends, but neither performed at nearly the level Griffen did, especially when accounting for impact in the run game, where Wake and Quinn were liabilities. Wake not only couldn’t finish his pressures and turn them into sacks, but he was the only one who could even get into the backfield more than the other 4-3 ends.

Jerome Felton likely didn’t play enough snaps to truly argue that he was snubbed, but it should be significant that between consistently overrated John Kuhn and quick ballcarrier Marcel Reece, that Felton did more to enable offenses while running. The Vikings lead all teams in the NFL in yards gained per carry with two running backs on the field (versus one), and Felton’s run blocking was from a technical and on-field perspective much better. It seems as if Kuhn’s 3.8 yards a carry and one touchdown was worth more than the traditional role assigned to a fullback, because though he has improved significantly as a run blocker, it wasn’t as consistently on-point as Felton’s.

Still, Anthony Sherman and Kyle Juszczyk were more deserving of the “snub” title at the fullback position.

At cornerback, Xavier Rhodes was beat out by Vontae Davis, Brent Grimes, Joe Haden, Chris Harris, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman and Aqib Talib. It’s a tough class to break, though I think Rhodes outperformed Peterson (who had a mediocre year, all being told). Peterson allowed eight touchdowns to gain only three interceptions. Rhodes allowed a 74.6 passer rating when targeted in coverage, while Peterson’s below-average 97.9 was a liability to an otherwise rock-solid defense. That said, Rhodes was not consistent throughout the year, and other cornerbacks may have a better case to be called snubs, like Buffalo’s Corey Graham or Atlanta’s Desmond Trufant

The Pro Bowl is always a flawed process that draws ire every year, but it’s important to recognize those who didn’t make it who deserve it, especially because bonuses and salary ride on this kind of recognition. Injury and withdrawal will allow some of these players in and gather Pro Bowl recognition, but it’s no guarantee.

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