Tuesday, September 1, 2015

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2013 proved one of the Minnesota Vikings’ best draft years to date. The Vikes grabbed first-rounders Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson at No. 23, 25 and 29, respectively. Patterson delivered an outstanding rookie year, making his mark offensively and guaranteeing to be one of the top receivers in the game.

On defense, though, in an area where Minnesota has historically struggled, Rhodes impressed fans with his speed from Day 1.  He logged a 4.43 40-yd-dash at the NFL combine, and that explosiveness carried over into games.  Rhodes was not perfect—and has plenty left to improve upon—but he showed the kind of promise that hasn’t been seen from a defensive rookie in MN for quite some time.

Rhodes tallied 48 tackles in his debut season. Let’s put this into perspective.  Former CB Antoine Winfield, one of the best in Vikings history, had 38 tackles as a rookie in 1999. Nobody wants to put the cart before the horse, but it is an interesting comparison to draw.

At 23 years old, Rhodes struggled a bit with penalties in the beginning—oftentimes, his close coverage and quickness crossed the line, drew a yellow flag. Toward the end of November, though, Rhodes’ playing style began to level out. Physicality no longer proved the only aspect of his game, and his numbers reflected the development.  Rhodes combined for 13 tackles and eight passes defended over three games. Prior to Thanksgiving, the CB had totaled only two passes defended all season.

“[Rhodes] is starting to make more plays now,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s playing with more confidence. [I’m] seeing some things you’d like to see long-term […]he’s beginning to hit his stride now.”

The rookie developed a physical edge and dexterity to his game, and he looked to be finishing out the season with a bang.

“The next step is, some of those balls he’s knocking down, they can turn into interceptions,” Frazier said. “When I was watching one of those balls he got his hands on […] I was saying, ‘man, a year from now, that’s going to be an interception.’ He’ll have the confidence to not go up with one hand, but two and catch the ball. This is where he is in his development, so hopefully he’ll keep growing.”

(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)
(photo credit: www.rantsports.com)

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Rhodes suffered an ankle injury on Dec. 15 against Philadelphia. The damage sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

If Rhodes had finished out the season, he would have no doubt continued to improve with each game.  You can be sure that he will come out for the 2014-15 season raring to go. The CB left on a high note, and that confidence and energy will carry through the offseason and into next year.

Rhodes will play a major role in the Vikings defensive scheme in 2014.  Especially with a new coaching staff led by former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, fans can expect big things from the second-year CB.  Zimmer can be credited with the turnaround of Adam “Pacman” Jones in Cincinnatihe is no stranger to guiding young athletes and pulling out every bit of potential.  He comes to Minny with the defensive mind that the team needs to succeed; we can expect Rhodes to thrive under new and rejuvenated direction.

In addition, Rhodes will likely not automatically inherit the starting slot, which may actually be to his advantage.  Fellow CB Josh Robinson missed several games last season due to injury, and he and Rhodes can be expected to duel it out for the starting position when they both return healthy.  That early motivation is good for any player, and a sense of competition will hopefully increase performances and consistency.

The 2014 NFL season is a mere six months away … and Xavier Rhodes is ready to make an impact.




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Mock drafts in March—or any time of year, really—are largely pointless exercises. Some of the most accurate mockers in the business are proud of getting a third of their selections correct, which underscores the difference in evaluation and information mockers have between themselves and 32 NFL teams.

So, why not have fun? As long as we keep within certain parameters (only choosing players when they’re reasonably available) and create particular rules (no drafting quarterbacks—in this scenario, all the QBs the Vikings would be willing to spend a pick on at that time are gone and the rest are undesirable or too poor a value), it’s useful to see how different scenarios can play out.

I’m well known as an advocate of taking a quarterback early—even trading up to do so—but it’s well known that a number of fans would rather not. Signing an average quarterback and fixing the defense would go a long way (although it is unlikely that they’d be able to fix it in one draft class).

In order to make sure that this is closer to a team-specific mock and not a wish list, I’ll use Drafttek and Matt Miller’s 7-round mock draft as an availability model so that I don’t pick players that would have been gone. When the two disagree on a player being gone (they disagree on whether or not Khalil Mack will go by #8, for example), I’ll use my own judgment.

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In an unsurprising and unremarkable move, the Vikings are set on cutting tight end John Carlson, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks (and before that, Notre Dame).

Minnesota had already restructured Carlson’s contract once in order to reduce the cap hit he took up (he was due a base salary of $2.9 million and had it reduced to $1.5 million), but still was going to consume $5 million in cap space in 2014, and $6 million in the two subsequent years. In his two years with the Vikings, he caught 40 passes for 387 yards, most of which came on the back end of 2013 after Kyle Rudolph was injured.

From a talent perspective, John Carlson was an OK backup tight end, but commanded too much salary to be worth keeping on the roster for the production he could provide. Despite a promising rookie and sophomore showing in Seattle was sidelined by injury and never gained it back.

The move to grab him as he was visiting the Kansas City Chiefs didn’t make much sense, and time didn’t prove Spielman right. It was a surprising amount of money to throw at an oft-injured tight end with no recent history of production, but that’s what happened and the Vikings paid for it.

The dead space incurred by this move is $3 million, according to Spotrac, which means the Vikings will either save $2 million this year and $6 million the next two years, or $3.5 million this year, $4.5 million next year and $6 million the year after that, depending on how they want to prorate his cap hit.

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Free agency is sneaking up on us and the Vikings have been quiet, as usual, regarding their plans to re-sign their own free agents.  Almost certainly, there will be some of our own guys signing new contracts prior to the March 11th opening of the market, but this is as good of a time as any to participate in some good old fashioned speculation.

I tend to view the NFL Draft as a time to amass talent, with less regard for immediate need than is displayed in the opening days of free agency, so I have narrowed in on five guys that I think could help make an immediate impact on the opening day roster.  Of course, free agency is highly unpredictable and we fans seldom get what we want, but this slow time in the offseason is the perfect time for us dreamers to dream.

The Houston Texans are unofficially on the clock with the first overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft. Before the Texans took a single snap this season, the entire football world had Jadeveon Clowney earmarked as the top football player in the country. Clowney’s monster hit in the Outback Bowl on January 1st, 2013 sparked the Gamecocks to a bowl win and ignited a nation of believers. Yet, over the past 12 months Clowney’s flame has flickered just enough to draw questions whether or not he is truly college football’s top prospect.

Clowney failed to live up to the lofty hype and expectations last season at South Carolina. His 11.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks were down from the his previous two years when he averaged 17 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.

Did he really need to prove anything more on the football field anyway?

Was the thought of Marcus Lattimore’s season ending knee injury in 2012 still etched in the back of his mind? Was Clowney just playing tentative, or does he have red flags concerning his work ethic?

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