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Okay, the thing I like least about blogging is this whole playing “catch up” after an extended absence.  Nevertheless, if I don’t do it now, then I’ll feel weird about just jumping in with current news out of the blue.

So, I’d like to address some of the hot button issues that I missed while I was gone.  Here goes.

Donovan McNabb

I don’t think we ever had much doubt that McNabb was a one-and-done stopgap.  The lockout situation pressured the Vikings into believing they needed an experienced veteran throwing passes if they wanted to win in 2011.  As it turns out, they were destined to lose games either way.  Tossing aside the laziness rumors, just like Leslie Frazier tossed them aside, it was clear that it was time to let McNabb’s tenure as a Vikings starter end a little earlier than planned.  At this point, wins and losses are relatively inconsequential (other than draft order), so it makes sense to start evaluating talent that could be on the roster moving forward.

Christian Ponder

Everybody, I have to be honest, we need to temper our expectations a bit.  Ponder got his first start against the Packers and commanded an offense that was able to put up 27 points… a rarity for this year’s Vikings.  It was good to see some young blood slinging passes down the field, spreading the ball around, and occasionally producing the big play.  Still, he was only able to complete 40% of his passes and threw two crucial picks.  The kid will have ups and downs, and just as it is important that we don’t crucify him after a down week, we need to be careful not to crown him after a good one.  The Vikings quarterback situation is far from solid at this point.  Whether it is developing Ponder, searching in free agency, or looking towards the 2012 Draft (or all of the above) the quarterback position still needs work.

Chris Cook

There is draft strategy that basically says “a guy that fails off the field, is unlikely to succeed on it.”  Like any draft strategy, there are exceptions, but the Vikings have ignored that idea in recent years and it has done more damage than good.  Cook was looking like a decent starting cornerback this year, after an injury plagued rookie campaign, but allegations that he bloodied his girlfriend during a jealous rampage are indeed very serious.  He not only hurt is team by not being available on Sunday to cover Greg Jennings, he is obviously a young man that needs to get his act together off the field before he can succeed on it.  The decision to suspend Cook was a no-brainer for the Vikings, but the suspension is temporary, and the team now needs to decide if Cook is damaged beyond repair or if he is a young man that they can help become a better human and get a quality football player in return.  No matter how they handle this situation there will be criticisms following shortly behind.

Brian Robison

Was he drunk!?!  C’mon man, that’s despicable.  What can you say about this other than that it was poor sportsmanship, he deserved every penny of his $20,000 fine, and I was glad to see he was able to smooth things over with T.J. Lang.  Robison, who has been one of my favorite players this year, gave Vikings fans no room to trash talk with a Packers fan this year with one kick to no-fly zone.  Hopefully Robison puts that schoolyard B.S. behind him and we never see anything like that again on an NFL field.

Berrian Being Cut

Just like with McNabb being benched, it was time to put the underachieving stopgaps to the side and see how some of these youngsters can handle themselves in the NFL.  I am curious to see if Stephen Burton sees any playing time and how he does.  Michael Jenkins seems like a solid #2 receiver and Harvin is built for the slot, so it is clear that finding a true #1 receiver must be an offseason priority.  At this point, Berrian’s absence will be hardly noticeable as he’s been invisible for over two years.

Some Positive Stuff

Before the season started, if I had told you that Jared Allen would lead the NFL after seven games with 11.5 sacks, and Adrian Peterson would lead the league in rushing with 712 rushing yards, would you have guessed that they would have the second worst record in the NFC?  Me neither.  Still, that’s where they are.  However, there are still elite talents on this team (Allen and Peterson are not the only ones) and they are both going to be here for years to come.  There is no doubt that these are guys to rebuild a team around and should give everyone hope for the future.

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    UPDATED:  January 26th, 2015

     Tampa Bay Logo
    1. Tampa Bay (2-14) // Jameis Winston, QB – Florida State

    Needs: Quarterback, O-Line, Pass Rush

    Winston represents the best opportunity to provide the Buccaneers with a franchise quarterback. I say opportunity because Winston is not a sure bet. But despite character concerns being an issue, Winston has the physical attributes to compete at the next level and has the highest ceiling for a quarterback in this class.

     Tennessee Titans Logo
     2. Tennessee (2-14) // Randy Gregory, Edge – Nebraska

    Needs: Quarterback, Pass Rush, CB, Guard,

    While Derrick Morgan has been solid on one side, the Titans could definitely use an upgrade in their pass rush on the other.

     Jacksonville Jaguars Logo
    3.  Jacksonville (3-13) // Leonard Williams, 34DE, 43DT –  USC

    Needs: FS, OL, DL Depth

    Will Leonard Williams, arguably the best talent in the 2015 draft, pull an Eli Manning if not drafted by the Raiders? We’ll see… Jacksonville needs more depth on their line. Williams is incredibly versatile, a run stuffer and can definitely get after the quarterback.

    Oakland Raiders Logo
     4. Oakland (3-13) // Amari Cooper, WR – Alabama

    Needs: ILB, OT, DE, WR

    In this scenario, the Raiders and Leonard Williams miss out on each other. Derek Carr did well in his first year for the Raiders and may provide the stability this franchise has been in search of for a long time. The Raiders have no #1 threat at wide receiver and were an ineffective on offense leading the NFL in three and outs. Amari Cooper, while not necessarily physically gifted, is an exceptional route runner and the kind of guy you want to pair with a young, developing quarterback.

     Washington Redskins Logo
     5. Washington (4-12) // Brandon Scherff, OT – Iowa

    Needs: S, CB, OT, DE

    The Redskins had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL in 2014. They need to solidify their line if they truly intend to give Robert Griffin III a final shot.

     New York Jets Logo
     6. New York Jets (4-12) // Marcus Mariota, QB – Oregon

    Needs: QB, G, CB, RB, WR, S

    At the end of the day, new regime, new quarterback. Mariota will likely need some time to develop and can do so while Geno Smith gets another crack at it.

     Chicago Bears Logo
     7. Chicago (5-11) // Shane Ray, Edge – Missouri

    Needs: S, LB, G, DE

    With Willie Young and Lamar Houston coming off of injuries and an aging veteran in Jared Allen, the Bears could use some young, explosive talent on their defensive line.

     Atlanta Falcons Logo
     8. Atlanta (6-10) // Dante Fowler Jr., Edge –  Florida

    Needs: Pass Rush, LB, S, TE

    Atlanta’s defense was horrific in 2015 and struggled mightily to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

     New York Giants Logo
     9. New York Giants (6-10) // Andrus Peat, OT – Stanford

    Needs: RT, S, DT, SOLB

    Ideally, Brandon Scherff would be around for the Giants but instead went to Washington. While a dynamic pass rusher like Shaq Thompson would be nice, it’s just as likely the Giants will choose to provide more protection at right tackle for the younger Manning.

     St. Louis Rams Logo
     10. St. Louis (6-10) // Kevin White, WR – West Virginia

    Needs: QB, OL, SOLB, WR

    It’s a little contrarian to slot a wide receiver here but not completely ridiculous in my opinion. The Rams receiving core is average at best. Kevin White could give the Rams a real, potential #1 receiver who can stretch the field and provide a reliable option for… Maybe Brett Hundley in the second round? Dude does have a pretty cool first name.

     Minnesota Vikings Logo
     11. Minnesota (7-9) // Shaq Thompson, OLB – Washington

    Needs: LB, CB, S, WR, G

    Shaq Thompson is an incredibly versatile and athletic linebacker. While slightly undersized (he can still add on some weight), paired up with Anthony Barr under the tutelage of Zimmer could be pretty scary for opposing offenses and potentially solve the Vikings linebacker woes that have seemingly plagued this team for a long time. While wide receiver is in play as well as offensive line, I think Zimmer gets another gift freak athlete for him to shape.

    Cleveland Browns Logo
     12. Cleveland (7-9) // DeVante Parker, WR  –  Louisville

    Needs: QB, WR, DE, NT, RT

    Who knows what’s going to happen with Josh Gordon. Can you believe I drafted that guy this year and let him ride my bench in hopes I would in turn ride his monster production to a championship? Yeah, me either. Regardless of if Gordon is with the Browns or not, the team could still  use another wide receiver. Parker has the physical and athletic traits to be a prime playmaker at the next level.

     New Orleans Saints Logo Censored
     13. New Orleans (7-9) // Trae Waynes, CB – Michigan State

    Needs: CB, Coverage ILB, OL, Pass Rusher

    The Saints secondary was putrid. New Orleans is in desperate need of someone to line up opposite of Keenan Lewis. Trae Waynes is the best cornerback in this draft. In fact, former scout Daniel Jeremiah with NFL Network proclaimed that not only was Waynes the best cornerback in this draft but also better than any cornerbacks available in the 2014 Draft.

     Miami Dolphins Logo
     14. Miami (8-8) // Benardrick Mckinney, ILB – Mississippi State

    Needs: OG, C, LB, CB, S, DT

    Miami could use a team leader on defense in the middle. McKinney is the best interior linebacker in the draft and could assist in improving the Dolphins linebacking core.

     San Francisco 49ers Logo
     15. San Francisco (8-8) // Devin Funchess, WR – Michigan

    Needs: WR, DE, G, TE

    While a slight reach, the 49ers desperately need a potential #1 receiver. Michael Crabtree hasn’t panned out to be the guy and Anquan Boldin is not getting any younger. An ideal situation for the Niners would be if Cooper, White or Parker are available. In this scenario, they aren’t so San Francisco rolls the dice on Funchess.

     Houston Texans Logo
     16. Houston (9-7) // Landon Collins, S – Alabama

    Needs: QB, S, ILB, CB

    Landon Collins is a pretty good value for the Texans at this point who aren’t dying for a new safety but may not pass on the opportunity to have a contingency plan in place for DJ Swearinger who has been unimpressive thus far.

     San Diego Chargers Logo
     17. San Diego (9-7) // T.J. Clemmings, LOT – Pittsburgh

    Needs: OT, OG, C, CB, NT

    The Chargers offensive line is an absolute wreck. There are no guarantees when it comes to the draft but it would be pretty surprising to see San Diego do anything other than address their offensive line woes in the first round.

     Kansas City Chiefs Logo
     18. Kansas City (9-7) // La’el Collins, OT – LSU

    Needs: WR, OT, C, LB

    Eric Fisher has been disappointing for the Chiefs who also are in need of an upgrade at right tackle. Kansas City could choose to keep Eric Fisher at left tackle for another year and try someone like La’el Collins from LSU at right tackle or start the rookie on the left and move Fisher to the other side.

     Cleveland Browns Logo
     19. Cleveland – from Buffalo (9-7) // Eddie Goldman, NT – Florida State

    Needs: QB, WR, DE, NT, RT

    Ahtyba Rubin is a free agent in March but the Browns defensive line was a sieve anyway. Finding players to put on the defensive line who can stop the run should be one of the biggest priorities for Cleveland.

     Philadelphia Eagles Logo
     20. Philadelphia (10-6) // Marcus Peters, CB – Washington

    Needs: CB, S, G, Rush LB

    The Eagles could use upgrades at both cornerback positions as well as safety. Ifo Ekpre-Olumo seemed like a likely pick for former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, but Ifo tore his ACL during practice late in the year and it is now doubtful a team will want to roll the dice in the first round on him. While Marcus Peters has some off-the-field concerns (primarily with Washington coaches and staff), he is long, agile and has good ball skills – the type of cornerback Kelly prefers.

     Cincinnati Bengals Logo
     21. Cincinnati (10-5-1) // Vic Beasley, DE/OLB – Clemson

    Needs: LB, DL, OL, S, QB

    Not to be cliché, but Beasley may fall on draft day because he’s what some call a “tweener”. He may not have the size to play defensive end at the next level,but he is a freakish athlete who can add a spark to a defense that needs if utilized creatively.

     Pittsburgh Steelers Logo
     22. Pittsburgh (11-5) // Gerod Holliman, FS – Louisville

    Needs: CB, S, OT, LB

    With long-time Steeler great Troy Polamalu on the eve of retirement, the Steelers are going to need to do something about the safety position. Mike Mitchell, opposite of Polamalu, was deficient in coverage in 2014 but was playing out of position as he is better suited for strong safety. Drafting Holliman, who is the best player available at this point, would allow them to move Mitchell, strengthening their safeties significantly overall.

     Detroit Lions Logo
     23. Detroit (11-5) // Cameron Erving, OL – Florida State

    Needs: LG, RT, DT, CB

    The Lions need some help at multiple positions on their offensive line. Cameron Erving, who started by playing on the defensive side of the ball, is as versatile as they come and can play any position on the offensive line. Erving could immediately contribute at left guard or right tackle for Detroit.

     Arizona Cardinals Logo
     24. Arizona (11-5) // Eric Kendricks, ILB, OLB – UCLA

    Needs: ILB, G, OLB, S, CB, QB, RB

    Arizona needs to add some talent at linebacker. The Cardinals had a difficult time covering tight ends and lacked the speed to contain mobile quarterbacks (which their division is ripe with). Eric Kendricks is explosive, closes quickly and is instinctive. While he could use some work in coverage, most linebackers in college could.

     Carolina Panthers Logo
     25. Carolina (7-8-1) // Alvin Dupree, DE, OLB – Kentucky

    Needs: Pass Rush, OT, CB

    Despite an obvious need to bolster the offensive line and protect Cam Newton who has taken a beating (Newton has been hit the most in the league among quarterbacks since he started for the Panthers in 2011), there isn’t any good value available at offensive tackle by this point in this draft. The Panthers pass rush fell off quite significantly this season and the team could use some explosiveness along the line. Alvin Dupree can play both with both his hand in the ground and as an outside linebacker. While inconsistent with his hand use, Dupree has an excellent motor, exceptional athleticism and extremely versatile.

     Baltimore Ravens Logo
     26. Baltimore (10-6) // Jaelen Strong, WR – Arizona State

    Needs: CB, SS, WR, TE, DT/NT

    The Ravens’ wide receivers are nearing the end of their careers. It is unclear whether or not Torrey Smith will be resigned and Steve Smith just can’t have that much left in the tank at this point (can he?!). Jaelen Strong is a tall, strong wide receiver who could step in and potentially replace Torrey Smith. Strong has the strength to win contested catches, the speed to create separation and the athleticism to high point the ball.

     Dallas Cowboys Logo
     27. Dallas (12-4) // Danny Shelton, DT – Washington

    Needs: D-Line, CB, LB, RB

    It’s likely Dallas will spend it’s first round pick on the best defensive player available. Depending on what happens with DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys could also use this pick on someone like Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin.

     Denver Broncos Logo
     28. Denver (12-4) // AJ Cann, OG – South Carolina

    Needs: OL, MLB, QB, S

    It sounds like Peyton will be back next year pending a successful physical. The Broncos essentially have one more shot at a Superbowl run with Manning at the helm. After that, it’s likely going to be straight into rebuilding. Brett Hundley is interesting as a potential franchise quarterback for the Broncos but it may be a little too early and he could be a grab in the second round. Denver needs to do everything it can to address it’s offensive line. It’s hard to say who will be moved where on the Broncos line during the offseason, but AJ Cann would be a nice piece to add to the equation at guard.

     Indianapolis Colts Logo
     29. Indianapolis (11-5) // Carl Davis, DE – Iowa

    Needs: DL, MLB, S, WR, RB

    Indianapolis just got finished getting smoked by the Patriots in the AFC Championship. It’s the consensus among most Colts fans it seems that every position outside of defensive backs needs to be addressed on this team. Carl Davis would fit well as a 3-4 defensive end on the Colts defense.

     Green Bay Logo Censored
     30. Green Bay (12-4) // Ellis McCarthy, DT -

    Needs: ILB, NT, OT, CB

    The Packers need a big nose tackle on their line who can eat up defenders and stuff the run game. BJ Raji and beloved ex-Vikings player Letroy Guion are currently on the roster but both would need to be resigned. Instead, the Packers could look to go with a rookie at the position despite having a seemingly more pressing need in middle linebacker.

     Seattle Seahawks Logo
     31. Seattle (12-4) // Dorial Green-Beckham, WR – Oklahoma

    Needs: Edge, WR, OT

    One of the narratives headed up to the draft will likely be whether or not Green-Beckham is worth the risk of a first round pick due to his laundry list of off-the-field issues. I’ve heard some people say he has the ability and raw athleticism to be a top-10 pick. Seattle seems like a good fit to me. They feel like a team with established veterans and a good head coach who could coral a player like DGB and turn him into an all-star. Or, maybe the Vikings could in Day Two.

     New England Patriots
     32. New England* (12-4) // Melvin Gordon

    Needs: DL, OL, RB, WR

    Let me be clear, I’d prefer if the Seahawks were picking 32nd and that’s who I will be rooting for come Superbowl Sunday. (Wait, are we allowed to say Superbowl here? Big Game?) Also, I don’t believe the Patriots will even have a pick here… This pick will obviously be traded to Slick Rick. But, if they do select here, Melvin Gordon is by far the best player available and it just so happens that Brady could use some assistance in the backfield.

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    Long injury report (along with inactives list) for the Vikings.

    Barr, Anthony LB Knee DNP DNP DNP Injured Reserve N/A
    Watts, Brandon LB Hamstring DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
    Yankey, David G None - - - N/A Inactive
    Dixon, Ahmad S None - - - N/A Inactive
    Josey, Henry RB None - - - N/A Inactive
    Prater, Shaun CB None - - - N/A Inactive
    Bykowski, Carter T None - - - N/A Inactive
    Greenway, Chad LB Knee DNP DNP DNP Questionable Inactive
    Wright, Jarius WR Low Back DNP DNP LP Questionable Active
    Rudolph, Kyle TE Ankle DNP DNP LP Questionable Active
    Johnson, Charlie G Ankle LP LP FP Probable Active
    Jennings, Greg WR Hamstring LP LP FP Probable Active
    Exum, Antone S Knee LP LP FP Probable Active
    Harris, Mike T Foot LP DNP LP Probable Active
    Ford, Chase TE Foot LP LP FP Probable Active
    Blanton, Robert S Ankle LP LP FP Probable Active
    Sendejo, Andrew S T FP FP FP Probable Active
    Floyd, Sharrif DT Knee FP FP FP Probable Active
    Asiata, Matt RB Foot FP FP FP Probable Active

    The Vikings are their starting linebacker corps and this will be quite the test against Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, who have a combined 2629 yards and 12 touchdowns—over 30 percent of the combined touchdowns and 53 percent of the combined offensive yards the Bears have put together. The rest of the inactives are either marginal players (Shaun Prater), newly added (Carter Bykowski, Henry Josey, Ahmad Dixon) or David Yankey.

    With a starting linebacker corps of Gerald Hodges, Audie Cole and Jasper Brinkley (perhaps) expect the Vikings to be in nickel as often as make sense. Also, don’t be surprised if the Bears attempt to roll with two or one receiver on the field for as often as they can in order to force the Vikings to play all their linebackers instead of bringing Josh Robinson on and a linebacker off. Also notable, new promotion Josh Kaddu is active.

    The linebacker problem is an enormous one, and if the Vikings lose, I wouldn’t be surprised if they swung the match in Chicago’s favor.

    On the other hand, the Vikings seemingly do not have to rely on Vlad Ducasse with Charlie Johnson active and presumably starting.

    Aside from that, we have Zach Line‘s first game as an active player, and a return of Yankey to the inactive list. Line will likely not see any snaps, and Yankey hasn’t done enough in workouts, evidently, to impress the Zimmer staff enough to see the field. It doesn’t help Yankey’s case that Charlie Johnson is active. Scott Crichton is active once more, but he doesn’t figure to see many snaps.

    Expect Matt Asiata to carry the running game with occasional spells by Joe Banyard. Sharrif Floyd being active will help in a big way (and he was fully healthy this week) in the run game, but may not be enough to overcome the loss of linebackers.

    The safeties will be Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo while the starting linebackers will be Gerald Hodges (SLB), Jasper Brinkley (MLB) and Audie Cole (WLB). Hodges will keep his spot replacing Anthony Barr while Cole is replacing Greenway.

    Clausen, Jimmy QB Concussion Out Out Out Out Inactive
    Conte, Chris S Back DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
    Gould, Robbie K Right Quadricep DNP DNP DNP Out Inactive
    Louis-Jean, Al CB Hamstring - - DNP Questionable Inactive
    Lane, Austen DE None - - - N/A Inactive
    Leno, Charles T None - - - N/A Inactive
    Dunn. Brandon DT None - - - N/A Inactive
    Allen, Jared DE Ribs DNP DNP LP Questionable Active
    Ratliff, Jeremiah DT Knee DNP DNP DNP Questionable Active
    Bass, David DE Knee LP LP FP Probable Active
    Long, Kyle G Hip LP LP FP Probable Active
    Wilson, Marquess WR Knee LP LP FP Probable Active
    Ferguson, Ego DT Ankle FP FP FP Probable Active

    With Brandon Marshall on injured reserve, expect to see more runs, even with Marquess Wilson on the field (as detailed above). Checkdowns and routes designed for interior players (slot receivers, tight ends and running backs) will be a priority, with Chicago working to take advantage of the linebacker problems.

    It will be a tougher game than it initially looked. It may finally be up to the offense, not the defense, to deliver.

    Chris Tomasson, reporter for the Pioneer Press, loves to bring up Pro Football Focus grades for better or worse when talking to and about players and he did so once again when talking to struggling Vikings offensive tackle Matt Kalil (ranked as their third-worst offensive tackle). Kalil, like head coach Mike Zimmer had earlier in the season, didn’t take too kindly to Pro Football Focus’ grades (or their use in reporting, blogging or generic fan impressions).

    “You can’t listen to some people who don’t know what they’re talking about, who want to go on Pro Football Focus, the website who they hire random fans and give them a training camp on how to grade people,’’ Kalil said Thursday. “And people want to live on that site when it’s not really a credible site.

    “I’m not going against them because they hammer me. But I mean, it’s not a credible site. … They don’t know the blocking schemes, they don’t know who’s fault (a bad play might be).’’

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    Last season, Josh Robinson was called on to replace Vikings veteran Antoine Winfield in slot coverage—and the results were less than impressive. This year, however, the story could not be more different. With a new coaching system under Mike Zimmer and the addition of new defensive players to the roster, Robinson is able to play primarily outside and is really finding his groove.

    Offseason transactions brought in Captain Munnerlyn to play the slot, and Robinson looks much more natural playing on the outside. Additionally, he fits better in Zimmer’s defensive scheme that utilizes more man coverage and boundary corners.

    “I believe [Coach] Zimmer is doing a great job with a lot of things, which are all helping us become better players,” Robinson said. “Teaching players techniques that work and stressing the importance of accountability and consistency are the biggest contributors to our success.”

    “Zimmer came to Minnesota with a reputation for being able to get the most out of defensive backs, and Robinson is probably the team’s most improved player,” said Star Tribune‘s Matt Vensel. “He is a young player with speed and cover skills, and his play this year is a reminder of the dangers of writing off a player after he struggles early in his career.”

    Robinson’s 2014 numbers are certainly impressive. At the end of October, the CB was allowing one completion for every 12.4 coverage snaps, compared to 6.9 last season. Robinson also continues to demonstrate improved play-making skills, already notching seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

    The more significant of the two picks—if it is fair to say that—occurred on Sept. 7 against the Rams. St. Louis set up at its 19-yard line with 1:13 remaining in the first half, and the play proved pivotal in the game. Robinson executed his coverage of Rams tight end Jared Cook, and the CB was able to intercept the pass and keep his feet in bounds on the way down. The Vikings capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown to go up 13-0 at the half, and they continued on to win the game. Robinson referred to Game 3 as the “most consistent and confidently” played contest of his career, and it’s clear these qualities were not a single-game fluke. The 23-year-old attributes several things to his sudden upswing in performance.

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