Monday, May 30, 2016

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Welcome To The Big Show - Mackensie Alexander

Cornerback certainly did not feel like a huge need heading into this year’s NFL Draft, but the Minnesota Vikings felt otherwise. The newest player to become part of the Vikings talented backfield is Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander.

Regarded by some draft “gurus” as a first round talent, Alexander could end up as one of the steals of the draft considering he was selected in the bottom third of the second round. It is time to take a closer look at what Alexander can bring to a Minnesota defense that seemed to get increasingly deeper after this year’s draft.

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Cordarrelle Patterson to contribute
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

A few months ago I wrote a quick post about Cordarrelle Patterson. It was about his offseason conditioning, how he was again working out with a man dubbed “Hell’s Trainer” in California. Not an extremely engaging story, since it’s well accepted that Patterson’s inability to get on the field the past two seasons has had much more to do with mental factors than physical ones, but the post sparked an interesting discussion in the comments section. These points that arose have stuck with me, and made me ponder the situation more than I have in the past.

Mandatory disclaimer: I understand the Patterson criticisms. Many of the negative things said and written about his attitude, grasp of the offense, and work ethic have been justified, and I’m certain the coaching staff has at least somewhat legitimate reasons for keeping him off the field. He hasn’t developed as a player—as a receiver—the way they would have liked him to. At times, he has been downright selfish.

But…

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image courtesy of vikings.com

In 2015, Kyle Rudolph managed to stay healthy for a full 16-game season for just the second time in his five-year NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings. The former Notre Dame standout also established a new career-high with 495 yards receiving on 49 receptions. Rudolph led the team with five touchdown catches while helping the Vikings capture the NFC North title.

Rudolph’s career has been slowed by injuries, a run oriented offense, changes in coaching staffs, and the development of two first-round rookie quarterbacks. It’s true, his production has not yet lived up to his talent level or lofty contract status. Sporting News goes as far as to rank Rudolph as the Vikings’ worst contract situation in their 32-team study of worst contracts per team.

Vikings fans are still waiting for Rudolph’s breakout season, and ESPN’s Ben Goessling believes Rudolph has the most to gain from the Vikings improved offensive line. According to Goessling, the Vikings’ instability on the offensive line affected how they used him last season. If the Vikings can protect Bridgewater better in 2016, he thinks Rudolph stands to benefit more than anyone else on the roster.

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A new No. 11 in Minnesota

How Can Laquon Treadwell Succeed
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Mike Wallace was supposed to stretch the field, create opportunities for other receivers underneath, and give the Minnesota Vikings their first deep threat since Randy Moss exploded into the NFL 18 years ago. On paper, he was a fit in Minnesota, with the speed to “take the top off a defense” and the production to match — Wallace has 22 career touchdowns of 30 or more yards.

Unfortunately, that pipe dream never materialized for the Vikings, who watched Wallace struggle his way to 39 receptions, 472 yards, and two touchdowns in 2015. Despite general manager Rick Spielman’s insistence that Wallace would mesh well with the Vikings, the wide receiver was clearly a square peg in a round hole.

“Norv’s system is based on speed and having a vertical threat,” Spielman said after the team traded for Wallace before the 2015 season. “By adding him, and CJ and Cordarrelle and [the] Jarius Wrights of the world, those guys are able to stretch the field. We have a young quarterback who is just going to continue to get better, and you saw that improvement out of him as we went through the season and now you add another weapon to the offensive side.”

If Wallace were a weapon in Minnesota, he would’ve been an unloaded gun.

Blame the struggles of the offensive line or Teddy Bridgewater’s inability to push the ball downfield, but the veteran receiver failed as more than just a deep threat. He dropped countless passes on well-thrown curls and comebacks, often putting the Vikings in second or third-and-long situations. Outside of the speed to threaten safeties, Wallace offered nothing to the Vikings, especially in an offense designed to protect the football and maximize limited big-play opportunities.

In Laquon Treadwell, the Vikings have a player who can succeed in ways that Wallace couldn’t. The team’s 2016 first round pick has a chance to come in and change the face of Minnesota’s passing attack, giving Bridgewater options at every level of the defense, from the red zone to the middle of the field.

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Welcome To The Big Show - Jayron Kearse

Who else was surprised the Vikings waited until their last pick in the most recent NFL draft to pick a safety? After months of speculation the Vikings would add to their depth alongside Harrison Smith early in the draft, Rick Spielman was seemingly content waiting for the right moment.

When the Vikings did add Jayron Kearse in the 7th round, the pick seemed to make more sense. Kearse, formerly of Clemson, has the athletic tool set and size to fit in at the NFL level. However, like other 7th round draftees, there are enough question marks about Kearse’s game that 243 players were drafted before him.

There might not have been a bigger proponent of Kearse in the war room than head coach Mike Zimmer, who reportedly ‘pounded the table’ in order to make his desire to see Kearse in purple known.

Very few will question Zimmer’s ability to identify talent, so what kind of player did the Vikings get in Kearse? Let’s take a look:

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