Tuesday, October 6, 2015

antoine winfield

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

With or without the possibility of resigning cornerback Antoine Winfield, the Vikings could use some more young, promising talent in their defensive backfield.  Both safety and cornerback are positions of need and the team will likely look to the Draft to add some help.

One of the most interesting prospects in this class is former LSU defensive back Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, who was reportedly a part of the Vikings “Top 30″ event they host annually in an attempt to get to know certain prospects better.  His inclusion in the event makes a ton of sense considering he has about as many question marks as any prospect in this Draft class.

Mathieu’s college career went from a peak to a valley very quickly when he was booted from the LSU team in April of 2012 for violating team rules, and then was subsequently arrested along with former teammates for drug related activity.  Mathieu then decided to check himself into substance rehabilitation, but the prospect that was once viewed as a sure-fire first round prospect had already done too much damage to his reputation to fully recover his draft stock within only one year.

In 2011, Mathieu was widely considered the best defender in college football, and was a rare defensive back Heisman Trophy candidate.  He led his team with 76 tackles and tacked on 1.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles, nine defended passes, and two interceptions.  Despite being only 5′ 9” and 186 pounds, Mathieu was certainly a defender with knack for the big play and someone to be feared.

Equally as impressive was his versatility, something which is as popular as ever in the NFL, as LSU moved him all around the secondary and he was a dangerous player on special teams.  He averaged 16 yards per punt return and scored twice in 2011, and was equally as effective in keeping opposing return men from scoring as a part of LSU’s coverage squad.

After not playing football in 2012, teams are trying to get a feel for Mathieu’s commitment to being a professional, and most of those questions are going to center around his off the field woes.  At the Scouting Combine, he was at least able to make it clear that he is still the same athlete that we saw on tape from his time at LSU.

Like his nickname would indicate, Mathieu plays football with a certain amount of tenaciousness and his presence on the field far exceeds his physical size.  He can play man or zone coverage, he can tackle very well, has incredible instincts, and seems to constantly make plays on the ball.

Mathieu is expected to start getting attention from the teams that haven’t taken him of their board in the second round, but concerns about his character and his size could keep him waiting even longer to hear his name called.  If the Vikings are the team to take that chance at some point on Draft Weekend, he could immediately compete to fill Antoine Winfield’s role as a nickel corner or the starting safety spot across from Harrison Smith.  He also would be a strong candidate to dethrone Marcus Sherels as the top punt returner on the roster.

Winfield’s absence, however, also means Mathieu would be joining a secondary with very little veteran oversight.  Both he and Chris Cook would feel like weekly liabilities in terms of being able to suit up every Sunday.

I can see the attraction here, and some analysts in Minnesota feel he is well worth the risk, but I also just can’t see the team spending anything more than a third round pick on someone so seemingly undependable.

I chose the following highlight video for two reasons.  First, most of the other options were filled with foul language in the music choices which didn’t seem appropriate for these pages.  Second, ont he plays were he ends up with the football I want to to watch his eye/helmet… notice how great he is at anticipating where the football is going to end up.  Footballs are fairly unpredictable by nature, but he just seems to know.

Alright, what better way to catch up on the news and kick off Draft Month than to send you towards all of the best articles across the internet?  Enjoy!

[Note:  Want to see a list of every player featured in our “Draft Target” segment?  Click here to visit the Offseason Tracker where there will be a list of all these players.  Check back often as there are plenty more to come!]

If the Vikings were hoping to bring back Antoine Winfield after releasing him, as Leslie Frazier has indicated as a possibility, they have yet to succeed on that front.  That was part of the reason I assigned Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant to the Vikings in my most recent version of my 2013 Mock Draft.

So, who is Desmond Trufant, and why do I think Minnesota is a potential landing spot for him in April?

The younger brother of former Pro Bowl corner Marcus Trufant is entering the NFL Draft with a lot of momentum after an excellent showing in both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine.  At 6′ 0″ and 190 pounds, Trufant has the size you look for in an NFL cornerback, and his 4.38 seconds in the forty time was among the best at the Combine.

A lot of scouts seem to think Trufant could be the next version of Revis Island because of his ability to hang with the best receivers in man coverage.  I don’t know that I would go that far, but the guy certainly has some skills in that area, and he is no slouch playing in zone schemes either.  Having options at the corner position, whether a man assignment or not, is a must for the Vikings who have the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall in their division.

Trufant has NFL speed and athleticism, while showing the ability to be physical when needed, and displays natural instincts and timing which allows him to always be in a position to high-point or battle for the ball while it is in the air.  His numbers haven’t been overly consistent throughout his four-year college career, but some of that has to do with teams (such as LSU this last season) avoiding him completely for entire games.

Like many Vikings observers, I am hesitant to call Trufant a perfect match in the Vikings Tampa-2 defense, however.  He isn’t the world’s most consistent tackler and he may not be strong enough to give NFL caliber receivers the business at the line of scrimmage.  Despite the scheme questions and the Vikings emphasis on having high-quality tacklers playing corner, I think the Vikings could benefit from grabbing themselves a top-notch cover corner this year.  At some point talent just has to trump scheme, especially when it is potentially elite talent like I suspect Trufant possesses.

The Vikings must continue to improve their secondary like they did last offseason, especially with the passing games they face during divisional games, and they are already off to a poor start thanks to Winfield’s departure.  Trufant is the type of guy they could stick on any number of talented receivers in the NFC North and have confidence that he is as capable as anybody on the roster currently.

I would also like to point out that Trufant has only ever missed one game of football through his four seasons.  Over those same four years, the Vikings have been plagued by injuries at the position, and it seems like every one of their corners are an injury risk.  It would be really nice to have a guy on the roster that you aren’t constantly going to be worrying baout whether or not he can suit up next week.


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It’s a cliche to say it, but the truth is that is what we root so hard for every Sunday, and all offseason long we scour the internet for any bit of information that might tell us who will be wearing it next season.

Ever since free agency was born unto the National Football League, the meaning of “family” has gone by the wayside and loyalty is certainly a thing of the past in almost every instance. There have been a lot of reminder of this over the last couple of weeks.

The Vikings traded one of their most successful first round selections, Percy Harvin, to the Seattle Seahawks for a number of reasons that seem to all be business related for both player and team.  Then, we learned that long time cornerback Antoine Winfield was abruptly kicked to the curb due to a high salary and an increasing age.

Now, the Vikings stole away yet another life long Green Bay Packer in wide out Greg Jennings, which is the football equivalent of William Wallace joining the British in battle.  This is yet another example of loyalties meaning far more to the spectators than it does to the players or organizations.

Now, I’m not blaming the players.  If Winfield’s situation taught us anything it’s that players owe it to themselves to take advantage of their premier skills in what sill be a truncated career before their organization deems them expendable.  I also don’t blame an organization for wanting to part ways with a player as it is their job to field the best possible team that gives them and their fans the best chance at a Super Bowl.

We have already established with pretty good detail that Rick Spielman’s decision to release veteran cornerback, and locker room leader, Antoine Winfield was not a popular one when it came to the fan base.

As it turns out, according to NFL Network‘s Ian Rappaport, the move did not sit well with some “Vikings people” within Winter Park either.

One person told Rappaport that “It’s a move backwards” and he says some “aren’t thrilled” with Spielman’s decision.

I feel like I’ve already beat this topic to death, but I would still like to note that as of Thursday afternoon right tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith remain unsigned, which is significant because the decision to break their budget for Phil Loadholt was cited as a reason for Winfield’s abrupt departure.  In fact, other decent offensive tackles are currently available such as Jake Long and Eric Winston, not to mention the many options available in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Rick Spielman has a reputation in Minnesota for letting the market establish itself before making hasty, big-money decisions so it was surprising to see him cave to Loadholt’s demands even if the player was threatening to join the division rival Chicago Bears.

However, recent events are making me wonder if Spielman isn’t overvaluing the players he has had a hand in bringing to Minnesota.  The most recent evidence of this is that the Vikings quickly snatched receiver Jerome Simpson to a one year deal worth $2.1 million.  Not only is that a raise from his 2012 salary of $2 million, but Spielman gave Simpson a $500,000 signing bonus, and a $250,000 workout bonus, according to 1500 ESPN.  The Vikings are betting on Simpson staying healthy (he did pass his physical) and producing far more significantly than he did last season.

Simpson’s pay day comes despite the fact that he never produced more than 50 receiving yards in any game last season and has caught the same amount of touchdown passes from Christian Ponder as I have:  zero.

It is not a huge surprise that fans aren’t a fan of Rick Spielman’s approach to free agency, as he is usually going to shy away from the splashy instant gratification moves that fans love to see, but his decision to cut Winfield is putting everything else he does under a microscope and doing the math to see just why exactly his plan had to involve that questionable decision.

And, according to Rappaport’s report, some within Winter Park are looking pretty closely themselves.

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