Monday, March 2, 2015
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harrison smith

[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!]

Last season the Vikings put Letory Guion in front of a relatively untested Jasper Brinkley, who played in front of young group of safeties.  As a result, the defense experienced their fair share of struggles in the middle of the defense.  The safety position was upgraded greatly when the Vikings selected Harrison Smith in the first round last year and it is widely believed the Vikings will find their starting middle linebacker in the Draft this year.

Still, with Kevin Williams getting older and carrying a large cap hit, the Vikings should be considered to be in the market for some help at the defensive tackle position, as well.  A large run stuffer that can conjure up memories of Pat Williams would be a nice addition and Georgia’s John Jenkins could be a nice fit.

At 6′ 4″ and 346 pounds, Jenkins is a huge and athletically gifted run stopping nose tackle that commanded double teams at Georgia.  His broad frame and good arm length provides opposing runners with a large obstacle to try and surpass, and he is not going to be moved off of the line of scrimmage, so they have to go around.  He also has the size and brute strength to disrupt the pocket on occasion,  but is unlikely to be a dependable pass rusher at the next level despite an intimidating bull rush.

Similar to Pat Williams, Jenkins is occasionally going to take offensive linemen by surprise with his agility and quickness.  Not only is he quick at the point of attack, but he can move around pretty well between the tackles for a guy of his size.

After transferring out of Gulf Coast Community College, the senior played two years in Georgia.  In 2011, he had 28 tackles, seven for a loss, and 10 quarterback pressures.  In 2012, he notched 50 tackles, 2 for a loss, and a sack.  He has played against elite talent with varying results.  He had a nice performance matching up against this year’s top guard Chance Warmack, but struggled greatly against D.J. Fluker in the SEC Championship Game.

I know that teams running a 3-4 defense will value a guy like Jenkins more than 4-3 teams (or the hack bloggers that cover them), but I honestly view Jenkins as more of a second round talent instead of the first rounder many believe him to be.  Part of that, at least for 4-3 teams like the Vikings, is because he has to be an assumed two-down player.

His positional value may indeed cause him to be drafted in the first round, but if teams aren’t overly impressed with his game tape then he could fall further than expected.  Combine stretches of being invisible on tape with questions about his work ethic and conditioning, not to mention a two game suspension for academic reasons, and he might actually slip to the middle of the second round or later.  At that point, and not really any earlier, I would consider Jenkins to be a great target for the Vikings to pursue.

UPDATE:  As soon as I posted this I came across this recent noteworthy article about Jenkins.  He is apparently working hard and has dropped his weight all the way down to 332 pounds.

 

I had safety Jamarca Sanford pegged as the Vikings top priority as far as retaining their own pending free agents go, and Sanford recently announced via Twitter that he is “coming back home.

It isn’t impossible that the Vikings will still look to upgrade the starting safety spot across from Harrison Smith, but Sanford provides them with experience, depth, and special teams value.  Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, and Mistral Raymond are the current safeties atop the depth chart which provides continuity from last season to the upcoming one.

Details are not yet known on the deal, but we’ll let you know as soon as we do.  Fullback Jerome Felton is now the only major free agent of the Vikings that remains to be signed.

Adam has been absolutely killing it with his ‘Draft Target’ posts. Come April 25th, there will likely be no one the readers here at VT haven’t heard of the way he’s been rolling these things out. But I can’t let him have all the fun, right? Plus, I need to get my studying on as in a few days I will be representing Vikings Territory for the second time in #MockOne (Don’t know what #MockOne is? Check it out here.)

Xavier Rhodes. This is a name you may want to get familiar with in the next couple months headed up to the draft. The lengthy Cornerback from Florida St. has definitely began to catch the eyes of draftniks out there. And with a stellar performance today at the final day of the 2013 NFL Combine, he is likely to attract even more attention.

Rhodes (22) graduated from Norland High School in his hometown of Miami, Florida. In 2009, Xavier only played in two games, one for Boston College and the other for Georgia Tech, due to a hand injury that kept him from participating the majority of the season. In 2010, he moved to FSU where he impressed “as a promising young star” and won various rookie and freshman awards. In his next two years at Florida State, Rhodes solidified his role as one of the best corners in the nation and was on watch lists for both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards.

Read any scouting report for Xavier Rhodes and I promise you’ll find the word ‘big’ within the first thirty words. Rhodes measured in at the combine at a whopping 6’1″ tall and 210 lbs. His size and large frame allow him to be an excellent press corner who is always pressuring the receiver. Don’t be mislead by his size, though. Rhodes ran a 4.43 40 at the combine today. He also had the highest vertical jump and broad jump of any defensive backs at the combine showing great leg strength and explosion. This ability to get off the ground coupled with his lengthy stature allows him to compete for balls with receivers. Rhodes is also well-known as being one of the best (if not the best) cover corners in the nation.The only real, consistent knock on Rhodes is that he isn’t amazing in run support and could work on his tackling.

There are bigger needs for the Vikings than Cornerback, no doubt about it. But, there are a few reasons why I think this pick would be really good for the Vikings.

First and foremost, I’m not completely sold on taking a wide receiver late in the first round (yet…). To me, the value just isn’t there and you could likely find someone comparable to the receivers who will be first off the board in the second and third rounds. Secondly, I really like what our secondary would look like with a guy like Rhodes added to the squad. Picture it – a physical, big-framed giant on each side, Cook and Rhodes (if Cook can stay healthy…), Antoine Winfield and Josh Robinson in the mix on occassion and the bruiser Harrison Smith lurking around in the backfield waiting to destroy someone. Doesn’t that sound awesome?! I just think the value is there at Cornerback with a guy like Rhodes, especially when this year’s draft is so deep at other defensive positions.

Xavier Rhodes could be a player who makes the Vikings secondary one to be feared for years to come in the NFC North – a division that is ripe with good quarterback play and big receivers.

If Xavier Rhodes is available when the Vikings are on the clock come April 25th (and that’s a big ‘if’ considering his stellar performance at the combine) it will be very interesting to see if the Vikings surprise people and go with the Florida State DB.

Check out the video below for some good tape on Rhodes. And feel free to leave some comments with some guys that you think would be worth looking at in our “Draft Target” series.

[NOTE:  Click the links to see our free agency rankings for quarterbacksrunning backsfullbacks,tight endscentersguardsoffensive tackles, and wide receivers.  We’ll continue our way through all of the positions this week.]

The Vikings operated under the whole “safeties don’t really have a huge impact in our defensive scheme” mentality for a long time, but Harrison Smith blew the lid off that theory in his rookie year.  Seeing what Smith could do has Vikings fans salivating for another top notch safety to play next to him.

Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton would provide some decent depth at the position if the Vikings decided to bring in a new starting safety, and it is still possible that they could re-sign Jamarca Sanford to compete and provide added depth.

Here is who might be available next month:

Top Tier

I really only put one player in this category, and that player is Jairus Byrd from the Bills, who might hit the open market with the Bills having a lot of offseason issues to attend to.  Of all the free agents in all of the positions, Byrd has to be in my top three favorite targets for Minnesota.  With decent run support skills, some of the best coverage skills in the league, and a nose for the football it is no wonder that Byrd grades out as an elite safety in this league.

A month ago, Vikings fans would have salivated over the idea of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o falling into their laps at the #23 spot of the upcoming NFL Draft.

Now, however, Te’o has found himself in the middle of one of the most bizarre stories to hit the sports world since… well, possibly ever.  The story of Te’o being a part of one of the biggest hoaxes of all time has led most to wonder about his character, and also doubt his ability to be a leader in the NFL which was one of his best attributes in college.

One thing that has become explicitly clear over the last few weeks are that the special connection that Te’o had with football lovers around the nation was every bit as fictional as his online girlfriend.

Weirdness and intangibles aside, Te’o still possesses first round caliber abilities and one can’t help but wonder what the Vikings might do if he is available when they are on the clock.  After all, the Vikings could clearly use some help at the linebacker position and G.M. Rick Spielman has an affinity for players coming out of Notre Dame.

Te’o has four years of experience, with progressive production coming from each season, as the heart of Notre Dame’s front season.  He is a very strong and sound tackler that does a good job of getting around or through blocks to make a play.  He plays the run with great instincts and discipline, which seems to rub off on the rest of the defense.

Te’o also possesses a range and fluidity in pass coverage that the Vikings defense could desperately use.  Over his career he has displayed an ability to play smart zone coverage (17 passes defended) and has a knack for heads-up plays (7 interceptions).

There are questions about Te’o’s speed and athleticism, and his forty time will be highly anticipated at the Scouting Combine, but I felt like he already answered a lot of those questions by dropping into coverage a lot more during his senior year with great success.  11 of his defended passes (and all seven picks) came in his senior year.

With all of that said, there is no doubt that Te’o isn’t the fastest linebacker in the world, and isn’t going to wow any scouts with his blitz abilities.  For the Vikings defense under Alan Williams, who seldom asks his linebackers to blitz, Te’o could be a great addition to a defense that places a lot of emphasis on stopping the run.

The whole hoax thing could make the Vikings a good fit for Te’o.  He would be surrounded by former teammates and other Notre Dame greats, which Rick Spielman has loaded up on recently.  Safety Harrison Smith would be playing right behind Te’o.  He could line up on special teams with Robert Blanton.  Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson are on the offensive side of the ball along with center John Sullivan.  There also may not be a head coach better equipped to deal with Te’o’s unique situation than Leslie Frazier is.

I have little doubt that Te’o could step into the regular season as a starter on this defense, besting either Jasper Brinkley or Erin Henderson.  I’m not convinced that he would be the guy we want to be selected at #23, but I am also not convinced that he isn’t, as it would depend greatly on what other options exist when they are on the clock.

Here are some of his highlights from college:

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