Saturday, July 23, 2016

jamarca sanford

[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 year, the Vikings traded up to near the end of the first round and took safety Harrison Smith, and that move improved the secondary in such a way that I wish we could clone him.  We can’t clone him, but there is one player in this Draft I think plays a very similar game and would make one of the most feared safety duos in the NFL should he be drafted to start next to Smith.

The prospect I am talking about is Florida’s Matt Elam who measures a little short at 5′ 10″ but plays the game of football in a way that will put fear into the hearts of ball carriers or route runners.

At 208 pounds, Elam has an intimidating frame and hits as hard, if not harder, than any defensive player in this class.  He may even be more feared for his “big hits” than Smith is.  Like Smith, he may occasionally whiff on a tackle by being too aggressive or draw too many penalties but, lets face it, it is worth it.

In high school, Elam played multiple positions on both sides of the football, and made safety his full time role after playing mostly on special teams during his freshman season at Florida.  While he saw some time on defense too, Elam’s 22 tackles as a freshman came mostly from excelling in kickoff coverage.

In 2011, Elam became a full time starter as a strong safety, and did so in every game of the season.  He made an immediate impact by putting up 78 tackles, led the team with 11 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, seven defended passes, and two forced fumbles.  2012 was even better as he once again was durable enough to play every game, notched 76 total tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks, a forced fumble, and four interceptions.

Elam had a solid Combine week where he posted a 4.54 second forty time, 17 bench press reps, a 35.5″ vertical, and 118″ broad jump.  Elam chose to stand on those results and didn’t participate in timed drills at the Florida pro day, but he did receive high praise from those in attendance during the drills he took part in.

Where Elam fits into a defense is the best is where he is allowed to play in the box, close to the line of scrimmage, and make a play on the ball.  He shows incredible instincts and football smarts, seemingly always playing a step faster than anyone else on the field, and uses his strength and tenacity to impose his will on opponents.  He is just simply violent.

His big hits and run stopping ability will gain him the most praise, but he also has very good range and is no slouch in the passing game.  He might tend to be overly aggressive at times, gambling to make the big play, but otherwise is solid in covering ground sideline-to-sideline and matching up against most pass catchers.  You may not want him to man up against Brandon Marshall or Calvin Johnson, but he is going to be plenty capable of covering most slot receivers and even being effective against bigger tight ends.  His smarts certainly aren’t limited to diagnosing run plays, and often makes the reads quick enough to be in the right position to defend a pass.  One my favorite things about his coverage ability is that even when he gets turned around and out of position, he has the athleticism to catch up and the smarts to watch the receiver’s eyes, understand when the football is coming and where, and get his arm up to disrupt the pass.

Elam isn’t a perfect prospect, but he is well rounded and (as you will see in the video below) certainly has that “wow factor” you want to see in a first round prospect… his big hits.  The Vikings retained Jamarca Sanford and still have Mistral Raymond so the situation at safety isn’t as dire as it once was, but I firmly believe that Elam would be a big enough upgrade at the starting spot across from Smith that he would be a great selection for the Vikings at the end of the first round.  He would be of great value as a special teams gunner, as well, and I’ve been saying all offseason that the positions in the middle of our defense has to be a high priority after what we saw last season.

In my opinion, Elam is no doubt a top 25 prospect, and the Vikings currently hold #23 and #25.  He is a guy worthy of either spot.

[Note From Adam:  One of my favorite sources of Vikings analysis and opinion comes from the “Kick Ass Blog” run by Darren Campbell.  Check them out often (they are on our blogroll forever)!  Darren was kind enough to provide us with a guest post outlining the successes and failures experienced in the NFL Draft since Rick Spielman has been with the Vikings.  Enjoy!]

Rick Spielman is in his eighth season with the Minnesota Vikings. He first joined the team as the club’s vice-president of player personnel. One of his jobs was preparing for the NFL’s college draft, which is something he continued to oversee after being named the Vikings general manager in 2012.

Up until he became GM last year, Spielman didn’t have full control over who made the Vikings roster. However, it’s fair to say he still had considerable influence on the process and over whom the team did and didn’t pick in each of the six drafts he’s been a part of.

This April’s draft will be Spielman’s seventh with the Vikings. And as it is April 1, I wanted to drill down and take a closer look at the players Minnesota has picked since 2007 and when they’ve picked them. Here is what I found.

1st round (#23 and 25th overall in 2013 draft)

Draft picks: Adrian Peterson (2007); Percy Harvin (2009); Christian Ponder (2011); Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith (2012)

Commentary: Your first round picks should be the ones you get right the majority of the time and that’s been true under Spielman. The Peterson and Harvin picks (even though things turned sour with Percy) were masterstrokes and though it’s still early, Kalil and Smith look like exceptional selections also. And let’s not forget the Vikings used their 2008 first round selection to help take defensive end Jared Allen (74 sacks in 80 games with Minnesota) off Kansas City’s hands. The only first rounder during Spielman’s tenure who looks iffy is Ponder- and this would be a huge whiff that could set the franchise back several seasons if CP7 can’t cut it as a starter. Still, given Spielman and the Vikings track record since 2007, there’s an excellent chance they will get some good players if the team keeps both the #23 and #25 overall selections. Spielman has chosen well in this round regardless of whether he’s had a top 10 pick – Peterson (#7) and Kalil (#4)  -or a late first rounder like Harvin (#22) or Smith (#29).

As we prepare for the 2013 NFL Draft in these parts I came to the realization that the very first Draft I covered as a blogger, the 2009 Draft class, have all completed their rookie contracts, and I can now be held accountable for the grades I assigned the Vikings back in my first days of blogging at VikingsGab.com.

Every year we dismiss draft grades as useless opinions that couldn’t possibly be accurate prior to these guys even stepping on an NFL field.  With the career paths of the 2009 class now taking shape, however, I thought it’d be fun to go back and see just how useless my grades were exactly.  The entire post of my 2009 draft grades an analysis can be read right here.

WR Percy Harvin (First Round, Pick 22)

What I said then:

GRADE:  “C”          There is no denying that Harvin could become a premier player with his game changing abilities, but he also runs the risk of doing more damage than good if his character flaws come out again.  For now a “C” until he earns the respect of Minnesota fans.  The fact that he was chosen over offensive tackle Michael Oher is another reason why I didn’t give the Vikings a higher grade here.

What I say now:

The Vikings ended up getting an elite talent out of Harvin, but health and character issues did indeed taint his time in Minnesota, which ended up seeing him shipped to Seattle for three picks including the 25th overall selection this year.  Harvin was that year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Pro Bowls as a return man.  I was wrong about Michael Oher being the superior player here, but only one of those two guys is still with the team that drafted him.

The Vikings somewhat shored up the safety position by retaining Jamarca Sanford this offseason, but a secondary depth chart that was already thin on talent before the Vikings released Antoine Winfield could use some new talent to try and keep up in a division with three very capable passing games.

Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports that the Vikings have contacted cornerback Antoine Cason and free safety Gerald Sensabaugh.  Wolfson says the Vikings are simply doing their due diligence and are making lots of calls, so we probably shouldn’t read too much into this news.

Still, it is encouraging to see the Vikings trying to improve the depth chart in the defensive backfield, as it would be mistake to be content with Marcus Sherels and A.J. Jefferson as two of your top options.

Tuesday was a day full of re-signings for the Minnesota Vikings and one big release in Antoine Winfield.  With a bunch of cap space and plenty of holes in the roster, Wednesday was sure to see some fireworks, right?

Well, not exactly.

The biggest real news to come out on Wednesday was some contract details regarding some of the players that have re-signed.  We have already talked about Phil Loadholt’s $25 million deal (click here) and Jerome Felton’s three year deal (click here), but local beat writers have learned details about the other contracts given out on Tuesday:

JAMARCA SANFORD, S:  The Vikings special teams ace, who has a knack for causing fumbles, got a nice pay bump when he signed a two year deal worth up to $5 million.  The deal included a half million dollar signing bonus and a half million dollar roster bonus.  His cap hit is expected to be $2.25 million this season and $2.75 in 2014.  The money suggests that the Vikings will once again rely on Mistral Raymond to battle Sanford for the starting gig across from Harrison Smith, but it isn’t enough to rule out an upgrade if one presents itself at the right level of value during free agency or the Draft.

ERIN HENDERSON, LB:  Henderson had spent his whole career with the Vikings and when he became a free agent last offseason the front office let him dangle on the open market for an extended period of time.  This year they took care of business a lot quicker by signing him to a two year deal, worth $4 million, on the first day of free agency.  The contract includes half million dollar bonuses nearly identical to Sanford’s, but has $250,000 incentives built into each year of the deal.  The Vikings still need linebacker help, with starter Jasper Brinkley visiting with the Giants and Cardinals, but Henderson coming back provides them with versatility and depth.  Henderson is only 26 years old.

JOE BERGER, C:  The backup lineman signed a veteran minimum one year deal, so he will earn a salary just south of $1 million.  Berger is 30 years old and brings with him the most experience of any current backup along the offensive line.  Fellow lineman Geoff Schwartz, who played quite well in place of Brandon Fusco at times last season, is not expected to return.

There are still unknown contract details and cap adjustments, but it is believed that the Vikings currently have $11-$13 million in salary cap space.  Their 11 draft picks will chew up some of that, but the Vikings still have plenty of cap room to play with, should they decide to do so.

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