Thursday, July 27, 2017

manti te’o

The NFL Draft has the same allure as a record Powerball jackpot.

Men (and some women) from around the globe converge onto the internet for about 11 and a half months to try an predict, analyze, and grade the next year of fresh prospects.  We follow their every move, chart their plays, scour police blotters, and argue about their potential all the way up until their names are called… and then some more.

I’m not going to say that analysts, bloggers, or fans know nothing about these prospects.  They know quite a bit, actually, and it really is impressive how much more the common man knows about Tyrann Mathieu’s pee than he knows about… oh, we’ll go with Darfur here in order to maintain my long and proud tradition of being completely cliche.

While we know quite a bit about these prospects, and know even more about the rosters that make up our favorite teams, the truth is that the ultimate reality show that is the NFL Draft process gets it’s appeal from the fact that it is almost completely, utterly, 100 percent unpredictable.  Outside of some obvious top three picks, the only thing that is predictable about the NFL Draft is that it will be unpredictable (see, cliche after cliche, I can’t help myself).

Now, I have been predicting all offseason long that the Vikings would aim to select Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in the first round of this week’s Draft, and wavered on that prediction only momentarily between Percy Harvin’s departure from Minnesota and Greg Jennings’ arrival.

That is why I was shocked to see someone much older, much more experienced, and someone that is supposed to be much wiser than me make a bold and perhaps foolish statement.

Much is being made about a recent report from Peter King noting that Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman dined with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on the eve of the college’s pro day.  The Vikings also reportedly interviewed Te’o at the Scouting Combine and invited him to their “Top 30” event at Winter Park.

Some are going to take the seemingly excessive vetting process as a sign of the Vikings level of interest in Te’o, but it may be a better indication of the level of concern teams have with Te’o’s plentiful question marks.  I have been spouting off all offseason about how much sense a marriage between the Vikings and Te’o makes, and I don’t mean to send mixed signals here, but I would caution the readers of VT to not read too much into these visits.

The truth is that the Vikings probably have some level of interest in the players they have interviewed, including Te’o, but are trying to dig as deep as they can into some of these red flags to try and find out which ones are worth the investment of a high draft pick.  The list of attendees that visited Winter Park, or at least the ones we know about, should be all the evidence you need to consider these visits as the Vikings simply doing their due diligence with guys carrying some baggage.

Manti Te’o:  The whole fake girlfriend thing.

Alec Ogletree:  Injuries and arrests in the past.

Keenan Allen:  Worrisome knee injury.

Tyrann Mathieu:  Dismissed from LSU, history of drug issues.

We have profiled each of these prospects as we view them as potential targets for the Vikings later this month, and their visits make sense, but how the visits went is far more important (and secretive) than the fact that these guys visited.

The linebacker is largely considered to be the most glaring need for the Minnesota Vikings as April’s Draft edges closer, but their decision to bring back veteran Marvin Mitchell on Tuesday helps provide them with an insurance plan in case the instant-starter they surely covet in the first two rounds next month doesn’t pan out.

Mitchell signed a one year deal with the Vikings after spending 2012 with the team as a special teams contributor and a two-week starter in place of the injured Erin Henderson.  In those two weeks Mitchell made four tackles, and added five tackles plus a forced fumble on special teams over the course of the year.

Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson are expected to return as starters at their respective outside linebacker spots, but the drama lies in the middle after previous starter Jasper Brinkley was allowed to leave via free agency this offseason.  Mitchell joins a depth chart that includes Audie Cole, Tyrone McKenzie, and Larry Dean.

According to Dan Wiederer of Access Vikings, the team “has not closed the door” on the possibility of Cole competing for the remaining starting spot.  Cole, a seventh round selection last year out of North Carolina State, made his biggest splash last season when he returned interceptions for touchdowns on back-to-back plays against the Buffalo Bills.  He was inactive for 11 games in 2012 and registered no stats, but you have to remember that receiver Jarius Wright was also kept inactive as a rookie until Percy Harvin’s injury forced the Vikings to play him, and he now figures to be a key part of the offense.

The Vikings have reportedly flirted with the idea of bring in Brian Urlacher, which I thought made no sense, but have otherwise not let word leak about any interest in other possible linebackers.  Larry Grant and Karlos Dansby are a few free agents still available that might make sense, but it otherwise looks like the Vikings will be looking to the Draft for that guy capable of leading their defense.

I currently have the Vikings drafting Manti Te’o in the first round of my Mock Draft.

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In free agency, the Vikings have really only made moves on the offensive side of the football, other than their decision to dump Antoine Winfield.  This suggests to me, combined with Rick Spielman’s praise for the defensive talent in this class, that the Vikings plan to address their needs on defense early and often.

For the first time since the Percy Harvin trade, where the Vikings acquired a second first round selection from Seattle, I have updated my 2013 Mock Draft and you can take a look at it by clicking here.

I’ll leave the discussion portion up to you all, for now.  Just know this:  I was torn on both picks but decided to try and predict what the Vikings will do, not necessarily what I think they should do.

[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 the fee agency flurry leaving the Vikings roster somewhat shaken up there is one glaring need that sticks out above the rest at this moment.  Sure, cornerback and wide receiver need to be a point of emphasis.  Defensive tackle could still use some work.  There is one need, however, that seems quite a bit more desperate than the others.

Jasper Brinkley has signed with Arizona while Marvin Mitchell remains a free agent.  That means the position is virtually unfilled at this point and could potentially be a first round priority during the NFL Draft.

So far, Manti Te’o is the only other middle linebacker we have profiled in this series, but we will certainly be filling you in on plenty of other prospects at the position prior to Draft Weekend.  Today, I want to take a look at LSU middle linebacker Kevin Minter, who many Vikings fans have on their wish list for April.

Minter became a starter at LSU in 2011 after his predecessor, Kelvin Sheppard, was drafted in the third round.  His first season was pretty pedestrian, really, as he started 11 of 14 games to rack up 61 tackles.  Of those, 3.5 were for a loss, he had one sack, a forced fumble, and one fumble recovery for a touchdown.  In 2011, Minter was barely a guy one noticed on the star studded LSU defense that included Morris Claiborne and a handful of guys that could easily be drafted ahead of him this year.

In 2012, that all changed as Minter not only became noticeable within the LSU defense, he was named LSU’s Most Valuable Player and seemed like he was All-Everything following the season.  He was certainly more productive, having started all 13 games and notching 130 tackles, 15 for a loss, four sacks, a forced fumble, five defended passes, and an interception.  He still had considerable talent around him, but he seemed to be elevating their play this season, not the other way around.

Minter measured into the NFL’s Scouting Combine at 6′ 0″ and 246 pounds.  He didn’t exactly tear it up with his 4.81 second forty yard dash or his 25 bench press reps, but he looked to be the same guy you saw on tape, for better and for worse.

He looks to be a very intelligent football player who sniffs out screens, shows great diagnostic abilities, and solid gap discipline.  Combine that with a knack for getting around, or through, blockers and you have a Mike backer that just always seems to be in the right place at the right time on running plays.

Minter is a very good run defender and would instantly make things tough on opposing running backs looking to stay between the tackles.  He is an excellent tackler, perhaps the best in this Draft class, and is going to add a lot of consistency in the middle to the team that drafts him.  The ability to crush a ball carrier, however, might be his best attribute when it comes to defending the pass.

I don’t mean to say that Minter is a completely inept pass defender (he isn’t), but my game plan as a coach certainly wouldn’t revolve around matching him up against a guy like Vernon Davis or Rob Gronkowski.  In fact, my game plan would try to make sure that happened as little as possible.

He’s a big man that plays big, but he is also of moderate speed and it shows in coverage.  He is a plodder that can look awkward trying to shadow a running back or provide zone coverage of a slot receiver   He is, in a lot of ways, a lot like what we saw out of Jasper Brinkley during the 2012 season as far as coverage goes.  He is going to struggle sticking with just about any various type of route runner, but will occasionally be able to deliver a jarring hit after the catch.

Minter is already a grade “A” run stopper, and could continue to develop his pass defending via some good coaching, and is a capable blitzer.  He possesses the physical skills to be a middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme and makes enough big plays to make him very intriguing.

I do think that he is best suited for the 4-3 and that scouts will recognize this.  This might limit the number of teams that place him higher up on their draft boards.  The NFL Advisory committee reportedly gave him a third round grade when he was deciding whether or not to stay at LSU for another year.  Many draftniks have him grading out as a late first round talent, however.

I worry greatly that the Vikings will burn one of their first round picks on a two down linebacker, and I worry that Minter will be a two down linebacker throughout his NFL career.  Thus, I can’t say that I would be real supportive of them taking him at 23 or 25.  However, he has a skill set that is attractive enough, and if they can trade back a bit, or if he is somehow still on the board in the second round when they are on the clock, then I think he could represent a solid addition to the middle of the Vikings defense.

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