GUEST POST: Anything But a Quarterback In Round One for the Vikings

[NOTE FROM ARIF: We’ve got another guest post, this time from Alex Rotenberger, who argues that the Vikings have the capability to be safe at quarterback if they skip grabbing one in round one, and should therefore grab a different player. For the record, I strongly disagree, but it’s good to see multiple perspectives.

This comes at a particularly good time, as both Twin Cities newspapers—and Peter King—have reported that Rick Spielman won’t necessarily take a quarterback in the first round.

If YOU have a guest post you’d like submitted, be sure to email me at arifmhasan (at) gmail DOT com. We’d really appreciate it!]

By Alex Rotenberger

There is no doubt that the face of this year’s NFL draft is the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Texas A & M, Johnny Manziel. He is the most talked about and polarizing players by far in this deep, talented pool of prospects. In this era of the NFL, we all know that in order to compete for consistent championships, you need stability at the quarterback position. For the Minnesota Vikings, this seems to have been the missing piece for years.

Conventional logic says to grab your quarterback with the 8th selection of this year’s draft, possibly Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, or even Derek Carr. The other school of thought is to continue building a stout defense while Norv Turner develops a quarterback from the later rounds.

Looking at successful teams over the last couple of years such as the Seahawks and 49ers, this has been their formula for success. If the Vikings want to follow suit with defensive guru Mike Zimmer as head coach, they would be well suited to continue the defensive minded offseason.

The Vikings have done a great job so far adding defensive line help by adding players such as Linval Joseph, Corey Wootton, and Tom Johnson. Also the secondary has been a focus, adding Captain Munneryln and Mike Zimmer’s project Derek Cox. Still, there is an opportunity through the draft to add to the young core already in place.

One of the more appealing options for the Vikings in the first round is to trade down from the 8th selection to the mid-teens. From here, the Vikings can acquire some extra picks, probably in the middle rounds, to add depth to the roster. We all know Rick Spielman likes to move around in the draft, and this year shouldn’t be an exception. With a trade down, the Vikings would be in prime territory to address their glaring need at linebacker, by taking the top middle linebacker prospect, CJ Mosley out of Alabama. He would bring much needed stability and versatility to the linebacker corps, while also contributing in nickel situations with Chad Greenway.

NFL defenses are spending most of their time in nickel and dime packages, so the need for multiple linebackers is not as great as it once was. This gives the Vikings the flexibility to take a player like Mosley who can be a three down linebacker alongside Chad Greenway. Suddenly, a glaring weakness turns into a position of strength.

While the Vikings certainly need help at the outside linebacker position, the top prospect Khalil Mack will be long gone by the 8th selection. Anthony Barr out of UCLA could be another option, but is more of a 3-4 rush outside linebacker and wouldn’t necessarily fit the Vikings hybrid 4-3 scheme. Another option is the athletic Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State, who could be an option in the late first/early second round.

Another way the Vikings could turn with a trade back to the mid teens is in the secondary. At this juncture of the draft, the Vikings would more than likely have their choice of the top cornerbacks and safeties. Some of the top options that could still be on the board are safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, Calvin Pryor out of Louisville and cornerbacks Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State, and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State. Any of these four prospects would be a welcome addition to the Vikings secondary, which struggled mightily last season.

However, with the additions of Captain Munnerlyn and maturation of Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, an addition to this group could really solidify the position. Facing prolific offenses such as Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit twice a year, the best approach to the draft may be to build a rock solid defense, so our offense has a chance to compete.

As far as the offense, the Vikings are actually in decent shape. With a plethora of playmakers on the outside, led by Cordarelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, and of course Adrian Peterson, whichever quarterback is under center week one will be walking into a favorable situation.

The Vikings really did themselves a favor by bringing back Matt Cassel to be a bridge to the future franchise quarterback. In the meantime, Matt Cassel can manage the offense and allow the Vikings to be competitive in 2014. He is by no means a game changing quarterback, but he is also no slouch. In the games he started in 2013, the Vikings put up over 24 points a game and had a record of 4-3.

Matt Cassel is more than capable of handling this talented offense and thriving under the Norv Turner system, which yielded decent play from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer last season.

This is not to say the Vikings shouldn’t address their quarterback needs in the draft, they absolutely should. But there is no need to reach for one at the top of the first round. The Vikings are fortunate, this year’s crop of signal callers is incredibly deep, and they will have their choice unlike in 2011 when they were forced into reaching for Christian Ponder at 12.

Some intriguing prospects later in the draft that could fit the mold of what Turner is looking for are: Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, and Tom Savage. All of these prospects could benefit from sitting for a couple of years and learning from Turner and Cassel. They also would not experience the immense pressure that Christian Ponder faced a couple of years ago. Also from a front office standpoint, Mike Zimmer (first time head coach) and Rick Spielman (Fresh off the Ponder disaster) probably are not confident handing the keys to the franchise over to any of the top quarterbacks in this years draft for different reasons.

This aspect combined with the fact that Matt Cassel is coming back, point towards a defensive draft in the first couple of round, to build a rock solid foundation and use the Seahawks as a template for how to win. Defense does win championships Vikings fans, that’s what Mike Zimmer is here to do.

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  1. If Bridgewater is on the board at 8, no way no how do I pass on him if I’m the Vikings. All of my life I have dreamed of an intelligent, accurate, selfless, and tough QB and that’s Teddy. The idea that he is not a franchise qb because of his size is an argument that holds no merit for me. 1) he’s not a running qb and 2) he has never missed a game to date and the league has several examples of under sized QB who have exceled while being durable (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson). Gruden called Teddy one the most intelligent QB he has ever interviewed.

  2. If there is a player, any player, that Rick S., Zimmer, and Norv can mutually agree will make the Vikings a playoff team, then, I say, go get him and pay the price if that’s what it takes. At some point, people are just going to have to realize that these guys want a championship team as much as they do and they make a bunch of money to make the difficult decisions on how to do it. Personally, I want a trade down to the middle of the 1st with an extra mid-round second from a team like St Louis. With the mid-round 1st(#13 in this scenario) I want the Vikings to take CJ Mosely, if available. If not available, take the best CB available. With the 2 second round picks, I want them to take best CB available if they got Mosely or Borland if they took CB. With the second 2nd round pick I want them to take the best SS on the board. With pick #72 I want them to take whichever QB Norv likes at that point. This team needs to “fix” that secondary before they can even think about contending in the NFC north and, also, they need a dominating “force” in the front seven to inspire great play. JMHO

    1. I like CJ Mosley but Alabama players under Saban do not seem to make it in the NFL…at least not compared to their hype. Not many have been great.

  3. Don’t write off Anthony Barr just because he is an edge rusher! He is an athletic freak who might be very raw as a standup off-the-line linebacker… which just means he has no bad habits for Zimmer to correct. He is a rare talent with a high ceiling for Zimmer to shape.

    Barr is versitale enough to stay on the field in nickle stituations as a DE and slide Griffen to DT… Or you can stand him up outside of Griffen and really bring the heat. I can picture Griffen’s spin move to the inside of the OT and Barr’s speed on the outside just reeking havoc on an offense.

    I think Zimmer will take a good look at Anthony Barr.

    1. I agree with your assessment of Barr, BUT, he’s not going to be there in the mid 1st. If the Vikings want him, they will have to take him at #8, which means no trade down. I think the Vikings could use that extra 2nd round pick to “fix” the secondary AND get a dominant force in the front 7. BUT, as I said in my preface statement, if those 3 decision makers believe Barr is the key to future success, then by all means, get him!

      1. Barr is a good pick at 8. No need to trade down.
        Trading down is much easier said than done anyway.
        Zimmer addressed the secondary in free agency. Munnerly and Cox. I think Zimmer believes in these guys. I don’t think the Vikings will go CB in round 1.

    2. I like Barr too. But I think the Vikings will need to use their 1st round pick (although possibly trading down a bit- perhaps to #13) to take a QB- most likely Bridgewater. They could trade up with their second-round pick into the latter part of the 1st round at draft a QB there, but I think it will be harder to find a trade partner and you can’t count on it. By the time the Vikings 2nd round pick at #40 arrives, there could easily be 6 QBs drafted. Even if none are drafted before the Vikings at #8. That doesn’t leave the Vikings with a legitimate QBOTF. So, I’d rather they trade down a bit and still get the QB they want (or just draft him at #8 if necessary) rather than risk not getting a legitimate QBOTF.

  4. The operating premis here is that the QB (whomever the Vikings organization feels is the best fit) will be the QBOTF in a year or two. They need to be just as “right” in the lower rounds if that is the approach since the other half of this equation seeks to yield a better record than in past seasons. So far, so good! However, if we are not feasting at Odin’s table, we will have a lower draft position with the better record we hope to achieve next year. That will either make drafting a “sure thing” QB in the upcoming years less likely with a high draft pick or a costly move up if we need to do so. The bottom line is that you have to be right at the QB position if he is the first player selected in the draft or he is Mister Irrelevent if he is to be YOUR future QB.

  5. Alex didn’t watch the first half of the Steelers game, when Cassel got blind lucky to avoid turning the ball over 3 times. And that was not one of his bad games (Carolina, Cincy). He is not a medium term starter solution.

  6. I’m coming around on Bridgewater, think he could be worth our first round pick.

    While I think there are as many as a half-dozen QBs with better arm strength than Bridgewater, I think he is clearly the best in all of these categories:

    1. Poise / grace under pressure. He has the highest completion percentage (55%) under duress of any of the QBs in the draft.
    2. Pocket awareness. Has the awareness and mobility to extend plays and make throws running to his left or right.
    3. Accuracy. Bridgewater’s accuracy in short- and intermediate throws is tops in this year’s QB draft class.
    4. Character/Intelligence/Work Ethic. While a guy like Derek Carr scores well in this area too, as do a couple others, I don’t see others surpassing him here either.
    5. Ability to read defenses/make adjustments. Bridgewater, unlike most college QBs, was allowed to make play and blocking adjustments at the line, and did so very well.

    Overall, I think comparisons to Aaron Rodgers are not unfounded by any means in terms of Bridgewater’s strengths, weaknesses, size, and general style of play. Obviously Bridgewater has everything to prove, and Rodgers already has, but nevertheless I think Bridgewater’s strengths, as he has shown throughout his college career, serve him well and set him up to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

    Bridgewater’s weaknesses- his size/hand size/frame/durability, arm strength/deep ball accuracy, and to some degree weak schedule of opponents in college are not deal breakers or necessarily indicators of future poor performance. A couple comparisons:

    1. Size/hand size/durability/frame. Bridgewater is basically the same size as Aaron Rodgers. Bridgewater is probably less than an inch taller than Rodgers, and about 5 pounds lighter, and his hand size is 1/8″ smaller. My guess is that through nutritionist/strength training Bridgewater bulks up a bit to around 220. Obviously the extremely slight differences in hand size and height are not going to have a big impact on Bridgewater’s success if Rodgers was able to deal with them all these years playing in cold weather. Enough said.

    2. Arm strength / deep ball accuracy. First, while Bridgewater’s deep ball accuracy is not everything you’d want, looking at the top QBs in the draft, including all the ones with “the strongest arm in the draft” I don’t see any improvement in deep ball accuracy. Perhaps even more relevant, look at elite QBs in the NFL: Manning, Brady, Rodgers for example. It’s been a long time since they’ve had elite arm strength. None of those guys has been able to rocket a deep ball for at least a few years, nor with tremendous accuracy either. And yet each of them has been unquestionably an elite QB long after their arm strength decreased. I don’t know exactly how Bridgewater compares to Brady or Manning or Rodgers in measuring arm strength when those QBs started their careers, but I’m guessing there isn’t much difference. I think guys like Favre and Brees always had stronger, elite arm strength, but it is not essential to be an elite QB if you have other elite qualities to make up for it- and clearly above average arm strength and ability to throw with velocity and touch- as Bridgewater does.

    3. Strength of schedule. I think you can discount winning percentage and some of Bridgewater’s stats due to weak competition. No doubt about it. But you can’t discount the plays he made in particular situations, and how they demonstrate consistently the skills he has. You also have to give Bridgewater credit for playing well against tougher opponents, in key games, and in key situations too- like 3rd down. I think you also have to consider that unlike Manziel and some other QBs, Bridgewater did not have a talented set of receivers to throw to. They did not excel in gaining separation, and had a lot of dropped balls.

    Last, I think it’s true that some look past Bridgewater somewhat as a boring, lackluster QB because he doesn’t have Manziel’s panache, or is known for making a lot of spectacular plays out of nothing. Mostly, Bridgewater does what he’s supposed to do, doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, moves the chains, extends the play when needed, distributes the ball well, takes what the defense gives him, etc. Just like Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady do. That is impressive in a 21 year old QB.

    Be that as it may, I also think Speilman and Co. have Bridgewater as the #1 QB on their draft board, and is the player they are most likely to take first in the draft. I think Speilman’s recent comments about the tortuous QB decision-making, and all the QBs have issues are both true and a smokescreen. He wants to do everything he can to make sure Bridgewater is available at #8, at the least, and was probably happy his pro-day didn’t go so well causing him to fall down the draft board.

    I think its increasingly likely that QB-needed teams ahead of the Vikings will look to draft a QB later in the draft rather than with their first pick, which would allow the Vikings their pick of QBs at #8. I think both Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are out of the question for the Vikings. Manziel because his personality does not fit with either Speilman or Zimmer, and Bortles for other (unknown) reasons, presumably something(s) they don’t like about his game, etc. I think the rest of the QBs are 2nd round picks for the Vikings, although they could trade up for Carr late in the first round if he’s available. Anybody from Mettenberger to Murray to McCarron could be a possibility later in the draft.

    If nobody takes a QB ahead of the Vikings, which I view as increasingly likely, the Vikings could trade down a bit and still hope to land Bridgewater. Ideally, trading back to #13 with the Rams, pick up a 2nd round pick maybe, and still get Bridgewater at #13 would be ideal. However, I could also see a team(s) ahead of the Vikings trade back with, say, Detroit, and draft a QB at #10, which would put Bridgewater at risk of being taken there, and forcing the Vikings to use #8 to draft Bridgewater if that’s who they really want/believe to be their QBOTF. I kinda think that’s where they’re at right now. They want Bridgewater. It’s hard to see any other QB in this draft being a serious challenge to Cassel this year for the starting job. Bridgewater could challenge him, and possibly be the starter. I’m sure guys from AP to Zimmer want a bona fide QBOTF on the roster now, so there has to be some pressure to draft Bridgewater and not somebody else with less potential. Zimmer has a history of working with no-name defensive players and turning them into a good defense with good coaching and scheme, so perhaps they sacrifice drafting a top defensive player first with that in mind.

    We’ll find out in a couple weeks.

  7. I agree with Norseman,if Bridgewater is there at #8 then take him,don’t fool around with trading down and risk losing him.