Quote Of The Week

Quote of the Week: On Your Mark, Get Set, Draft

It’s officially draft season at Vikings Territory, making this the perfect time to begin NFL Draft speculation. Who will the Minnesota Vikings select with the 23rd-overall pick in April? Will general manager Rick Spielman trade back for more ammunition? Does the team need to focus on offense or defense in the first round? Without football on Sundays, there’s more than enough time to second guess what the Vikings will do this offseason.

Matt Miller, Bleacher Report‘s premier draft expert, recently spent some time analyzing Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. The 6’3″, 240-pound prospect was a consensus top-10 pick before his gruesome knee injury in last month’s Fiesta Bowl, but may see his stock slip while recovering from a torn ACL and LCL. According to Miller, that makes teams like the Vikings a dark horse landing spot for the Fighting Irish superstar:

[quote_box_center]”If Jaylon Smith falls in the draft, I could see a team like the Minnesota Vikings pairing him with young guys like Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. Smith could play weak-side linebacker if you want to keep Kendricks in the middle, or, he could play middle linebacker and Kendricks could play that weak-side spot for Mike Zimmer. If you could imagine those three linebackers chasing down Aaron Rodgers, Vikings fans have to be very happy about it.”[/quote_box_center]

It’s unlikely Smith falls that far, but stranger things have happened to the Vikings. In 2013, Minnesota held the same exact pick and was fortunate enough to land defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. The former Florida Gator was labeled the draft’s “No. 1 player on tape” by Greg Cosell, but fell due to concerns over his arm length and injury history. Smith may fall to the Vikings late in the first round, but it would take a miracle from “Trader Rick” to make the dream of a Barr-Kendricks-Smith trio a reality.

All signs point to the Vikings making a change a linebacker. Kendricks and Barr may be the only “sure things” at the position, leaving Mike Zimmer a gaping hole at the weak-side linebacker spot. Current starter and soon-to-be free agent Chad Greenway has made it clear he wants to finish his career in Minnesota, but the team may be ready to move on. At 33 years-old and unable to play as a three-down linebacker, Greenway’s biggest contribution may come in the locker room. His leadership and presence at the head of a young roster helped the Vikings finish 11-5 and as NFC North Champions in 2015.

But it’s that young roster that’s making it difficult for Spielman and Zimmer to keep Greenway in 2016. Kendricks led the Vikings in tackles last season, becoming the first Vikings rookie to do so since 1961. And Barr, in just his second year, was named to Pro Football Focus’s All-Pro team. Truth be told, Zimmer would love to move Kendricks to Greenway’s current spot at weak-side linebacker and bring in a three-down, run-stuffing thumper in the middle.

Enter Smith. As Lance Zierlein of NFL.com writes, “Smith is the rare commodity who is truly hybrid in the sense that he has the athleticism, speed and physical makeup to play any linebacker spot in either the 3­-4 or the 4-­3.” In his past two seasons as a starter for the Fighting Irish, Smith notched 225 total tackles, including 114 in 2015. Zierlein writes that Smith has “the tools to become an excellent blitzer,” which makes him a logical choice for Zimmer’s aggressive defensive scheme. Imagine Barr and Smith threatening the A-gap and blitzing the quarterback together. Scary, right?

Notre Dame head coach called Smith the “best player” he’s ever coached, and the consensus around draft circles is that Smith remains a top-20 choice despite the injuries. In the aforementioned video, Miller notes that Smith is a sensible selection for the New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders, as well. The beauty of a prospect like Smith is that he can thrive in any defensive system, from Mike Nolan’s in New Orleans to Ken Norton Jr.’s in Oakland. He likely won’t be able to play until late into the 2016 season, meaning the Vikings can try to keep Greenway in free agency and make a run for Smith in the upcoming draft. If he’s available at 23, there’s no reason Spielman shouldn’t pull the trigger.



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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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  1. If Smith were to drop I would understand the pick considering his value (assuming there is no nerve damage with his injury) and I believe that is where this post primarily comes from. I do want to say though that I don’t understand why a lot of folks think we need to take a backer early when they have invested a first and 2nd round pick the last two years. Granted with Zimmer’s blitz scheme you need talent at that position, but one of these guys will come off the field when the offense trots out a third WR. It just doesn’t seem like a good investment with the teams other holes right now. I also think Edmond Robinson could wind up being that third starter as soon as next year. The guy progressed nicely as a 7th rounder out of Newberry and I expect he’ll be one of the big risers in the 2016 training camp. They don’t need to spend a top pick on a linebacker again.

    1. I think we can all agree that the dream scenario would be for Edmond Robinson to step up to fill this hole and for Ant Harris to step up and fill the safety spot so that the only defensive positions we draft are CB depth and another rotational DE. Unfortunately, Zimmer is the only person that knows how close they are to making that step and it would be insane to ignore our needs during the draft in hopes that miraculously, 2 UDFA’s with 1 year of special teams/practice squad experience can be impact starters. I also think that if Robinson was that close to making the leap we would have seen him getting rotated in for experience. I think that the reason some people want another early draft pick spent on LB is because it would allow us to use Barr as a DE in certain packages without having a drop off in talent in LB’s. At least I think that would be pretty sweet to watch.

    2. I pretty much agree with most of that Dan,and would be pretty upset taking another LB as our first pick.Maybe the better way around it might be to take a shot in FA on a guy like Danny Trevathen?
      If they draft a backer I’d rather it be 3rd or 4th round.