After fighting with the idea that they were rebuilding, the Minnesota Vikings have finally appeared to brace the fact that they needed to retool and rebuild their team, especially on defense. The last big players that stand out from the previous teams that went back to the Favre experiment are Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, Jared Allen, and Chad Greenway. Other than that, the Vikings have moved on from much of the old guard and invested in young players throughout their roster while showing some promising returns. The offensive line in particular has improved with the investment in left tackle Matt Kalil. The big moment for the Vikings was when they traded Percy Harvin to the Seahawks for a first round pick this year and a conditional pick next year, which gave them the 23rd and 25th picks that could enable them to put a stamp on their team’s talent base. The Rick Spielman era as general manager has been up and down since he took the job and he has made a number of good picks that have produced for them but a few that have struggled such as their quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder needs to improve dramatically for the Vikings to take the next step but Spielman and company have taken steps to make that job easier for him and looked to continue that in the 2013 NFL Draft. The Vikings made a huge statement with this draft and took a big risk in doing so, but it remains to be seen what exactly that statement was and whether it will be able to get the team back into the divisional and playoff race or if it will distract from the real issue; Ponder.
With their first pick in the first round, the Vikings saw an opportunity and jumped on it by selecting Sharrif Floyd, defensive tackle from Florida. Coming into the draft, nose guard stuck out as the larger need of the two spots but Kevin Williams’ production has fallen off as he has aged and this could be his last year for the Vikings. Floyd gives them their long term solution for the 3-technique tackle spot as well as giving them options this year in how they use him.
Floyd has incredible athleticism, strength, and agility for a defensive tackle. He put in a substantial amount of work in the weight room this past year and it made a huge difference in his ability to impact games, even if the stat sheet did not show it. With all of his strength and quickness, Floyd was only 20 years old when he was drafted and still has significant upside, which is part of the reason many projected him as high as the top five picks overall. Floyd showed he could be a disruptive player creating opportunities for teammates as well as himself with his ability to attack gaps, attack individuals and dominate them before the double teams could get to him and having enough athletic ability to line up at the defensive end spot; at one point lining up at right end in an even front against Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel and looking good doing it. Floyd still has some work to do with his technique, consistency, and getting rid of some bad habits. For example, there are times when Floyd will turn sideways and just lean his shoulder into an opponent and try to use his legs to power his way into the backfield, but it makes him too easy to control by the lineman. He can also overrun plays at times as well and if he can play at heel’s depth as well as improve his ability to turn the corner, it could make a huge difference for him.
With Kevin Williams still in the folk, Floyd enters as a backup initially but he could see substantial next in the starting lineup next to Williams if they want to use a two 2-gap look and get more athleticism on the field. They have LeTroy Guion as their primary nose at this point and he gives them different options with how they want to run their defense, but it stands to reason that they will find as many ways as they can to use Floyd.
Two picks later, the Vikings stayed with the defense and in the same state when they added cornerback Xavier Rhodes from Florida State. In Rhodes, they get a fantastic talent to play press corner who is also an extremely physical run defender. It is not as simple as Rhodes will make an effort against the run. He will not hesitate to dominate blockers and attack the ball carrier showing power and the ability to really put a good hit on them. Rhodes is tall and strong so he looks like a safety rather than a corner. When he gets a good jam on receivers, he can control them and take them out of the play. On the occasion that he misses, he has the speed to run down the field with them and challenge for the ball. Where Rhodes runs into a problem is on routes where receivers use quicker cuts that catch him off guard. He does not change direction all that well and can be stiff, so receivers can create separation with good route running and clean footwork. Rhodes can play in zone and is such a big player that he can be tough to throw the ball around. He appears uncomfortable in off man coverage and can play tall. Press man is where he looks the most comfortable and thrives as a player.
The situation the Vikings are hoping to have is Rhodes, likely at the strong side corner on one side with Chris Cook on the other side. Cook, like Rhodes, has a lot of strength and size to play press. With the loss of Vikings legend Antoine Winfield to free agency and the Seahawks, they needed someone to come and take that other spot. They do have players like Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson competing for playing time as well which could turn into a good secondary along with free safety Harrison Smith protecting the back end.
With Floyd and Rhodes in the fold on defense, the Vikings took a big risk on offense when they traded up almost a round with the Patriots to move up and select Cordarrelle Patterson, wide receiver from Tennessee. The Vikings gave up their third, their fourth, and seventh round picks to move up 23 spots. And while many seem to believe the Vikings got robbed in this deal, it was an even deal but the price was high because the move was substantial. The risk was not so much in the trade up, though there is an inherent risk with taking one player instead of three; rather it is because they selected Patterson.
Patterson possessed top 10 talent but had undraftable polish. Patterson is magic with the ball in his hands drawing favorable comparisons to Barry Sanders in that regard. He is electric with his quickness, speed, and power as a runner. The problem is that Patterson has almost no idea what he is doing in terms of playing the position of wide receiver. From his hands to running routes to even just his stance are all at square one. Patterson is a significant project and while he might be able to contribute in some specialized packages designed to allow him to make plays, if Vikings fans are expecting the next coming of Randy Moss this year, prepare to be disappointed now. Patterson has the potential to be the best receiver in this draft if they can get him to learn the game and tap into that virtually unlimited potential but there is a significant risk he is a bust. Patterson is the type of player who will get someone fired; either because they passed on him and he becomes a huge star in the league or the person who picked him, because he flamed out. Much of what he becomes will be based on the coaching staff and Patterson buying into what he is being taught. In short, Patterson is football plutonium. In the right hands, he is a game changing weapon; the wrong ones and he could blow up in their face.
The Vikings brought in Greg Jennings as a free agent and probably hope he will be a mentor to Patterson in addition to being their #1 receiver. They also have Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, and Greg Childs, if he can get healthy to compete for the other spots. Simpson likely starts out as the #2 with Wright in the slot. There is a small wildcard in Joe Webb who was moved officially from quarterback to wide receiver. The spot is there for Patterson to take to be that second receiver if he can show enough in camp, but he is probably more likely to be the third wide receiver who comes in and can play on the inside or outside when he comes in depending on how they want to use him. After Jennings, the next receiving option is not a wide receiver but rather Kyle Rudolph which works to take more pressure off of Patterson and create potential plays for him. John Carlson is also there as the second tight end and he could see significant playing time as well if the Vikings are not confident in their receiving threats. It would be good to move slowly with Patterson in his development, because it could really pay off them for them if they have a good plan. It could prove difficult to not want to use him because he can be so effective as a ball carrier, even out of the backfield as a running back. He can return kicks, take some screens, and do some other things but it would be a mistake to overload his plate with responsibility as he has not shown during his career that he could handle it. Rather, he relies on instinct to survive. This is a major gamble by the Vikings.
After taking the second day of the draft off, the Vikings came back in the fourth round and selected Penn State outside linebacker Gerald Hodges. Hodges played weak side linebacker for the Nittany Lions and projects as a linebacker with some good cover skills as well as the athleticism and range to make plays against the run and on the blitz. He also showed a knack for being around the football and coming up with turnovers. Hodges played in a defensive scheme that prepared him pretty well for the NFL; a similar 4-3 scheme that put a lot of responsibility on their linebackers to make plays, which is good because the Vikings may need him to play early and possibly start.
Hodges was not the most well-known linebacker for Penn State this past year but he was their most effective and his best football could still be ahead of him. He was one of the seniors that wanted to rally the troops and finish what they started this year in spite of the sanctions placed on Penn State and was a big contributor on a defense was a big reason the team overachieved this year under first year head coach Bill O’Brien. Hodges was a leader and being able to focus purely on football might be a refreshing change for him after the mess that team dealt with last year.
In the fifth round, the Vikings opted to go the special teams route and draft UCLA punter Jeff Locke. The Vikings and specifically Chris Kluwe had slipped in his effectiveness recently, so the Vikings wanted to bring in Locke to hopefully upgrade the position. The Vikings went ahead and released Kluwe and they have no competition for Locke in camp, not going through the charade of suggesting anyone else will be their guy this year. Locke is their guy not only on punts but he is an asset on kickoffs as well, which would allow Blair Walsh to focus purely on kicking field goals.
After trading down seven spots in the sixth round to pick up an extra seventh round pick, the Vikings stayed in Westwood and pick up UCLA guard Jeff Baca. Baca has extensive playing experience for the Bruins registering 45 starts at left guard and left tackle. Baca was academically ineligible for 2010 but has shown that he is a football junkie and seems to give everything he has there. He does not bring ideal size but has a mean streak, can pass and run block effectively with mobility to pull and stay in front of his opponent.
From his style of play to his size and concerns to where he was picked, Baca is remarkably similar to John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco, two players currently projected to start. They do not have a great deal of size to hold up against the big time power players but they move pretty well and really bring a ton of effort that seems to be a profile the Vikings like in their players. And considering the success they have had with drafting these types of players late, it is a trend to continue. They used premium draft pick on their tackle spots and are going with later round guys in the middle of the line and it is working.
Baca comes in as a guy who will compete to be a backup guard and while he fits better as a left guard, the Vikings style enables him to play right guard with relative ease, giving them a swing guard that can develop in their system and potentially start down the road. Currently, the Vikings have Charlie Johnson as the projected starter with some guys competing behind him but no one that stands out as being the obvious guy to take the job, which could be what Baca can become.
With their first pick of the seventh round, the Vikings went back to State College and grabbed Gerald Hodges’ teammate and fellow linebacker Michael Mauti. Mauti gives the Vikings a talented middle linebacker who has battled through numerous injuries including two ACL tears. If he can get healthy and regain the form he showed at points in his career at Penn State, he can not only be quality depth but has the talent to start in the middle of the Vikings defense. He can be a great asset to special teams as well as the locker room with the leadership he showed during the Paterno-Sandusky mess, being the vocal leader and the rallying point for the Nittany Lion team. He represented the best of an awful situation.
Mauti might be able to contribute in zone situations but he is predominately a two-down linebacker that can contribute on running downs, but as he gets healthier and gets back to form, that could increase substantially. On special teams, Mauti seemed to routinely be the first guy down on punt coverage and could be the next Heath Farwell for the Vikings, a player who was a great special teamer for a few years with the Vikings. This is a good value that can contribute now and potentially long term and someone who can really endear himself to fans like he did during his college career with a chance to develop into a starter, as long as he can get a little luck and stay healthy.
Continuing in the seventh round, the Vikings took a flyer on North Carolina offensive lineman Travis Bond. Bond is an enormous offensive line prospect with the size and length to play tackle and the power and girth to play guard. Conceivably, he could be a guy who could be a backup at the guard and tackle spots if all goes well, but he comes with some concerns.
Bond has had troubles with his weight, getting up to 372lbs at one point. He has a tendency to play too high with slow feet and needs to come off the snap more quickly. Bond has a ton of talent if he puts in the work necessary and a team sticks with him long enough for him to reach it. He will need to prove he can be reliable and make progress in order to make the roster or he will be a glorified blocking sled in camp but he seems like a guy who may have been drafted to ultimately make the practice squad and continue working on his game from there this year.
With their final pick in the seventh round and the last pick of their draft, the Vikings double dipped for a third time when they picked Everett Dawkins, defensive tackle from Florida State. Dawkins is a slightly undersized but athletic tackle that can come in and play with quickness and attack gaps to give opponents trouble laterally. Dawkins represents a player competing for a roster spot to be a rotational player who comes in for passing situations as well as potentially coming in to take advantage offensive linemen who struggle with quickness. He has some technical flaws to iron out especially when it comes to his pad level but if he can improve and become a better fundamental player and improve his functional strength, he could end up being a better pro than a college player.
Dawkins is going to have a difficult time making the Vikings roster as their roster is absolutely loaded with defensive tackles who also happen to be young players. As a result, he might be another player specifically picked to end up on the practice squad for the future unless he can really show something in training camp. This should be a great position battle from top to bottom to watch in training camp.
My Thoughts: Overall, the Vikings had a good draft on paper with one big gamble as they did the year they selected Ponder. They made some great picks on value especially on day three but the focus is going to be completely on the first round and those three picks. The picks they made on day three will represent a bonus if they work out. Whether Rick Spielman is retained or let go, this will be the draft that defines his legacy with the Vikings.
Floyd could do great things for the Vikings now but his long term future could be as the next Kevin Williams. He still has work to do but he also has so much room to grow and he is put in a great situation to succeed. The possibilities from having Williams and Floyd next to each other rushing the passer with Jared Allen and Brian Robison or Eversen Griffin could be really fun to watch. They can use Guion and Fred Evans if they want to go big or mix and match depending on the situation or matchups.
Considering what the Vikings appear to want to do with their corners, Rhodes makes a lot of sense. Assuming Cook has grown up and will stay out of trouble, they could form a strong duo or corners with size and length to frustrate receivers on the outside with physical play as well as enabling the Vikings to load the box and the middle of the field to play the run and potentially cause more turnovers as it is more difficult for quarterbacks to operate when the middle of the field is filled with defenders. The Vikings have a corner duo that appears similar to what the Seahawks and Jaguars want to run and it could help them make a big difference in playing with the receivers in their division, particularly Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall.
Patterson is the wildcard. There is so much athletic ability and potential but he has no clue what he is doing yet and while the ceiling is huge, the possibility he busts is a substantial one. The Vikings put a lot of faith in their coaching staff and Patterson willing to put in the work to develop, but too many assume the wide receiver position is an easy one to pick up. It is a technical position like any other that requires a lot of hard work and effort to master. Having Jennings there could be a big help but the other question with Patterson is the fact that Ponder has struggled early in his career and it certainly helps a receiver develop when they have a good, reliable quarterback getting him the ball. There are a lot of potential pitfalls for this move, but he could be a dynamic player as well.
Gerald Hodges may be a starter before two of the three first round picks this year and his pick should not be minimized. He is a talented, young weak side linebacker that could be a good player. He needs to get a little bigger and continue evolving but they could have picked up a nice player here. And with him, I am a fan of Michael Mauti. He may never be more than a special teams player but he will be good on special teams. And if he can get past the knee injuries, he is a talented linebacker and could eventually start. His addition is a good one for the locker room as it is with Hodges. Both of those guys were great in an awful situation and while the focus should be on the victims in that case, the players did not have anything to do with it and those two stood out in helping the team get through that ugly process and just playing football. Baca is another pick I like and he really fits the type of linemen they have sought out for their line and it may not work out, but the inclination is to believe it will because of their success picking guys just like that and finding success. They got a punter who can perform kickoffs, which could continue to add to this draft class’s success as well.
I would expect neither Dawkins nor Bond to make the final 53 man roster but if they do, it would be because they found some players with talent. More likely, they got two decent prospects to put on their practice squad and develop. They will have the chance to develop into contributors for the regular roster but they are both flyer type picks.
Overall, the Vikings draft is a sensible one and while they are still in this awkward stage of their build, they appear adding to be adding talent that could contribute in their long term success. The problem is that until they find stability at the quarterback position, it will move in inches rather than leaps and bounds and is not always evident on the standings sheet. And that could ultimately be the standard Spielman could be held to, but since he is the one who not only picked Ponder but has more or less doubled down on it, that might be the only fair way to evaluate his performance with the Vikings.
Tags: 2013 Nfl Draft Cordarrelle Patterson Everett Dawkins Florida Gators Football Florida State Seminoles Gerald Hodges Jeff Baca Jeff Locke Michael Mauti Minnesota Vikings North Carolina Tarheels Football Penn State Nittany Lions Football Sharrif Floyd Tennessee Volunteers Football Travis Bond UCLA Bruins Football Xavier Rhodes