1. Anthony Barr, OLB UCLA
1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
3. Scott Crichton, DE Oregon State
3. Jerrick McKinnon, RB Georgia Southern
5. David Yankey, G Stanford
6. Antone Exum, CB Virginia Tech
6. Kendall James, CB Maine
7. Shamar Stephen, DT Connecticut
7. Brandon Watts, OLB Georgia Tech
7. Jabari Price, CB North Carolina
The Minnesota Vikings had one of the most interesting NFL Drafts of 2014. They had a grouping of polar opposites in terms of finished products with scouts and experts questioning how much upside they possess compared to relatively raw athletes that have terrific upside. The balance contains one of the better value filled drafts from this year, but it will definitely interesting how general manager Rick Spielman and new head coach Mike Zimmer intend to fit them together along with a relatively young roster with some promising talent.
The first round of Minnesota’s draft showed this dichotomy of approaches. After trading down a spot with the Cleveland Browns, who selected Justin Gilbert, the Minnesota Vikings went in a surprise route, choosing Anthony Barr. Barr is a supremely talented athlete that had a similar amount of upside as the trio of Barkevious Mingo, Dion Jordan and Ziggy Ansah did last year.
Barr is most similar to Mingo in terms of his build and size, but he is rawer than Mingo was coming out last year, despite having an extra year of college. The reason Barr committed to UCLA in the first place was that then head coach Rick Neuheisel would allow him to be a running back, despite having more talent on defense. Running back happened to be the position he wanted to play. After being an ineffective back, Jim Mora Jr. was hired and moved to the defensive side of the ball where he played the past two seasons.
The benefit from Barr’s experience as a running back was a terrific set of feet. He shows great explosiveness, body control and the ability to move around the field. Whether from his experience at running back or just his natural instincts, he showed a great feel for defending the passing game in coverage and taking away opposing backs.
The issue for Barr is that his run instincts as a defender were awful; borderline nonexistent. He would constantly get fooled by option looks and give up contain, allowing opponents to run right behind him for huge gains. He also plays consistently with bad leverage. As a result, he struggles to play with power, gets rooted out far too easily and has to win every matchup with speed.
Barr has had success attacking off the edge and he is an unorthodox speed rusher, which actually makes him an intriguing player. Most speed rushers want to run around the edge to attack the quarterback. Barr seems to prefer to work inside to attack in the A or B gap, giving him a shorter path to the passer and making it difficult for opponents to follow him inside. His feet and ability to work through trash can allow him to be on the passer in a hurry and make a big play, but it also produces opportunities where he is too high and gets pancaked by opponents.
Barr projects as the starting strong side linebacker for the Vikings. He will have to do a much better job taking on and shedding blocks, substantially improving his pad level, but he can be a huge asset as a run and chase linebacker, coverage and attacking as a blitzer. The move should allow Zimmer to pick their spots when they want to use Barr on the attack, but given his skill set and Zimmer’s style, it stands to reason Barr will spend a great deal of time rushing.
The value of Barr was a reach, but there was a realistic possibility that could go as high as 11th pick to the Tennessee Titans. Barr’s polish leaves a lot to be desired and he was not quite worth a top ten pick, but the Vikings more than made it when they moved back into the first round to select their quarterback.
After going with a tremendous high ceiling athlete at 9th pick, the Vikings went with the most pro ready, polished passer in the draft in Teddy Bridgewater. Despite a freefall that still defies explanation, the Vikings moved back into the first round, swapping picks with the Seattle Seahawks to grab Bridgewater at 32.
Christian Ponder has been a disaster since he went 12th in the 2011 draft and while the Vikings do have Matt Cassell, Bridgewater could easily end up being the starter by week one. Bridgewater was not the most ideal physical specimen, but he had an incredible amount of ability navigating the pocket and has been fantastic on throws from 25 yards and in; the throws quarterbacks need to be able to make to thrive in the NFL.
Bridgewater’s deep ball leaves much to be desired and has to anticipate throws to lead receivers down the field, though playing a substantial amount of their games in a dome should help. When it comes to making timing throws, he can hit slants, posts and deep ins with the best of them. His ceiling may not be as high as some of the other quarterbacks in this draft, but his floor should be substantially higher. Bridgewater has the ability to be a franchise quarterback and was my top overall quarterback in the draft.
The value on the Bridgewater pick was excellent and while the value on Barr was not ideal, it is understandable. If the picks were flipped, most would have had no issue with the Vikings taking Bridgewater at 9 and been extremely complementary for getting Barr at 32. On the whole, getting those two players in round one was a great first day.
The Vikings did not pick again until round three but they got another nice value in Scott Crichton at defensive end. Not only was the value here great, but so is the fit. Crichton is not coming in with the pressure to start, but he can be an instant impact player as part of a rotation on the edge with Brian Robison, Eversen Griffen and Corey Wootton.
Crichton’s past two seasons at Oregon State were notable in just how different they were. As a sophomore, he used far more power and leverage to defeat opponents, allowing him to be an effective run defender and pass rusher. As a junior, he almost completely went the other way, using far more agility and quickness to beat opponents. He productive in both instances, but there was not a single game where I saw any crossover.
If Crichton can combine his past two seasons into one, fully formed player, the Vikings could have a steal on their hands and be able to develop into a starter. As it is, the Vikings have one of the better groups of edge rushers without a single household name. This is in combination with a young, talented pair of defensive tackles in newly signed Linval Joseph and second year Sharrif Floyd.
Later in the third round, the Vikings went with arguably one of the most physically talented players in the entire draft in Jerick McKinnon from Georgia Southern. McKinnon was also projecting to a position he had never really played in running back.
McKinnon was a quarterback at Georgia Southern, but not in the traditional sense. They run a triple option, so McKinnon was not unfamiliar with running the ball, but how he was running the ball was distinctly different. McKinnon also had experience playing some wing back, but never really played as a traditional running back.
Nevertheless, McKinnon was good for at least one big run per practice during his time at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. Being a former wing, his natural approach to the position was to work to the outside, find open field and then take off, which yielded a number of runs that went all the way to the end zone in Mobile. McKinnon has to prove he can get comfortable running between the tackles, seeing and setting up blocks and defenders to get the most out of his carries.
Physically, he looks fantastic and if people were to pick teams based on nothing but their natural athleticism and strength, McKinnon would have been the top running back picked out of the group at the Senior Bowl. He is also a bright kid, having played quarterback, but so much of that position is about feel and instinct, at least in terms of being a runner.
The situation McKinnon is going to behind a talented offensive line and with Adrian Peterson ahead of him could be great for him; arguably as good as he could have hoped. If he can learn the position effectively, he can be a good complement for Peterson and even if he is running plays like a wing early on, he can still get yards and make plays.
In round five, the Vikings took a guard that many were arguing was physically maxed out heading into the draft in David Yankey. Yankey was a terrific player at Stanford and while many of the offensive linemen that have come from that program have fared poorly in the NFL. The small splits make it easier for them to fire out with all of their force because the defender has so little room to avoid it.
One of the things that could help Yankey is that while he was strong enough to play inside at Stanford, he has experience playing outside there and specifically left tackle as a junior. The hope for the Vikings is that experience should at least make it less of an eye opener when it comes to blocking in space while still having enough power to help them in the running game.
While Yankey is projected to simply be depth, the Vikings are probably going to know early what they have in him. If he can do the job, he could be able to help them either as depth for a couple spots and be a solid spot starter early. If his physical ability is deemed to be insufficient and they decide there is little potential, he may be let go early in his career.
Their first sixth round pick is an intriguing value as well as a fit in Antone Exum. Exum was a highly regarded corner prospect at Virginia Tech before a torn ACL from pickup basketball was to make it so he would miss much of his final year; then setbacks caused him to miss the rest of it, causing college football to miss out on one of the best corner tandems in the country along with Kyle Fuller, who also missed time to injury.
Exum fits the mold of the tall, physical press corners they have liked in recent years; Xavier Rhodes being the best example. He has a nice combination of strength and height that fits what they like, but what made Exum an interesting prospect was the fact that he could play press corner, covert to free or even strong safety because of his physical strength. If Exum is unable to stay at corner, the Vikings could opt to move him inside. Should Exum be able to get healthy and prove viable as a corner, he has the potential to ultimately play on the outside across from Rhodes, moving someone like Josh Robinson or Captain Munnerlyn inside in nickel situations.
The Vikings made four more picks, getting another pair of corners, an outside linebacker and a defensive tackle in Shamar Stephen. Overall, the approach the Vikings took in this draft is fascinating. They took two of the prospects regarded to be the most ready in terms of NFL polish and understanding of the game with what some feel is limited or almost no upside and they countered that with three of the rawest, highest upside players in Barr, McKinnon and Exum. Overall, the Vikings did a really good job of playing out the value of the draft, but they did take some boom or bust picks that could end up working out great, but could also end up not helping them at all.
Spielman, outside of addressing the quarterback position, has been able to draft, sign and build a talented and young roster. Bridgewater could be the player that completely turns that tide and gives them the means to get back to the playoffs and possibly further. So much of what the Vikings will be depends on Bridgewater over the incredible five first round picks over the past two years, but if he works, that collection of picks could vault the Vikings to the top half of the division soon and became a real problem for everyone else in the NFC North for a long time to come.