Assessing the Vikings Needs Entering the Draft

chad-greenway
Defense:

With the 2008 NFL draft quickly approaching, Brad Childress, Rick Spielman and company are busying themselves pouring over endless video, conducting interviews and rating every available player by any and all means in order to lessen the chances for a mistake that could saddle the organization with a burden that could haunt them for the next ten years. Anticipation mounts as NFL fans muse about what fortunes will fall upon their favorite franchise. The wonder is akin to the feeling we had as kids during the holiday seasons.

Each and every team has it’s own special agendas. It’s own needs and wants. Just as every fan has his/hers own interpretation of what those desires are. That is what makes it all so much fun. It used to be the off-season for fans, but now it has become almost as big as the Super Bowl itself.

For Viking fans it is no different. So, with the draft just a few weeks away, it is important to take a look at the Players the Vikings already have, so we can take an educated look at the players who may be available at # 22 that could address the needs of the Purple and Gold. Childress has said that he will take the best available player regardless of position, then I am assuming that best player available is a corner.

First of all, we are NOT talking about a team in rebuild mode. The Vikes are a play-off team with a roster loaded with talent at nearly every position.

Defensive Line – They have arguably the best defensive line in the game anchored by Williams and Williams, Inc. It also enjoys the presence of one of the best pass rushing DE’s in Jared Allen, the solid Ray Edwards and a potential pass rushing fiend in Brian Robison. Letroy Guion, Ellis Wyms, Otis Grigsby, Kendrick Allen and the newly re-signed Fred Evans provide back-up support.

Linebacker – The line backing corps is a little thin at depth but the starting group of Ben Leber, E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway is one of the NFL’s best. Heath Farwell and Erin Henderson are solid but unspectacular reserves and there is a possibility the team may re-sign Napolean Harris and/or Dontarrious Thomas. The key here is the health of E.J. Henderson. If he returns to the Pro Bowl form of early 08, this is an excellent unit.

Secondary – The Safety tandem of Madeau Williams and Tyrell Johnson could be the best the team has had in several years. Johnson should provide more range and equal run support over Darin Sharper who had clearly lost a step. Eric Frampton who has shown flashes of ability and Husain Abdullah provide depth.

Cornerback: Antoine Winfield is great in run support and provides good but not great coverage skills. He is a reliable playmaker who 2-3 times a year provides the spectacular game changing play. He usually draws the opponents best receiver but is at his best in the slot in the nickel. Cedric Griffin is the other starter.

He is young and improving. Last season he started out slowly, but looked more comfortable towards the end. He does a good job in bump and run coverage but has a tendency to give up the long pass too often and has questionable ball skills and hands.

Nickel back: ? One of the biggest holes the team has here is the third corner. Who will emerge out of the Karl Paymah, Bennie Saap, and Marcus McCauley trio ? McCauley was a beast in college, but has been a disappointment as a pro.

Saap is usually solid, but has a propensity for shooting himself in the foot with stupid penalties and occasional mental breakdowns. Paymah ? The team signed him for his special teams play and return ability. If he emerges as a coverage corner, that would be an unexpected bonus.

Analysis: The defensive line is deep and talented. The acquisition of Jared Allan took the entire defense to another level. The potential of Brian Robison as a premier pass rusher on the other side could put them over the top.

The good news is this defense is going to stop the run better then any other team. The bad news is that most teams are going to abandon the run early and pass the ball constantly. The Cover two is designed to take away the quick slants with physical coverage up close to the line of scrimmage.

The emphasis is to not let a speedy receiver get off the line quickly. However, the Cover two breaks down when a QB is allowed time and room to operate. Receivers eventually break free and often get past the Cornerback and are able to run long, one on one with a Safety.

Keys:

1. Big, powerful and fast corners (rarely available)who can run stride for stride with receivers.

2. Intimidating safeties with range who can get to the ball and lay the big hit on the receiver.

3. A pass rush that provides constant QB pressure.

4. Linebackers with quickness and range to fill in the gaps.

So, looking at the defense, one quickly realizes that the biggest need here is a playmaking cornerback with coverage skills and speed. Size and strength would also help. Trouble is, almost every team in the league could use one of these. So……..who is likely to be available when the Vikings select at # 22 ?

Here are a couple of choices if the Viking decide to address their secondary needs in the first two rounds. This assumes that the team doesn’t trade up or down.

Round 1 – Although unlikely, there is a possibility that any or all cornerback in this years draft could slip to # 22. Therefore, we need to look at all of them in case of a slide. Most draft evaluators are saying that although there are no real can’t miss prospects, this years draft is loaded with potential franchise corners and has considerable depth. Because Cornerbacks are difficult to evaluate, everyone seems to have their favorite. These are mine.

1. Vontae Davis – Illinois – 6’ 0” 201 – Draft sites have this guy going anywhere from # 5 to early 2nd round. He declared a year early then he ran a disappointing 40 time at the combo of 4.49 which is causing his stock to dip a little. That should not have a huge effect, however, as no one ran well at the combo. There are also some rumors of off the field issues that are swirling around.

But he is an outstanding athlete and a strong run supporter although he will sometimes get a bit too aggressive and attempt the spectacular hit instead of simply wrapping up the ball handler. He has fluid hips so he can flip and run very well, but has a bad habit of jump stepping that might be make him susceptible to receivers cutting underneath him on quick slants on the next level.

He’s physical with 78 tackles in 08 and has playmaking ability as evidenced by his seven interceptions and two blocked kicks. He has a tendency to lose concentration at times and there are some who wonder if he may have hit his peak of development already. A bit risky in the top 15, but an intriguing talent at # 22.

2. Darius Butler – Connecticut – 5’10” 183 – his pro day 40 time was 4.38. He’s bit undersized, but has a 43” vertical jump. Has a minor history of knee problems. An excellent kick returner. He is definitely one of the premier pure cover men in this draft and may be the smoothest as well. His footwork seems natural and he is clean moving forwards or backwards. One of the few corners who can play zone or man with equal effectiveness.

He seems to possess the natural ability to play much closer to the line of scrimmage than he usually does. Sometimes he relies too much on his tremendous athletic ability and not enough on his usually flawless footwork and technique. He really explodes into the play unfolding in front of him. He can reach top gear in a hurry. Butler does a good job of tracking the ball in flight and shows very good hands.

There are some questions over his ability as a tackler. He will close quickly against the run, but isn’t as forceful as you’d like and doesn’t consistently wrap on contact.

3. D.J. Moore- Vanderbilt – 5’9” 184 – 39.5 vertical but a disappointing 40 time at the combo of 4.58. Followed up with a 4.57 on pro day. A Dynamic punt returner. An excellent cover man but a bit smallish. He can excel in press coverage because he possesses the necessary footwork and the technique at the line of scrimmage to compete physically with any receiver.

He gets his hands into his man and is skilled at redirecting. He gets and stays low in his stance and can plant and drives quicker then any other corner in the nation. He has an incredible three step break on the ball. Moore shows good deep speed and tracks the ball in the air well.

As a run defender, his form is near perfect. With good field vision and the physical strength to disengage from a block and strike the runner with force and wrapping up. He very rarely misses a tackle and when he hits, players tend to stay hit. An excellent leaper who plays bigger then he is.

4. Malcolm Jenkins – Ohio State – 6’0” 204 – 4.53 40 on Pro day. Should be the first corner off the board but poor timed speed has many speculating that he might have to play safety in the NFL. Athletic, intelligent and consistent, Jenkins surprised many when he elected to return for his senior season despite a first-round grade from the NFL Advisory Committee in 2008.

He won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back. Many feel he is the best corner in this draft. A shutdown cornerback who intercepted 11 passes over the past three years.

A first-round caliber prospect at safety or cornerback. Jenkins possesses excellent instincts and understanding for the game, which helps him to overcome his lack of speed and explosion. He struggled to stay long with receivers when asked to cover in press. Seems to be work better in a zone scheme rather then man to man.

5. Alphonso Smith – Wake Forrest – 5’9” 193. 4.56 40 at the combine. A playmaker with 20 career INT’s at Wake. Alphonso is a very intriguing talent. Pound for pound he and D.J. Moore could be the best two corners in the draft.

But his lack of height will scare off some teams. He is both very fluid and explosive and has a natural hip turn, but he’s just not physical enough and gets out jumped for the football. Arguably the most dominant cornerback in all of college football in 2008, he is a tremendous athlete who’s ball skills are off the charts.

He displays elite footwork, with little wasted motion. He makes plays even when he gets beaten. Rarely do you see him blowing a coverage. He sometimes struggles in press coverage because his physical strength is only average. Smith has the ability to absolutely dominate a game, which is a remarkable trait in a cornerback; If he can work on his hands and improve his physical strength, then he has the potential to be a lockdown cover corner.

If any of the above manage to slip to pick # 54, then they will offer incredible value at that point. If not, the Vikings might consider one of these two in the second round :

6. Sean Smith – Utah – Viewed by some GM’s as a safety because of his height. At 6’3 and 208lbs Smith has exceptional leaping ability and a talent for locating the ball in the air. He also has a reputation for being cocky and arrogant.

He calls himself the“Legend” and often stands over a player after an incompletion just to rub it in. Also has a penchant for drawing unnecessary penalties. Still, he played in all 39 games of his Utah career, starting 23 times and recording 9 INT’s and 16 PBU’s over that period.

7. Jairus Byrd – Jairus is a three year starter at corner and free safety and offers tremendous special teams value as a punt returner. Although not highly recruited, he has developed into one of the best corners in the nation, with possibly the best ball skills of any defensive back in the draft. A turnover machine with 17 interceptions in just three seasons. He will support the run consistently and has good recognition skills.

His footwork is very good and he consistently out jumps receivers to the ball. He shows outstanding short area quickness and explosion to get his hands on the ball and knock it away. Because of his lack of elite speed, he trouble is staying stride for stride with his man down the field, although any inability in this regard can be somewhat masked by his excellent technique.

He is a tremendous punt returner who can make the first man miss and then possesses great skill and vision in the open field. He has first round ability and is a very good value at # 54.

There is no player that perfectly matches the Vikings needs, but Darius Butler, D.J. Moore and Alphonso Smith have the coverage skills necessary to play in the cover two.

Although Smith might struggle in press coverage because of his lack of ideal size. Malcolm Jenkins may have the best overall skills, but isn’t ideally suited to the cover two.

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2 Responses to “Assessing the Vikings Needs Entering the Draft”

  1. Fran the Man says:

    Excellent article!
    Can’t wait for draft day and hope we go CB at 22 and take Jenkins. If he’s everything that is said about him (And it’s not just you) we might be wise to try and move up a couple spots to get him.
    Again GREAT article.

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