Thursday, May 21, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (2): Maximize RB/WR

What if I told you that in your fantasy football draft, you could actually draft more players than other managers in your league?  Even though you all have a standard roster with a set limit on players, some of your opponents will make moves that, in essence, give them fewer players.  If you avoid their mistakes, you end up with more players, and more opportunities for fantasy success.

It's simple: do not draft a backup quarterback, and do not draft a backup tight end.

If you have a roster of 15 players, you will have to draft one kicker and one defense, and will also need one quarterback and one tight end.  Then you'll have 11 roster spots left to draft only RBs and WRs.  If you chase the temptation and draft a second QB, you're essentially throwing one of those 11 spots--and a potential quality RB or WR--away for a position that you don't need and likely won't use.

You don't need two quarterbacks.
It's hard to envision many scenarios where it's worthwhile to draft a backup fantasy QB.  In general, they rarely elicit much interest in trades because during the season, other managers usually recognize what some don't during the draft: you can always find a quarterback.

If you're in a 10 team or smaller league, you will absolutely find another viable (even good!) fantasy QB available in free agency.  If the QB you drafted stinks or gets injured, there will be somebody out there that nobody else needs.  Hell, that player is usually Ben Roethlisberger, and probably will be again.

If you're in a 12 team or bigger league, you will probably be able to find another viable fantasy QB, though the options might be slimmer.  But even so, to win a larger league, you need a lot of things to go right for you.  Rather than trying to hedge your bets for a higher floor with a backup QB, why not chase a higher ceiling for a low-cost/no-cost RB or WR?  In a larger league, you will either have a team good enough to win when you pick up the likes of Mark Sanchez, or you won't be good enough to win if a key starter gets injured.  Just deal with that, and chase the highest possible point outcome.

You don't need two tight ends.
There are two elite TEs worth spending significant draft resources on: Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham (G.G.).  After that, there are probably a few Tier 2 TEs that are worth having, and a lot of Tier 3 TEs.  Other than G.G., these other TEs are imminently replaceable.  Some will outperform others: a handful of other TEs will have, say, 800+ yards and 5-7 TEs.  But you cannot guess which ones will do that, and which ones doe that will fluctuate greatly from year to year.  TE is one of the most difficult positions to deal with in fantasy football, but you aren't really going to help yourself by using multiple roster spots to try guess which TE will be marginally better than another TE.

Hitting on a low-cost/no-cost RB or WR can will you your league.
Everybody in your league is going to spend significant draft resources on the RBs and WRs that we believe have the best opportunity to be star fantasy producers.  Some of these RBs and WRs will be stars, and some won't.  But regardless whether your high-cost RBs or WRs work out, there will also be some high-production RBs and WRs that nobody saw coming.  There are always surprise breakout players, or fluky good seasons.  There will be low-cost/no-cost RBs and WRs that are in the top 15 or top 10 at their positions this season, as there are every season.

If nothing else, draft rookies.  If you're looking at available players, and a remaining QB or TE has a more familiar name, and more general production, than any available RB or WR, just go ahead and draft a rookie RB or WR that, for whatever reason (talent, opportunity, team, whatever) you think could break out and be a fantasy starter, or even fantasy star.  There have always been rookie RBs that become fantasy stars, and in recent years it's become much more common for rookie WRs to become fantasy stars.  You might as well take a shot at getting one of those rookies, rather than having Matt Ryan and Ryan Tannehill on your roster.

But of course...
Both of these pieces of advice are subject to asterisks if your league has unique scoring or lineup rules.  If your league's scoring system highly values rushing QBs, it may be worth taking the opportunity to get two.  And if you're in a league with a flex position that allows you to start two TEs, and you draft G.G., it might be worth it to to draft another TE instead of another WR (probably not though--cheap WRs tend to outproduce cheap TEs.  Using standard scoring, 10 TEs had 100+ fantasy points last season, while 48 WRs topped 100.  That means a lot of WRs not good enough to start in a fantasy league outscored a lot of starting fantasy TEs.  130 points essentially made a TE an elite TE--that was the top 5--while 27 WRs topped 130*).

This advice may not be valid for a dynasty league.  Depending on the size of your roster, having multiple potential star QBs or star TEs might be useful for the long-term.

I think the argument doesn't change in a PPR league, though.

*I'm using a Yahoo! fantasy league page for these stats.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

National Friday League: Fantasy Summer (1): "Value" only means "Diversifying Risk"

In auction drafts, I have typically been a targeter of players I prefer, and then a builder of a "Stars and Scrubs" roster. I spend a lot of time analyzing statistics and information (especially on running backs) and listening to commentary, and then I identify my top targets and am willing to pay for them. Any success I've had in recent auction leagues has been a result of successful, accurate targeting. I've been mostly right for a few years (I identified DeMarco Murray as my top target in 2014, for example, and in 2013 drafted Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy), and if I target the right players, and do some smart (and lucky) things to build a quality roster around the expensive players, things usually go well. Of course, if I'm wrong I've spent a high percentage of my budget on one or two players, and the rest of my roster probably isn't good enough to win. And in some ways, so what! In a league of any size, you can't win the league every year. You just have to give yourself the best chance to compete year after year. Some seasons even the best fantasy managers will perform terribly. If this targeting, "stars and scrubs" strategy gives you a competitive team even more than half the time, it's probably a good one.

But I am changing my strategy. Especially after reading Joseph Stromberg's "The big mistake lots of NFL teams make in the draft, according to economists," at Vox.

Stromberg explains the work of economists Cade Massey and Justin Thaler. Essentially, they argue, teams are foolish to trade up in the draft, because the odds that the first player taken at a position will be better than, say, the second, third, or fourth player taken at his position, are extremely low. Luck plays a huge role in whether a draft pick is going to be good. Therefore it is better to trade down: if a draft pick is essentially a coin flip that you need to turn up heads, the thing to do isn't to get a bigger, shinier coin, but to get more coins. You do this, as Stromberg says, "in order to diversify risk."

Is this relevant to fantasy football, where you draft an entire team each year and can only fill in the available roster spots? It is relevant for an auction strategy when you have to allocate your draft budget, and in any league where preseason--or even early season--trades are possible.

Auction!
In an auction league, you have a fixed budget (say, $200) to fill out a fixed roster (say, 16 players). You can draft a stars and scrubs team, spending 60-80% of your budget on two-three players. But applying the logic of, oh, let's call it "coin flip logic," this isn't a good idea. If you spend that much money on two-three players, you have to be completely confident those players will be superstar producers for the season. And still, the rest of the roster will be full of cheap starters and hope-for-the-best fliers.

But what if instead of spending $150 on two Tier 1 RBs, you can spend $150 on four or five Tier 2 or Tier 3 RBs? That would diversify risk better, right? In any given year, some Tier 1 RBs are going to be massive disappointments, and some Tier 2 or Tier 3 RBs are going to produce at Tier 1 levels (and may be Tier 1 draft picks the next season). Why trust yourself that you know which expensive player to draft, when you could diversify your risk and give yourself more chances at Tier 1 producing RBs? That means not just using late, cheap flier picks on RBs and WRs that you hope emerge as Tier 1 producers. It means using your draft resources for more mid-range players that you think have the chance to be Tier 1 producers.

It's worth splitting all draftable fantasy players into two categories: Useful and Barely Useful. Players in the Useful category include anybody who could be a viable, productive starter for you: elite players, mid-tier players, whatever. The Barely Useful players are the desperation starters (players who aren't really good but you might need for a week or two in a pinch), fliers (players who could have a high possibility of doing nothing, but some possibility of being useful starters), and handcuffs (NFL backups). If you spend most of your draft resources on just a few players, you are going to have to fill your roster up with players in the Barely Useful category. If you diversity risk, that means you're spreading your money around to more players, and you'll probably be able to draft more players in the Useful category. That's how coin flip logic translates to a fantasy roster: you're going to have, say, 10-12 RBs and WRs on your roster. You can either draft a few elites and fill out your RBs and WRs with lesser starters and some Barely Useful players, or you can spread it around and end up with five or more quality RBs and WRs, and maybe more Useful players. In that sense, even though everybody has the same size roster, you end up with "more" players (another way to ensure you have theoretically more players than others in your league is to only draft one QB and one TE--but that's for another day).

Trade!
OK, that's well and good, but what about snake draft leagues? Unless you are allowed to trade picks pre-draft, this isn't useful: you get one first-round pick, one second-round pick, etc., and have to hope for the best.

True: but what you can do post-draft is trade players. And if we use coin-flip logic, you might be better off trading an elite player for multiple mid-tier players. You don't know before the season if the Tier 1 RB you drafted will be a Tier 1 performer, so trading him for, say, a Tier 2 and a Tier 3 RB plus a Tier 3 WR might have its benefits. In this way you can diversify risk, and if you trade players before the season begins, you are essentially trading down (you might trade a first round pick for a second and a fifth round pick, for example). During the season, I'd be hesitant to make a trade where I'm giving up the best player in the trade. But before the season, it's not always as clear who will really be the best players. A "trade down" trade in the offseason might make sense.

But..
Now, applying NFL draft analysis to fantasy draft analysis has its flaws.

For one thing, fantasy draft prospects have played in the NFL and built their resume. Whether a college player will develop into a quality NFL starter is a much bigger crapshoot than whether a player we've already seen produce at the NFL level can continue to produce (or improve his production) at the NFL level. You may be guessing whether a college player can become a quality NFL player. Once a player has played in the NFL, you have real data and scouting on him--it's no longer just a coin flip, or even slightly better than a coin flip.

Furthermore, to give yourself the best chance to win, it might be worth it to chase superstar performers. Again, you can't win your fantasy league every year, and you're not building a long-term roster. If every few years you get lucky and acquire--through draft and trade--a bunch of superstar performers, you probably have a better chance to win. In, say, a 10 team league, a superstar's value over the average player at his position, or the value over replacement level at his position, may be so big that you should try to stock up on as many superstars as you can and hope for the best. In fantasy football, you're not trying to build an all-around roster: you're trying to shoot the moon every hand, and hoping to get all 26 points every once in a while.

But I think this strategy is good for at least the most crapshooty of fantasy positions: running backs. Wide receiver is a fairly reliable position: sticking with your superstar WR probably means you're getting superstar production. But given the various things that make RB a riskier position, why not diversify? Use your budget assets to acquire multiple potential Tier 1 performers, rather than one player you think has a higher potential to be a Tier 1 performer.

I've been contemptuous of fantasy discussion about "value." A player who is a "good value" at the round where you draft him might still not be a player you want to be a starter on your team. That's why one of my fundamental fantasy rules is "you should chase elite producers, not 'value.'" But diversifying risk is a way to chase elite producers: you're chasing multiple players hoping that gives you better odds of hitting on an elite producer.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

National Friday League: Defense!

The 2016 Viking Defense will be a force to behold.
Let us make one assumption that is not obviously true: rookie defenders will struggle. Rookie cornerbacks can get exploited (and still develop into great players), and other rookies may struggle to get into the rotation. And let's make another assumption that is mostly true: the Vikings can retain whichever players they have that they want to retain. With these assumptions in place, I'm ready to predict that when the Vikes move into Xanadu, they'll be taking a dominant NFL defense with them.

In 2016 the Vikings' best defenders should be near the peaks of their careers: Harrison Smith will be 27, Anthony Barr 24, Everson Griffen 28, and Xavier Rhodes 26.  Sharrif Floyd will be 25 and Linval Joseph 27: they should be massive contributors in the middle of the line. And by 2016, what should the Vikings' first three draft picks be doing on the defense? Trae Waynes will need to be establishing himself as a starting cornerback, Eric Kendricks will probably already be established as a full-time starting linebacker, and Danielle Hunter will be working his way into the defensive line rotation (perhaps replacing Brian Robison?) after (I suspect) playing sparingly as a rookie. And coaching this team will be Mike Zimmer.

How many Pro Bowlers will be on the 2016 Viking defense? How will they stack up against the run and pass when they have to play the likes of the Packers, or the Seahawks? Your crazy optimistic guess is as good as mine (or better!). But this team is being built to be competitive the moment they move into their new stadium: if they're competitive before that, all the better, but I suspect 2016 is a big part of the Vikes' plan. And that plan is defense.

The Vikings still have issues at offensive line, which they did try to address in the later rounds of the draft, which is good (T.J. Clemmings will probably be starting in a year or two, either because he's good or the rest of the line is just worse). And I'm not going to hazard to guess who will either be taking handoffs or catching passes in 2016. But the defense is going make the team compete, and they'll be a pleasure for those of us Viking fans who want to see a defense play strong, fundamental football and require opponents to earn their way down the field.

Until 2016, enjoy the team, watch Teddy Bridgewater, hope for the best, and watch Star Wars movies and TV shows.

QB as #1 Overall Pick
From the NFL merger through Peyton Manning, when a QB was taken with the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, it was reliable that the player would be a productive NFL QB at some point. That wasn't true before the merger, though, and it hasn't been true since Manning.

#1 Pick QBs, NFL, AFL, AAFC
#1 Pick QBs, NFL

From 1970 to 1998, nine QBs were taken with the #1 overall pick. Not all of them were very successful with the team that drafted them (Jim Plunkett, Vinny Testaverde, Jeff George), but six of them started in Super Bowls (Terry Bradshaw, Jim Plunkett, John Elway, Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Peyton Manning--for a total of 18 Super Bowl starts), five of them won Super Bowls as starters, and four won multiple Super Bowls as starters (for a total of 12 Super Bowl wins). Two of the three who didn't make it to the Super Bowl--Vinny Testaverde and Steve Bartkowski--each made two Pro Bowls. The other is Jeff George, who is admittedly a disappointment, but had statistically good seasons with the Falcons, Raiders, and Vikings. Of course of those nine players, only six (Bradshaw, Bartkowski--who did not have an exemplary career but did actually lead the league in TD passes, passer rating, and completion percentage in separate seasons--, Elway--drafted by the Colts, but was with the Broncos from his rookie season--, Aikman, Bledsoe, and Manning) actually gave good production to the teams that drafted them. The teams that used the #1 pick on Plunkett, Testaverde, and George were probably not pleased, but the point is in the right circumstances these players did eventually produce, at least for a short period of time.

And in a shorter time period, from 1999 to 2015, more QBs have been taken #1 overall (12). Since '99 there are some total flameout busts at #1 (Tim Couch, David Carr, JaMarcus Russell), some OK QBs (Alex Smith, and the player I suspect is the next Alex Smith, Sam Bradford), some QBs who have been good at least for some stretches but who have had up and down careers (Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, and we may add Matthew Stafford to this list at some point). More recently there have been a couple who appear to be all-time talents (Cam Newton and Andrew Luck). And of these #1 overall QBs, the only one to start a Super Bowl is Eli Manning (who started and won two), though his career has also been fairly up and down.

What gives? Why have 16 years of #1 overall picks given us some legendary busts and only two Super Bowl starts?

First, some desperate teams are reaching on QBs who aren't really worthy of the #1 overall pick. With more teams, and more realistic shots at quick turnarounds, teams are looking to fill the position most likely to transform a franchise, even if they're filling it with a player incapable of transforming the franchise. And some of these QBs were drafted by very poorly run franchises, and/or were rushed into the starting job, and/or were forced to develop in terrible situations, and/or were impatiently put aside early. On a better team, with better coaching, maybe Couch or Carr could have at least had Bartkowski level success.

But it's also worth noting that 10 Super Bowls have been won with a draft pick from 1999 or later starting for the winner. It's just that those QBs--Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, and Russell Wilson--were taken later in the draft. So teams are still and always pretty lousy at actually evaluating talent at what is the most important position in the game. Several of these players already are or are well on their way to being all-time greats, but NFL teams weren't apparently keen on giving them opportunities. In the post popular sports league in America, in a league where coaches are legendary for the hours they put in, and it would seem no proverbial stone is unturned to scout and vet prospects, NFL teams passed on Tom Brady for five rounds, Drew Brees for a round, Aaron Rodgers for most of the first round, and Russell Wilson for two rounds. So there's that.

Hey: I have no grand conclusions here! As I took out the garbage I started thinking about the time I wanted the Vikes to sign former #1 pick David Carr because I thought a former #1 pick would have a chance to turn his career around in the right circumstances. That's wrong, now anyway (though it may have been right 35 years ago, Jim Plunkett). So I wanted to look at what's been going on with #1 overall QBs.  Now I know.

The Vikes, by the way, have only had the #1 pick twice, the last time in 1968 when they took HOFer Ron Yary.

Fantasy Box
Now I've got to figure out what to do with this when planning a Dynasty PPR draft. Any numbers I can analyze? Not really (I don't trust college numbers to translate to NFL numbers). Any opinions drawn from experience watching the players? No: I spend my autumn Saturdays living life as fully as I can to feel less bad about watching 10 hours of football on Sundays (by the way, do any of you find it disturbing just how much fun and productivity is possible on a long offseason Sunday afternoon with no football?).

So what, now I just have to read what fantasy writers say about the players, and I can't weigh any of their assessments against my own knowledge? If an expert on a podcast says some rookie RB is going to be good, I just have to, sort of, consider that on its own? Is this how casual fantasy football enthusiasts feel, just looking at what the magazine experts have to say? It's awful!

Kick Ass Links
Three Vikings (MyCole Pruitt, T.J. Clemmings, Eric Kendricks) make Bill Barnwell's NFL Draft All-Value Team (Grantland).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Vikings blogging during the offseason

It's early May, and with it comes not just May flowers but my annual dilemma as an amateur Minnesota Vikings blogger.

On Wednesday, ESPN's dedicated (and not amateur) Vikings blogger, Ben Goessling posted about Bud Grant joining Twitter.

This was the big news concerning the Vikings today.

Anyway, Goessling's post just drove home the problem I have every year around this time with this blog. The draft is over. The Vikings have pretty much procured every human being they are going to bring to training camp in late July. Other than signing their draft picks and some unforeseen event occurring, there's not going to be a lot to write about.

So, I'm turning to you, dear readers. What blog posts do you think I should pursue this month? I'll be thinking up my own ideas, but in times like these it always help to get outside input. Consider yourself to be Kick Ass Blog's editorial advisory board for the next little while. Fell free to write down your suggestions in the comments section below, and I'll take them into consideration.

I also want to warn you that May will probably be the last month where regular posts will be up on this site once summer arrives. I can't speak for Pacifist Viking, but June and July is even more of a dead zone for Vikings news than May. Also, because June and July are when it starts getting warm and sunny where I live, I don't want to be writing about the fucking Vikings anyway (and I'll be busy playing baseball and going to the beach.) So, expect posts to be sporadic during the June/July time period. Once August hits and the Vikings are playing exhibition games, we'll be back to full speed around here.

But I digress. If you've got any blog post ideas, float them my way.

Monday, May 4, 2015

A very rube-centric look at the Minnesota Vikings 2015 draft

After every draft, we read or hear from the Mel Kiper's of the world as they grade the drafts of all the NFL teams.

And while it's interesting to find out what anointed experts think about this stuff, I often wonder what the diehards think about the draft.

With that in mind, I decided to reach out to a few people I follow and converse with on Twitter and Facebook to get a feel for how happy (or not) Vikings rubes were with the 10 draft picks the team selected last week. What follows are the opinions of 6 extremely knowledgeable and rabid Vikes fans regarding Minnesota's haul in the 2015 NFL draft.

(Note: I apologize for the amateurish font type and size changes in this post. I copied and pasted these responses from emails, and somehow the site formatted those responses differently, which I can't seem to fix. Hopefully, that doesn't spoil the reading experience for you.)

1. Andy Carlson (Lives in Rochester, Minnesota. Creator of the Purple For The Win podcasts, contributor at Vikings Territory, and all-around good guy)

 "I was on the “Marcus Peters-over-Waynes” camp because I thought the former was a bit more physical. But I trust Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer's defensive back assessment much more than my own.  I think the T.J. Clemmings pick could be a home run. As long as the foot is okay, getting an eventually starting tackle in the 4th round is a steal and one of the hallmarks of a great general manager. I really liked running back Zach Zenner out of South Dakota State. I thought we would have the inside track on him since he's #OneOfUs, but we were outbid by Detroit. It wasn't what people would call a “sexy draft”, but I love the stockpiling of talent on the offensive line and in the defensive front seven. Not really much I didn't like. I would have been perfectly fine if Spielman did trade Adrian Peterson for the right price, but it doesn't seem like the right offer was on the table." 

2. Sally Haag (Lives in Minneapolis. Occasional guest blogger at KAB and general Twitter rabble rouser)

"I actually wasn't disappointed [Adrian Peterson wasn't traded] at all, as I never believed it was actually a possibility. It's pretty rare that a blockbuster trade like that comes on draft night. I felt that any team who was willing to give up what the Vikings felt Peterson was worth, would have done it weeks ago. 

I was indifferent with the Trae Waynes pick initially. I fully expected Speilman to trade back in the first round to accumulate more picks, until I heard him say that he would love to move back two days before. I had heard a lot of mixed reviews on Waynes, that he didn't like contact and tackling wasn't really his thing. I also really don't trust Spielman when it comes to evaluating cornerback talent. The Chris Cook pick may haunt me forever. That, combined with picking Josh Robinson at 5'9" in the third round to cover Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, has left a bad taste in my mouth. However, that was before Mike Zimmer's reign began and ever since he took over, Xavier Rhodes has transformed from an invisible man to being on track to establish his very own "Rhodes Island" one day. I fully trust Zimmer's ability to evaluate talent, and to coach up talent where it may be lacking, which is why I have jumped on board with the pick. When's the last time a Vikings secondary had so much potential?! It's so exciting. 

I would say I'm most excited about the Eric Kendicks selection. I like that he was teammates/college roommates with Anthony Barr. The idea of having the two of them working together for at least the next several years is fun. I really am looking forward to seeing how that camaraderie translates to the football field in the pros. Obviously Zimmer is pretty familiar with how things are run over in UCLA, and like I said, I trust his judgement. I'm hoping this means no Michael Mauti sightings in 2015. 

I was pretty surprised and a little disappointed that they waited until the 4th round to address the offensive line, or offense at all. I feel that in order for Teddy Bridgewater to stay healthy, the offensive line needs to improve drastically. I was hoping that the Vikings would find a solid guy that could fill a big role for years to come. If Teddy doesn't have more time in the pocket, going deep to Mike Wallace isn't going to be much of an option. Spielman's draft history in the later rounds ain't the greatest (what happened to David Yankey?), but clearly that was the strategy as he picked up three offensive linemen in later rounds. It seems that 4th round pick T.J. Clemmings is still new to the position, but let's hope he's a fast learner. Shaun Hill is no Matt Cassel, after all....  

Although it was a little anticlimactic, I'm pretty satisfied with the defensive gains in the draft. I'm not sure what to make of the tight end selection as I've read that the guy isn't consistent when it comes to production, or effort, and the Vikings already have one of those guys on their offensive roster. It never hurts to have another slot guy on the roster as Jarius Wright will potentially be a free agent after this year and Mike Wallace and Charles Johnson should be able to handle the deep stuff. I knew the Adrian trade wasn't gonna happen, but I was holding out a glimmer of hope that Cordarrelle Patterson could be swapped for a fifth rounder. :)"

3. Eric Bakker (Co-creator of the excellent Vikings Fanalysts Facebook page)  


"I like keeping Peterson for another year, and I think it works good for him as well after sitting out a year. It's a chance to prove himself again. Then trade him in 2016 if he still wants to go. Trae Waynes may well be a great player, but he was not my first choice. I felt impact guys would have been a better avenue - even if we had traded down a few picks. Eric Kendricks is a perfect fit and fills a void. Clemmings is a top talent and may well start immediately. I love the depth they acquired at offensive line.

I'm disappointed we do not have a great possession wide receiver and I hoped somehow we could nab a large-bodied guy like Dorial Green-Beckham. I feel Zimmer was all over this draft, and in my mind it feels like Spielman had little to do with the first pick. Listen to him at the press conference - it appeared he was pretty much directed to take Waynes. Overall, it really was a strong draft. With the exception of the B.J. Dubose pick, I liked all the choices."

4. Judd Zulgad's Hoodie (Lives in Ohio. One of Twitter's most passionate and knowledgeable Viking and Ohio State fans)

"I was one of those who was not happy with the Waynes selection. Waynes is very grabby and his run defense is horrible. Michigan State played against only three pass-happy teams this year and they were lit up for 137 points! Wayne struggled on pass defense vs. Oregon and Baylor and his run defense was abysmal against Ohio State. I thought the Vikings could have traded down (Philadelphia offered the 20th pick with other picks in this draft) and selected Byron Jones, who is a much better run defender and has excellent pass defense skills.   

Just like last year the Vikings hit a home run with their second selection in Kendricks. They finally have their inside linebacker for years to come. He's got amazing instincts, plays pass defense well and is a hell of a tackler. He won't be asked to blitz much since that will be left to Anthony Barr. I'm also excited about Danielle Hunter, who Zimmer will toy with to make him into a solid defensive end.

I really liked Dezmin Lewis from Central Arkansas. I beat the drum two years ago for Charles Johnson in the draft and he is turning out to be the real deal. I think Lewis will be too. He's a tall WR with great hands and good route running. He's able to reach up to the highest point and grab the ball. While he doesn't get great separation from defenders, he will make the catch. Let's hope Buffalo cuts him and we come to our senses and sign him. Overall, we had a great draft. Outside of the Waynes selection I can't complain. And Zimmer is the defensive back guru, so he feels he can fix whatever issues Waynes has. This defense will be in the top 10 as long as Zimmer is here with the young core talent."

5. Christina Merritt (Lives in Minneapolis. Lover of Ben Leber and a women with strong opinions about the Vikings, and just about everything else.)

"Honestly, I'm an NFL girl. I don't follow college football too much, so I don't have a clear opinion on [Trae Waynes.] However, I completely approve of the position they drafted and I have complete faith in Mike Zimmer when it comes to any defensive back. I liked the Kendricks pick and I'm excited to see him and Anthony Barr back together. 

I thought it would have been cool to take [University of Minnesota running back] David Cobb, just from a hometown standpoint. Outside of that, I'm not missing anyone in particular. It seems like a pretty strong draft overall. I have no real complaints. I didn't like that the draft as a whole was one of the most boring ones I've ever watched. It would've been cool to see Spielman take multiple first-rounders again, but that's just from a selfish standpoint. I'm completely neutral on trading Peterson. If Spielman could have worked something out to trade Adrian for a sweet package, I would've been all for it. But, personal issues aside, having him on the field in 2015 won't be too shabby, either."

6. Christophe: ( Lives in Austin (Texas?), Vikings fan since 1980, and a man who enjoys a good debate on Twitter.)

"Just like with Anthony Barr last year, I initially questioned the Waynes pick because I thought it was too high. But again, it's obvious the Vikings didn't feel any trade offers were worth it to try to get him later or you know Rick Spielman would've pulled the trigger. And if Waynes, who fills a major, major need in the loaded NFC North, can immediately contribute the way Barr did, we should all be happy. Mike Zimmer has earned my trust that he will make Waynes a star sooner than later, if not immediately. I am also definitely most excited about the Eric Kendricks pick because I think he can start right away. The Vikings have not had a reliable middle linebacker since E.J. Henderson, and it took him a while to become reliable. I'm also a believer in team chemistry. I don't think you could ask for a better potential pairing in Barr and Kendricks, who have been great friends for years.

I can't say I was desperately wanting them to take any player they were in a position to select but I did want them to take DeVante Parker. I think he could have immediately become Teddy's go-to guy. But I understand that the pick would essentially signal giving up on Cordarrelle Patterson. If they keep five receivers next year, they'll have Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Jarius Wright, Patterson, and Adam Thielen (special teams star as well) locked in so Parker would probably have taken an additional roster spot they can't afford to give up right now. This way, Patterson gets one more chance and if he fails they will have to acquire a receiver(s) in free agency next year or very early in the draft.

Overall I was happy with the way the Vikings drafted. They addressed major needs early at CB and LB, and took an appropriate risk in the 3rd round with Danielle Hunter (if Brian Robison falters and Scott Crichton busts, left defensive end is another major need). Many fans bemoaned the 3rd round pick of a stud athlete in Jerick McKinnon last year. He's turned out to be pretty good so far. I liked the strategy of taking the offensive linemen later on and not forcing a pick. I was thrilled with the 4th round selection of T.J. Clemmings considering he may have first round talent if his foot isn't a real issue. The only things I didn't like were things the Vikings probably couldn't control - the failure to trade down in the first round to get Waynes later while picking up perhaps another 3rd or 4th round selection, and the weak safety class that will now force them to choose a starter from Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo, Taylor Mays, and Antone Exum.

Also, I just don't think any team offered what the Vikings wanted for Peterson. I'm glad they didn't take less for him because I do think he can greatly aide in Teddy Bridgewater's development. I would have loved to have moved on from him because of what he did and how he's acted ever since. But you just can't take a paltry return in a trade for a player of his caliber. And we can't rule out him being an absolute monster on the field just because he's 30 years old. The doubt reminds me of what people said when he returned from the ACL injury. If people really think he's not going to put his heart into playing because he's upset with the Vikings they are smoking something and inhaling it. I think he'll play hard for his pride and teammates if nothing else. And he'll run ferociously - the only way he knows how."

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Vikings 2015 draft - a quick synopsis

It's been several hours since the Vikings concluded their 2015 draft, and as other outlets will be busy grading Minnesota's selections, I figured I'd post a little something to wrap things up as well.

We know there were several areas where the Vikings needed to get better heading into the draft, did they address most of those needs with the 10 players they selected?

Overall, I'd say they addressed the following roster holes to my satisfaction in varying degrees:

Linebacker: The Vikes needed a middle linebacker and getting Eric Kendricks should solve that problem. I don't know many Vikings fans or draft analysts who didn't love this pick (I certainly did), especially where they got him in the draft. As for Edmond Robinson, I have no idea what he will become, but he can run and the Vikings value that skill in their linebackers.

Offensive line: T.J. Clemmings is the key here. He could be your starting left guard in 2015 with an opportunity to be the starting left tackle in 2016 if Matt Kalil sucks hard again. Getting him in the 4th round - no matter how he turns out - was a great move. As for the selections of Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shephard, they provide competition along the O-line if nothing else.

Cornerback: I've already written about what Trae Waynes could mean to this team's pass defense, so no need to rehash that here.

Wide receiver: I would have preferred the Vikings addressed this need earlier than they did, but I like what I've heard about Stefon Diggs. He sounds like he could be kind of a Randall Cobb type player, and to get this kind of talent in the 5th round is nice work by general manager Rick Spielman. 

Running back: But, but ... the Vikings didn't draft a running back! True, but they also didn't trade Adrian Peterson. Even at 30, Peterson can do things few other running backs can do. Keeping him around means the running back position is in good shape for 2015. Having Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata as the backups behind Peterson works for me, and the Vikes can cross the running back bridge in the 2016 draft if they so choose. No need to do it now with Peterson in the fold.

As for needs the Vikings didn't address to my satisfaction, defensive end comes to mind. They selected one guy (Danielle Hunter) pretty high who is an athletic freak but didn't have very impressive sack numbers in college, and another guy (B.J. Dubose), who as far as I can tell should consider himself thankful he got drafted at all. The Vikings must love how Scott Crichton is developing this offseason.

I would have also liked the Vikes to have selected a development QB in the late rounds, but that wasn't a huge priority in my mind. I also didn't care that Spielman didn't select a strong safety to push Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo and Antone Exum. There's enough depth and decent talent that it wasn't as big a need as other positions the Vikings addressed.

I'm also a fan of Spielman's practice of accumulating multiple picks at the back end of the draft. We know these selections are long shots, but the odds of hitting on a Shamar Stephen are better if you have two or three picks in the 6th or 7th rounds than if you only have one.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Trae Waynes pick caps a boring first day of NFL draft for Vikings

Rick Spielman has spoiled us.

With all his wheeling and dealing and collecting multiple first round picks since the 2012 draft, Viking fans have come to expect a certain level of excitement during the first day of the draft.

So, for Spielman to just pick one guy - cornerback Trae Waynes, on Thursday night, well ... (proceeds to yawn.)

As I wrote in this "Get To Know 'Em" post on Waynes on April Fool's Day, the Michigan State cornerback is not without his charms. But he also has this Baylor game on his 2014 resume where Baylor went out of its way to attack him, and it worked. If Waynes had trouble with Baylor's receivers, how is he going to handle covering guys like Calvin Johnson, Jordy Nelson and Alshon Jeffrey in the NFL? (The answer is he probably won't be covering those guys. That will be Xavier Rhodes' job.)

The general reaction I saw on social media last night from draft experts and Vikings rubes was that Spielman could have done better at the #11 draft slot than selecting Waynes. But remember how many times you yelled at the TV during the past two decades as opposing QBs completed passes at will against the Vikings secondary and receivers looked like they were being covered by air? Those days appear to be a thing of the past. The Vikings are building a deep and talented cornerback group to win the NFL's arms race.

Rhodes has the look of a perennial All-Pro. Josh Robinson isn't a superstar, but he played pretty well in 2014 and has lots of talent. Captain Munnerlyn didn't have a good year last season, but he's played well in the past in Carolina. Terence Newman is ancient by NFL standards, but head coach Mike Zimmer still thinks he has game, and I'll defer to Zimmer's judgment on this matter. Even Jabari Price showed some promise as a rookie last season. And don't forget Marcus Sherels can do more than return punts if pressed into cornerback duty. Adding Waynes to the mix arms the Vikings with all kinds of cornerback options in a pass-happy league. That's seven guys that don't immediately bring back memories of Asher Allen, Wasswa Serwanga and Chris Cook. I can't say I disagree with the logic of the Waynes pick. We'll find out in a year or two if the Vikings would have been better served selecting Marcus Peters or Kevin Johnson instead.
   
The flip side to Spielman not making any trades last night is you will have to pay attention to day two of the NFL draft for the first time since 2011. That was the last time the Vikes had a second round pick Spielman didn't trade away. There are still some very good players available (the Vikings currently have the 45th pick, which means they pick 13th overall in the second round) that would fill a few roster needs for the Vikings - pass rusher/pothead Randy Gregory,  WRs Jaelen Strong and Dorial Green-Beckham, linebacker Eric Kendricks and strong safety Landon Collins - to name just a few. And maybe Spielman will give you your trading fix in round two by making a deal by trading up or down or whatever.

And lookit - this guy is still around!