Sunday, May 1, 2016

Immediate impact of Vikings 2016 draftees will likely differ from that of the 2015 class

The first thing Vikings fans need to realize is the team is unlikely to get the same kind of immediate returns from its 2016 draft class that it got from the 2015 draftees.

The 2015 draft yielded a starting middle linebacker (Eric Kendricks), a starting right tackle (T.J. Clemmings), a starting wide receiver (Stefon Diggs), a defensive end who was playing 30-40 snaps by the end of the year (Danielle Hunter) and a tight end who saw significant playing time in the Vikes oft-used three-tight end sets (MyCole Pruitt).

By comparison, the 2016 draft has only one player - Laquon Treadwell - who at first glance appears to be set to play a significant role for the team. The Vikings traded away its third-round selection and even second rounder Mackensie Alexander will have a hard time playing much for a deep cornerback unit that includes Xavier Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, Trae Waynes and even Jabari Price and Marcus Sherels - if that unit remains relatively healthy this season (although expecting any unit in the NFL to remain relatively healthy is always an uncertain thing.)

It's been mentioned elsewhere, but Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer obviously feel pretty good about where the roster is at based on what was done during the draft. The team took a lot of guys who will need time and coaching to become productive NFL players. And the Vikings roster is now deep and talented enough to give them that time.

If you're coming off a 3-13 season - like the Vikings were in 2011 - you can't afford to draft a player in the second round like Alexander who is a great value at that draft slot but won't help you much right away because he's buried at the bottom of a positional depth chart. However, coming off an 11-5 season with pretty much every significant player on that team returning, you can. It's a sign that the Vikings coaches and management believe they have a strong foundation to compete for the playoffs again and have very few roster holes.

But just because Willie Beavers and Kentrell Brothers won't be factors in 2016, doesn't mean we shouldn't pay close attention to the players picked between rounds four and seven, and even the undrafted free agents the Vikings have signed. The first and second round picks often create the most buzz during the draft, but NFL rosters are made up of more than first and second rounders. In 2015, eight of the Vikings 22 starters (37 per cent) were drafted in the fourth round or later. Some of those eight players weren't drafted at all.

Moritz Boehringer might be an ex-soccer player who needs a lot of seasoning. But in three years time, he might be a key player for the Vikings.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Vikings 2016 draft - Laquon Treadwell!

So it is Laquon Treadwell, and as ESPN's Ben Goessling points out, the 'Ole Miss player fills a big need for the Vikings.

This scouting report sums up everything I've read about Treadwell. In short, Treadwell has the size, savvy, competitiveness and the kind of hands that everybody is looking for in a receiver. The issue with Treadwell is the 4:63 40-yard dash time he ran at his pro day. That's slow for an NFL wide receiver, and there are concerns that Treadwell will have trouble "separating" from NFL cornerbacks. It's why he was available at pick #23. If the separation thing is a big problem in the NFL, Treadwell could be a bust along the lines of general manager Rick Spielman's last first round WR selection - Cordarrelle Patterson.

But I've also seen Treadwell compared to Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, former Cowboy Michael Irvin and even New York's Brandon Marshall. If Treadwell turns out to be anything like those three, the Vikings just got themselves a hell of a player at a position where they need a hell of a player - although much like Hopkins, we might not see Treadwell blossom until his second or third year (wide receivers are often like that.) 

I also think Treadwell's skill set seems to match Teddy Bridgewater's skill set, and that's important. I've watched Teddy for two years now and I don't think throwing deep stuff is ever going to be a big part of his game. It's why Mike Wallace was completely useless in 2015. What Bridgewater needs are guys who can get open on shorter and medium routes, who can use their size and toughness to create throwing windows even when teams know what's coming and don't feel Bridgewater can hurt them on deep throws consistently. And they need a guy who can win 50-50 balls in the red zone. Treadwell has the skills to do that. So the pick makes complete sense even if there were some people hoping the Vikings would take UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. I think the microfracture surgery business made Jack too much of a risk in the first round for the Vikes.

So, the Vikings can cross one thing off their draft to-do list - they've added a promising player to a ho-hum group of wide receivers. He's the kind of player who could be a game-changer for the Vikings offense and passing game.

Now let's see if Spielman and the Vikings attack positions like safety, the offensive line and even middle linebacker and defensive tackle on day two of the draft.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Vikings get their 2016 schedule. Can you say "16-0"?

I've got a couple of draft-themed posts I'm working on. But they require a fair bit of research, so it's taking some time to complete them.

So in the interest of keeping this blog somewhat filled with fresh content, I'll dive into the Vikings 2016 regular season schedule, which the NFL released this evening.

We've known who the Vikings opponents were going to be for months now. And the schedule doesn't seem quite as daunting as the 2015 version appeared to be this at time last year. That's mostly because the Vikes get to play the AFC South and the NFC East this year. Those divisions were weak in 2015 and it's expected they will be weak again in 2016.

Because of that, the schedule has no obvious murderous stretch of quality opponents like the final seven games of the 2015 season were supposed to be.

But you know, I've never been big on analyzing the Vikings schedule and trying to predict what the tough games will be and what ones won't be. So much can change in between now and when you play these teams, that what you think is reality now likely won't be reality then.

Remember last year's season opener on the road against San Francisco? (I know you don't want to.) The game seemed almost like a gimme considering all the player retirements, the Aldon Smith thing, and the turmoil over the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh the 49ers had dealt with. Instead the Vikes got throttled by a team that went 5-11. On the flip side, a late season game against the New York Giants looked like a tough home contest to win in August. But by the time Minnesota faced the Giants in late December, the G-Men were free falling, without their best player Odell Beckham Jr., and the Vikes handed them a humiliating spanking on Sunday Night Football.

There are a few things in the NFL that are absolutes when it comes to regular season schedules: 1) Road games at Lambeau and Soldier Field will always be tough no matter what team the Packers and the Bears are running out there because the Vikings don't do easy at Lambeau and Soldier Field, and 2) There are no other absolutes.

When it comes to the Vikings opponents and predicting wins and losses in April, we don't know nuthin'.

So enjoy the draft chatter, and marvel at what a stupid trade the Los Angeles Rams made today. But as far as the Vikings 2016 schedule - don't sweat it. I certainly won't.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Thoughts on Vikings first round draft pick strategies

OH MY GOD! IT'S ONLY 21 DAYS UNTIL THE NFL DRAFT AND I HAVEN'T EVEN DONE ONE "GET TO KNOW 'EM" POST!

(Exhale.)

OK, now that I've got that out of the way. It's time for my first post of April (I promise it won't be the last. What I won't promise is how many more of them there will be.)

Most Vikings fans have settled into full draft mode now that the initial frenzy of free agency is over. And I sense there are a few schools of thought on what general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikes brass should do with the #23 overall pick in the draft.

Here are those schools of thought as I can best interpret them:

1. The team should address it's most glaring weakness (a lack of a big-play wide receiver) and select whomever is still there at #23 among the top-rated WR prospects, which are Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, Josh Doctson, Will Fuller and maybe Michael Thomas. This will give Teddy Bridgewater another weapon at his disposal to juice up a woeful passing game and allow the Vikings offense to be an asset in 2016 instead of the liability it often was in 2015.

2. The team should ignore it's most glaring weakness (a lack of a big-play wide receiver) because none of the aforementioned guys qualifies. Besides, the Vikings passing game will improve because a) Bridgewater is going to improve b) the offensive line will be much improved based on the moves management made this offseason, and c) the WRs on the Vikings roster aren't as bad as we think. Instead, the Vikings should take the best defensive player available at #23, whether it be a pass rushing demon at defensive end, a dynamic mauler at defensive tackle, a heat-seeking missile at safety who falls to them or some linebacker with mad pass rushing skills who can also tackle and cover pass catchers in space. The Vikings defense was pretty good in 2015. But give it another blue chip talent and it could be elite in 2016, which helps the Vikings get to the Super Bowl way more than some underperforming rookie wideout will.

3. Derrick Henry is still available at #23 ... oh shit, what do we do now?

Right now, I'm leaning towards the Vikings doing #2 - go get a defensive guy with the #23 pick even if one of the top WRs is still around - and I think a few of them will be. When I think about it, I see some similarities in where the Vikings are now defensively to where they were offensively in 1997. The 1997 Minnesota Vikings offense was pretty good already. It had Cris Carter and Jake Reed to catch passes, Robert Smith to run the ball. It had an in-his-prime Brad Johnson at quarterback, and a talented offensive line filled with veterans that had played together for a while. That offense would have still been pretty good in 1998. But when the Vikings gambled and drafted Randy Moss that spring - even with Carter and Reed already on the roster - it took that unit to a whole other level and really set the team on the path for a magical season.

The Vikings defense seems to be in a similar place to me heading into 2016. There is a lot of talent there, and a lot of young talent that is still growing and improving. But even though it finished fifth in points allowed (giving up just 18.9 points per game), it showed some weaknesses, mostly in run defense. If a player like Leonard Floyd or Reggie Ragland or Shaq Lawson or Robert Nkemdiche (and I could go on) is there at #23, picking the right defensive player could nudge the Vikings defense into Seattle Seahawks 2013-2015 territory. That kind of defense will terrorize quarterbacks, generate turnovers and force offenses into a lot of drives that don't result in points. And all of that will make life easier for the Vikings offense - giving it better field position and more opportunities to score points.

So, Rick Spielman, on that first draft night, perhaps resist the urge to follow the herd and pick a receiver. Instead go get another defensive weapon that head coach Mike Zimmer can deploy in a way only he can.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Vikings free agency 2016: Retaining your own

Once again, there's been a long pause in between posts at Kick Ass Blog.

And that's probably the way it's going to be until the exhibition season starts - long pauses with short bursts of activity (like during draft weekend).

But I have some time to pen a post today, and I will focus on the Vikings actions regarding their own free agents.

The Vikings had a number of in-house free agents when the signing period started, and I'm struck by how much the ones they re-signed, and didn't, match my own views.

If I had written out a wish list of in-house guys I would've wanted the Vikings to keep, it would have included Audie Cole (great depth at LB with starter potential), Mike Harris (depth guy for the O-line, who played quite well at right guard), Marcus Sherels (sure-handed punt returner who consistently generates positive return yardage), Terence Newman (coach on the field who is still playing at a high level) and Rhett Ellison (glue guy who blocks like a motherfucker.) I could take or leave keeping Matt Asiata and Justin Trattou, but I can see why the Vikings re-signed them on the cheap.

Letting Josh Robinson and Robert Blanton is exactly what I would have done. Robinson would have been the team's fifth (and depending on Jabari Price's development this season) or sixth cornerback. He wouldn't be a happy camper in that role, and he's never put it together in four years with the Vikes, so why invest any more in him? And Blanton is just a guy. He will be easy to replace.

The somewhat pricey extension safety Andrew Sendejo got still surprises me two weeks later. But the Vikings obviously weren't comfortable with their depth there even after signing Michael Griffin, and he's generally been a good special teams player.

Will the Vikes re-sign Chad Greenway? The 33-year-old still wants to come back, but it's taking some time. Do you even want Greenway back?  A lot of Viking fans (me included) didn't think he should be starting heading into 2015, his play had fallen off it seemed. But then the Vikings went 11-5, largely on the back of a strong defense, Greenway became a guy playing only in the base defense and getting minimal snaps some games, and suddenly he wasn't as big a problem. That doesn't mean he played well, however. Pro Football Focus had him ranked as below replacement value last year.

Before free agency started, I thought Greenway coming back for one more season was at about 75-80 per cent. But the longer he stays un-signed, I think it's 40-45 per cent now. I'm OK with that, too.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Minnesota Vikings free agency 2016: Are you not entertained?

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was a busy boy on the first day of free agency.

The priciest move was landing guard Alex Boone. But pay attention to how the Vikings have attacked the team's most obvious weakness - the offensive line - so far. Boone is signed. Phil Loadholt, whose Achilles injury last year makes it unclear if he can perform like he did in the past, is brought back at a vastly reduced annual salary. Mike Harris is also re-signed.

So here is how the depth chart looks right now - you've got John Sullivan and Joe Berger battling for the center job. Boone will start, but I'm not sure if it will be at right guard or left guard. Whatever guard position he takes, then you've got Harris (who quietly had a strong season in 2015) competing with Brandon Fusco (who not-so-quietly had a poor season in 2015) for the other guard spot. At right tackle, Loadholt and T.J. Clemmings will vie for the job. Unless the Vikings also sign Cincy's Andre Smith, then I'm not sure what happens. Left tackle Matt Kalil and his $11 million-per-year salary seems like the only starter that won't be pushed.

Anyway, the point is a lot of Vikings offensive lineman are going to have to sing for their supper in 2016. There's nothing like a lot of competition to bring out the best in everybody.

I don't know what to think about the signing of safety Michael Griffin. He's not George Iloka, Tashaun Gipson or even Reggie Nelson. He's signed for about roughly the same money as cornerback Terence Newman got last year. He provides competition for Andrew Sendejo at strong safety if nothing else, and if anybody can revive his career, it might be Mike Zimmer and Vikings secondary coach Jerry Gray.

Yesterday I wrote that some of Spielman's best free agent signings of late have been ones that weren't thought to be anything special at the time. So the acquisition of linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is interesting. The past two seasons, the Vikings have drafted two athletic linebackers - Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks - who can run and chase down any back or wide receiver. Lamur is lanky and can run and seems to fit what Zimmer is looking for in his linebackers - freaky athletes. Lamur's the kind of player that could thrive as a situational guy under a defensive whiz like Zimmer - just like Tom Johnson has.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Minnesota Vikings free agency 2016: What they've done so far

We're getting into the teeth of player procurement season, so I feel obligated to post something today.

And this is my first post of March? Fuck, I've been lazy.

Anyway ...

Let's recap what's happened so far.

Andrew Sendejo: Re-signed
Whaaaaaat! But I thought Mike Zimmer said they needed someone more dynamic to play with Harrison Smith. I thought they were going to sign George Iloka or Reggie Nelson or Tashaun Gipson. Or maybe all three. Actually, I don't mind keeping Sendejo. Yeah, he has no idea what's he doing in pass defense and his tackling form can be maddening because he just kind of throws his body at opponents and doesn't, you know, wrap them up with both arms like you're supposed to. But he's always been a good special teams player and he provides depth if the Vikes do sign an Iloka-type and a somewhat plausible Plan B at strong safety if they don't. He didn't cost that much, either.

Kenrick Ellis: Re-signed
This surprises me a bit. It's not that Ellis didn't play OK after the Vikings picked him up in October. But I figured he was a stopgap until Shamar Stephen got healthy for the 2016 season. Does this mean Stephen - who showed some promise as a rookie defensive tackle in 2014 - is on his way out? Oh well, Ellis is a big man who didn't cost much to retain.

Audie Cole: re-signed 
This also surprises me. I figured Cole, who I've always liked when he's had a chance to play (which hasn't been that often), would want to test the market and try to land on a team that would give him a) more money and b) more playing time. Instead, he's back on a one-year deal with the Vikings. This is great news. Cole provides great depth in case the Vikings top linebackers, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, get hurt next season because he can play anywhere. Maybe he even takes the starting job away from Chad Greenway - assuming Greenway comes back. If Greenway doesn't come back, maybe Cole is his replacement. Either way, Darren likey.

Adam Thielen/Carter Bykowski: re-signed
Thielen coming back as a special teams ace and depth at wide receiver pleases me - I love this guy. Bykowski's re-signing might not seem like a big deal, but there was some buzz in training camp that he'd push for playing time in 2015. And then he tore a pectoral muscle during the preseason (didn't everyone) and missed the entire year.


Zach Line: tendered
I thought Line got better as the year went on in his role as a blocking fullback for Adrian Peterson. That he was tendered a contract as a restricted free agent is fine with me.


Phil Loadholt: Takes a paycut
Big Phil, no offense here, but you're 30 and missed the majority of the past two seasons. I like you and the offensive line needs your mauling ways at right tackle. But a potential cap hit of $7.8 million was just to much to bear.


Mike Wallace: Not re-signed
Wallace certainly wasn't coming back at $11 million. But after catching just 39 passes last year for under 500 yards, I'm not sure what kind of pay cut I would have been willing to see Wallace take to return to Minnesota. Adding Wallace last year was a move worth trying. It didn't work out. Time to move on.

Today free agency starts for real, although there are reportedly plenty of deals already in place (like this one.) Yesterday I was seeing Vikings fans on Twitter bitching that the team wasn't wasn't willing to spend what it took to sign prize free agents like Keleche Osemele and Iloka.

But spending big during free agency often doesn't result in the desired return on investment. And two of general manager Rick Spielman's best free agent signings recently have been defensive tackle Tom Johnson and cornerback Terence Newman. In 2014, Johnson was signed to a one-year deal worth $845,000. He played so well as a backup who came in on pass rushing downs that he got a three-year deal worth $7 million in 2015 - still very reasonable money. In two years all Johnson has done with the Vikes is record 12 sacks as a part-time player. Last year, despite being listed as a backup, he played almost 70 per cent of the defensive snaps - more than Shariff Floyd and Linval Joseph (injuries to Floyd and Joseph played a part in that.)

When the Vikings signed Newman to a one-year, $2.25 million contract last offseason, few fans thought it was a big deal. Newman ended up leading the team in interceptions, and I was impressed with his tackling and ball skills. I also think his knowledge of Zimmer's defense and leadership helped the Vikings secondary play as well as it did in 2015. Newman was like an extra coach on the field.

We'd all like to see the Vikings sign a Iloka or a Osemele. But I expect Spielman to be frugal over the next few weeks. So pay close attention to any bargain veteran signings Minnesota makes. They could have a big impact - in a positive way - on the Vikings fortunes in 2016.