Monday, April 30, 2012

Postmortem Discussion: Creating Mismatches


Now, I’m not a huge fan of trading up for Harrison Smith, but I don’t think he would have been an unreasonable choice in the 2nd round. He might not end up as an All-Pro, but he looks like he can be a very good safety and he’s quite good at run support. And once the Vikings made the decision to draft Smith with their second choice, it made sense for them to wait on wide receivers with their third pick. And here’s the thing—I like the potential of the receivers the Vikings drafted. Nor do I think Jarius Wright and Greg Childs are so much worse than the receivers that were drafted in the late 2nd and early 3rd round that it would have justified trading up for Randle/Hill/Jeffery. I’d much rather have Wright, Childs and Josh Robinson than only one of the second round receivers.

I especially like Greg Childs as a high upside play for the same reason that I liked Rueben Randle—he’s fast enough and a good enough route runner to develop into a Sidney Rice clone. Childs won’t be beating guys running a vertical route, but he can work the deep post/corner/fade routes and stretch the field that way. Childs’ time in the forty was as fast as Randle’s. While he will probably never be as explosive as he was before tearing his patella tendon in 2010, he should be more explosive in 2012 than in 2011 as he regains his trust in his knee and as he gets further away from the surgery. And the fact that Childs was even able to get back on the field within a year and have some success bodes well for how much of his pre-injury potential he can achieve.

Another thing that I liked about picking Wright is that he can pair with Harvin to create a lot of mismatches. They’re both so fast that linebackers and some safeties won’t be able to cover them. Additionally, if the Vikings are smart, they’ll move Harvin and Wright in and out of the backfield to try to get them the ball in space with only a linebacker between them and a huge play. A formation with Harvin in the backfield, Wright and Simpson on the outside, and both Randolph and Carlson is almost assuredly going to end up with a mismatch that can be exploited, either because the defense has to single cover Simpson or Wright, or have someone too slow on Harvin or too small on a tight end, or they will be in a formation that makes it easy for the Vikings’ line to create a big hole for Harvin to run through. 

Thinking about that, however, makes me worried about the Vikings’ linebackers again while also helping to justify the Smith pick. Offenses in the NFL are changing and changing rapidly. Those changes are going to require fast linebackers that can cover fast quick running backs like Percy Harvin and Darrin Sproles and safeties that can shoulder the responsibilities of a linebacker in running game. There’s going to be a lot more nickel in the NFL’s future and I’m not sure that the Vikings’ roster has the hybrid linebacker/safeties it needs. It seems that drafting Smith was an attempt to rectify that, although waiting until the 7th round to draft a linebacker makes me worried the Vikings’ weren’t focused enough on their roster’s ability to keep up with the changing roles linebackers have to play.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Postmortem Discussion: What are the weakest roster spots today?

Postmortem 1 from Darren

I definitely second Darren's concern about the Vikings not drafting linebackers. The Vikes have done enough to try shore up their secondary this off-season (in addition to getting Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook back, they signed Zach Bowman and Chris Carr, and drafted Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, and Robert Blanton: that's five new defensive backs on the roster, plus two who were out for significant time last season). I don't know how much more the Vikings could do for the secondary between '11 and '12, and based on what they've done, I no longer consider the secondary the weakest unit on the roster.  As of today, the weakest spot might just be the linebacker corps.  

But if LB isn't the weakest current position, WR might still be, so let's ask some questions about the new WRs.

I like the Vikings' fourth round WR picks of Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs. It seems to me if we could combine those two guys' attributes into one player, we'd a) be playing god b) be very rich and c) get to see a superb WR. The SI scouting report touts Wright's speed and downfield ability, but notes his size pushes him into the slot, and Childs has size but, evidently, the sort of speed and burst that makes for a possession receiver. They join Percy Harvin, whom we've established is a slot-backfield type WR who does his best work running after the catch, Jerome Simpson (who seems to have downfield ability) and a combo platter of inconsistency and mediocrity.  Can you expect slot receivers to do what they do without decent guys on the outside? I feel the Vikings are suddenly loaded at pass catchers from the slot and tight end spots, but who plays productively on the outside?  It seems there's going to be a heavy burden on Simpson to produce as a wideout, because everybody else seems to be an inside and/or underneath player.

Of course, maybe it doesn't matter. There are a lot of good short WRs that produce from the slot well, and changing NFL rules and concussion concerns have given small inside receivers a lot more room to work safely. The Patriots had a great downfield passing attack that consisted mainly of tight ends and legendary slot receiver Wes Welker, so maybe finding that big dynamic WR to split out wide isn't has important as it used to be.

Are you happy with what the Vikings have done at WR so far? Should they have made WR their focus with their 2nd or 3rd round picks?

The Vikings 2012 draft – the postmortem

I love the NFL draft, I really do. It's like Christmas was for me as a child. You've wished for certain things, but you can't be exactly sure what you're going to get. Then after much anticipation, the day(s) arrives and there are these new gifts under the tree, waiting to be unwrapped.

So the Vikings got 10 gifts over three days during the draft. For some light Sunday reading, here are scouting reports on left tackle Matt Kalil (1st round), safety Harrison Smith (1st), cornerbacks Josh Robinson (3rd) and Robert Blanton (5th), wide receivers Jarius Wright (4th) and Greg Childs (4th), tight end Rhett Ellison (4th),  linebacker Audie Cole (7th) and defensive end Trevor Guyton (7th). (I couldn't find a scouting report for sixth-round pick, kicker Blair Walsh. But he's a kicker, so who cares what his vertical was or how he did in the 3-cone drill. Do they even make kickers do a 3-cone drill?)

You will read a lot over the next few days about how grading drafts is a fool's errand because it takes three or four years to truly know how a draft turned out (although after about 10 months, it was clear the Vikings 2005 draft was a stinker). I agree. But I think you can still determine whether a draft made sense and if the logic behind the picks was sound. That is what I will address here.

What I liked about the Vikings draft
* Going into the draft, we knew the Vikings needed a left tackle and they needed to upgrade their two weakest units – secondary and wide receivers.

Drafting Matt Kalil solves the left tackle issue. Worst-case scenario, Kalil turns into a solid starter for a decade or more. Best case scenario, he becomes a Jonathan Ogden-type shut down tackle who makes pass rushing defensive ends look like Erasmus James. They chose three defensive backs, including two guys – Smith and Robinson who could be starting in the season opener. And the club selected two receivers relatively early, with Wright likely to play a significant role as a speedy slot guy and punt returner. And if Childs is fully recovered from a patellar tendon injury, the Vikings get a big red zone threat on the outside for Christian Ponder to play with.

* I liked the picks of Cole and Guyton in the seventh round. Cole can play all three linebacker positions and special teams. Guyton is an interchangeable part. He doesn't sound like he will get many sacks, but he's strong against the run and can play tackle or end. He's kind of like last year's fourth-round pick Christian Ballard – only he was picked where he should have been (unlike Ballard, he probably went a round or two too early.)

* I also like the fact the Vikings acquired fourth-round and sixth-round picks in 2013. General manager Rick Spielman made it clear the team will build through the draft (every team says that). Picking up a couple of extra draft chips for next year is ammunition a rebuilding team like the Vikings needs.

What I didn't like about the Vikings draft
* I wasn't totally enamored with trading back into the first round to get Smith. To give up a second and a fourth-round pick to choose a safety who isn't great running with receivers screams Adam Archuleta to me. But I also understand why the Vikings wanted Smith. He was the draft's second-rated safety behind Mark Barron. And the Vikings safeties were brutal in 2011. They weren't convinced another team wouldn't choose him before their pick came up in the second round. They traded up to get him as a result. He should start right away.

* I think I speak for most Viking fans when I write that I didn't get – at all – the selection of Ellison and Walsh. The fourth-round is pretty early to draft a Jeff Dugan-type H-back, which seems to be Ellison's ceiling.

The same goes for selecting kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round. Yes, that's late in the draft and you're taking some fliers on guys at that stage. But I've never thought using a draft pick on a kicker is a good idea. Many of the great kickers in the NFL were never drafted. One of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, current Vikings kicker, Ryan Longwell, is one example.

There is some speculation that Longwell's six-year stay in Minnesota could be nearing its end now that the Vikings have chosen the Walsh. I wouldn't write Longwell's obituary yet. If Walsh can't beat out Longwell (and I don't think he will), then the Vikings wasted a sixth-round pick.

* One last thing I don't care for in this draft was the lack of attention paid to adding depth to the linebacker position. It sounds like Cole is a nice get in round seven, but he's the only linebacker the Vikings added in this draft (the club has signed two undrafted free agent LBs as I write this). The Vikings' depth at this position is pretty thin. The Vikings better hope Jasper Brinkley can handle the Mike linebacker job and that he, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson can stay healthy throughout 2012. There isn't much behind them.

Can we grade Rick Spielman's performance?
Yes, and I give him a B.

Spielman, who was promoted to general manager this winter, has been in charge of the Vikings draft since 2007. However, this was the first time he had the final call on every pick. Because of that (and because he's the GM of a team that's gone 9-23 the past two seasons), fans were watching closely how he handled the draft.

He was a busy guy. The trade with Cleveland was beautiful work. He created the illusion that Tampa Bay might trade with him. Cleveland bit and Spielman was able to trading down one spot, grab three extra picks and still land Kalil.

As I mentioned above, trading back into the first round to grab Harrison Smith made me cringe a bit. But it's clear now Smith was Spielman's guy all along. They got him and he probably already is the best safety the team has. It's a gamble I can live with.

Landing Robinson in the third round looks like great value. He's not the big, rangy corner Cover Two teams supposedly look for. But sometimes you've got to draft talent rather than drafting for scheme. Robinson is a talent. I think Spielman's work in the first three rounds of this draft was top-notch.

But then there were some questionable picks in rounds four through six. Ellison and Walsh were odd picks for a rebuilding team. Blanton's a question mark, too. A big cornerback with sub-par speed. He sounds like a Mistral Raymond kind of guy, who will be moved to safety.

The seventh-round picks look pretty solid – for seventh-round picks. And Spielman has already started compiling draft picks for 2013, getting a fourth-rounder (where the Vikings have made hay in the past) and a sixth-rounder. We don't know how any of the 10 selections made in this draft will work out. But overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how Spielman ran this draft.

So did the Vikings draft strategy make sense? And was there solid logic behind all 10 selections? I think eight of the 10 picks fit that criteria – with the Ellison and Walsh selections being the head scratchers.

But overall, I approve with what the Vikings did (I'm sure Spielman and the Vikings scouts will be relieved to know that). Now all the 10 draftees have to do is make the team and perform.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Day 2: Looking Forward, Looking Back


Day 2 of the Draft
After so much movement Thursday night, it was a little easier to believe Rick Speilman say that the Vikings weren’t planning on moving back into the second round. And whether or not they tried to trade up, the Vikings ended up standing pat, trusting that one of the cornerbacks or wide receivers they liked would fall all the way to the 63rd pick. And their instincts were correct—they ended up getting a pretty exciting prospect in Josh Robinson, someone who with the right coaching could become a real force at corner in the NFL. Whether he gets that coaching, we’ll see, but you can’t really complain about a draft where the Vikings have managed to upgrade their talent level at left tackle, safety and corner back.

Wide Receivers
One would assume that the Vikings are going to draft a wide receiver with one of their three 4th round picks. Then again, maybe they should wait until the 7th round. Of Football Outsiders’ top fifteen receivers last year by DYAR, ten were taken in the first three rounds and five were drafted in the last round or went undrafted. Then again, Brandon Marshall, the 16th best receiver by DYAR was drafted in the 4th round, so maybe that’s just an arbitrary endpoint (and considering 4th rounder Brandon Lloyd ranked 2nd in DYAR last year, I’d say it’s an arbitrary endpoint.)

Possible Targets
If you’re looking for some ideas of who might be a good pick for the Vikings, Wes Bunting of the National Football Post and Mocking theDraft have some ideas for you (and check out Darren's interview with Bunting from Friday). Personally, I think the Purple should draft a punter—the top three guys are still available! I'll have more valuable insights like that on Twitter today-can't get it anywhere else.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Josh Robinson

Josh Robinson!  Once again, TBird41 has already written a detailed profile of the newest Minnesota Viking.

The NFL draft - NFP's Wes Bunting chats about potential Vikings draft targets for day two and three


We know what the Minnesota Vikings did Thursday night during the first round of the NFL college draft. However, there are still two days to go in this meat market and Minnesota has 10 more picks to use to select players. These picks won't have the sizzle that a Matt Kalil selection will have, but each pick is important in its own way because the Vikings need to get better across the board.

To get a sense of the kind of players the club might target in rounds two through seven (and yes, I realize the Vikings traded away their second-round pick to select safety Harrison Smith last night. But they also might trade back into the second round), I got the National Football Post's college scouting director Wes Bunting on the horn last week.

Bunting was kind enough to give me his thoughts on whom the Vikings might target at their most needy positions (cornerback, wide receiver, safety, linebacker, running back and defensive tackle) at different points in the draft.

What follows are those names and some opinions from Bunting. This is just to get you primed for the Friday and Saturday portions of the draft.

Take it away, Wes ....  

Wide Receiver

"In the second round I can see someone like Brian Quick from Appalachian State. He's a big, strong guy who can go up and get the football. Also maybe a Mohamed Sanu [Rutgers] early or an Alshon Jeffrey [South Carolina].

In the later rounds, like the third or fourth, a slot guy like Fresno State's Devon Wylie or Jarius Wright from Arkansas, plus Joe Adams [also Arkansas], who is a vertical threat.  

In the fourth-fifth round, you could get a guy like Juron Criner from Arizona who can run all the routes, but isn't a great speed guy. He is more of a possession player. Greg Childs from Arkansas could really help them out as well."

Safety

Harrison Smith, although that [second round] is probably a bit early for him to be honest, but he could be in play there. (Note: Indeed, the Vikings traded up to get him late in the first round). George Iloka from Boise State is probably the other best second and third-round option.

"In this safety class I like those fourth and fifth-rounders more. Kelcie McCray from Arkansas State and Christian Thompson from South Carolina State are two interesting guys. But that kind of maxes out the safety class. "

Linebacker

"If they want to look in the third round for a linebacker the kid from North Carolina, Zach Brown, can really run.
 
I think Audie Cole of North Carolina State would be in the fourth or fifth-round stage. He would be more the strongside player in a 4-3 defense. He's an interesting player. His teammate, Terrell Manning, is more of a weakside player and can run. Sean Spence from Miami, I think he'll be in the fourth-round range. But as a fit for a pure Cover Two type player, I like both Cole and Manning as fourth or fifth-round options. They would be the best." 

Cornerback

"In the second or third round, maybe Jayron Hosley from Virgina Tech. In the third and fourth round, I would say Coryell Judie from Texas A&M could certainly fit that mold. In the fourth or fifth round, Shaun Prater from Iowa. These guys all have good ball skills. They can turn and run and they find the football well.

Some more of the project-type players would be a guy like Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina. He's a guy I really like. He would be an ideal "click-and-close" player and someone who has some man skills. I think he'll be right in that second/third-round range."

Alfonzo Dennard could be a nice Cover Two player. He played mostly press coverage at Nebraska, but with his physical skill set I think he can play both inside and out. It's a really deep cornerback crop.

Some later round guys are Desmond Marrow from Toledo. He is really interesting. He's 6'2. He's played safety, he's played linebacker, he's played corner there. I can see him being one of those big, physical corners."

Running Back

LaMichael James from Oregon is someone you can look at as probably a third-round player, maybe slipping to the fourth round. The kid from Cincinnati, Isaiah Pead, is another guy that falls into that range.

Chris Rainey from Florida is a guy who has got great speed. You can play him as a third-down back. You can play him in the slot. He can get vertical and has elite speed. I think he would be one of those third-down, mismatch backs."

Defensive Tackle 

"Maybe Josh Chapman from Alabama. He's got medical concerns. I think he's a second-round caliber player, but the injury concerns could cause him to fall to the fourth, fifth or sixth-round range. He would be an ideal 4-3 nose tackle and I think he can anchor a 3-4 defense.

Some other big under (tackles) are Damon Harrison from William Penn. He's a small school player. Hebron Fangupo from BYU is another 6'2, 340-pound kid who is tough to move. Those are two of my favorite smaller school nose tackles. Chigbo Anunoby of Morehouse State is another interesting kid. He goes about 6'3 and 325-330 pounds. Has some athleticism and natural power. He's a good looking kid and an ideal late-round pick. You take a flyer on him and see if he can develop."      


Thursday, April 26, 2012

National Friday League: Keeping an Even Kalil

Matt Kalil
There's not much more boring than drafting an offensive lineman with a top-5 pick.  Matt Kalil will never have a statistic on the back of his football card.  If he has a successful career with the Vikings, during his best games you may not even notice that he was on the field.  But a lot of boring things are actually quite necessary to making good things happen.

Is there another player that would so immediately impact the Vikings as OT Matt Kalil?  If he is as good as a top-5 lineman is supposed to be, he instantly transforms the Viking offensive line, which instantly elevates the Viking offense.  Last season the Viking quarterbacks were sacked on 8.8% of their pass attempts, and that doesn't even account for how often the quarterbacks got away when they were forced to scramble.  According to Football Outsiders the Vikes had the 5th worse pass offense last season (and 5th best rush offense).  The Vikes need to be able to throw the ball, and a blind side pass blocker may help them even more than an elite WR would.

A rebuilding team should never think about immediate need, and should almost always take the best player available. It's hard to say if Justin Blackmon or Morris Claiborne won't, over the length of their careers, prove to be better players.  They might; they might not.  But Matt Kalil immediately improves the team.

Harrison Smith (PFT)
TBird41 is excellent at projecting the Vikings' second round picks: here is his profile of Harrison Smith.  Read this blog, and you'll know what's up before it is up.

Man, do the Vikings need safeties.  They have been amassing cornerbacks that you can actually put on the field without crying (Antoine Winfield, Chris Cook, Zach Bowman, Chris Carr: those are real human beings!), but the roster still consisted of the same lousy safeties that made 2011 so very, very brutal to watch.  I might have liked for the Vikes to wait and get the (still available!) Stephen Hill or Alshon Jeffery, but Matt Kalil is already a big step toward fixing a terrible pass offense, and now if on the same night the Vikes take a step to fix a terrible pass defense, we should feel pretty good.  Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Kick Ass Draft Links
Sports Illustrated's Profile of Kalil ("Though overrated by some..."  What a weird statement.  Who isn't?  That should be everybody's epigraph).

Sports Illustrated's Profile of Smith

Star Tribune's story on the Kalil pick.

The Vikings had great overall draft value before trading with Cleveland; after the trade they had the most draft value (Football Outsiders).  Now, what will they do with that value?  Because unused draft picks are abstractions of hope; players are concrete performers that can suck.

Weekend
Lots and lots and lots more picks.  But my kids are doing a "turn off the screen" thing for the next week, so I'm not supposed to have the TV on while they are awake (and it's questionable whether I can pull out a computer screen to look at either; I guess I can sneak around them or something).  Between the NFL draft and NBA playoffs, this is a terrible, terrible weekend for such a thing (but it could be worse; there is no chance I'd go along with such an activity on a Sunday during the football season).

Get To Know 'Em: Josh Robinson

It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are either going to pick Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne or trade down in the first round. So let’s take the draft analysis a step further and preview players the Vikings might take with their second pick. In case you’re wondering, I’m using my own instincts and the various mock drafts to select players to preview. So for all I know, these guys will all be gone in the first round, or will still be available when the Vikings draft in the third round. If it's the latter, let's all pretend this was a third round preview, ok? Thanks.

Previous Entries in the Get to Know ‘Em SeriesHarrison SmithStephen Hill;Alshon JefferyRueben Randle; Trumaine Johnson

For the final entry in the “Get to Know ‘Em” Series, let’s talk Combine. So how much weight do you want to give the Combine? Do you think it provides useful information, giving teams a chance to get a better idea of whether a player is fast enough, strong enough and agile enough to be successful in the NFL? Or do you think it mainly serves to confuse teams, with players gaming the drills and teams falling in love with players that look great at the Combine but didn’t produce in college and won’t in the NFL? Well, your view of the Combine is going to be an important factor in how you view Josh Robinson, a 5’10 cornerback out of UCF that was viewed as a mid to late round pick until he dominated the Combine.

Dominate is probably the best way to describe Robinson’s performance in Indianapolis. He clocked the fastest 40 time of any player (4.33 seconds), had the longest broad jump and fastest three cone drill among defensive backs and had the third highest vertical jump. There are no longer any questions about whether he’s athletic enough to play in the NFL. Of course, it’s not just about athleticism. You have to actually be able to play football. While he wasn’t playing in the best conference (Conference USA can best be described as “sub Big East”), Robinson did produce in the way you’d expect an NFL caliber corner to produce. He was named First Team All Conference his last two years in college and intercepted 10 passes and broke up 36 passes in his three years in college.


Robinson has good technique for a corner, staying low and displaying the agility and economy of motion that also showed in his three cone drill time. He has a quick break in the zone and good route recognition. He has the speed to keep up with vertical routes and to recover after mistakes. He has good ball recognition and quality hands that allow him to capitalize on his great vertical to pick off 50/50 jump balls, or at least get a hand on the pass. Additionally, Robinson is considered a stand out punt returner, averaging 15.2 yards a return, the 9th best total in 2010, although he only returned seven punts for 51 yards his junior year.

Robinson is not a perfect corner, obviously. 5’10 is a little short for a corner, especially as wide receivers get taller and tight ends become more prominent in the passing game (Antoine Winfield being an obvious exception). Robinson also has some trouble when asked to press receivers, either choosing not to get physical with the receiver or losing his technique after release. He isn’t the best in run support, but he is a good tackler.


Robinson seems like the kind of player that would be successful in the Vikings’ Cover 2 scheme. He has the speed, athleticism and instincts that would allow him to thrive in the zone and the scheme would serve to cover some of his weaknesses. Of course, Robinson may just have had a good day in Indianapolis and might just be exactly the kind of player that gives the Combine such a bad reputation. 

The NFL draft - it's almost here!

The big day has come.

It's draft night for the NFL (the first round anyway), and Viking fans are wondering whom the team will pick with the #3 overall pick - or whether the club will even be picking at #3 at all.

We've written about the draft a lot here at Kick Ass Blog, and we'll continue to write about over the next four days. Tonight, I'll be tweeting the hell out of the draft coverage, so follow me @KickassblogVike to get regular updates on the developments during the first round. We'll also have a post up on the site commenting on the Vikings selection, as well as commentary and analysis of the rest of the draft as it unfolds throughout the weekend.

And for what it is worth, here is a seven-round mock draft to get you juiced for the draft. It's an important one for the rebuilding Vikings.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Some thoughts on the Jerome Simpson signing

Rick Spielman's blueprint for free agency wasn't apparent to many Viking fans in March, but I think it's pretty clear now.

And that blueprint looks something like this: Target a bunch of guys who might be devalued by the market, sign them to relatively cheap one-year deals (except for John Carlson) and then see what happens.

So I'm good with the Vikings signing Jerome Simpson today, even if he will miss the first three games due to an NFL suspension. Just like the cornerback position, the Vikings need to add depth and explore any option that might enhance what is still a poor wide receiving corps.

Simpson - even if he simply matches his production with the Bengals in 2011 (50 catches, 725 yards and four touchdowns) - does that. He provides competition for Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Stephen Burton and the rest of the unit. No one other than Percy Harvin should feel they have a job locked up with the Vikings. All of these players will be motivated to play their best at all times.

It's also important to remember Simpson caught just 21 passes in his first three seasons in the NFL. He doesn't have a track record as a successful NFL wide receiver, and he might never develop into one. But the Vikings were 3-13 last season and they are in a position where they can afford to find out what Simpson can become.

I also hope this does not stop the Vikings (and I don't think it will) from drafting a wide receiver in the second or third rounds of this week's draft if there is one they like. The club still needs a guy who can not only line up on the outside - as Aromashodu did much of last year - but one who can make plays there on a consistent basis. That player might be Simpson or it might be someone like Alshon Jeffrey, Rueben Randle or Stephen Hill. I'm pretty confident that player wasn't on the Vikings roster yesterday.

Get to Know 'Em: Trumaine Johnson


It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are either going to pick Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne or trade down in the first round. So let’s take the draft analysis a step further and preview players the Vikings might take with their second pick. In case you’re wondering, I’m using my own instincts and the various mock drafts to select players to preview. So for all I know, these guys will all be gone in the first round, or will still be available when the Vikings draft in the third round. If it's the latter, let's all pretend this was a third round preview, ok? Thanks.
Previous Entries in the Get to Know ‘Em SeriesHarrison Smith; Stephen Hill; Alshon Jeffery; Rueben Randle

And the run of comparisons continues—this time, we’re looking at a defensive back playing at a small school in a rural state. After that description, I’d bet your first thought is—didn’t we see this movie already in 2008?  Yes, Trumaine Johnson has an uncommon first name starting with “T” and the last name Johnson, just like Tyrell Johnson.** Unlike Tyrell, however, Trumaine played cornerback in college and what that implies might make all the difference.  

**Where else are you going to get hard hitting analysis like that? That’s right—nowhere.

Standing 6’2 and weighing in at 204lbs, Trumaine Johnson is likely going to need some time to develop. Even though it’ll be a big adjustment going from 1-AA (or FCS) to the NFL, he possesses the natural talent and athleticism that should allow him to make the transition. Johnson started at cornerback for the Montana Grizzlies all four years he was in college and set a school record for the most pass deflections and interceptions in a career. Those stats help demonstrate Johnson’s instincts for the ball and ability to read and react to receivers’ breaks, especially in the zone the Grizzlies utilized. Also, his height and strength would be an especially useful asset in the NFC North where he’d be covering receivers like Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall. And while he’ll need to improve his ability to press at the line, he had success disrupting receivers routes while in college.


Putting aside the fact that it’s a large leap from 1-AA to the NFL, there are some other question marks that could cause Trumaine to wash out like Tyrell did. First, Trumaine might not have the speed to play corner in the NFL. He ran the forty in an official time of 4.60, although some scouts had him as fast as 4.48. If the former is more reflective of his speed than the latter, he won’t be able to keep up with NFL receivers. Secondly, Trumaine struggled shedding blocks in college. While he is strong against the run and finished fourth on the team in tackles, many of those tackles came from avoiding the blocker, rather than defeating the blocker. Finally, Trumaine had some character issues, including missing games due to eligibility issues and a run in with the police. While the former is more troubling than the latter because of the questions it raises about Johnson’s willingness to put in the work necessary to be successful, I hate raising these kinds of issues, since they are over emphasized and nowhere near as important as people make them out to be.

So is Trumaine going to be a sequel to Tyrell? A lot depends on whether he’s fast enough to play cornerback. It seems like he has the football instincts needed to be successful in the Vikings’ Cover-2 scheme, which Tyrell lacked, but he might not have the speed to be an impact player in the NFL. Good instincts can help compensate for a lack of speed and, if he gets into camp and can’t handle cornerback, Trumaine could move from cornerback to safety, where his speed won’t be as much of an issue. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Get to Know 'Em: Rueben Randle


It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are either going to pick Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne or trade down in the first round. So let’s take the draft analysis a step further and preview players the Vikings might take with their second pick. In case you’re wondering, I’m using my own instincts and the various mock drafts to select players to preview. So for all I know, these guys will all be gone in the first round, or will still be available when the Vikings draft in the third round. If it's the latter, let's all pretend this was a third round preview, ok? Thanks.
Previous Entries in the Get to Know ‘Em Series: Harrison Smith; Stephen Hill; Alshon Jeffery

Like another wide receiver the Vikings drafted, Rueben Randle wasn’t really on any prospect boards before the beginning of his third college season. And just like Sidney Rice, Randle had a breakout year before declaring for the draft, with 53 receptions for 917 yards and 8 touchdowns on a team that focused more on running the ball (and, in the case of LSU, special teams and defense) than it did on the passing game.
Standing at 6’3 and weighing in at 210 lbs, Randle has a similar frame to Rice and he has a similar game. He’s not particularly fast (his forty time of 4.5 seconds is basically the same as Rice’s time of 4.51 seconds) but he has a decent burst off the line and his speed plays well in the intermediate deep game, working the sidelines with deep posts and attacking the seams of zones. He also has enough speed to break away after the catch, and the strength to beat the press off the line and break tackles.


Like Rice, Randle is leaving college as a project that needs to improve his skills as a wide receiver. His route running still needs a lot of work and he tended to rely more on his feel for where the open space is instead of running precise routes. This is understandable, since the quarterback throwing him the ball was pretty horrible and wasn’t necessarily going to hit him in stride on his break. Additionally, while Randle had some dominant games, they tended to come against the worst defenses that LSU faced. And he only caught 5 passes for 32 yards in two games against Alabama. Whether this was because of Randle or because LSU relied on the run much more against strong defenses because of their horrible quarterbacks is an open question.


There are some other warning flags to be wary of. Unlike Rice, Randle doesn’t appear to have the ability to go up and get the ball. He’s already an inch shorter than Rice, and his vertical jump was among the worst at the Combine, at only 31 inches (in comparison, Rice had a 39.5 inch vertical, Stephen Hill had a 39.5 inch vertical and Alshon Jeffery had a 36.5 inch vertical). Additionally, there are some questions as to whether he’s willing to go over the middle and whether he had good enough hands to be a reliable receiver in the NFL, even though he did not drop many passes in college.

Randle isn’t the traditional deep threat the Vikings could really use. He might, however, be able to turn into a receiver like Sidney Rice, able to make huge plays 20+ yards down field as well as being a big target on shorter routes. This will depend on his ability to refine his route running and whether his vertical wasn’t indicative of his ability to out jump defensive backs on the field. Luckily, the Vikings have time to teach Randle the former. The latter will determine whether Randle has the same upside as Rice did. 

Kick Ass Blog makes a cameo at Vikings Territory

Another week, another guest post at a Vikings blog. This time I'm moonlighting at Vikings Territory, the fine site run by Adam Warwas.

This one looks at the Vikings top late-round pick of NFL drafts of yore. Check it out – if you dare.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Vikings weekly wrap – April 21st edition

Jerome Simpson
Can I start with the pot jokes now? Too easy, you say? You readers are no fun at all. Simpson's an intriguing guy, though. He's 25 had 10 catches of 20 yards or more last season and three catches of 40 yards or more.

The Vikings wide receiver situation is so bad that even if you don't think Simpson's production last year was anything but slightly above average, he's worth a look because beyond Percy Harvin the Vikings have the slightly above average Michael Jenkins and the definitely below average Devin Aromashodu as the other receivers who figure to get a lot of snaps. Simpson is a young player who just came off his first season as a starter. He can get better. Plus, he can do this.  

Schedule
The NFL released its 2012 schedule this week and the Vikings – as expected – won't be playing on prime time much. I'm good with that. I live in Edmonton, Alberta these days and it's in the Mountain time zone, so I like the 11 a.m kickoffs. By 2:30 the game is over and I'm free to get other stuff accomplished – unless the Vikings lose. Then I'm a big grouch (I was grouchy on Sundays a lot last season).

Games that are played at 2:30, and, especially, those Sunday and Monday night games that start at 6:30 p.m., screw everything up for me. It seems like you've got to wait forever for the game to come and it's close to bedtime for my six-year-old daughter, so those preparations always get in the way of watching the game. I have to pause the action and wait till the bedtime routine is done before I can watch the game again. It ruins the flow. The Vikings have also sucked playing prime time night games of late. I much rather the Vikings play at 11 a.m. every Sunday.  

Tackling (or lack thereof)
Football Outsiders had a piece this week looking at defenders who were responsible for the most broken tackles in the league in 2011. We shouldn't be surprised that the Vikings starting strong safety last year, Jamarca Sanford, makes the top 10 in two dubious categories – most tackles missed and missed tackles rate.

That certainly jibes with what I saw while watching him play last year. It's more proof that Sanford should be limited to playing special teams and not much more. But if the season started today for the Vikings, he would still be the starting strong safety.  

Mock drafts
Sports Illustrated NFL guru Peter King has put out his mock draft. He thinks, like everybody else, that the Vikings will take USC left tackle Matt Kalil, but that the team should take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne because the Vikes play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford. Each guy can sling the ball pretty good. King's view is that the Vikings need to draft more guys who can actually cover a wide receiver.

That makes total sense. But improving the league's worst (in my opinion) pass blocking offensive line should come first if the Vikings keep the #3 overall draft pick. Christian Ponder's best games last season (against Green Bay, Carolina and Denver) came when the line somehow kept opposing pass rushers at bay. Give Ponder some time in the pocket, and a couple of new weapons to throw to, and he should drastically improve his play in his second season. And that would be the greatest gift fans of the team could realistically expect to receive in 2012. The Vikings have already taken steps to improve the line by releasing guard Anthony Herrera and signing guard Geoff Schwartz. Drafting Kalil would be a giant leap forward in that process.  

Trent Richardson
Greg Doyel think the Vikings should pick Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the #3 overall draft choice. Doyel loves doing this. Writing bombastic columns with an "I know better than you" tone that he knows will incite a bunch of angry reader comments calling him an idiot – or worse.

But is Trent Richardson really better than Adrian Peterson? My fear is that he will be. But I'm not talking about Richardson being better than the Adrian Peterson of 2007-2011, but rather the Adrian Peterson we will see in 2012 and beyond after coming back from blowing out his left knee. It's been a real pleasure watching Peterson do the things he does for five seasons. But if he comes back from the knee injury a much lesser player, one of the real joys of watching football on Sundays will be lost for me.

Stadium Saga
What PV said.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Friday League: Stadium Blues

Stadium and Quality of Life
I'm not going to give you answers, and while I'll give some opinions, those opinions aren't intended as answers. But I believe there are fundamental questions we should ask about a Viking stadium that aren't necessarily economic or political, but connected to quality of life.

1.What are we the public willing to pay for to improve and/or maintain the quality of life for our state?
2. How much are we willing to pay?
3. What compromises are we willing to make to do so?

Let's look at these questions (and the discussion will be somewhat political, but I will try to be obtuse and indirect about it).

What are we willing to pay for?
Public money goes to a lot of things that don’t, on the surface anyway, appear to have inherent economic value (I'm sure economists can identify how these things contribute economic value to a community, and I'll leave that to the economists). We have public parks, which are wonderful: citizens can exercise, play, picnic, and generally enjoy the outdoors. We have libraries, which are wonderful: citizens can read books for free, and do a whole lot more. These things are to the good: they make life as a citizen better. And there are more things we are willing as a public to pay for to keep the quality of life in Minnesota high.

Do the Vikings make life as a citizen better? In my view (and the view of many others), yes. Absolutely. I am not alone in saying that without the Vikings playing in Minnesota, my life would be diminished. I am a happier person because the Vikings play in Minnesota: they are deeply tied up in what I consider my quality of life as a Minnesotan. Again, I am not alone in this; if you are reading this (and you're a Minnesotan), you probably feel this way too. I am willing to pay to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, and I do not disapprove, if there is no other way, of using public funding to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. But that isn't the only question.

How much are we willing to pay?
The Guthrie Theater is wonderful. It contributes to the cultural enjoyment of the Twin Cities (even if relatively few people enjoy it). It is something to be proud of, a landmark, a source of acclaim beyond Minnesota’s borders. To me, the Twin Cities wouldn’t be the same without it. And public funding contributed to the new building. But that contribution was much, much smaller than what the Vikings want the public to contribute to their stadium; in 2003, the committed public funding for the new Guthrie Theater was $25 million (MPR).

Does it matter if more people will benefit from and receive enjoyment from a new Viking stadium than there are people who benefit from and receive enjoyment from the Guthrie Theater? Yes. But how much does it matter? That we are willing as a public to pay for quality of life is a given (at this point in time, anyway, and I hope for a very long time). But obviously the amount we are willing to pay has its limits. How much are we willing to sacrifice? Who is going to pay, and how are they going to pay it? These are not small questions. And I don't blame you if you think we the public should not pay as much as the Vikings want us to pay.

What compromises are we willing to make?
Of course there is the public/private problem: this stadium will make exceedingly rich people richer. In a time of great inequality, and the game rigged to preserve and expand that inequality, public money for a privately owned team's stadium is obscene. In fact the heavy influence (or control) of private interests over matters of public concern is a major problem in America (whatever your political persuasion or special interest, it isn’t hard to find examples).

But…that is the way the game is played. I wish it weren’t. I certainly support those trying to change the game, who are striving and protesting and working to make a more just and fair society, which in part means (in my view) removing or limiting the corporate influence over government. But we’re not there yet.

So, is this a compromise you’re willing to make? Is it a compromise you think the state of Minnesota should make? Should we hold our noses, help the very rich Zygi Wilf build a stadium for his privately owned business, because we want to ensure that the Minnesota Vikings contribute to our quality of life? What would make you sicker to your stomach: seeing public funds extracted and given to the Minnesota Vikings, or seeing the Los Angeles Vikings? And what matters more, what would make you sicker to your conscience? And would you be sicker if we paid for a new stadium for a new or different NFL team a decade from now?

I don't know. I'm not offering an answer, because I don't know myself.

I know I don't want the Vikings to leave Minnesota, and I'll be heart-broken if they do. But I don't know what that means should be done about it.

But one plea
If the Minnesota legislature is unwilling to contribute state money toward a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, please, do not in five years contribute state money toward a stadium for the Minnesota Jaguars or Minnesota Chargers or whatever. It is not about having Generic NFL Franchise X. If we can't find a way to keep a team that has had five decades to infuse itself into Minnesota culture, we should learn to live without having an NFL team. If there is any chance we are building a stadium in the next decade, just do it now for the team we already love. Otherwise, we should find something else to do.

Card Blurbs: Nick Mangold's 2011 Topps card (#329)

"Nick's Twitter biography - complete with a picture of an ewok instead of his face - sums up his philosophy on life: 'I try to find the humor in everything while promoting the virtues of being manly.' There's nothing funny about facing him in the trenches. Mangold's masculinity is on full display there, where he put enough opponents on their backs in 2010 to earn First Team All-Pro honors."

I appreciate the blurb writers for Topps: they often try to say something interesting or amusing that isn't already obvious on the stats, and with offensive linemen (no stats to cite, larger card space for blurbs) they can really let it fly. But I have reason to believe John Madden wrote that last sentence.

Kick Ass Links
Do you realize there is a Native American tribe willing to pay the entire state portion of the Viking stadium for the right to build a casino near the Twin Cities (MPR, MPR)? And that this option, whereby the state's share of the Viking stadium (though not the local share, if I understand correctly) is taken care of, is barely being taken seriously? I realize there are a lot of vested interests with a conflict here, but let's repeat: somebody is offering to pay the entire state portion of the Viking stadium. And they're not saying "We'll give you four hundred million dollars if you let us release alligators, lions, and grizzly bears to roam the Twin Cities streets." They want to build something that Minnesota is already full of, that we seem to get along just fine having around, that shouldn't really affect most of us one little bit. I know what Mayor Quimby would do.

When the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce lobbies for the stadium (MPR), I think "What, Chamber, you got no money? Your member businesses got no money?" If it is important to the local businesses that the Vikings get a new stadium, maybe they need to find a way to provide the money (directly? through taxes?) for the stadium. Somebody told me there's a Native American tribe willing to pay a bunch of money directly.

And there are other ideas (MinnPost).

Misleading reporting? Stupidity from Jim Souhan? Really? Really? (MinnPost).

The City Pages knows the score: Jared Allen is the best Viking.

Uff da. The playoff drought for Minnesota sports (Pioneer Press). I did literally lay my finger on the Lynx's championship trophy, though.

The Vikes will get the first non-quarterback available in the draft. Evidently the choice is between Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, and Morris Claiborne (PFT). I don't know about ceiling, but doesn't it seem like a top-10 pick left tackle has a higher floor?

Magic/Bird, and why plays about sports are hard (The New Yorker).

Little brother will be on Saturday Night Live (New York). Until I watched Jason Segel host this fall, I hadn't watched SNL in years. And you know what I discovered? It's terrific! Really, really funny. I look forward to watching it now.

You can't celebrate the Olympics in England without...poets (BBC, via The New Yorker).

Carmelo Anthony's interior decorating (Pro Basketball Talk). If I could afford to commission a painting of myself, I absolutely would do it. Of course affording to commission a painting of oneself means having enough money to get a whole bunch of other awesome stuff before you actually get down to having that painting commissioned.

Weekend
Sometimes you hit the iceberg, and sometimes, well, the iceberg, she hits you. But either way your boat is going to sink, so don't spend too much time worrying about that part of it.

Have a good weekend, suckers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Get to Know 'Em: Alshon Jeffery

It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are either going to pick Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne or trade down in the first round. So let’s take the draft analysis a step further and preview players the Vikings might take with their second pick. In case you’re wondering, I’m using my own instincts and the various mock drafts to select players to preview. So for all I know, these guys will all be gone in the first round, or will still be available when the Vikings draft in the third round. If it's the latter, let's all pretend this was a third round preview, ok? Thanks.

Previous Entries in the Get to Know ‘Em Series: Harrison Smith, Stephen Hill

There’s something very familiar about Alshon Jeffery. He’s a big guy, standing 6’3 and weighing in at 213 pounds, and he has hands like tennis rackets. In a uniform, he looks a lot like Mike Williams, a former receiver for USC (the other USC) and a player that the Vikings passed on to draft Troy Williamson (which was good?). His skill set looks a lot like Williams’ did as well. Unlike Williams, though, Jeffery has improved himself since he finished playing college football, dropping 15 pounds from his listed weight and lowering his forty time to between 4.4 and 4.5 seconds (Williams weighed 231 lbs at the Combine and ran a 4.59 forty).

Unlike the last two wide receivers the Vikings’ drafted from South Carolina, Jeffery was a dominant player in college. Well, at least he was a dominant player until his senior year when the South Carolina quarterback situation fell apart, wrecking his stats and the entire Gamecock offense. When there was someone to get the ball in his general area, Jeffery was able to out jump, out reach and out physical the coverage and he almost always brought the ball in. Of course, his numerous circus catches aren't too surprising considering how big his hands are (10 ¼ inches).

What Jeffery wasn’t able to do, however, was out run his coverage. He lacked a burst in college, and his top speed wasn’t particularly impressive. To compensate, he used his size and leaping ability, but his route running wasn’t crisp enough to create much space. While he was generally able to exploit what space he did find, whether he’ll be able to create even that much separation when he faces stronger and more athletic coverage is an open question, especially considering he struggled against press coverage.

Cutting the weight might be enough to give Jeffery the burst and speed necessary to be successful in the NFL. Williams didn’t drop weight coming into the draft. If anything, Williams had put on weight. But is it enough to separate Jeffery from Williams? The reliance on physicality and general athleticism seems similar, as does the average speed. Jeffery might avoid the mediocre career of Williams, but even if he does, it’s unlikely he’ll be much more than a possession receiver and a useful red zone target.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Contrarian Thoughts on the Stadium

Just a few thoughts on the Vikings’ stadium situation (feel free to argue with me on Twitter if you disagree):

  • Anyone wondering about why the Twins’ and Gophers’ efforts to get a stadium were successful but the Vikings’ current effort looks doomed to failure should remember a few words: It’s the economy, stupid. We're not in a recession right now, but there's still a lot of ways the current recovery could go wrong quickly (the Eurozone, slowing growth in China, the massive federal tax increases & spending cuts looming in 2013, etc).
  • If I told you that the state legislature was about to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to a corporation with billions in revenues and that those subsidies would mainly serve to further enrich the ultra-rich owner, and that the corporation had spent almost a million dollars on lobbyists, you’d probably have a hard time keeping your inner Occupy Wall Street (or Tea Party, if you’re on that side of the political spectrum) from coming out. Kind of funny how people’s views change when the rent-seeking benefits something they are interested in.
  • Stadiums are not really beneficial economically. They provide some temporary construction jobs, but they don’t increase tourism or entertainment revenue. At best, they shift entertainment spending from one area to another. And how often would the Vikings' stadium actually be in use?
  • It’s really hard to justify subsidizing the Vikings’ stadium when the last state budget debate led to a two week shutdown of the state government and when there is a billion dollar shortfall in the state education fund. There's a budget surplus now, but the state is still looking at another billion dollar shortfall in the budget for 2014.
  • The Vikings might start threatening to move to L.A. now, but the good news is that there isn’t a stadium (or really, any concrete, approved plans for a stadium) for them to move to. The better news is that they aren’t the only team that wants to move to L.A.

Monday, April 16, 2012

State committee votes down Vikings stadium bill, inertia reigns

The Vikings stadium saga is my least favorite topic to write about. I'd rather write about Fred Smoot's finest moments in a Minnesota uniform than the stadium issue. But tonight's events leave me with little choice.

I have no deep analysis on this one at this point. But I think Kevin Seifert has a good take on it here as the state of Minnesota's House Government Operations Committee voted 9-6 against the stadium bill on Monday.

If the Vikings are going to get a taxpayer-funded stadium built in Minnesota, they are going to have to use a different strategy than the one they've employed up to this point. The Vikes will play the 2012 season in Minnesota, but where they will be beyond that will cast a large shadow over the team in the coming months – just as it did last season and the season before that and the season before that.

The Wilf's haven't played the relocation card in many months. But as Seifert points out, that could change after Monday's development.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Vikings weekly wrap – April 15 edition

Pacifist Viking used up a lot of my material for the weekly wrap with his latest National Friday League post, so today's missive won't be as long as last week's (lucky you).

Tom Pelissero
Say it ain't so, Tom.

I think this is what qualifies as a minor hatchet job in the reporting biz.

I'm a big fan of Pelissero's work. He's the best Vikings beat reporter out there and he digs up stuff nobody else covering the team does. Still, this is a piece that is on shaky journalistic ethics ground. There are no quotes used and no sources used, except for one reference about a "witness" who saw Harvin hurl a weight at ex-head coach Brad Childress during a 2010 altercation. Pelissero also calls Harvin a "loner" and writes that Harvin sometimes is "manipulative".

Again, there's no one – not even an anonymous source – quoted to back up Pelissero's opinions. The reader is left to trust that having covered the Vikings for over two seasons now and with the sources he has, that Pelissero has enough "intel" to write this kind of story without having to quote anyone.

I don't know about you, but it leaves me with the impression that Harvin is just an accident waiting to happen for the Vikings and that re-signing him is not the slam dunk we might have thought. But then you read the story a few more times and realize that it's all Pelissero in this piece. He might cover the Vikings on a daily basis, and talk to people regularly who are with the team, but he's not training with the players, eating with them or in the Vikings meeting rooms or practises. So how much does he really know about the Harvin situation?

Pelissero gets paid to write stories like this and provide analysis, but this story seems quite unfair to Harvin.

The issue that won't die (until April 26)
Add CBS Sportsline's Clark Judge to the list of NFL beat writers who think the Vikings should take USC left tackle Matt Kalil and not think twice about it.

Judge is right (so is ESPN's Chris Mortenson). Kalil is the best left tackle in the draft and the Vikings need somebody to keep pass rushers from climbing all over quarterback Christian Ponder's back. But Vikings general manager Rick Spielman can't – and isn't – ruling out trading out of the #3 slot because his rebuilding project is a big one. If he can get an offer similar to what Cleveland got from Atlanta in the Julio Jones deal, he probably has to take it.

I'll be happy on draft day if the Vikings stay put and choose Kalil. But if they swing a blockbuster and acquire four or five picks for one – including an extra first rounder next season, I won't be blue.

Another issue that won't die
Whoa! Actual movement on the Vikings stadium issue!

Drafts of yore
On the subject of drafts, Viking Update's Brian Hall looks at the best and worst Viking draft picks from the past 25 drafts (1987-2011).

I've got no arguments on the bust side of the ledger, but I think I would be tempted to include Percy Harvin and Daunte Culpepper in the mix among the best first-round draft picks, although I don't know whom I would drop out of Hall's top five – nobody I guess.

Ah well, forget what I just wrote.

Schedules
I thought in the NFL if you had a crappy year you got a puffball schedule the following year. But according to ESPN North blogger Kevin Seifert, that isn't necessarily going to be the case in 2012.

It doesn't help the Vikings that they now play in a division with three quality teams. Things can change from year-to-year in the NFL. Teams that look like tough foes in April might not be so tough in October or November. But as of right now, head coach Leslie Frazier might want to keep his office free of clutter. I'm not sure how long he's going to be around.

Friday, April 13, 2012

KAB makes a guest appearance at The Daily Norseman site

If you're a Minnesota Vikings fan who frequents the blogs out there about the team, there is a decent chance you've read The Daily Norseman now and then. It's without a doubt the most visited Vikings blog out there and it provides fans with tasty, daily content on all things related to the Minnesota Vikings.

I recently approached the blog's boss man - Christopher Gates - about the possibility of doing the odd guest post for the site. I'm all about collaborating these days, both with PV and TBird on this site and with other blogs - like these ones I've done (here and here) for Vikings Territory

Mr. Gates was gracious enough to accept my offer and my guest blog on his fine site has gone live. It's about drafting quarterbacks and how ...., well, I won't spoil it for you. Just read about it here.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

National Friday League: the Bootleg

The Viking Passing Game: Hope you enjoy rollouts
There is one type of play we should expect to see quite often in 2012: a QB rollout with a short dumpoff around the line of scrimmage.

In Christian Ponder's rookie season, the best skill he showcased was mobility and athleticism. But he also took a lot of sacks, tried to scramble a lot, and got forced into some really lousy decisions. Given the Vikings' offensive line problems, it makes sense that Bill Musgrave is going to move Ponder out of the pocket a lot to avoid such problems. Sure, presumably Ponder will improve his pocket presence with experience, and the Vikings can improve their pass blocking. But the Vikes will still be well-served to frequently roll Ponder out off of play action.

And the Vikings' top pass catchers will be Percy Harvin (who plays out of the slot and the backfield, who catches a high number of passes in short range, and is very effective running after the catch) and two tight ends, Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson. At this point it doesn't seem likely the Vikings will be adding an immediate deep threat to the roster. Those are players who will catch the ball at or near the line of scrimmage a lot, and without other legitimate WR options, they'll be catching the ball a lot.

The play-action bootleg can be a very good play, leading to the sort of high percentage throws that keep drives moving. I'm not sure, though, that in the NFL you can build an entire passing offense off of it. We'll find out. Get ready for a lot of Christian Ponder running toward the sidelines and bulleting the ball to a pass catcher a few yards in front of him.

Percy Harvin, and why to watch pro sports
If I'm watching a sport, I'd rather watch the best players in the world playing. But I'd also rather watch a sports league where everybody acknowledges that the main goals are to 1) make money and 2) win, without pretending there is some other purpose. Sometimes crassness is better than illusion (I mean, come on).

So I don't care all that much if Percy Harvin was a trouble-maker at Florida (Pioneer Press, Star Tribune, Sporting News). A lot of college students are trouble-makers! I imagine those college students that are begged to attend a given college for free and then treated like the most important people at that campus at a very young age develop the sense of entitlement to cause some trouble. What, eveeeer.

Chuck Foreman and Adrian Peterson
At Football Outsiders, Mike Tanier ranks the top-five Viking running backs, giving Chuck Foreman the nod over Adrian Peterson.

As a runner, I think Peterson has already exceeded Foreman: consider that Foreman's best yards per attempt season is equal to Peterson's worst (4.4), or that Peterson is the first Viking to win a rushing title. But as a football player, Foreman may indeed have the edge.

Chuck Foreman was a very good receiver, which Peterson is not. Foreman had receiving numbers that Peterson hasn't come close to (in shorter seasons, Foreman had four seasons of 50+ catches, with a career high of 73). If you compare the players by their yards from scrimmage instead of just their rushing, Foreman has a case: in their first five seasons, their yards from scrimmage per game is essentially the same (110.9 for Foreman, 110.4 for Peterson).

If you throw out any accounting for their different eras or the quality of their teammates, Foreman did as much as Peterson to help his offense, albeit in different ways.

Fantasy Box: My Unsolicited Fantasy Basketball Strategy
It is simple: avoid players who will tank your free throw percentage. And that means targeting rebounders that also shoot well at the free throw line.

When you draft a team you probably have to sacrifice one or two stat categories, but there's no reason for that category to be free throw percentage. If you focus on big men to get field goal percentage, scoring, rebounding, and blocks, yes, you're probably not going to do well in the assists and steals categories. But there are big men with decent FT%, so there's no reason that has to be a category you sacrifice along with it (and presumably you'll be drafting guards that are good foul shooters anyway).

There's no reason to sacrifice FT%; tank another cumulative stat category, and the efficiency stat category of FT% can just come along with quality players.

Kick Ass Links
Viking Team Needs (PFT).

Ricky Rubio and Minnesota (Grantland).

Mock draft! (SI).

Marvin Mitchell (Star Tribune).

Chris Cook (Pioneer Press).

Here's some video of a public forum about the Viking stadium (here. Oh wait, wrong link. Here. Alright, real link to Star Tribune here, but it isn't as much fun. Or at least I assume, because I didn't watch it: I figured I should justify spending 20 minutes searching for public forum scenes from Parks and Recreation. I'm glad Community is back, but this hiatus from Pawnee has been too much. I'd move to that town if it were real).

A review of Magic/Bird (New York). Weird to look at. I've stared at too many basketball cards of those guys to look at actors dressed up as them.

God bless you, Gregory Pratt. A look at baseball sportswriters and headline writers overusing the "call to arms" cliche (City Pages).

You keep seeing Matt Kalil in the mock drafts: is it all so clear-cut? (Pioneer Press). Probably.

Weekend
Bloody hell, people. Sharks have been swimming around on this planet for over 400 million years. They predate dinosaurs. And insects. If you are ever worried you have too easy a time falling asleep, just imagine the ages and ages of murderous memory swimming about on this planet.

Have a good weekend, suckers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Get to Know 'Em: Stephen Hill

It’s pretty clear that the Vikings are either going to pick Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne or trade down in the first round. So let’s take the draft analysis a step further and preview players the Vikings might take with their second pick. In case you’re wondering, I’m using my own instincts and the various mock drafts to select players to preview. So for all I know, these guys will all be gone in the first round, or will still be available when the Vikings draft in the third round. If it's the latter, let's all pretend this was a third round preview, ok? Thanks.

Previous Entries in the Get to Know ‘Em Series: Harrison Smith

The Vikings do not currently have a wide receiver on their roster that could be described as a #1 receiver. Percy Harvin is a combination of a running back and a slot receiver. Michael Jenkins is a decent receiver, but is not a player that other teams fear. Devin Aromashodu is fast, but there’s not a whole lot else to recommend him. Of course, you all know that. The problem for the Vikings going into the draft is not whether to draft a wide receiver, but whether there is a receiver who can become that #1 wide receiver. And that brings us to the biggest dice roll of the draft: Stephen Hill, a wide receiver from Georgia Tech. And what better way to evaluate a risky draft pick then by making an overly long Simpson’s reference?

Hill is a 6’4, 215lb specimen with a 4.36 forty time. That’s good! He caught only 49 passes in his three years at Georgia Tech. That’s bad! He can jump like a kangaroo, with a 39.5 inch vertical and an Olympic quality broad jump. That’s good! He dropped a lot of passes his sophomore year. That’s bad! He averaged more than 25 yards per reception in college. That’s good! Georgia Tech runs the Triple Option, which creates open deep routes and requires its receivers to learn very few routes. That’s bad! His ability to run a deep route has been compared to Randy Moss. That’s good! He’s made of Potassium Benzoate. Uhhhh…

So is Hill a project, or a combine mirage? Well, after Hill dedicated himself to football after a mediocre sophomore year (and yes, I realize this raises its own issues) he became a force to be reckoned with. He’s a good run blocker (one skill that the Triple Option emphasizes) and he’s great at the point of the catch, able to fend off defensive backs and hold onto the ball. He’s got a good burst off the line, and was successful turning bubble screens into big plays, both through his acceleration and his ability to break tackles. However, the Triple Option didn’t require Hill to have to master anywhere near the same number of routes that the NFL does. Nor did he ever face a complex coverage scheme aimed at stopping him. It’s pretty clear that the NFL is going to ask a lot more of him than his college offense, both in what he has to do, and in what he has to face. That doesn’t mean he can’t learn, however. Demaryius Thomas faced similar challenges and has turned into a quality receiver in Denver. Really, whether Hill would be a good choice comes down to whether he can adapt his physical skills to the complexity of the NFL. The scouts seem to think he can do it, and the Vikings have the time to teach him.