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Monday, April 14, 2014

Mocking the Vikings

1 (8) - Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville | 6'2", 214 lbs.
Granted, you can't spell "April" without "liar," but what once seemed like an impossibility is shaping into a reality. In fact, the NFL's inexplicable smear campaign on Bridgewater has even elicited whispers of "second round." In my estimation, if he is indeed there at No. 8, drafting anybody else would be overthinking it, and a franchise-altering mistake. Intelligent, driven, poised and precise, Bridgewater works the pocket like a veteran, and his combination of escapability and accuracy-on-the-move will be extending drives for the next decade. Highly productive in a pro-style offense, he may already be better than 12-15 NFL starters, and it would be no surprise if he unseated Matt Cassel right out of the gate (think Russell Wilson and Matt Flynn). The Vikings have pounced on falling offensive stars in the past (Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, and to a lesser degree Cordarelle Patterson), and landing what I believe to be the draft's one true franchise QB at No. 8 would be a similar fortune.

2 (40) - Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU | 6'3", 243 lbs. 
A disruptive blitzer and an opportunistic playmaker, Van Noy is, in many ways, a discounted Khalil Mack. The team addressed the defensive line and secondary in free agency, and this gives Zimmer's weak LB group an intelligent, versatile weapon who can get into the opponent's backfield with regularity.

3 (72) - Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson | 6'4", 211 lbs. 
The Vikings certainly have greater needs, but their extra 3rd rounder affords them an opportunity to take a swing for the fences. A lanky height/speed specimen (4.42 40) who's drawn Justin Hunter comparisons, Bryant gives Norv Turner the true field-stretching deep threat that this roster currently lacks. One of Bridgewater's only real film nitpicks is his deep accuracy, so a long target with a 39" vertical would be a welcome addition. He's definitely on the raw side, both physically (very skinny) and technically (routes/hands), but the trio of Bridgewater (21), Bryant (22) and Cordarrelle Patterson (23) is a strong foundation for the future of this passing game. Moreover, polished veteran Greg Jennings—who I'd expect to make sweet music with Bridgewater—buys Patterson/Bryant much-needed time for fundamental development.

3 (96) - Christian Jones, ILB, FSU | 6'3", 240 lbs. 
And just like that, the Vikings have turned an embarrassing weakness into a potential strength. Pairing Jones with Van Noy ensures that the days of special teamers playing meaningful LB snaps are over. Sure, I'm pulling hard for Michael Mauti (who currently sits atop the MLB depth chart), but I can't put my faith in a guy with three ACL tears. Jones boasts freakish athletic attributes across the board and, like Van Noy, can play multiple positions. The knock on Jones is between the ears—his mental game is too often an anchor on his physical upside. Enter Mike Zimmer. Van Noy and Jones are both so versatile that I'm not sure exactly where they fit at the next level, but I'd be incredibly intrigued to see how they'd be deployed in the Z-fense. 

4 (104) - Dion Bailey, S, USC | 6'0", 201 lbs. 
Did I say versatility? Former linebacker Dion Bailey is still learning the ins and outs of the safety position, but like Van Noy and free agent acquisition Captain Munnerlyn, Bailey has a knack for the big play. Clearly, neither Jamarca Sanford nor Mistral Raymond are the answer next to Harrison Smith, and Bailey's athleticism and versatility should make him an immediate contributor.

5 (136) - Walt Aikens, CB, Liberty | 6'1, 205 lbs. 
The Munnerlyn signing certainly helped, but Captain is small, and you can never have too many CBs in today's NFL. In terms of size, the only difference between Aikens and Xavier Rhodes is five pounds. Aikens is not truly a small-school product—he was kicked off the Illinois team for misdemeanor theft in 2012, so there are some character concerns. Again... enter Mike Zimmer. Aikens has the prototypical size and natural talent to become a starting-caliber NFL CB, he just needs to be coached up. He's not unlike Christian Jones in that way.  

6 (168) - Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State | 5'11", 224 lbs. 
Crowell is so much more than just a Toby Gerhart replacement—he has the natural ability to become 29YO Adrian Peterson's successor. He might be the most naturally talented running back in this year's class, leading many to call him "this year's Christine Michael." The rub—of course there's a rub if you're getting a premium talent in R6—is that the former SEC Freshman of the Year was kicked off the Georgia team after three different weapons arrests. Despite keeping his nose clean at Alabama State, entitlement and maturity issues lingered. The only things seemingly standing between Crowell and NFL stardom are humility and desire. I can't imagine a better landing spot than behind all-time great Adrian Peterson.

7 (200) - Keith Wenning, QB, Ball State | 6'3", 218 lbs. 
I'm leaving the draft without a Charlie Johnson fix, and that sucks, but this draft quickly became about impact difference makers... words not typically associated with offensive guards. Here's hoping 2013 6th-rounder Jeff Baca or FA addition Vladimir Ducasse can at least push Johnson this season. Wenning is a personal favorite of mine. He's a prolific small-school project with a good blend of size, mechanics and arm strength—a very solid foundation to build from. I'd expect that this pick means the Vikings wash their hands of the Ponder debacle—he'd be a QB2 upgrade for most teams, in exchange for a 2015 6th-rounder (Gabbert set the market). You can never have too many good QBs, and assuming Bridgewater becomes a perennial Pro Bowler, you're suddenly blessed with a Schaub/Kolb/Flynn/Cousins situation. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Armchair QB's Notebook

Disclaimer: I am not a draft expert.

These are merely layman's observations from a fantasy football writer and former high school QB. A big thanks goes out to the fine folks at draftbreakdown.com for enabling me to ditch work for amateur hour film study. I'll be updating and adding to my QB notes throughout the draft process.

Games Watched So Far: Ohio, Miami
- 6'3", 205 lbs.
- Natural, smooth.
- Athletic, but not a runner. Uses mobility to extend plays/pocket, where he throws very well on the run (both directions).
- Pinpoint darts into small windows at short/intermediate levels.
- Not as dependable on deep throws.
- Poised, smart.
- Easily the most polished QB prospect in this class.
- A Day 1 starter wherever he lands.

VIKINGS SLANT: He's the only guy I'd be happy with at No. 8, and I'd endorse a trade up if he begins to slide.

Games Watched So Far: Penn State, Louisville, UConn
- 6'4", 227 lbs.
- Size/athleticism is A+.
- No fear. Competitor. Totally unflappable.
- I've seen Andrew Luck comparisons, and physically I can buy it, but he has a major flaw: his lower body mechanics are a mess. Instead of stepping into his throws and driving the ball, he opens up and loses his hips, causing loss of velocity and inconsistent accuracy/ball placement. 
- His actual arm strength is hard to even judge, because he doesn't get his lower half into his throws.
- I would think this is coachable, but as of now he's a project who's nowhere near Sunday-ready. He'd be a pick-six magnet the way he floats his out routes.

VIKINGS SLANT: Because of the physical potential, he's somebody I'd be fine moving back into the late-first round for, but you'll need to have a Band-Aid in place for 2014.

Games Watched So Far: USC, New Mexico, Rutgers
- 6'2", 215 lbs.
- Golden arm. This kid can spin it.
- Athletic/mobile enough.
- Unlike Bortles, seems very flappable. Get pressure in his face and he resembles Cutler: overconfidence in supreme arm talent resulting in back-foot idiot throws. I'm not sure that this flaw is coachable.
- Only saw him in shotgun.
- He's gonna make people drool in shorts. Expect stock to rise as draft nears.
- I think if you can keep the pocket clean he could be a stud. 

VIKINGS SLANT: I'd be very happy with him at 2.08, and wouldn't be against moving up a bit if he's sliding. Would compete for a Day 1 starting job.

Games Watched So Far: Alabama, LSU
- 6'0", 205 lbs.
- I could be totally wrong on this.
- He's going to get killed.
- Joystick mobility. I feel like I'm watching Madden. Ultra-rare ability to extend plays.
- Thrives on broken plays and improvisation, often escaping out the back of the pocket. He's simply too fast for college defenses. Will these things translate to the next level?
- Oozes competitiveness and leadership.
- The Russell Wilson comparisons don't compute at all for me. Wilson plays controlled, and within himself. Manziel is the exact opposite.
- Wants to put the team on his back, and will singlehandedly win or lose games. 
- Will flip field position—either direction—on any given play. 
- Good enough arm, but throws it up for grabs too much for my liking (Mike Evans).
- You can't rein him in, or he's no longer JFF. The chaos is who he is. Ride or die.

VIKINGS SLANT: I'm not willing to take him at No. 8, and he's unlikely to be there anyways. I'm worried that the speed of NFL defenses will neutralize what he does best. Rick has one more chance to get it right at QB... JFF would take some serious balls.