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Vikings Take FSU QB Christian Ponder With 1st Round Pick

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on April 28, 2011 – 7:18 pm

Vikings take Florida State QB Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.  More coverage at vikings.com will be forthcoming.

Stay tuned to vikings.com Draft Central as the night unfolds for more coverage.


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7 Factors That Complicate The 1st Round

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2011 – 10:46 am

Anyone who loves the NFL draft also loves to try and predict what will happen in the NFL draft, and this year is no exception. Mock drafts in April become as fashionable as filling out brackets in March, and appropriately enough it’s about as hard to fill out an accurate mock draft as it is to fill out a perfect bracket.

I know how difficult it is to predict what will happen in the NFL draft, yet I try to do it each year. And each year before the draft there are a handful or so of teams that I feel confident in being able to predict. Except for this year. It’s been more difficult than usual to forecast the 1st round, and I’ve figured out the 7 factors that make it more difficult than usual.

Here they are…

1. Labor Situation
One of the side effects of the work stoppage is that free agency did not launch at its usual time. Typically, we have free agency before the draft, which allows teams to cover up some needs before having to rely on draft picks. Not the case this year; teams haven’t been able to sign free agents and therefore they have more needs. And all of that makes it twice as hard to predict what each team will do. And when you have 11 teams picking in front of the Vikings, you can see why it’s so tough to know who will be available when it’s the Vikings turn to pick.

2. We Aren’t Sure Carolina Will Select QB Cam Newton
In a normal draft year, it’s common to see the team with the #1 pick reach a contract agreement with its top choice. But with the work stoppage, Carolina was not permitted to negotiate a contract with its top choice and so we don’t know who their top choice is at this point. I think it’s Newton, but I’m not sure. Plus I know that if I was picking #1, I would pick Newton. So that leads to confusion and we all know how the top choice influences the rest of the early 1st round.

3. The Carson Palmer Situation
Bengals QB Carson Palmer has been steadfast in saying he no longer wants to play for Cincinnati. He’s also said he wants to be traded or released, and that if he’s not traded or released he’s going to retire. But we also know that Cincinnati is steadfast in trying to retain Palmer. Factor all of this in and consider that Cincinnati has the #4 pick and will likely be in prime position to pick QB Blaine Gabbert. Will they concede that Palmer is on the way out the door and pick Gabbert? Or will they stay stubborn in trying to keep Palmer and then use the #4 choice on a WR, such as A.J. Green?

4. Where Will The Trades Begin?
The #1 culprit in ruining mock draft accuracy is trading activity. Predicting which players will go in which spots is not just about evaluating the prospects, it’s about evaluating the teams in each spot and figuring out which players fit with which teams. So when trades happen, it messes everything up. I think the first big opportunity for a trade is at #5 with Arizona, where a team could try and jump up to grab their QB of choice or perhaps a guy like Green or WR Julio Jones. After that, hot spots for trades are at #6 (Cleveland), #9 (Dallas), #10 (Washington) and then the Vikings at #12.

5. The Da’Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn Dilemmas
There are a pair of DEs in this draft – Da’Quan Bowers and Robert Quinn – who in a normal year would each be considerations for the #1 overall pick. But both guys happen to have significant alerts; Bowers reportedly has a potential long-term issue with his knee and Quinn was ineligible to play this past season. The issue here is you have two guys in Bowers and Quinn who can potentially provide game-changing productivity as pass rushers, a coveted commodity in the NFL. But with their question marks, we don’t know where they’ll end up because each team has different tolerance levels for question marks.

6. Washington’s Desires At #10
The Washington Redskins have some natural unpredictability to them because of owner Daniel Snyder. But add in the fact that Mike Shanahan is their head coach and I think they become a bit more mystical. So I have no idea what their desires are and I certainly have no idea what they’re going to do. It seems as if both DT Albert Haynesworth and QB Donovan McNabb are on the way out, so that obviously puts DT and QB in the mix as possibilities at pick #10. I could also see Shanahan trading out of that spot and I can see him addressing the CB position.

7.  The DE/OLB Position With Respect To 3-4 and 4-3 Defensive Schemes
There are scenarios when a great player is on the board for a team on the clock, but that particular player isn’t a good fit with that particular player because of scheme. The best and most common example of that predicament is outside pass rushers and the 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. I actually think LB Von Miller is a good example of this. He’s widely considered one of the best prospects in this draft and was extremely productive in college. In my estimation, he’s a bit undersized to be a traditional outside LB in a 4-3. But he’s a great edge rusher in the 3-4 scheme. So will a team that runs the 4-3 scheme take him because of his great talent, even though he might be a better fit in the 3-4? There are other examples this year, such as Ryan Kerrigan, Quinn and Aldon Smith.


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Settling In For Day 1 Of The 2011 NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 28, 2011 – 8:47 am

It’s finally here – draft day. The 1st round of the 2011 NFL Draft will be held tonight and it will begin at 7:00 p.m. CT. The Vikings pick 12th of course, so I’m guessing they’ll make a selection sometime between 8:45 and 9:15 p.m. CT. That’s a long time from now, but don’t worry because we’ll have plenty of updates for you between now and then.

All morning and afternoon we’ll keep our ear to the ground and provide you with updates here on the vikings.com Blog, whether it be steam on what the Vikings might do in the 1st round or what teams in front of the Vikings will do in the 1st round. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter for updates that don’t make it to the website. You can follow the Vikings on Twitter by following @VikingsFootball and you can follow me on Twitter by following @wobby.

Once the draft begins at 7:00 p.m. CT, vikings.com is your place for complete coverage of the event and of the Miller Lite Vikings Draft Party. We’ll be live chatting beginning when the draft begins and we’ll also be streaming the draft party live on vikings.com, which you can watch by using your Facebook information. You can post comments and interact with other Vikings fans who couldn’t make it to the Miller Lite Vikings Draft Party.

So it’s a jam-packed day and it’s underway now. Be sure to stay tuned to vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog and both Twitter and Facebook to stay up-to-date on all of today’s developments. You can also find all of the action in one place by visiting the vikings.com NFL Draft Hub Page.


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Spielman Confident In Team’s Evaluation Of QB Class

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 27, 2011 – 8:03 am

We’ve talked about a lot of different QBs here on vikings.com over the past few months, from top prospects such as Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker and Cam Newton to the “next tier” of passers such as Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Ryan Mallett. Through it all, consensus has been absent and opinion has been rampant.

That’s the beauty of the NFL draft for NFL fans. Everyone has their opinions and there are so many players and so many scenarios that there’s a seemingly endless amount of topics to discuss and debate. When you add in mock drafts and talking heads on ESPN and NFL Network trying to guess how teams are going to operate on draft day, there is so much information and opinion that it can be confusing.

But Vikings fans can take solace in knowing that their teams draft room won’t be spinning when the 2011 NFL Draft begins on Thursday evening. The Vikings, under the guidance of VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman and his staff, along with the coaching staff, have evaluated this year’s class of QBs and it sounds like a plan is in place.

“We’ve done an extensive study, and every one of these guys has a strength and a weakness,” Spielman said. “We are identifying what those strengths are and what those weaknesses are. Specifically, if any of these guys’ weakness can be corrected, or is it an off-the-field weakness, or a leadership weakness, or an on-the-field issue. Everyone has different issues, we’ve been through that and what we feel comfortable with.

“We analyzed all this and went through every guy’s strength and weakness, and everyone got an opportunity to speak their mind.  We feel very confident with where we have these quarterbacks stacked.”

It’s good the Vikings feel confident in their evaluation of this year’s QB class because there’s a good chance one of those prospects will be on the roster later this summer competing with Joe Webb. And that leads us to another element of this year’s draft and entire offseason that Spielman brought up and indicated the team was prepared to handle: how the work stoppage impacts the Vikings going forward.

Specifically, the Vikings of course have a new head coach in Leslie Frazier and that means a partially new coaching staff. What also typically comes with a new head coach and coaching staff is more roster turnover than usual. This will inevitably breathe new life into the Vikings roster, but it also adds some complexity because it’s not certain when these new players – both QBs and players at other positions – will be able to begin practicing and acclimating themselves to the team with the work stoppage. This will all need to be factored in by Spielman and Co. during the draft.

“The other thing you have to look at in this draft, that is so much different than the drafts in the past, is that the rookies you bring in, if they’re not here, and they’re not here until August, they have missed all that time with the coaches, all of the OTAs and mini-camps,” Spielman explained. “I believe that they will be significantly further behind than a normal rookie class would be because of the lack of working with our coaches, lack of knowledge of the system, and getting acclimated to our game. We will have to be more patient with our rookie class; if the scenario comes up that these guys don’t show up until sometime in August.”


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To Trade Or Not To Trade, That Is The Question

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 27, 2011 – 6:20 am

NFL coaches and personnel executives typically keep their plans and strategies close to the vest in the months and weeks leading up to the draft. Aside from engaging in some gamesmanship and subterfuge, there’s really no upside for teams to disclose their thoughts on certain prospects.

But there’s one issue Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman has been clear on in the build-up to this year’s draft: the Vikings want to find a way to recoup the (3rd-round) pick they handed over in last season’s Randy Moss trade.

Prior to and during the Combine, Spielman told reporters he’d like to find a way to score an additional selection during the draft, and he said the same thing on Tuesday while meeting with reporters during his annual pre-draft press conference at Winter Park.

“If we can get a pick we like and get a third round pick, we think we will have had a very successful draft,” Spielman explained.

But Spielman also said he’s taken his staff through other potential 1st-round scenarios, including the possibility of staying put at #12 and taking an impact player.

“There are players we’ve already talked about, that if he is available at the number twelve pick, we aren’t going to move, we are going take that player because we think that he’s significant enough to take him and not trade out,” Spielman continued. “We have been through scenarios where we’ve looked at our team if we move back, lost that player, but picked up a third-rounder. We have also looked at scenarios where we didn’t move back, didn’t have a third-rounder, picked that player and how that player would impact our football team.”

So while it’s crystal clear the Vikings will consider trading back in the draft this year to acquire an additional pick or two, it’s not clear when exactly the Vikings will make that move. It could be in the 1st round, or it could be at a later point.

In some respects, Spielman might not even have a good idea of when a trade back – or up – could happen. Much of how a team behaves during the draft is an after-effect of what happens in front of them.

“You have an idea, but I don’t know because sometimes there are some pretty good players up there, and (you don’t know) where they are going to come off,” Spielman said. “Now if one of those players that we have in the top five comes to us at twelve, I can tell you we aren’t going to trade out, we’re going to take that player.

“You’re going to have to sit back, be patient and wait. Then you’re going to have to weigh in when you’re on that clock and look at your options and how many bodies you have left so you could potentially move back, pick up a third round pick, and still get one of those three or four players that you would’ve taken at 12 anyway.”


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A New Perspective For Frazier During NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 26, 2011 – 2:17 pm

In an article posted in the news headline section of vikings.com, we pointed out that Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier is going through NFL draft preparations for the first time as a head coach and that he’s handling the responsibilities with aplomb. We also explained that it should come as no surprise, given how gracefully he led the organization through the tumultuous conclusion to the 2010 season.

But now is not the time to reflect back on the end of the 2010 season. It’s time to think about the 2011 season and, more specifically and more imminently, the 2011 NFL Draft, which will begin on Thursday evening at 6:00 p.m. CT.

Frazier, going through the draft for the first time as head coach, says he has a different perspective on things this year. He’s a 23-year coaching veteran, but for the first time at the NFL level he’s considering more than just the defensive side of the ball in his evaluation and decision-making.

“You go from being a defensive coordinator, where you’re working just one side of the football, although in the role of assistant head coach I would have discussions on occasion with Rick and others about other positions. But my primary responsibility was working on the defensive side of the football,” Frazier explained. “Now, to have to look at it globally when it comes to special teams, offense and defense, that’s a little bit different but it’s not something I’ve never had to do before.”

As he’s done in other areas of his life and his profession, Frazier has clearly prepared himself well for his current role. And since he’s prepared to handle the responsibilities of helping VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman and Co. guide the franchise through the draft, he’s enjoying the process as well.

“I really enjoy doing it,” Frazier said. “I like being able to have some say in who we’re looking at as a return specialist, who we’re looking at at other positions other than just defense. I’ve enjoyed it, it’s been good. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal.”

Frazier also stressed that Vikings fans can enjoy this time of year also. The team is coming off a disappointing season and roster turnover is expected, but the Vikings head coach is optimistic about this year’s draft class and he knows the draft represents an opportunity for new life.

“There are a lot of good players on that board that we’re discussing,” Frazier commend, “and I’m excited about what’s going to happen in the days ahead and it should be a great time if you’re a Minnesota Vikings fan. It should be a great time.”


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What Type Of Player Can You Get At #12

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 26, 2011 – 9:16 am

Although it’s not even certain the Vikings will stand pat with the #12 pick in the 1st round of Thursday’s NFL draft, let’s take a look at the history of the 12th overall pick and see what kind of player the Vikings might be able to find.

The last 5 years of the 12th pick has been quite impressive. The best of that bunch was taken back in 2006, when the Baltimore Ravens tabbed DT Haloti Ngata with the 12th pick. After that, though, the names don’t regress much. RB Marshawn Lynch went to the Bills in that slot during the 2007 draft, OT Ryan Clady to the Broncos in 2008, RB Knowshon Moreno to the Broncos in 2009 and in 2010 RB Ryan Mathews was the pick for San Diego.

If you go back further in history, impressive names remain. LBs Shawne Merriman (2005) and Jonathan Vilma (2004) are relatively recent picks, while QB Joe Namath (1965) and Vikings legend RB Chuck Foreman (1973) represent names from the past. Other impressive names include Shaun Ellis in 2000, Warrick Dunn in 1997, Warren Sapp in 1995, Trace Armstrong in 1989 and Clay Matthews in 1978.

I’ve compiled the full list of 12th overall picks in the NFL since the Vikings inception in 1961; you can view the list by clicking here.


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You Can’t Pick Perfect, Just Pick Right

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 25, 2011 – 8:03 am

Newton, Gabbert, Locker, Mallett, Ponder, Dalton, Kaepernick and Stanzi. Those are the 8 names that comprise this year’s class of QBs with potential to earn a starting job as soon as the 2011 season. Some have strong arms. Others are great decision makers. And a few are natural leaders.

But there’s just one thing each of them has in common: they all have legitimate question marks.

Most draft analysts have gone on record this year as saying they’re not sure this year’s draft class has a bona fide franchise QB to offer, which is a bit disappointing given the unusually high amount of teams that find themselves in need of a QB, the Vikings included. Often times, you’ll hear a draft analyst offer up names such as Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan in comparison to this year’s crop of QBs to hammer home the point that this year’s draft class is void of a blue-chip prospect.

But is that fair? Is it fair to compare players who haven’t had the chance to prove themselves at the NFL level to 3 recent QBs who’ve found success in the NFL? At least one analyst, former Vikings offensive coordinator and Baltimore Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick, says it’s not.

Billick was quoted as part of an article about this year’s draft-eligible QBs written by Judd Zulgad in this Sunday’s sports section of the Star Tribune and he made a point that I think is important to keep in mind when both analyzing this year’s crop of QBs in the draft and in critiquing teams’ choices in this year’s draft.

“Let’s be careful,” Billick said. “When we go back and talk about [St. Louis' Sam] Bradford and Ryan and Flacco with such glowing terms — and we should, because they are going to be excellent quarterbacks — we had concerns for them, too. Bradford, is he going to stay healthy? Matt Ryan, does he have the arm strength? Flacco, he doesn’t look like anybody we have in the league right now. Is he too big, is he going to fit? They turned out well, but we had questions about them, too.

Billick’s point is a great one. And I’ll add to it. Drafting a QB in the NFL is not an exact science. If it was, we wouldn’t see so many busts. There is no perfect prospect, at any position. There is no prospect with no flaws and no question marks. Regardless of which QB you like in this class, someone else can raise questions about that player or about that player’s skill set.

I like Jake Locker, but someone else can question his accuracy. The next guy might like Blaine Gabbert, but I can point out that he’s coming from a spread offense and may have issues transitioning to the pro game and playing under center.

“So when I say that there’s questions about these guys … everybody has [questions] every year,” Billick said. “We kind of forget after a kid gets in the league and plays well and say, ‘Oh, yeah, I had him really high. I knew he’d be good.’ No, you didn’t. We had some questions about all of them.”

The bottom line is that regardless of whom the Vikings select in this year’s draft – even if it’s not a QB, which could happen – some people are going to love the pick and others are going to dislike the selection. But the goal is not to find the perfect prospect with no flaws. The goal is to pick a player who turns out to be a winner.


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Making A Tough Task Even Tougher

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 18, 2011 – 10:19 am

I’m sure it’s hard enough to evaluate an entire draft class, give each player a grade and then stack a draft board that both ranks players in the correct order and also provides a framework to fill holes on a 53-man roster. But adding to the difficult for NFL personnel departments this time of year is the fact that it’s crucial to have a good understanding of not just how you want to behave during the draft, but also how the other teams are going to behave at the same time.

That’s the task at hand for Vikings VP of Player Personnel Rick Spielman, who organizes the Vikings efforts on draft day. Each year he’s not only trying to figure out who the Vikings like, he’s trying to figure out which players other teams like and which players they’re likely to take. This is especially the case for teams ahead of the Vikings. In order to be sufficiently prepared to make a decision with the 12th overall pick in the 1st round, Spielman needs to figure out what will happen in the first 11 picks.

“I have a pretty good idea right now of who’s going to be there when we’re picking,” Spielman said last week while appearing on Pro Football Talk Live with Mike Florio. “What I’ll do is I’ll sit down with (head coach) Leslie (Frazier) and I’ll sit down with ownership once we get our board settled and solidified and then we’ll go ahead and go through those options.”

One of the options Spielman includes every year is that of trading either down or up to get the targeted player.

“But we’ll also go through a lot of scenarios where if we do move down, and how far can we move down, and what type of players will be there if we do move down in the draft,” Spielman continued. “Are those the same caliber of players that we can get at twelve? So we definitely do a lot of those scenarios.”

As if the task on its own isn’t challenging enough, it’s even more difficult this year with an uncertain climate due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement impasse.

“The thing that’s different this year from the past is that you had an idea of what teams did in trades and what they did in the UFA (unrestricted free agency) market, where they may have filled some of those needs,” Spielman explained. “Going into this draft, no one has filled any needs on their roster yet.

“It’s going to be a unique draft because I think there’s going to be a lot of movement on teams moving up and down and teams are really going to focus on if there’s a player they truly like, they’re going to go after that player.”

Only time will tell if Spielman’s hunch is right. If there is a bunch of activity – teams trading draft picks – then odds are a QB will be the targeted player. The Vikings may be in the market for one this year, and I’d estimate that at least 6 teams picking in front of the Vikings will have their eyes on the QB position as well.

“I do think because there’s no player trades – but there’s very few player trades on draft day anyway – I think that because teams haven’t filled their needs yet because there has been no unrestricted free agency, if teams really hone in on a particular position or a particular player I think there’s going to be a lot of activity,” Spielman reiterated. “And I think there’s going to be a lot of activity at this quarterback position, too, just because of how many teams need quarterbacks and because of the quarterbacks coming out in this draft.”


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A Closer Look At QB Ricky Stanzi

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 16, 2011 – 8:55 am

It’s always fun to write about the NFL draft, but I must admit that this year it’s been both extra fun and extra easy to do so because of the high-profile class of QBs combined with the Vikings need at the QB position. Over the last several weeks, we’ve talked a lot about not just top prospects Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton, but also about the “next tier” of passers, such Jake Locker and Ryan Mallet.

But the depth of this year’s QB class doesn’t end with those 4 names. Not even close. Last week I wrote about the rise Colin Kaepernick is experiencing on many draftniks’ draft boards. And in the vikings.com QB Collection you’ll find write-ups about Andy Dalton, Pat Devlin, Christian Ponder and even former Golden Gopher Adam Weber.

Also included in the QB Collection is former Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi, a guy we’re going to take a closer look at right now.

Greg Gabriel of the National Football Post has an excellent scouting report of Stanzi, which is what prompted the idea for this blog entry. Overall Gabriel views Stanzi as a QB who will take some time to develop but who will ultimately turn out to be a starting QB in the NFL who can play on a team that is a consistent winner. That sounds like the type of player that would fit in well with the Vikings, don’t you think?

Going deeper, though, here are a few things in Gabriel’s scouting report of Stanzi that stood out to me:
— “In the Iowa offense, Stanzi played from under center about 80 percent of the time, had to take 3, 5 and 7 step drops and read the whole field.”
— “He can set up very quickly from under center and he sets his feet and stays in balance. He has a smooth overhand delivery with a quick release. When he finds his target the ball is out of his hand quickly.”
— “When you watch the end zone tape you can see him go through his progression sometimes going from 1 to 2 to 3 and then making the throw to the open man. You seldom see him stare down receivers and force a throw.”
— “He has excellent intangibles and a strong passion for the game.”

Because Stanzi played in the Big 10, Minnesotans had plenty of opportunity to watch him play. What I saw was a gritty player who won a lot of games and played through some injuries. In 2010 he completed 64% of his passes and his TD-INT ratio was excellent – 25-6. Personally, I tend to naturally favor QBs who played 4 years in college and won a lot of games. There are exceptions…for example I like Locker, too, even though he didn’t win a lot of games in college. With Stanzi, though, you have a guy who won 27 of the 35 games he started over his career.

Just as I stated in my defense of Locker over questions regarding his accuracy, this blog entry is not a full-fledged endorsement of Stanzi as the guy the Vikings should select in the 2011 NFL Draft. But I will say that if Stanzi is the QB the Vikings end up with when all is said and done, the team will have succeeded in acquiring a player who represents a chance for long-term stability at the most important position in the NFL.


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