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(Re)Making The Grade: Looking Back At 2012 Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on February 8, 2013 – 7:12 am

We will talk a lot about the 2013 NFL Draft on vikings.com and the vikings.com Blog over the next 2.5 months. But right now, let’s take a look back at how the Vikings fared in the 2012 NFL Draft.

The impetus behind this idea is a piece put together by ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. Immediately following each year’s draft, he applies a grade to each team’s effort by reconciling the selections made by each team against that team’s draft positions and specific roster needs. Anyone who does this will tell you there’s a high degree of error involved because it’s typically a 3-year process before you can complete the evaluation of a draft-class. But in order to be fair and to hold himself accountable, Kiper has decided to revisit his post-draft grades for each team and hand out new grades based on how the draft picks and teams fared during the 2012 season.

The Vikings efforts in the 2012 NFL Draft were applauded immediately after, as they came out of the event with a pair of 1st-round picks at positions of need and also peppered the roster with 8 other selections after that. Kiper gave the Vikings a post-draft grade of a “B” and said the following: “The Vikings did pretty well. They got the left tackle they coveted in Matt Kalil, and they moved up to get a safety. Both Kalil and Harrison Smith, their two first-round picks, should be starting in Week 1. Josh Robinson adds speed, if not a lot of polish, at corner, and has the chance to develop into a good player.”

A pretty spot-on post-draft evaluation. Kalil and Smith both started all 16 games this season, and Robinson indeed has the look of a developing player after playing in all 16 games and starting 6 in his rookie season. Plus, he was 3rd on the team with 2 INTs and 7th on the team with 61 tackles.

In revisiting the draft and handing out new grades, though, Kiper has increased that grade by changing it to an A-. Kalil, Robinson and Smith fulfilled his expectations, and then others, most notably Blair Walsh, add significant contributions to cause Kiper to upgrade his evaluation. Here’s what he provided as new commentary:

“Kalil not only started 16 games at left tackle, played well at a significant position and if his run-blocking catches up with his pass-blocking, he’ll become among the league’s best. Smith became exactly what the Vikings had hoped, started all 16 games at free safety and should be there for years to come. The instincts he showed at Notre Dame were on display, and he’ll continue to get better. Robinson is raw, but could ultimately take over for Antoine Winfield. And don’t overlook one of the steals of the draft. Blair Walsh was taken at No. 175 overall, and was the best kicker in the league in 2012. A year later, a pretty good draft looks even better.”

And that’s not even to mention WR Jarius Wright coming on in the second half of the season, Rhett Ellison well on the way to providing the offense with gritty blocking and sneaky-good production in the passing game, and late-round picks Robert Blanton and Audie Cole poised to take on increased roles after serving on special teams from time-to-time in 2012. Including the injured Greg Childs, 9 of the Vikings 10 draft picks from last year are still on the team.

The news gets better from here, too. The Vikings are currently slated to have 8 draft picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which provides GM Rick Spielman and Co. with plenty of ammunition and opportunity to add even more young talent to an already young and talented roster that will continue to get better.

 


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From The Ground Up: Vikings Offense Paced By Ground Attack

Posted by Mike Wobschall on September 14, 2012 – 6:42 am

It’s no secret. The NFL is a passing league. In 2011, only 3 teams (Denver, Houston, San Francisco) ran the ball more frequently than they passed it, and nearly 33% of NFL teams threw the ball in excess of 60% of the time. Also in 2011, 3 NFL QBs (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford) threw for 5,000+ yards and 3 had (Brees, Stafford, Aaron Rodgers) 40+ TD passes.

While it’s no question the preferred method of moving the ball in the NFL is through the air, there are still teams and coaches who place a tremendous value on running the ball. The Vikings and Head Coach Leslie Frazier fall into that category. And it’s for good reason. Since 2007 when the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and hired Frazier as defensive coordinator, the Vikings have been the NFL’s best rushing team. They rank first over that span in total rushing yards (11,272), per-carry average (4.7), rushing TDs (92) and runs of 10+ yards (333).

“It’s big for our team,” Frazier said of the running game. “In a League where passing the football has become first for so many teams, we’ve taken a little bit different approach and featuring a guy who we think is the best running back in pro football in Adrian Peterson and because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off our young quarterback as well as our passing game.”

The Vikings understand the importance of being able to move the ball through the air, too. That’s why they signed free agents such as TE John Carlson and Jerome Simpson, and that’s why they used draft picks on the likes of LT Matt Kalil and a pair of WRs in the 4th round (Jarius Wright, Greg Childs). The development of young QB Christian Ponder was priority A for the Vikings this past offseason, and everyone at Winter Park knows Ponder’s progress will be key to future success. Frazier’s contention, though, is that the presence of a productive running game will ease the pressure on Ponder because opponents are forced to figure out a way to contain Peterson and Gerhart before they think about defending the Vikings passing attack.

“Having a guy like the guy that we do have makes us very unique from an offensive standpoint,” Frazier explained, “but it helps us to achieve our goals as a football team, having a good running game and establishing the run for us to run our offense and really win the way we want to win.”

As he’s explained, Frazier wants the Vikings running game to set the tone and allow Ponder and Co. to operate with more freedom. Additionally, being able to run the ball well can shorten a game for a team when it has the lead. But Frazier also explained that his desire to run the ball well is not about being a conservative team that looks to shorten the game and win close contests. Frazier sees the Vikings running game as one with explosion and scoring capability.

“For us, that’s exactly the approach we take but we also believe that we can also get explosive plays through the running game because of who we have at the halfback position,” Frazier said. “It’s not just ground and pound. We have a guy who can break the 20-yard run, the 60-yard run. Most people have to get that throwing the football down the field, and we want to be able to do the same. That’s one of the reasons we made the offseason acquisition of Jerome (Simpson) and try to feature Percy the way we do. But being able to have a balanced attack and still feature our run game is who we are.”

Side Note
Peterson and Gerhart get most of the credit for the Vikings productive running attack. On Sunday in the season opener, though, another member of the backfield was key to the Vikings ground game – FB Jerome Felton. Both Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave mentioned how well Felton played in his first regular season game as a Viking.

Said Frazier: “He played extremely well and that was a lot of snaps for him. There wasn’t one time a season ago we had that many snaps with our fullback on the field and a lot of it had to do with the way he played and what’s happening when he is on the field. It was really encouraging for all of us to see him dominate the way he did. There may be more opportunities for him as we go forward.”

Said Musgrave: “Jerome Felton played really well. He was a presence out there. He was also a presence on the sideline in terms of being the leader. He suggested a couple of amendments to our game plan during the game and we took them to heart and they really paved the way for good runs there in the second half.”


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Defense Dials It Up; Notes From Monday’s Practice

Posted by Mike Wobschall on August 6, 2012 – 5:19 pm

There is a natural ebb and flow to training camp practices – some days the offense is better, some days the defense stands out. The Vikings offense got off to a fast start at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp and capped off a good first 10 days with a sound showing in Saturday night’s practice.

Come Monday, though, the defense jumped up. After a day off on Sunday, the Vikings returned to the practice fields for their customary morning walk-thru followed by an afternoon practice, working under hot and windy conditions that did nothing to help the offense’s cause.

DE Brian Robison was a standout performer for the defense, providing a steady pass rush off the edge in the base 4-3 defense and then sliding inside on occasion to play DT in the nickel package. Robison teamed up with a fellow lineman twice during a drill versus the offensive linemen to execute an effective stunt. On the first play, Robison lined up on the outside and stunted inside, with Kevin Williams looping outside. The maneuver was enough for Robison to slip inside past a pair of offensive linemen. On the second play, Robison used a similar stunt in tandem with fellow DE D’Aundre Reed to create a pressure.

During the team’s live goal line period, LB Chad Greenway and DT Letroy Guion teamed up to halt the first-team offense on the initial snap, and second-team middle LB Tyrone McKenzie also burst through the line later in the period to make a splash play. McKenzie was another player who stood out during Monday’s practice. He takes care of a leadership role on the Vikings second-team defense and also possesses the athleticism to be a productive linebacker in nickel packages.

LB Marvin Mitchell and S Mistral Raymond each tallied INTs at various points in the practice as well. Mitchell has run with McKenzie at times in the second-team nickel package while Raymond has spent most of his time with the first team and second team at safety.

A few other notes…

Childs has knee surgery Monday
The road to recovery for Greg Childs after he tore the patellar tendon in both knees Saturday night has begun. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said Childs was to undergo surgery on Monday.

“So, we don’t know what the long-term prognosis is, but we are all hoping for the best,” Frazier said. “But our players, it was hard for them, obviously it is hard for Greg and his family. We’re all pulling for him through this situation.”

Gerhart looks good
Toby Gerhart is the Vikings starting RB and Frazier says the third-year pro has looked good so far in camp. Gerhart will likely get the start in Friday’s preseason game at San Francisco, but don’t expect him to get too many carries.

“He’s been looking well,” Frazier said. “He’s practicing well, has great confidence in what we’re doing, what we’re asking of him. He doesn’t seem like a guy who is ready to settle for being a backup running back, which is a good thing.”

Who will handle return duties?
At this point in training camp, charting the guys who are included in the kickoff and punt return rotation is nearly a full-time job. On Monday, I saw WR Stephen Burton, CB Chris Carr, DB Reggie Jones, CB Josh Robinson, CB Marcus Sherels, WR Kerry Taylor, WR Bryan Walters and WR Jarius Wright all take turns in the punt return rotation.

“We are going to make sure that we use the right guys and the guys that we think have the best chance,” Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said. “If a guy is on the bubble, will he make it (the roster) because he is a good punt returner or kickoff returner? That will be key Friday night (preseason game vs. San Francisco). Hopefully we can make them punt a few times and we’ll go out there and get some reps for our guys.”


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Childs Tears Patellar Tendon In Both Knees During Saturday’s Night Practice

Posted by Ryan Cardinal on August 5, 2012 – 8:56 am

The Vikings have released the following statement in regards to the injuries that rookie WR Greg Childs suffered near the end of Saturday’s night practice at Verizon Vikings Training Camp:

Greg Childs suffered a torn patellar tendon on his right and left knees last night. He is expected to have them surgically repaired within the next few days.


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Monday’s Top Plays

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 30, 2012 – 7:57 pm

The energy level picked up a notch at 2012 Verizon Vikings Training Camp on Monday, as the Vikings donned pads for the first time and guys were flying around making plays. With 90 players and roughly 120 minutes of practice time, it’s hard to catch all of the best action. But here’s a quick review of the top plays I saw on Monday…

– We’ll begin at the end of practice, where the Vikings offense and defense went toe-to-toe in a goal line drill. The situation was 1st and goal from the 1-yardline with 8 seconds remaining on the clock and the offense needing a touchdown to win the game. The best action came when the third teams were on the field. QB Sage Rosenfels took the snap and lofted a pass to the back corner of the end zone for rookie Jarius Wright, who made an acrobatic catch over CB Corey Gatewood and tried to tap both feet in bounds before being shoved out of bounds. The official signaled touchdown, which prompted a celebration from the offense and heavy protest from the defense, all in good fun. The best protest – or at least the most comical protest – came from DE Jared Allen, who wasn’t involved in the play. “This is not college! This is not college! This isn’t high school,” Allen bellowed with a huge smile on his face. “You gotta have two feet in!” Allen was in the official’s face as if he were a baseball manager arguing a call with an umpire, and the entire display was a moment of levity to conclude what was the team’s most intense practice of camp so far.

– The Christian Ponder-to-Kyle Rudolph connection was as strong as ever on Monday, with Rudolph being a popular target of Ponder’s yet again. Midway through practice Ponder rifled a pass down the middle of the field to the goal line, leading Rudolph perfectly and putting the pass just out of the reach of LB Chad Greenway. Despite a gamely attempt by Greenway to deflect the pass, Rudolph was able to haul in the reception for a TD. “Kyle’s got like four or five inches on him in height, let alone wingspan. If you just get the ball up, he’s going to get it.”

– WR Devin Aromashodu is good for a flashy play or two each practice, and that was the case on Monday. Aromashodu ran a go route down the left sideline and made what turned out to be an excellent back shoulder reception while leaping over a defender. The pass came from QB Joe Webb.

– LBs Jasper Brinkley and Everson Griffen delivered a couple big-time hits. Brinkley met RB Lex Hilliard near the line of scrimmage during the second-to-last team period of practice and came out on top of the confrontation. Griffen saw FB Ryan D’Imperio make a reception in front of him and then saw fit to end the play abruptly by putting a big hit on the FB.

– Veterans Chris Carr and Tyrone McKenzie combined to force a turnover during a 7-on-7 drill. Carr tipped a pass and McKenzie, playing middle LB, got underneath the deflection to collect the INT and run the other way with a convoy of blockers in front of him.

– RB Jordan Todman flashed his greatest asset – speed – during the second-to-last team period of practice. Todman took a handoff that appeared to be designed to go inside and bounced out wide left. Todman gained the edge on the defense and raced down the left sideline for what would’ve been a TD run of at least 65 yards.

– Rosenfels displayed some athleticism near the end of practice during a team period. On the play, Rosenfels sprinted right after feeling pressure from his left and bought just enough time to hit rookie receiver Greg Childs near the sideline. Childs tapped both toes in bounds to complete the play, making up for a drop on a deep pass he had earlier in the day.


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Roster Rundown: Wide Receivers

Posted by Mike Wobschall on July 9, 2012 – 6:14 am

We’re in the middle of about the only slow time in the NFL news cycle. So what better to do than take an inventory of what the Vikings have on their roster with training camp just weeks away.

Let’s begin with the wide receivers, where the Vikings currently have 12 on the roster…

The wide receiver position is high profile as it is, but add in a mix of A) desire for improvement from last year’s performance, B) a flashy free agent acquisition and C) a mix of veterans and youngsters battling for roster spots, and you can be sure the Vikings wide receiver situation will be one to watch.

Percy Harvin is the cream of the crop, and after him the Vikings have worked hard this offseason to improve the position, most notably by adding veteran Jerome Simpson in free agency and then drafting a pair of receivers in the 4th round (Greg Childs, Jarius Wright).

Keep in mind, Simpson won’t count against the Vikings roster limit to begin the season because of a three-game suspension, so that opens up another spot for competition among a group of several players that is comprised of both veterans and youngsters. Veterans Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins will rely upon their one year of experience in Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave’s scheme to try and ward off the young receivers the Vikings have in the fold. Jenkins was ‘ol reliable last season before getting hurt, and WRs coach George Stewart loves having him around because he’s a good influence on a young position group. Aromashodu showed flashes of playmaking ability last season, most notably his diving TD grab at Kansas City. Another veteran added to the mix is Bryan Walters, who looked good during the Vikings offseason program and is a sleeper in the punt returner competition.

The youngsters on the roster are highlighted by Childs and Wright, but also include a seventh-round choice from last year – Stephen Burton. He’s continually progressed since being drafted by the Vikings and took another step forward this offseason. The remaining receivers on the roster who will compete for spots are:

– Manny Arceneaux – Acquired by Vikings in January of 2011 after two standout seasons in the CFL…took a step forward this offseason with his work in Organized Team Activities and minicamp.
— Kamar Jorden – Bowling Green product who plays bigger than his listed height of 6-2…definitely not a throw-away player.
— A.J. Love – Acquired late in the offseason program and will need to watch more in training camp to get an opinion.
— Kerry Taylor – Injured his hand during the offseason program, so another who will merit a longer look in training camp. Quicker than fast, possible option in return game.


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Vikings Get 6 Draft Picks Under Contract

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 22, 2012 – 1:31 pm

NFL teams have begun the process of signing their draft picks over the past few weeks and the Vikings have jumped into the mix as well. On Tuesday the team made official the signing of 6 selections from last month’s NFL Draft.

The players who’ve signed contracts are: 4th-round WRs Greg Childs and Jarius Wright, 5th-round DB Robert Blanton, 6th-round K Blair Walsh, 7th-round LB Audie Cole and 7th-round DT Trevor Guyton.

Signing this year’s draft class is a tall task because, for the second consecutive year, the Vikings have 10 selections. Tuesday’s news that six are now under contract leaves four players who’ve yet to sign their deals. They are: 1st-round LT Matt Kalil, 1st-round S Harrison Smith, 3rd-round CB Josh Robinson and 4th-round TE Rhett Ellison.

Click here to read more about the Vikings 2012 draft class.


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Fan Email: Is Jabar Gaffney A Good Fit For Vikings?

Posted by Mike Wobschall on May 3, 2012 – 6:30 am

Whenever a recognizable name becomes available, whether it is via trade rumors or free agency – the first thing that comes to mind for many fans and football observers is, “Is he a good fit here?” And so, with the Washington Redskins releasing WR Jabar Gaffney earlier this week, I’ve received several emails from fans asking if the Vikings would be a good match for his services.

It appears the answer is no.

As they do with every player who becomes available, the Vikings will likely discuss Gaffney’s availability and evaluate whether or not he’s a good fit here. It appears Gaffney has plenty of gas left in the tank. He may be 31 years old, but he’s coming off a season in which he recorded career highs in receptions (68) and receiving yards (947), and tied a career high with 5 TDs.

But I’m just not sure he’s a good fit here. The Vikings signed 4-year veteran Jerome Simpson last week, they have veterans Devin Aromashodu, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins set to return, and they selected two WRs in the 4th round of last weekend’s draft (Greg Childs and Jarius Wright). That’s not to say any of those receivers are superior to Gaffney – they may be, they may not – but it does yield the conclusion that Minnesota may not be a great fit for Gaffney.

The other factor to keep in mind is that for a team and a player to join forces, there must be mutual interest. This is something many fans didn’t consider with regard to the Asante Samuel situation. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons acquired his services for a moderate price from the Philadelphia Eagles, but not every team had the same opportunity as Atlanta. Samuel identified Atlanta has a desirable destination, and he was therefore willing to talk turkey with them in terms of restructuring his contract.

Gaffney will now be in a similar situation. There will be a demand for his services, so Gaffney will choose his next team among multiple options. The smart money should be on the New England Patriots, the team for which he played from 2006-08, especially after ESPN’s Josina Anderson tweeted this. While there is a deep crop of WRs in New England, Gaffney will likely begin his next stint with the Patriots as one of the preferred pass-catchers given his familiarity with the organization and Tom Brady from his first stint with the team, as well as his familiarity with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after their time together with the Denver Broncos from 2009-10.


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Pick-By-Pick Summary Of Vikings 2012 NFL Draft

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 10:56 am

A quick pick-by-pick analysis of the Vikings 2012 draft…

LT Matt Kalil – 1st round
Projected to be a cornerstone LT for the next decade and allows the Vikings to solidify their offensive line by moving Charlie Johnson to LG and holding a robust competition at RG among Joe Berger, Chris DeGeare, Brandon Fusco and Geoff Schwartz.

S Harrison Smith – 1st round
A 2-year captain at Notre Dame who is known for his intelligence, leadership, consistency and tackling ability, Smith will start from Day 1 at safety.

CB Josh Robinson – 3rd round
The fastest player at the Combine, Robinson has explosive athletic qualities and will compete for time at both CB and punt returner in his rookie season. If he can be the 4th CB and contribute on special teams as a rookie, this pick is a success. From a long-term perspective, Robinson could compete for a starting spot at CB some day.

WR Jarius Wright – 4th round
One of my favorite moves of the draft. Wright provides depth behind Percy Harvin at slot receiver should he sustain an injury or should the Vikings chose to deploy Harvin in the backfield or as an outside receiver on occasion. Wright, a First-Team All-SEC WR in 2011, is an explosive athlete with big-time production at Arkansas.

TE Rhett Ellison – 4th round
Seems to be a player who can fulfill the role of blocking TE and FB. No one can replace Jim Kleinsasser, but that’s the thinking behind this pick perhaps. Ellison is a blue-collar, nose-to-the-grindstone player who will quickly become a fan-favorite in Minnesota, similar to how Kleinsasser’s career progressed.

WR Greg Childs – 4th round
A great value pick here, as a knee injury caused Childs to fall from a 1st- or 2nd-round prospect last year to a mid-round prospect this year. Childs has prototypical size for an outside WR at 6-3, 219 pounds, and he also has great speed and ball skills.

CB Robert Blanton – 5th round
Blanton will likely move from CB to safety with the Vikings and perhaps even join Smith, his college teammate, as a starter in 2012. Good position flexibility here for Blanton, plus he can be a special teams contributor right away as well.

K Blair Walsh – 6th round
Walsh has a very strong leg and was one of just three kickers with a draftable grade on the Vikings board. His accuracy dipped in 2011, but also consider he was 40 of 46 as a sophomore and junior. His accuracy dipped last year because he had so many attempts (led nation in FG tries) and because he had a high number of long attempts. A good selection here because it adds competition to the kicker position with the ever-steady and reliable Ryan Longwell also still in the fold.

LB Audie Cole – 7th round
Cole adds competition to his position, and his best attribute may be position flexibility, as he can play all three LB spots in the Vikings defense.

DL Trevor Guyton – 7th round
Similar to Cole, Guyton is a late-round selection who has a chance to stick around because of his position flexibility. Guyton can play DE or DT, will add competition to the defensive line, and could contribute as a special teams player as well.


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Vikings Utilize Draft, Free Agency To Upgrade WR Position

Posted by Mike Wobschall on April 30, 2012 – 6:27 am

The Vikings entered the offseason with several items on their to-do list, and one of those items was “upgrade the WR position.” Over the past week or so, the Vikings have done a nice job of utilizing the draft and free agency to do just that.

A week ago, the Vikings returning receivers with significant playing time under their belt from the 2011 season were limited to: Devin Aromashodu, Percy Harvin and Michael Jenkins. Several young players, including Manny Arceneaux and Stephen Burton, were also in the fold, but none of them contributed significantly a season ago.

Fast-forward to now, though, and you see improvement. No one will characterize the Vikings WR position as an embarrassment of riches at this point, but there is plenty of reason for optimism about what the Vikings have added.

It started prior to the draft, when the Vikings reached agreement on a free agent contract with veteran Jerome Simpson. A 2nd-round pick of the Bengals in 2008, Simpson had his best season a year ago when he hauled in 50 receptions for 725 yards and 4 TDs. He brings good size and elite athleticism to the Vikings WR corps, and will provide the Vikings offense with the outside, field-stretching presence it needs.

Then during the draft, the Vikings used two 4th-round selections to add even more talent to the group. Jarius Wright, an explosive and ultra-productive slot receiver for Arkansas, was added first. Just minutes later, the Vikings also added Greg Childs, a childhood friend and college teammate of Wright’s. Childs is the prototypical outside WR because of his great size (6-3, 219 pounds) and speed (4.54 in 40-yard dash) combination along with his ability to make acrobatic catches and win versus coverage down the field.

Again, let’s not put the cart before the horse and declare mission accomplished when it comes to improving the passing game. But there’s no question the Vikings added 3 talented players to their WR corps over the last week, and that’s an exciting development for Vikings fans and surely for Vikings QB Christian Ponder.


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