Minnesota Vikings 2012 First-Round Draft pick LT Matt Kalil
With only three short weeks left before the Minnesota Vikings open the regular season against Jacksonville (Sept. 9) the preseason and training camp have revealed some holes that the Vikings need to fix.
While I am not completely writing off the team's chances of challenging this year for an NFC North title, the Vikings didn't exactly reload this offseason.
The biggest offseason free agent signings were TE John Carlson and WR Jerome Simpson, who will be pieces to the puzzle in 2012, but I don't see them putting the Vikings over the top.
Instead the 2012 draft class, led by first-round picks LT Matt Kalil and S Harrison Smith, may be the best additions to a team rebuilding.
Certainly there are other reasons to be optimistic as Vikings fans with Christian Ponder's progress, Adrian Peterson's seemingly miraculous recovery from an torn ACL, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph emerging as go-to weapons, Jared Allen's return from the NFL sack record, etc., but fans need to be realistic with their expectations in 2012.
History does show that there have been teams that have gone from worst to first in their division. However, the Vikings play in a very difficult NFC North division, so accomplishing that feat in 2012 is highly unlikely. But I think they could do it in 2013.
Since most "experts" seem to think that the Vikings will finish with a 6-win, last-place NFC North season, I will operate under the same assumption with these draft-pick options.
Six victories would give the Vikings anywhere between the fifth to 10th pick in the 2013 draft.
Here are five prospects that could play on day one and be an integral part of a Vikings 2013 NFC North title run.
2013 Vikings Draft Picks (just in case you were wondering)
Round - Original Owner of Pick
1st Round - Vikings
2nd Round - Vikings
3rd Round - Vikings
4th Round - Vikings
5th Round - Vikings
6th Round - Vikings keep pick that was originally traded in McNabb deal
6th Round - from Tennessee
7th Round - Vikings
Outside Linebackers on the Current Vikings Roster
Chad Greenway*, Erin Henderson*, Marvin Mitchell, Solomon Elimimian, Larry Dean, Tyler Nielsen and Corey Paredes
Pro Bowl strongside linebacker Chad Greenway returns after leading the team in tackles in 2011. Greenway and Henderson will be asked to play a lot on passing downs as well to hide deficiencies at middle linebacker.
Erin Henderson was re-signed to a one-year contract with the Vikings after getting the chance in 2011 to start at weak-side linebacker. Erin is brother to E.J. Henderson, who was released by the Vikings this offseason after being the starter at middle linebacker. There has been talk that Erin could even be moved to middle linebacker if Brinkley does not perform well.
Behind these two are a list of journeymen or unproven NFL players that are trying to earn a roster spot.
The Vikings did attempt to move DE Everson Griffen to a rush-linebacker role, but the experiment did not go as well as the team hoped it would, and Griffen was moved back to DE.
And with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Jarvis Jones, Georgia.
Jones, 6'3 242-pounds, is a USC transfer that was a pass-rushing terror as a sophomore for the Bulldogs.
He was tied for fifth in the nation in sacks with 13.5, which was tops in the SEC. He recorded 70 tackles with 19.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up and two forced fumbles.
He is an explosive pass rusher off the edge that is improving against the run and is extremely difficult for tackles to get a hold of.
He may be better suited for a 3-4 scheme like Georgia's, but if the Vikings need a pass-rush linebacker to get after the quarterback, he is the best in college right now.
He has the potential to be a 10-sack rookie if he can earn significant snaps.
Cornerbacks on the Current Vikings Roster
Antoine Winfield*, Chris Cook*, Chris Carr, Josh Robinson, Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Marcus Sherels, Bobby Felder, Reggie Jones and Corey Gatewood
Antoine Winfield is 35-year-old former Pro-Bowl player that only played in 5 games in 2011 due to injuries and is on a 'pitch' count in 2012 to keep him fresh.
Chris Cook is being billed as a shut-down corner, but that remains to be seen. He had knee troubles in 2010 and missed the final 10 games of the 2011 season due to a legal dispute.
Josh Robinson was drafted in the third round and has potential but is largely unknown at this point. Robinson missed the first preseason game with a hamstring injury but did excel in the second preseason game.
Chris Carr and Zack Bowman are veterans brought in on one-year deals and aren't the long-term solutions.
Felder, Jones, Burton and Sherels all have good potential, but none of them have stepped up. Gatewood has almost no more than a camp body.
The heir apparent to Winfield would seem to be Robinson on the outside. If either Cook or Robinson don't show the abilities to be a shut-down corner, the Vikings may need to draft one in the pass-happy NFL.
And with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select David Amerson, NC State.
Amerson, at 6'3" and 194-pounds, has an impressive combination of size, speed and ball skills. In 2011 he amassed 13 interceptions, which lead the nation and was the second highest total in FBS history. He also had 59 tackles with five passes broken up. The All-American started nine games as a true freshman in 2010 and had zero interceptions with 57 tackles and a forced fumble.
When the ball is in the air, Amerson is extremely aggressive. He worked a lot out of zone coverages and punished quarterbacks that did throw it his way.
Amerson played some safety in high school and should be able to play the position in the NFL if a team wants to move him there. That may be considered if he fills out his frame and gets bigger as he ages.
With holes all over the Vikings secondary, Amerson could step in and challenge the likes of Greg Jennings, Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson twice a year.
Defensive Tackles on the Current Vikings Roster
Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Trevor Guyton, Tydreke Powell and Chase Baker
Kevin Williams is still producing entering his 10th year in the NFL. The biggest area of concern has been the nose tackle position since Pat Williams retired.
Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are expected to step up to fill the gap in 2012. Both are probably better off as backups than starters. Guion is young (25) and could develop but seems a better fit at the 3-technique than nose tackle.
Christian Ballard and Trevor Guyton are the backups that are most likely to make the roster. Ballard is the immediate backup to Williams while Guyton is learning both roles.
Williams may need to restructure his contract in the offseason to stay with the Vikings beyond 2012. Ballard may be a solid replacement for Williams if he is cut or traded. Guion and Evans have looked good at times in the preseason but aren't dominant.
And with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Star Lotulelei, Utah.
Lotulelei, at 6'3" and 325 pounds, was a First-Team All-Pac-12 pick in 2011 and won the Morris Trophy as the conference's top defensive lineman as voted on by the starting offensive linemen. He recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
As a junior in 2010, Lotulelei was a backup for most of the season and had 21 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss.
Lotulelei is still developing but is very powerful and extremely quick. He is very disruptive at the point of attack. He has the sheer strength to grab guards and toss them aside. He also explodes off the snap to quickly gain leverage on the guard.
Lotulelei could fit in any NFL scheme but could be a prototype tackle for a 4-3 defense.
The Vikings could quickly have one of the most dominant defensive lines in the NFL with Lotulelei and Williams inside and Allen and Robison on the outside.
Middle Linebackers on the Current Vikings Roster
Jasper Brinkley, Audie Cole and Tyrone McKenzie
Jasper Brinkley is the de facto starter in 2012 after the Vikings released E.J. Henderson. He seems to be progressing after battling though camp injuries. He missed all of 2011 recovering from a hip injury.
Tyrone McKenzie is the top backup to Brinkley and filled-in with the first-team defense when Brinkley dealt with a groin injury in OTAs. McKenzie was a fourth-round pick by the Patriots in the 2009 draft that has had some knee injuries in the past.
Audie Cole was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 draft. He had a very strong performance in the first preseason game against the 49ers. He really blew up working with the third and fourth team against the Bills with two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
He played a lot of outside linebacker in college before volunteering to switch to middle linebacker as a senior. He is a work in progress but shows potential.
The Vikings need to solidify the middle of the defense and get stronger against the run. While Brinkley is known for his run-stopping abilities, his injury history is scary. Brinkley lacks coverage skills, leading him to be removed from the field on obvious passing downs. Cole could be a long-term answer but only time will tell.
And with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Manti Te'o, Notre Dame.
Te'o, at 6'2" and 255 pounds, is a smart and athletic player with great upside. He has the size, speed and tackling abilities to be an every-down linebacker. He recorded 128 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks in 2011. He was a sack away from leading the Irish in sacks and tackles.
Te'o registered 133 tackles in 2010. He also recorded 9.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble. As a true freshman in 2009, he notched 63 tackles with 5.5 tackles for a loss.
His quickness makes him a logical fit for a cover 2 system as he is able to get down the deep middle in zone coverage. He is an explosive tackler and makes plays from sideline to sideline. He seems to be able to stick with tight ends and running backs.
The Vikings need a dominant player in the middle of the defense, and there is none better at the college level than Notre Dame's Manti Te'o.
Wide Receivers on the Vikings Current Roster
Percy Harvin, Jerome Simpson, Stephon Burton, Michael Jenkins, Jarius Wright, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Devin Aromashodu, Kerry Taylor, Bryan Walters, AJ Love, Kamar Jorden and Greg Childs
The starter receivers after week four will be Percy Harvin and Jerome Simpson, but due to Simpson's three-game suspension, he needs to be replaced.
There is a camp battle going on between Stephon Burton, Devin Aromashodu and Michael Jenkins as the temporary fill-in for Simpson. Veterans Jenkins and Aromashodu have experience on their side while Burton is young and had a good camp but is unproven. Burton was very erratic in the first preseason game, which is not a good sign. Jenkins is recovering from a knee injury and has not gained his form back. Aromashodu was a 2011 free-agent addition that failed to capitalize on his opportunities.
Rookie fourth-round draft pick Jarius Wright has been nicked up twice this offseason and has not seen many reps with the first or second team. Most of his work has come behind Harvin and Burton and seems to be the fifth of six receivers to make the roster. Fellow fourth-round draft pick Greg Childs suffered a devastating double patella tendon tear and is done for the season.
The rest of the roster is filled out by Emmanuel Arceneaux, Bryan Walters, Kerry Taylor, AJ Love and Kamar Jorden who are long shots to make the roster.
The receiving core makes the list because the Vikings have deeply invested in the past two drafts to build there offense with the selections of LT Matt Kalil and QB Christian Ponder.
Of the top six Viking receivers, both Simpson and Aromashodu are on a one-year "prove it" contracts. Jenkins is declining on a team that is rebuilding.
The Vikings need a playmaker at split end to compliment Percy Harvin, assuming the Vikings give Harvin the extension he wants. If they opt not to give Harvin to a long-term extension, receiver becomes an even greater area of need.
And with their top pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Robert Woods, WR, USC.
Woods, at 6'1" and 190 pounds, caught 111 passes for 1,292 yards 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011.
Woods has an NFL-ready skill set and easily gets separation from defensive backs. He is very quick in and out of his breaks with well-developed route running.
Woods also has reliable hands and is a scoring threat on any play. His run-after-the-catch receiver ability sets him apart from other prospects.
If Woods can add some weight to his frame without diminishing his speed, it should help him to defeat jams at the line of scrimmage at the NFL-level, which may be his only downside.