There are a number of strategies the Minnesota Vikings can employ and it's useful to explore all of them. Here, we'll see them take on a risky draft loaded with high-risk, high-reward players at every turn.
Sometimes, it means taking a chance on players who have exhibited off-the-field concerns with poor decisionmaking and questionable character. At other times, teams will find themselves investing in talented, but injury-prone players who struggle to get onto the field.
Either way, the returns could range from minimal to phenomenal, depending on whether they pan out. While the Detroit Lions and the Cincinnati Bengals get a bad rap for employing this strategy, Bill Belichick at the Patriots seems to have executed this strategy to a T.
They drafted a starter in the seventh-round in Alfonzo Dennard, and a backup quarterback who never saw a start with Matt Cassel. Ryan Mallett may also justify his gamble and Rob Gronkowski has already paid off in a huge way despite missing the entirety of his final season and undergoing back surgery before immediately declaring.
Last week, we took a look at the safest pick the Vikings could make at every position and this week, we'll tackle the players who scream "upside": an oft-used word that describes the capability of a player to make position coaches salivate with what a player can become rather than what he seems to be right now.
Any seven-round draft will have players drafted more for their potential than for current on-field production, but it's fun to go off the deep end and do that at every turn. We'll roll the dice with players who have character concerns, shaky injury histories and unrefined raw athleticism.
It might seem odd to pick a draftnik favorite in the first round and label him a high-risk pick, but it's true that Ogletree brings more questions than most players available to the Vikings in the first round.
Ogletree missed four games of the 2012 season after a suspension from his team, allegedly for drug issues. The year before, he missed six games due to a foot injury suffered in the season opener.
That said, Ogletree displays other signs of good character. By all accounts, Ogletree is an extremely hard worker on the practice field and in the training room. His quick transition to from safety to linebacker as a freshman speaks to his work ethic. His excellence as a student has been noted and he's a leader on the field.
With Ogletree's concerns also come talent and potential. As you would expect of a former safety, he is excellent in coverage and plays with freakish range. He knows his zone landmarks well and patrols the down marker to prevent big gains, which is a good test for situational awareness and field intelligence.
His ability to diagnose plays and read the quarterback gives him the crucial half-step he needs to be in the right position, as he can usually make plays on any ball entering his zone, particularly because of his freakish speed.
Linebackers do not typically run a 4.6 40-yard dash, but ESPN Insider (subscription) and Walter Football both project that sort of quickness for the Bulldog. NFL Draft Scout has found his fastest recorded 40-time to be a 4.62, and one presumes that offseason workouts will speed it up. Only four linebackers in 2012 were faster.
Not only that, his short-area quickness is enviable as well, and he can make plays against agile running backs. He's slightly weaker in the run as he needs to do a better job maintaining gap discipline, but he takes blocks well with the right leverage (a low pad level) and the correct shoulder.
He has good strength on the field and can wrap up some of the most punishing bruisers in the NCAA.
He has some weaknesses, including his tendency to take false steps in coverage and against the run, relying on his athleticism to cover up the mistake. Ogletree can also overpursue on occasion. There are also questions about his backpedal ability, key to any middle linebacker in a 4-3 system.
Nevertheless, he has a high upside and could add bulk to his 237-pound frame without losing too much speed.
The concerns with Da'Rick Rogers are obvious: a suspension at Tennessee followed by a move to Tennessee Tech to finish out his career had already raised eyebrows of the scouting community. However, it's clear that Rogers has the talent to compete at the NFL level.
It isn't just the allegedly failed drug test that holds him back either. He flipped his commitment to Georgia very late in the signing process before being arrested that year for a bar brawl with multiple teammates at Tennessee. During that season, he also was seen yelling at his receivers coach, who retired at the conclusion of 2010.
He output from declined from 1,040 yards to 893 yards this season, but his per-game receiving total didn't change much, from 86.7 yards per game to 81.2. He might not be the deep threat that the Vikings want, but he is a very good possession receiver.
Rogers is a tough, physical receiver that is unfazed by playing in traffic or with catches over the middle. He rarely drops a ball because of contact, although he will occasionally focus on generating yards after the catch too early and dropping the ball because of a lack of focus. He still displays amazing hands and has a number of circus catches on his reel.
His toughness translates into good yards after catch, too, as he almost always falls forward to gain additional yards and will take any defender head-on in order to gain those extra yards. He and Percy Harvin would create a duo that no NFL defensive unit would look forward to defending.
The former-Golden Eagle has work to do getting off the snap, but his strength makes him very hard to press.
He doesn't explode out of the snap, but that isn't a reflection of his stop-start ability. He can generate separation with agility and footwork at the top of the route stem, as well as with good receiver moves with the ball in the air—he can use subtle push-offs and excellent body control to box out defensive backs, which can help in covering up his lack of top-end speed.
He's nearly the full package at receiver and could be the best one in the draft.
Marquess Wilson has had a disappointing senior season, to say the least.
With a new coach and a slow start to the season with (only eight receptions for 107 yards and no touchdowns in the first two games) Wilson seemed to chafe under the leadership of Mike Leach.
In early November, these tensions came to a head in early November and Wilson was banned from the team after the Cougars' sixth consecutive loss, in the midst of a four-game touchdownless stretch (on what was then a 2-7 season). The rule he violated was never specified, but Leach complained that his effort "border[ed] on cowardice."
The coach evidently bristled with Wilson's response to his style, implying that the receiver couldn't take honest feedback in a press conference after the suspension, with another coach following up to express disbelief that Wilson had walked out of a practice.
In response to accusations about his "zombie-like" play, Wilson argued that he in fact quit the team, and accused Leach of abuse. He later recanted the accusation after Leach was cleared of any wrongdoing by both Washington State University and the PAC-12.
These heavy accusations, along with his benching despite being the team's leading receiver, clearly brings into question his maturity and fitness for an NFL roster.
There's room for redemption, however. Wilson has never had a previous reported problem with any coaching staff and was well-regarded as a team player who was a passionate competitor on and off the field. The fact that this was his only red flag—albeit a rather glaring one—might give credit to his character, given Leach's history.
Mike Leach—a man with few friends in the NFL—was previously dismissed from Texas Tech amidst accusations of abuse of a concussed player (former ESPN analyst Craig James' son). He's never been known for his sterling reputation as a player's coach, despite his clear offensive genius. Leach's reputation may soften the blow to Wilson's draft stock. One has to imagine that a more level-headed coach would carry much more weight with similar accusations.
As for his on-field talent, Wilson has talent in spades. Wilson's acceleration makes up for the fact that his speed in the long run isn't the fastest for a top-tier receiver. He'll eat up a cushion and kick into a fifth gear when running for a deep ball.
His route-running is excellent on certain routes, but rough on underneath routes, where he's more likely to round off corners. His smooth running and athleticism complement well with his ability to make acrobatic catches or adjust to poorly thrown balls.
This year was a bit of a down-year on the field as well, especially put against his stellar 82-catch, 1,388-yard 2011. He had a few more mental lapses leading to drops this year than in others, but he still has large, soft hands that can swallow the ball.
There's no question that he's very competitive on the field and he's played with focus in the past. There's good reason to believe that he'll play with the focus he showed as a sophomore and freshman if he lands with the right team.
There are good indications that the Vikings are such a team, despite the rumors swirling around Percy Harvin's status on the team. He could produce in a big way for the Vikings.
A deep defensive tackle draft will see talented players fall to the fourth round and some of them have quite a bit more talent than those picked above them. Concerns about Kaleb Ramsey's health and character will tank his stock, but he's quite the talented player, leading the Boston College Eagles in Luke Kuechly's absence.
Ramsey has the ability to play at both the 3-technique and 1-technique positions, but needs to add bulk if he wants to play as the nose tackle in the Vikings' system, as he's projected to weigh 295 pounds at the Combine. He hasn't been asked to handle too many double teams, but handles them well when asked.
He's an active run stopper that can get into the backfield, and did it well even as a sophomore. His biggest asset is his burst off the snap, which has covered up his sometimes poor pad level. That first step has allowed him to get an edge on interior offensive linemen. He has both lateral quickness and the ability to drop back into coverage on occasion.
His ability to move his hands well has helped him get past run blockers and to the ball-carrier. He can disengage from blocks quickly both as a pass rusher and as a run defender to make the play. One should understand that it is difficult to overstate his pursuit capability. Ramsey has even chased down Colin Kaepernick multiple times.
Gaining weight should only be good for the stout defender, as he's already strong for his size. He plays with a mean streak and consistently attempts to make the play in the run game. As a pass rusher, he can give up if he doesn't make an impact immediately, but still has a better motor than many other defensive tackles—particularly because he's played so many more snaps than similarly sized prospects.
His decisionmaking on the field is generally good, as he can read the breakdown of the play and react appropriately. The execution of his pass-rushing moves shows that he has potential, even if the diversity of his pass-rushing moves don't wow scouts. The Eagle has good balance and can move his hips well when blowing by defenders.
With only two big weaknesses as a defensive tackle, Ramsey could be well set to go in the bottom of the first round in a normal year, a number of off-field issues will see him drop.
Kaleb Ramsey missed nearly all of 2011 as a result of plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but did respond with intense dedication in the offseason to prevent future injuries with extremely tough workouts to improve his durability and flexibility.
It didn't work.
He played in only two games in 2012, a season he was granted special eligibility to play by the NCAA for missing an entire year. He has also missed games in 2010 for concussions and hip problems, and also injured an ankle in 2009.
Beyond that, a suspension in 2010 might further hurt his draft stock, as questions about injury do not pair well with concerns about character.
Without the injuries, Ramsey could easily go early and may challenge for several Pro Bowls in his career. With them, his stock may drop from anywhere to late in the third round to early in the sixth. A clearly talented player that has been wasted in the training room, Ramsey represents exactly the kind of high-risk, high-reward gamble that excites fans.
Replacing Antoine Winfield seems an impossible task at times, with Winfield having played at a level that would make downhill linebackers jealous. But the rare opportunity to have another vicious tackling cornerback will present itself in the 2013 Draft in the form of Tyrann Mathieu.
Make no mistake, the likelihood that Mathieu becomes the next Winfield is lower than it is high, but it is certainly significant. Both defensive backs are 5'9" and are within five pounds of each other, with Mathieu the lighter of the two at 175 pounds.
Both cornerbacks have preternatural instincts when it comes to sussing out the play, although Winfield is better at play diagnosis. They naturally flow to the ball and play with the type of abandon that seems to be absent from the modern cornerback.
Mathieu doesn't play at the elite level that Winfield does, and the experience gap isn't the only reason. Winfield was clearly a first-round pick as he left Ohio State, which isn't true for the troubled Mathieu. Even without the off-field concerns, Mathieu's talent would not have landed him in the first round.
His aggressive play has been deservedly lauded, but it has landed him in serious trouble on the field. He'll too often play the ball instead of his man and allow the reception, when basic coverage would have done just fine. That's not to say that he was a bad defensive player; he may have been the best defender of 2011. It simply means that what he got away with in college might not translate to the NFL.
The Honey Badger's coverage skills are a mixed bag. At one end, his ability to read a quarterback, time his jumps and break to the football are elite. He has fluidity that many great defensive backs might envy and can play in space against ballcarriers very well.
At the other end, his footwork is a mess, particularly at the snap. He'll get his feet tangled up, play too high and lose balance, all potentially fatal flaws in the NFL. Like many SEC cornerbacks, his backpedal leaves a lot to be desired, and he could be very limited in some zone situations because of it. He's not a good pattern-match corner, as he'll read routes poorly.
Nevertheless his, ability to hawk the ball is valuable and, if he can overcome size concerns, he'll be an incredibly big value in the fourth round, particularly because his return ability—he had two punt return touchdowns in 2011 and looked good in kickoffs as well.
But the most disconcerting problem with Mathieu has been his off-the-field behavior. A suspension in 2011 saw him miss a game against Auburn, allegedly for a failed drug test. After that, he seems to have likely failed two more drug tests before another suspension handed down by LSU took him out of the 2012 season.
Choosing to continue his studies at LSU, he entered rehab, a mature decision that should have helped him, both in his personal life and as an NFL prospect. After that, however, Mathieu chose to leave rehab after four weeks and return to Baton Rouge from his Houston care center. Shortly afterwards, he was arrested for possession of 10 bags of high-grade marijuana and paraphernalia.
It's not that Mathieu made one mistake, or even two. It's that he made similar mistakes consistently throughout his time at LSU and afterwards, despite having experienced the consequences time and again. This history of poor decisionmaking reflects extremely poorly on Mathieu and his chances to stay out of trouble at the next level, where he'll be faced with more time, opportunity and money by which to make those mistakes.
It may be clear that the Vikings offense needs more help than the defense, but there's no question that a strong defense complements the favored approach of the run-first attack the Vikings have developed. Once again, the Vikings could take a chance on a linebacker that can play in the middle or outside, although Mauti seems to be quite the risk.
While he's played inside linebacker for the past two years, his proficiency on the outside has earned him team awards, and he plays either position adeptly. This versatility should complement the Vikings well, as they wouldn't have to rely on Jasper Brinkley as their backup middle linebacker in case Alec Ogletree goes down.
Mauti would likely play best in the Will slot, where Erin Henderson currently plays. Like Henderson, the Nittany Lion has rare recognition ability and has excellent gap discipline, crucial for an outside linebacker in the Vikings' Tampa-2 system.
While he could learn to negotiate traffic a little better, he still shows skill avoiding blocks and his sideline-to-sideline play would certainly make him an asset. His pursuit is excellent and he takes extremely sound angles to attack the runner.
As a tackler, he is generally skilled, although he needs to learn more to break down tackles in open space. He can miss some tackles, but he has good body control to take down ball-carriers.
He doesn't take blocks on as well as most linebackers, but playing on the weakside should absolve him of most of those responsibilities. His active hands and general determination will allow him to disengage from blocks, but more often than not, he can be moved by bigger blockers.
In the pass game, Mauti is perfectly suited to the outside, as he does a great job finding depth and getting to his zone landmarks, then playing with the awareness and range one expects from a starting-caliber NFL linebacker. He can read a quarterback's eyes and break on the ball, and does a good job anticipating routes as well. While he doesn't necessarily rack up interceptions, he consistently breaks up passes.
Unfortunately, a skill set that would normally make him a Day 2 pick might end up seeing Mauti fall into the late rounds because of his injury history. He hasn't played a full season of college football. He tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in 2009 and missed the whole year. In 2010, he missed a game against Illinois with a sprained ankle, and then against Indiana with a shoulder injury.
The next year, he only played four games, leaving one of them early with a concussion. Against Eastern Michigan, he tore his other ACL and missed the rest of the season. 2012 seemed to be his year, however, and he grabbed three interceptions and 92 tackles in 10 games. Unfortunately, partway through his 11th game, he suffered a knee injury (after racking up three more tackles) and missed the final game against Wisconsin.
He'll have to prove that he's healthy and likely submit MRIs to any team interested in drafting him. The Combine will be a critical test of his leg strength, agility and overall fitness as an NFL player and the Vikings could be interested if he passes those tests. If any athletic trainer can deal with knee injuries, it's the Vikings' own Eric Sugarman.
James Wilson's career could not be more disappointing. A five-star recruit from Tim Tebow's high school, Allen D. Nease High School in Jacksonville, Wilson was the highest-rated guard by both ESPN and Rivals.com.
Unfortunately, Wilson couldn't see the field. Before his first year, he tore the meniscus in his left knee and missed the season, with doctors operating on his knee twice to repair it. He started 10 games for Florida the next year, but fractured both his feet in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama and had to miss the rest of the year.
In 2009, he was able to return to the team with soreness in his feet and even started four of the 14 games Florida played that year.
Soon after, he missed nearly all of 2010 after re-injuring his knee and undergoing season-ending surgery. After that, he required another surgery in the 2011 preseason, bringing his total knee surgeries to four.
His recovery didn't see him regain his roster spot, however, and he was relegated to the scout team upon his return. Over the course of the preseason and regular season, Wilson worked his way up the Florida depth chart, culminating in a start against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.
When his request to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility due to medical hardship was granted, he played in nearly every game for Florida. He did, however, miss a game due to an orbital fracture—a break in the bones surrounding the eye.
Wilson thinks his relative health in the latter two years of his college career is a result of changing his workout practices and slimming down to a svelte 323 pounds. If his injuries can be managed with healthy training practices, the Vikings are one of the better fits in the NFL, as their player maintenance is among the best in the country.
A healthy James Wilson brings quite a bit to the guard position. He's more of a run blocker than a pass blocker, but his pass blocking skills aren't too bad. His weight loss has contributed to surprisingly light feet and he can move quickly on screen blocks. In some cases, Wilson can be seen 20 yards downfield springing a block in the secondary.
He drives well with his legs and leaves defensive tackles on the ground, both in the passing game and running game. While generally he seems inconsistent on the snap, he's more often than not the first lineman firing off the ball in order to make his block.
Wilson plays noticeably high, and needs to work on leverage much more. His lateral flexibility and movement aren't elite, so his inside play needs to have much more consistency from a pad level perspective—his ability to lock onto a defender isn't elite, but it's more fixable than some of the other issues with his play.
Nevertheless, he has had good games against the likes of Bennie Logan and Everett Dawkins, although he was noticeably better against their lesser-known counterparts, the nose tackles. He can often be seen driving linemen 15 yards downfield and plays at a high level for the entire game.
He generally seals well on the pull, and his light feet are useful, but he needs to be quicker and more precise when moving around; he'll occasionally bump around in traffic or whiff on his block. When he's finished with a defender, he'll look for more blocks to make and will play until the end of the whistle much more than other players.
Wilson can sustain himself on long drives well, playing nearly as well at the end of a long possession as he did at the beginning. He doesn't really tire out over the course of the game either, and can be seen driving forward with as much vigor as before.
He still needs better awareness as a pass rusher, so he can identify and block delayed blitzer or stunting linemen. The beleaguered Gator flashes a lot of ability and occasionally shows quite a bit of savvy, but he still needs to learn more to be effective. That said, his strength and play on the field makes him quite a bit better than most Day 3 prospects, and one would suspect that Wilson would go in the third round if he wasn't victim to such severe injury problems.
A healthy James Wilson could start for a number of teams in the NFL, but that's a big qualifier given his history.
Ray-Ray Armstrong entered Miami surrounded by anticipation, as one of the most highly recruited high school players in the area. He hadn't really lived up to his hype, although he was set for a great 2012, he was identified as one of the most improved players in spring training and put on the watchlist for the Bednarik Award, an award given to the top defensive player in football.
Unfortunately for Armstrong and Miami, the talented young defensive back saw missed time in 2011 for violating NCAA rules—improper contact with a booster, felon Nevin Shapiro, convicted for a Ponzi scheme.
After missing those four games, he was further suspended once more in the middle of the season for a single game after a dinner with a PR representative who works for a firm that represents athletes. That dinner turned out to be benign, as the rep was his girlfriend who used personal money to put him up at the restaurant and hotel, but his tweeting about the dinner was ill-advised.
That in itself may not have been enough of a red flag to push him down too far the draft, but he was kicked off the team before the 2012 season for an unspecified rules violation, which was later revealed to be because of his willingness to lie to investigators about the booster violations.
He transferred to Faulkner University in Alabama, but the NAIA did not allow him to play football, citing a provision that disallows schools to field athletes who were banned at other four year institutions from playing their sport.
While Armstrong ended up graduating from Miami, he is a year removed from playing any football. The violations he's guilty of in particular don't seem too bad—it seems to be the worst kept secret in college football that players often receive improper benefits—but lying to investigators and an absence from football are both big red flags for talent evaluators.
In his junior season, he flashed a lot of talent, and was in the discussion for a second-round pick—even potentially sneaking into the first with a good offseason.
But Armstrong's appeal has more to do with his physical talent and less to do with his play on the field. He doesn't take great angles and struggles to read routes or a quarterback's eyes. He does, however, do well to break to the ball, and is a big reason why he had 4 interceptions in 2010 and 2011. His five tackles for loss in those two seasons (20 games) also speak well to his potential.
He can't really match man-to-man with quicker receivers, but his range in covering the deep zone is good, so long as he's not too crossed up with the wrong read—if he bites on play action, he is likely out of the play.
He's fast, tall and strong. He can stack and shed tight ends, and plays with force inside the box. He can regularly bring down ball-carriers when he gets to them and can deliver the big hit. As a player in space, there's a lot he can improve on, but his strength is up there.
Along with that, he flashes top-end speed and is projected to run a high 4.5 or a low 4.6, which would make him one of the faster safeties at last year's combine and a top three safety the year before.
If he can get back into playing shape and gets coached up, the Vikings might find themselves with a real playmaker to play strong safety while Harrison Smith patrols the deep zone.