Every week, new developments change the draft order and how teams, scouts and draftniks perceive the incoming crop of rookies. The bottom of the draft should change pretty significantly. At the same time, the relative rise of other players over the past few weeks has changed draft outlooks, despite none of the other players involved playing a game.
The draft is an odd, ever-changing animal.
The East-West Shrine Game is over, and while there were a number of standout players, the game shouldn't affect draft evaluation too much. In fact, NFL agent and B/R contributor Marc Lillibridge says the games might change draft grades by two percent.
That might be lowballing it, but the point remains the same—the game performance itself is interesting but is largely used to confirm what NFL teams learned throughout the season. In fact, most scouts leave before the actual game and just watch the practices, something B/R's own Ryan Riddle confirms in his firsthand account of the Shrine Game, in which he participated.
The practices have historically been much more important than the game. Players are tested more in these practices than they ever have been in their lives, and their dedication, physicality and interactions with fellow players are scrutinized more than ever before.
These practices have changed player grades and put prospects into perspective. And that changes draft orders.
With this week in the books, the NFL draft projections will change, including that of the Vikings—who might now take a closer look at Shrine Game participants. We'll take a look at how the Vikings' draft would shake out if they were guaranteed to take some of the standout Shrine Game players.
While the beginning of the offseason saw Johnathan Hankins as the potentially second-ranked defensive tackle behind Star Lotulelei of Utah, more evaluation and tape review (and a BCS National Championship Game) have allowed tackles like Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), Shariff Floyd (Florida) and Jesse Williams (Alabama) to potentially leapfrog Hankins in the rankings.
The NFL draft tracker, for example, ranks both Richardson and Floyd above Hankins right now. CBS still has Hankins as the second-best tackle, but ranks Richardson and Williams within six spots of Hankins on its big board. Experienced scouts, like those at Optimum Scouting or Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, both have several defensive tackles ranked above Hankins, as well.
That means, through no fault of his own, that Hankins could fall to the Vikings at the 23rd spot in the draft.
If the opportunity arises, the Vikings should jump. Not only because Hankins would be excellent value at that spot in the draft, but because he perfectly fits a need the Vikings have had since Pat Williams left—nose tackle.
The Vikings have an arguably larger need at wide receiver, but the difference in value of wide receivers available to them in the second round and the ones available at the 23rd spot is much smaller than the difference for available nose tackles.
This is particularly true because many of the top defensive tackles, like Floyd, Richardson and LSU's Bennie Logan, are much better suited at the 3-technique or undertackle—the position that John Randle, Keith Millard and Kevin Williams all have played, which is primarily a pass-rusher attacking a gap defended by one player.
The Vikings need someone who can consistently occupy two blockers, and while current Vikings nose tackle Letroy Guion does draw attention from players, he doesn't cause teams to run away from him or cause fits in blocking schemes.
Hankins does have that ability.
While many dismiss Hankins as a two-down tackle, he played most downs for Ohio State at his hefty 320, and he played them well. Further, the ability to force opposing teams to convert 3rd-and-long instead of 3rd-and-short is underrated, and an effective defense on the first two downs generally leads to better defense on third downs.
Minnesota's defense is generally considered to have improved in many ways, but it still has a low defensive drive-success rate—a metric developed by Football Outsiders that measures the frequency of touchdowns and first downs allowed (as opposed to offensive drive-success rate, which measures the frequency of those events generated by an offense)—compared to the rest of the league. They ranked 26th, in fact.
Given that drive success rate is an extraordinarily good predictor of success, managing third downs is critical for the Vikings if they want to repeat their playoff run. Beyond that, the success rate on second and third downs has been one of the best statistics to retrodict wins for years.
The Buckeye can help Minnesota dominate these advanced stats with solid play when lined up between the center and weak-side guard. He sits well at the point of attack and is a stonewall for many blockers. His movement laterally and push upfield against strong guards make him an excellent run-stuffer. He needs to work on generating a pass rush, but he can still disrupt the pocket from where he's at.
When playing against the stretch zone, for example, he can easily penetrate the backfield and really cause problems.
He has speed, power and intelligence, all necessary for one of the keystone positions of the Tampa 2 defense.
Already, we've seen this draft (along with many of my previous mocks) deviate from the norm for the Vikings, as a number of analysts have the Vikings selecting a receiver in the first round and addressing other needs later.
In fact, in this database compiled by Christopher Gates of the Daily Norseman, nearly 62 percent of those mocks have the Vikings taking a receiver in the first round, with only about 32 percent taking a defensive tackle.
It's a crapshoot figuring out which wide receivers will last into the second round. Matt Miller has Robert Woods of USC, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson and Terrance Williams of Baylor all falling to picks close to the Vikings at 52, while Drafttek's computer simulation has Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee and Aaron Dobson of Marshall seeing the latter half of the second round (a simulation aided by the help of Michael Schottey, who does excellent work here at the Bleacher Report as well).
CBS' prospect rankers see Markus Wheaton of Oregon State, Da'Rick Rogers of Tennessee Tech and Justin Hunter of Tennessee in the late second round, with Terrance Williams higher and Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech, Cobi Hamilton of Arkansas and Stedman Bailey of West Virginia potentially rounding out the bottom of the second and top of the third.
Nevertheless, it certainly seems like a talented receiver should be available to the Vikings in the second round, including some predictions that have presseason favorite Robert Woods or bowl-game darling DeAndre Hopkins.
The consensus seems to be, however, that a receiver like Terrance Williams will be available near enough to the Vikings that they could either pick him outright at 52 or trade a minimal amount to grab him.
More likely than not, a former track star like Woods can put to rest claims that he's not a burner and move up in the workout phase of the draft, at both the combine and his pro day—athleticism he'll have regained after fully recovering from his ankle injury.
Hopkins seems to be rising as a result of his Peach Bowl performance against an elite secondary in that of LSU. A backwards look at his film seems to confirm a lot of the basic skills that Hopkins exhibited in that game.
Cordarrelle Patterson has been mocked in perhaps more random places than any other receiver in this group, with the NFL draft tracker ranking him as the top receiver, Drafttek ranking him as the ninth-best receiver and numerous other groups ranking him in between. It does seem that he will generally go higher than the Vikings can select, especially because the workout stages coming up should be extremely favorable to him.
Williams shouldn't be seen as a consolation pick, however.
He wasn't asked to run a lot of routes at Baylor and needs more short-area quickness, but he is a prototypical field stretcher with speed and size. He has excellent body control that complements his focus on the ball well, as he can track the ball and adjust to it extremely well.
He has been asked to run the types of routes the Vikings either run often or need more of, as the complex underneath routes seem to be handled well by the rest of the receiving corps. His comebacks, fades and post routes are all well developed, and he can time those steps well.
With his ability to shake cornerbacks with both speed and classic shake-off techniques, he can become a legitimate outside threat.
More than that, however, he fits in the Vikings offense perhaps better than any other receiver above him—the combination of deep speed, ability to adjust to poorly placed passes and his tenacious run blocking all provide the Vikings with what they need (a deep threat), with a receiver who can make up for mistakes from a quarterback with concerning play (generating yards after the catch even with balls placed behind him or too high) and one that can enable the most powerful facet of the Vikings offense (excellent edge blocking and the ability to open up defenses).
The possession receivers above him might not provide the capability to go deep, while many of the field stretchers are poor blockers. The Vikings know they have talent in the slot and just need to find ways to give headaches to defensive coordinators.
Williams could very easily be that guy.
It's true that the Vikings probably need an inside linebacker much more than they need an additional cornerback, with Chris Cook and Josh Robinson seemingly set on the outside while an eternally young Antoine Winfield played perhaps the best slot cornerback of the year in 2012.
But Winfield will leave eventually, and the top four linebacker prospects (Manti Te'o of Notre Dame, Alec Ogletree of Georgia, Kevin Minter of LSU and Arthur Brown of Kansas State) are significantly better than those at fifth and below—perhaps by an entire round.
The value pick here might be to grab a player at a smaller need but better fit for his draft stock, while picking a linebacker later—any linebacker grabbed between the Vikings' pick here and at the top of the fourth round will not be too much different than who will be available to the Vikings with the Lions' pick.
The small-school pick of Robert Alford might confuse a few people, but it's pretty clear that Alford is among the best cornerbacks in the FCS.
His Senior Bowl practices might be a big determinant of his final draft stock. He will be competing in Mobile with B.W. Webb of William & Mary as the top cornerback selected from a small school.
According to small-school scouts, Alford might be the best small-school prospect overall, and his athleticism is the reason.
The athletic corner has a high ceiling, with a 5'11" frame that carries 185 pounds. His personal best in the 40-yard dash is a 4.33, and he will likely produce a low 4.4 or high 4.3 in the NFL's most famous combine test.
With that straight-line speed is great agility and very fluid hips. Alford plays in the transition well and can shift from off-man cushions to outside sideline coverage well. His quick feet should let him stick in the slot when need be, and his aggressive play might revitalize the Vikings defense, which has had a poor run of several years with very low interception totals—ranking 27th in total interceptions in 2012, last in 2011 and 17th in 2010.
He needs to test himself against some of the better receivers in the country before he can fully earn his third-round grade, but right now he looks to have enough talent that the Vikings could gift themselves an underrated corner in the third round.
Alford is not without problems, however.
While he naturally plays in coverage well, there are questions about his effectiveness as a tackler—he's inconsistent in wrapping up and is overaggressive in the run game, taking either poor angles or not playing with enough depth.
This doesn't mean he doesn't play hard. He's blitzed often for Southeastern Louisiana, and his closing speed is extraordinary. With awareness as a zone defender and a smooth backpedal, Alford could fit well in the Vikings system, which focuses more on limiting yards after the catch and playing underneath zones.
He has good awareness in zones and displays excellent route recognition. With that, his focus with the ball in the air might help the Vikings turn around their poor interception luck and create plays on defense.
If he can learn to take better angles in the run and wrap up, he could easily be a top starter in the NFL.
Jonathan Bostic might not fall to the Vikings at the top of the fourth round, but the dearth at inside linebacker really should caution teams from some of the middling prospects in the third round. Bostic might be over-drafted in the third because of needs at linebacker, but he's much more of a fourth-round talent.
Earlier, he was identified as a "safe" pick for the Vikings, and that assurance of consistency still stands: He's a great leader on the field and has a small injury history.
Beyond that, Bostic provides excellent options for the Vikings in the passing game, something that they've struggled with having Brinkley in the Mike position. Given that Brinkley was ranked as the second-worst inside linebacker at coverage by Pro Football Focus and the fourth-worst inside linebacker overall, the Vikings absolutely need to address this position.
The Florida linebacker's greatest asset is his ability to play and predict the routes that receivers will run, using dedicated film study and plus instincts to (generally correctly) anticipate his assignments' moves in the pass game.
More than that, his work ethic and natural capability allow him to suss out the likelihood of play-action passes and draws.
What Brinkley doesn't have that the Vikings would need in the Tampa 2 system is a good backpedal to patrol the deep zone. Bostic has that despite some stiffness in changing direction. He doesn't explode out of the backpedal, but he'll get to his assigned landmark and use his excellent instincts to find where he needs to be and make a play.
He is perhaps an average tackler, but he's a good hitter. He doesn't take many false steps, which makes him a better prospect than many more-agile linebackers, and can get to the ball-carrier with regularity. Laterally nimble runners and backs who can slip out of tackles will give him trouble, and he's not the best in open space.
Nevertheless, he'd be a big upgrade over Brinkley in every facet of the game.
While he may not be the most desirable linebacker to take on lead blocks, he is also not a liability when matching up with pulling guards or plunging fullbacks.
He needs better hands—which can be taught, as he is by all accounts an excellent student of the game—and will occasionally lose leverage. Nevertheless, he can really make plays if he stays low, which he often does.
Bostic might not scream "Pro Bowl linebacker" to a lot of fans, but he really does have the mental capability to get there. More importantly, he fills out a needy Vikings defense that got away with more than it deserved to with Brinkley in the middle.
The first of many Shrine performers mocked here, Earl Watford did well despite not starting off his practice week with any measure of success.
He underperformed in the punch drill early on but consistently displayed technical skill and athletic capability over the course of the week. He blocked well both in one-on-one drills and in play on the line of scrimmage.
In some cases, he pushed his assigned defender to the opposite sideline.
He seems to be a great fit for a zone-blocking team like the Vikings (or even better, a team that uses both zone and man blocking, like the Vikings are beginning to), as he blocks in motion extremely well and gets to the second level with surety without missing his assignment.
Watford can lock himself onto a defender and keep locked in for quite some time. With good hand work and quick feet, Watford is the perfect pulling blocker or lateral zone road-grader.
As a pass-blocker, he outperformed his competition, which included quite a bit of talent—defensive tackles Will Pericak of Colorado, William Campbell of Michigan, Joe Vellano of Maryland and Scott Vallone of Rutgers. His flexibility against finesse moves and ability to set himself against power-rushers would lend versatility to the interior, which the Vikings clearly don't have.
In fact, his excellence here has had scouts for NFL teams talk about him as the second-best zone-blocking guard after Jonathan Cooper of UNC. His balance, coordination and control worked well with his surprising strength and ability to move his feet at the point of attack.
Watford is not without his questions, however. There's a reason he wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl, which is the same reason he did well at the Shrine Game: He consistently has performed well against lower-tier talent and hasn't really had much of an opportunity to take on the best defensive tackles at his level.
The Shrine Game didn't present those chances, and that concern will linger over him heading into April.
He still loses pad level, his agility hasn't been tested by quicker defenders when moving to the second level, and he still will have to prove he's strong enough to compete in the NFL. Pushing around under-leveraged, lighter defensive tackles at the consolation all-star game isn't the same as pushing around players like Haloti Ngata or Stephen Paea.
It is unlikely that the Vikings will get their hands on all of the excellent Shrine players that will be identified in this mock, but the players who acquitted themselves well will surely find themselves the targets of extreme interest by a number of teams, including the Vikings.
Watford is one of those players.
Keith Pough was one of the more-anticipated invites to the Shrine Game, following an excellent career at Howard, with 349 tackles in three years.
His ability to get to the ball and make plays is perhaps his most tangible skill on the field, but it's his leadership and communication that got him noticed at Shrine practices. Coaches and scouts loved how engaged Pough was, and he brought energy to the sidelines and the field.
Pushing those around him to perform better, Pough clearly represents the type of leadership that NFL teams love to have. With that came intelligence and on-field leadership that is critical to making plays and winning games. The Howard prospect would often predict offensive plays vocally while on the sidelines and made sure teammates were correctly aligned all week.
His nonstop motor and attitude are his best qualities, but he's much more than a motivational mouthpiece for players—he can make an impact by himself as well.
All week long, Pough excelled in drills. He was the only linebacker, for example, that didn't need reminding to stay low in blocking drills.
He has an aggressive play style that complements his athleticism and natural ability. With good flexibility, fluid hips and excellent coordination, he's the type of athlete coaches want to mold. He can fly sideline to sideline and also shows good awareness in coverage.
The two biggest concerns about the first player from Howard to ever earn a Shrine Game invite are fairly obvious. Questions about his size in the NFL—241 pounds at 6'2"—can be resolved if Pough can put on more weight while still maintaining the speed and flexibility that made him such a prolific tackler.
Scouts rightly have concerns with Pough's ability to take on blockers, as he doesn't have amazing stack-and-shed capability and could use more muscle to deal with the problems that fullbacks and tight ends will provide him.
The second concern is the fact that he hasn't put himself up against top-tier competition, a concern that has only been resolved in a small way with his appearance at the Shrine Game.
This concern will keep him relatively low on draft boards, but he could end up being the second coming of Ed McDaniel, a linebacker the Vikings drafted in the fifth round who was undersized but ended up making a Pro Bowl trip.
Before Boyd got onto the field, NFL evaluators were a bit disappointed with what they saw. With little natural flexibility—he looked poor when stretching—and a poor "body type" for an NFL defensive lineman (with weight concentrated in his midsection and short legs for his height), he looked like he could have been a bust.
Instead, he absolutely outperformed his opposition.
With an extremely high motor and the ability to involve his teammates on the line, Boyd clearly has the intangibles that one rarely sees in an interior lineman. He's not John Randle, but it was clear his teammates responded to him and his dedication.
He started off the week working to get off blocks and stay low on point but moved into Wednesday and Thursday practices with excellent lateral agility, good change-of-direction skills and an ability to disengage from run defenders and make plays.
He was generally the first lineman off the snap and executed his power moves well to get past linemen. He needs to learn a bit more in terms of technique rushing, but the results of his work were excellent.
Boyd can fit in either a 3-technique role or a 1-technique role, as he sits well in the run game and is a reliable anchor. As a 1-technique, he would need to add more weight, but he could be useful.
Boyd's ability to make plays in the backfield against single blockers projects him better as a 3-technique, and he could easily back up Kevin Williams while Williams plays out the final year of his contract.
Boyd needs more in pursuit if he's ever going to live up to Williams' legacy, but he's an underrated talent that would go in the late fifth round were it not for his body type and an NFL draft chock full of defensive-line talent.
Before the Shrine Game, there was the distinct possibility that Jasper Collins was the best receiver on the East roster. While Chad Bumphis will surely be turning heads now, Collins was no slouch in practices.
The 5'10" Division III prospect impressed many with his ability to generate separation against defensive backs with several grades of skill over the competition he was used to.
There's good word saying that Collins was the most polished route-runner and the most consistent receiver. His excellent footwork serves him well in creating open spaces for his quarterback, and he can generate yards after the catch with good short-area quickness.
He did have some troubles, including relatively consistent issues getting off of receiver jams in press coverage. Collins doesn't look too imposing, and his 5'11", 184-pound frame is a bit disconcerting to some in the scouting community.
They needn't worry too much, though—Collins did look imposing against some of the better corners in attendance.
He sank his hips well when breaking out of routes and generates burst when chasing down deep balls.
Collins is also committed to team play and wouldn't likely ever object to run blocking, although he has more to learn there.
Collins made some difficult catches and showed he could learn a more complex route tree without many problems. With his ability to adjust to the ball in the air, he could certainly be a big prospect for the Vikings. His timing and soft hands will both enable the Vikings to rack up points with intermediate or deep routes.
He doesn't have the most imposing physique or the quickest top-end speed, but he clearly flashes the talent that leads to success in the NFL.
If he can translate that talent with solid technique work, he'll be difficult to stop.