The 2013 NFL draft is shaping up to be one of the deeper drafts teams have seen in recent seasons, and the Minnesota Vikings, like every team, have an opportunity to add prospects that perfectly fit what they need in the schemes that they run.
While some players look to fit every scheme, others seem perfectly built for certain offenses or defenses. For the Vikings, this doesn't mean that these players will necessarily be the best on the board, just that their skill sets perfectly align with what the Vikings need, even if the talent does not.
Luckily for them, they could find a combination of talent and fit in what happens to be a very deep draft in the Vikings' biggest areas of concern: wide receiver, defensive tackle and middle linebacker.
In the Vikings' Tampa-2 defense, they need a middle linebacker who can drop deep and cover, while also reacting well in zones. With that, they need a big body on the defensive line who can consistently take on double-teams to free up pass-rushers—the primary conduit of the defense's aggressiveness.
On offense, the Vikings will require a wide receiver who can complement the skills they already have: an excellent short game, with high-volume yards after the catch, along with one of the nation's most powerful rushing attacks. That complement of skills would come in the form of a deep threat who can move defenders out of the box and unclog passing lanes.
The receiver must also be able to work with the primary plays and constraints that the offense imposes, which means effective bubble screens and explosion at the stem of the routes.
In most years, this would be a challenge. This year, they might be able to find all three of those players in the draft.
It's a "safe assumption" that Michael Jenkins will be gone, largely due to cap space. While the controversial but talented Percy Harvin has led the Vikings receiver corps with his explosiveness, Michael Jenkins was brought in to be a reliable option to move the chains, especially on third down.
Keenan Allen can serve that role well, finding spaces in underneath zones and catching the ball well.
Keenan Allen's drop rate is below five percent.
There's no question that Allen has the ability to pluck the ball out of the air, fight in traffic and high-point the football. What perhaps goes undiscussed too often, however, is that his half-brother Zach Maynard has been a consistently terrible quarterback.
With poor ball placement and a near inability to lead the receiver, Allen's above-average yards after the catch are frankly astounding, and his ability to adjust to poor passes is at a very high level.
The Vikings offense relies on receivers who can run routes outside of landmarks, sit in the coverage gaps of zones and make simple reads on cornerbacks.
Allen possess all of those skills. Aside from those requirements, the specific constraint plays that the Vikings run—plays designed to punish defenders for selling out against the base offense—demand their own set of skills.
Generally, the Vikings run bubble screens and play-action passes to check against their base passing plays and their base running plays. Allen has shown himself to be an above-average screen receiver, doing much better than some of the top college receivers in the country, and averaging 6.33 yards per screen.
Only Cordarrelle Patterson averaged more. But Patterson ran screen passes on eight percent of his targets. Allen did it on 30.
His generally low percentage of targets on deep routes shouldn't concern prospective fans, however. The Cal offense didn't feature many deep routes, but Allen could beat cornerbacks fairly consistently going deep. He's no DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace, but he can get deep with enough frequency to inject life into the Vikings offense.
Adding that deep element, as well as his ability to beat coverage if it's a step off, will bolster the play-action passing game and will help Christian Ponder as he adjusts in his third year in the league.
Draft analysts often find themselves at odds when discussing fit with talent. Not many, for example, think that Terrance Williams is the best receiver the Vikings could land. He is however, one of the better fits within the Vikings offense that are available to them.
He isn't a possession receiver like Allen, but he does have the specific skill set the Vikings need to use in order to enhance and complement the offense.
In order to bounce runs to the outside, blocking receivers are critical to the offense. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings have three receivers who have been above average in run-blocking, and the surprising leader has been Devin Aromashodu.
Specifically, on a number of runs to the outside, Aromashodu has been prevalent in laying down receiver blocks. The one-cut zone attacks the Vikings deploy on their runs require latitude from the other players in order to spring Adrian Peterson loose, who has the flexibility to choose his gap.
Williams is an able run-blocking receiver who has worked in a zone system and can keep defensive backs out of the play, even if he doesn't always drive them downfield.
As a receiver, Williams stretches the field. He changes coverage and can bring defensive backs out of the box—something the Vikings want to see more of after centering their offense around the best running back in the league.
The plurality of Williams' targets come deep—past 20 yards. He leads other draft-eligible receivers by a fair amount in targets past 20 yards, with 21 percent of balls thrown his way going deep.
He's not just a deep specialist, however. He knows how to set up on third down and near down markers to move the chains, and also leads the receivers surveyed in targets thrown to him between 6 and 10 yards, at 40 percent.
With the high number of ball-control routes that stop short of intermediate in Musgrave's system. Williams could be a big asset.
The biggest criticisms of the Baylor receiver include a propensity to go down too easily and that he catches with his body. While the second may be true, he has one of the lowest drop rates of draft-eligible receivers at six percent.
As for the first criticism, there's clearly tape of Williams going down after what looks like soft contact. At the same time, however, he holds an average yards-after-the-catch rate, and also consistently breaks more tackles than his contemporaries as well. It could look like a mixed bag with Williams, but he fits the system and can do much more good than harm.
The fact that he averages over 5 yards a screen pass doesn't hurt, either.
Brandon Williams had a great week at the Senior Bowl, and he quickly raised his draft stock. At 341 pounds and standing at 6'2", Williams' stout body looks perfectly fit for a nose tackle.
Interestingly Williams played much more in the under tackle role at Missouri Southern, between the guard and the tackle—a pass-rushing position. Over his career, he tallied a school record 27 sacks and found himself triple-teamed by the end of his senior season.
He's played in every position on the defensive line, from 4-3 and 3-4 defensive end, to all three defensive tackle spots: the 0-, 1- and 3-techniques.
He has incredible footwork for a person of his size, and can move around his weight. While he doesn't have long-term pursuit speed like Kevin Williams, his quick-twitch playing style at the line allows him to penetrate and do damage against offensive linemen on a consistent basis.
The Vikings need a nose tackle who produces pressure, takes on double-teams and maintains gap integrity. More than that, the nose tackle needs to read plays and move upfield or stay put as the situation demands it.
Reducing cutback lanes on zone-read runs allows other players to fly to the ball without having to worry as much about losing their angle on the pursuit. A stout defensive tackle that can't be moved around in the run game has the added benefit of changing the blocking math in favor of the defense—preventing offensive linemen from peeling off to make a second level block enables the linebackers to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on running backs.
Williams possesses these skills and is a perfect fit as a nose tackle in the Tampa 2 scheme, where he might have primary responsibility to recognize screens, draws and play-action passes and change his movement in response.
His ability to attack a gap for pressure and move his feet well in small spaces fits the Vikings defense perfectly, and should dramatically improve the quality of linebacker play.
The middle linebacker system in the Vikings Tampa 2 system might be one of the most demanding linebacker jobs, schematically, in the country. Not only do middle linebackers have to shed blocks and tackle well in the run game, but also they have to excel in every kind of coverage and drop back deeper than linebackers in any other system.
Rarely developed for linebackers in college, a quick, sustained backpedal that leads to explosion out of landmarks is a necessity for a Tampa 2 linebacker. In addition to moving backwards, they also need to move from sideline to sideline as well as take on blocks to free up the weak-side linebacker.
Arthur Brown has all of these qualities and more. A good zone-coverage player, his instincts when reacting to receivers who enter his assignment area are great and he can break on the ball well—his ball skills are surprising for a linebacker.
In addition to zone skills, his fluid hips and excellent speed allow him to stay with tight ends in man coverage situations, particularly up the seam. In fact, his speed both laterally and vertically enables him to execute any number of demanding assignments, including acting as a QB spy on some of the NCAAs quickest quarterbacks.
Brown is rarely out of position and his intense work in the film room shows up on the field; he reacts and responds to common offensive alignment without playing outside of his assignment.
His biggest concern is his size; at 230 pounds, he's outside of any ideal weight teams want in their linebackers—if he could gain 15 pounds (which he might not have room to add), he would be in a much better spot.
Even with this concern, however, he's been known to shed blocks well, both with powerful lower body movement and strong, active hands. He moves laterally and doesn't get locked in. He also takes on lead blockers well, using excellent technique and leading with the correct shoulder.
With strong tackling fundamentals, elite athleticism for a linebacker and a good instinct for plays and the ball, Arthur Brown is the perfect fit for the Vikings' system.
Like Williams, Hankins has played everywhere across the line, but fits best in the 1-technique/nose tackle role.
Also like Williams, he's a widely built athlete that shows surprising agility and movement, complementing strength with excellent balance and body control. Hankins fits better in 4-3 systems, as he does a better job controlling and attacking gaps instead of people, but that's perfect for the Vikings.
The Buckeye has a number of technique concerns that he needs to clean up, particularly with his hands, but he has most of the fundamental skills he needs to succeed quickly in the NFL. The Missouri Southern prospect, on the other hand, still has much more to learn before he can contribute.
With a quick first step, he should fulfill the function of a 4-3 nose tackle well, drawing double-teams immediately. He can shed blocks extremely well for a defensive lineman and controls the point of attack. For someone who rarely leaves the field, it's impressive how consistent his performance has been.
While not a true every-down player, the Vikings don't need nose tackles to contribute on every play. Hankins gets gassed, but has been asked to play much more than most nose tackles in college. The Vikings only played Letroy Guion on 43 percent of defensive snaps in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
In 2011, starting nose tackle Remi Ayodele played 23 percent of snaps, and Pat Williams was restricted to 55 percent of snaps in 2010.
Stamina is important for defensive tackles, but it is not so overriding a concern that it should overshadow other, more important qualities at the nose. Hankins' ability to consistently demand double-teams and stand stout against the run make him an ideal candidate to play in Minnesota.