10 NFL Combine Prospects the Minnesota Vikings Must Watch Closely
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The Minnesota Vikings hit a home run with their 2012 NFL draft, with Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith and Blair Walsh all projecting as Pro-Bowl-caliber players, and Josh Robinson and Jarius Wright as (at least) serviceable rotational players.
With the NFC North expected to be another dogfight in 2013 and Minnesota still with plenty of holes to fill in its roster, the 2013 NFL draft has to be another successful process.
In no particular order Minnesota's five biggest needs this offseason: wide receiver, offensive guard, middle linebacker, defensive tackle and outside linebacker. The Vikings will be scouting players at those positions closer than most.
And it started Wednesday with the combine.
To make 2013 another successful draft, Minnesota will have to successfully evaluate first-round-caliber players. That's what we're going to assess here: 10 players who could be Minnesota's first-round pick and whom the franchise must closely evaluate.
Many of the players on this list have some major question surrounding their draft stock entering the combine, which makes it that much more important that Minnesota scout these players adequately.
Terrance Williams, Baylor University Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams thrived in Baylor's offense last season without Robert Griffin III (97 receptions for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns).
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Terrance Williams was one of the most productive wide receivers in college football in 2012 (97 receptions for 1,832 yards and 12 touchdowns).
NFL teams want to know if that phenomenal season will transfer into the pro ranks.
Williams has adequate size (6'2", 201 lbs) and solid speed. CBS Sports projects him to run a 4.49-second 40-yard dash. He's known as a downfield receiver, which would fit perfectly with Minnesota's corps of Kyle Rudolph and Percy Harvin, who like to do their damage closer to the line of scrimmage.
The knock on Williams is his physicality and how he'll handle that at the NFL level along with his explosiveness.
He'll want to impress at the 40-yard dash (as all wide receivers should) while showing good strength.
Justin Hunter, University of Tennessee Wide Receiver
Justin Hunter is long and lanky, which is the wide receiver build Minnesota needs.
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At 6'4" and 200 pounds Justin Hunter has the size to be a prototypical No. 1 wide receiver in this league.
The concern with Hunter is his speed. He suffered a torn ACL in the 2011 season, and the top speed he had prior to the injury never seemed to return.
He'll want to show scouts that he has that elite speed back (if he does) at the combine. CBS Sports, which ranks him as the 10th-best wide receiver and 66th-best prospect, projects he will run a 4.49-second 40-yard dash. That's not bad by any means, but not quite the elite level it was before the injury.
That same report projects him to be a cross between Cincinnati's A.J. Green and St. Louis' Brian Quick because he has Green's size and speed but with some of the unpolished flaws of Quick (like inconsistent hands).
With the speed word being thrown around with hand concerns, Minnesota may seek to avoid Hunter because that sounds very similar to Troy Williamson.
But should Hunter show strong hands and improved speed at the combine, he could work his way into the first round.
DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson University Wide Receiver
DeAndre Hopkins had the best season of his three-year career with 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdown receptions.
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DeAndre Hopkins is a player the more you hear/read about him, the more you're surprised he's not talked about by more people as one of the better receivers in this draft.
Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't have him in his top five wide receivers, but CBS Sports has him as the 35th-best prospect in the draft and the No. 3 wideout. That same CBS report compares him to Reggie Wayne because he isn't the quickest or fastest, but he runs good routes, has good hands and good body control.
Hopkins caught 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2012.
As previously mentioned, speed is a concern with Hopkins. CBS projects him to run a 4.56-second 40-yard dash, which is below average. Minnesota recently had success drafting a wide receiver with below-average speed (Sidney Rice), so that shouldn't scare the Vikings off.
Hopkins needs to have a better showing in the 40-yard dash than projected to really boost his stock, but he'll likely do what he has to and find himself selected in the late first round or somewhere in the second.
Keenan Allen, University of California Wide Receiver
Keenan Allen missed the final three games of this season with a knee injury.
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Mel Kiper Jr. lists Keenan Allen as his No. 2 wide receiver, and he could be a good pickup for Minnesota in the first round.
Allen has good size (6'3", 210 lbs) and was a productive receiver in college. He caught 98 passes for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns in 2011, and caught 61 passes for 737 yards and six touchdowns in an injury-shortened 2012 season.
This CBS Sports scouting report compares him to Jordy Nelson, saying he has just enough speed to be successful, especially when pairing it with his toughness, hands and size.
Scouts like his size and build, his hands and his productivity in college. The concern with Allen is his speed. He needs to have strong showings in the 40-yard dash and other agility drills to ease those doubters.
Manti Te'o, University of Notre Dame Middle Linebacker
Manti Te'o's athleticism has been questioned, and he'll take the combine as an opportunity to disprove the doubters.
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This man will be the most watched prospect at the combine.
After his girlfriend hoax, NFL followers across the globe are discussing if his on-field abilities counteract the concerns with his off-field issues.
If he slips to Minnesota at No. 23, his on-field performance definitely counteracts off-field concerns. He would provide great value at No. 23 (Alec Ogletree would be the better pick of the two middle linebackers, though).
Manti Te'o is known as an intelligent linebacker (on the field; we all know he may have questionable street smarts) who really understands the game. At 6'2" and 255 pounds, he has good size to play the position.
Te'o is known as a strong tackler who can make open-field tackles. But his limited straight-line speed scares many and is likely his biggest weakness.
This CBS Sports scouting report declares concerns about his ability to adequately play man coverage in the NFL.
What Te'o needs to show at the combine is that he is faster, quicker and more athletic than teams give him credit for while still demonstrating power.
Alec Ogletree, University of Georgia Middle Linebacker
With Alec Ogletree's recent DUI, he's likely to slide down the first round, putting him back in play at pick No. 23.
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As news continues to pore out about Alec Ogletree's DUI, it is that much more important that he showcase his talents well at the combine.
Ogletree was shooting up draft charts with his versatility prior to the combine, but will now need a strong showing in the draft process to reaffirm his status as a top-notch prospect.
What stands out about the Georgia Bulldogs middle linebacker is his ability to make plays sideline to sideline. His speed for a middle linebacker is stellar. This CBS Sports scouting report projects his 40-yard dash to be 4.63 seconds.
That same report says Ogletree "doesn't shy away from making the big hit," has "terrific quickness around the edge," is "capable of making stops in the backfield and is fast in pursuit."
It says concerns with Ogletree's on-field performance revolve around his "lean frame" (he's 6'3", 234 lbs according to CBS Sports) and filling lanes against the run, something that is especially important in Minnesota's defense.
Given his off-field issues (DUI and four-game suspension for drug abuse prior to 2012 season), Ogletree needs to cement the value of his on-field performance.
Jarvis Jones, University of Georgia Outside Linebacker
Jarvis Jones was projected as a top-five pick before stories of his previous spinal injury advanced.
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Before the 2013 NFL draft season began Jarvis Jones was projected as a top-five selection. As word spread about his spinal stenosis condition, a condition that has ended many NFL players' careers early, he fell on everyone's draft board.
That drop varied from board to board, but some are projecting him to fall all the way to around 20, which means he could be in play for the Minnesota Vikings. And they do have a need at outside linebacker.
Erin Henderson doesn't project as anything special at this time, which means a talent like Jones' would be tough to pass on should he be available when Minnesota picks (Mel Kiper Jr. calls Jones "a star -- no way around it" in this ESPN blurb).
Walter Football calls Jones a "dynamite pass-rusher" who "doesn't take plays off." It says he is great in run pursuit, but can struggle at the point of attack in taking on blockers or physical running backs.
CBS Sports' scouting report declares Jones a "Pro Bowl talent, whose impact in the NFL will be immediate," but that "the medical concerns are frightening."
Sounds like a steal if he were to slip to 23 (although I don't expect him to).
The only knock on Jones is about his ability to take on offenders at the point of attack, so he'll want to demonstrate surprising strength at the combine while affirming his quickness and speed to appease NFL personnel about his health concerns.
Jonathan Cooper, University of North Carolina Guard
Concerns about Jonathan Cooper revolve around his size.
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Charlie Johnson is done as Minnesota's left guard. It should be that simple. And if Jonathan Cooper slips to the 23rd slot in the first round, he could be a great value pick for the Vikings.
Cooper projects as the type of guard who can come in from Day 1 and start successfully, like a lesser version of Matt Kalil.
The North Carolina product has adequate size (6'3", 310 lbs) and is known for his abilities as a pass-blocker, but shows promise as a run-blocker (especially if he puts on some muscle as a pro). This CBS Sports scouting report cites his tendency to get overpowered by larger defensive tackles as his greatest concern, which is and isn't a great concern when your running back is Adrian Peterson.
This Walter Football report emphasizes his athleticism and ability to get to the second level.
Cooper underwent shoulder surgery prior to his senior season, and that's something teams will want to take a look at.
Cooper will want to demonstrate himself to be in the top half of agility/speed drills for offensive guards to counteract what might be a letdown on the weight tests.
John Jenkins, University of Georgia Defensive Tackle
Many scouts have expressed concerns over John Jenkins' large frame and conditioning.
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Defensive tackle is a little known position of need for the Minnesota Vikings, and John Jenkins is a first-round talent who could be Minnesota's selection at No. 23.
Jenkins is known as a run-stuffing defensive tackle. He projects to fit the mold of former Viking Pat Williams and looks the part. Jenkins is 6'3" and 358 pounds, which is heavier than Williams was listed at (324 lbs) entering his final training camp.
Jenkins has no trouble absorbing or manhandling a double-team on a run play. Where Jenkins may struggle is in his mobility and providing zero pass rush. As this CBS Sports report opines, Jenkins "(i)s simply too wide to not get slowed down while squeezing through tight gaps in the interior line and has only phone booth quickness."
No one expects Jenkins to light the world on fire with any agility drills (that same CBS Sports report projects a 5.21-second 40-yard dash), but it will be important for him to produce strong results in weight-lifting events like the bench press. Teams want to see that this guy has strength to accompany his weight.
Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State University Defensive Tackle
Johnathan Hankins, like John Jenkins, has weight concerns.
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Just like John Jenkins on the previous slide, Johnathan Hankins has to be mindful of his weight. Hankins stands 6'3" and 320 pounds, a weight he reached by losing 15 pounds prior to the 2012 season.
Hankins rarely came off the field during the 2012 season, his junior year at Ohio State. But this CBS Sports report noted that time and time again it was obvious that Hankins became worn down as games progressed and took plays off (sounds like a former Vikings wide receiver).
That type of mentality will not fly in the NFL, where talent alone isn't enough to be an impact player.
Unlike Jenkins, Hankins actually has some skills as a rusher. He doesn't necessarily get after the quarterback (one sack last season), but he does possess the ability to burst off the line quickly and disrupt running plays or squeeze into the pocket on occasional passing plays.
Hankins dealt with a knee sprain the previous two seasons and has worn a brace to protect himself. It will be interesting to see if that brace remains come the combine or if he shows any wear and tear.
Teams will want to see Hankins demonstrate his strength in events like the bench press while demonstrating his quick-burst ability.