The end of the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine brings with it another round of draft projections and prospect rankings; the Minnesota Vikings are no different than any other team in having tweaked their rankings in response. Similarly, mock projections for how the Vikings will pick need to change with this new information.
You may have heard that the combine is overrated or that most teams have their positional boards filled out before having their executives take the first step into Indianapolis, but former scouts disagree. It can be useful for finding red flags or encouraging teams to look back at the tape.
That said, the marquee event, the 40-yard dash, may have received too much attention. The key is finding balance between the raw data the combine produces and the effort seen on film. The tape will always be the final word on a prospect, but having a great equalizer like the combine can put context to evaluations.
There are risers and fallers with every pre-draft event, and the combine is no different. How has that affected Minnesota's potential draft plans?
Followers of the Vikings well know their deficiency at nose tackle, and draftniks are confident that this might be the deepest position in the draft.
It's rare to see such opportunity meet need in the NFL, and Minnesota should take advantage of it.
Sylvester Williams posted some of the more impressive numbers among potential defensive tackles, which could be more important than you think. According to DraftMetrics, no defensive tackle between 1999 and 2012 who posted a 40-yard dash slower than 5.31 seconds or had less than 21 bench reps became a three-year starter in the NFL.
Williams surpasses those hurdles and with flying colors, to boot. His 40-time to weight ratio was one of the best of all the participating defensive tackles and more importantly, his 10-yard split (a measure of burst) was in the top five, with the fourth-best time of 1.72. No player with a faster 10-yard split weighed more than Williams.
His ability to move his body around has shown up on film, too. The UNC alum has some of the best movement off the line in the class, and is usually the first off the snap. He can be a terror in the backfield, but he still has a lot to learn.
He might not have the biggest impact on day one of the 2013 season because he has more to develop, but neither will he be a liability. Williams' greatest asset is his ability to play in either nose tackle or under tackle roles—allowing him to replace current starting nose tackle Letroy Guion or aging under tackle Kevin Williams.
With Sylvester Williams, the Vikings are getting a player who moves well and knows how to use his feet, while remaining stout in the run game. He would be an immediate upgrade for the defense and will only get better.
Justin Hunter was one of the most athletic performers at the 2013 combine, and it isn't just because of his quick 40-yard dash (4.44 seconds).
In a brief study on how combine numbers translate to NFL performance, I found that one of the most important indicators of future success was the 10-yard split. Also important were weight and the broad jump.
Finally, a solid vertical leap helps—not because it leads to grabbing jump balls, but it uses similar muscles groups needed to explode out of cuts and off the line.
Putting them together in a formula provided the best chances of predicting NFL success. There were 24 qualifying receivers and seven receivers who were one event short of qualifying. Of those receivers, Hunter had the third-best athleticism score, which is surprising for a formula that penalizes low-weight receivers.
Simply put, Hunter's physical skills have been gravely understated playing alongside Cordarrelle Patterson. Not only did Hunter have the best broad jump of participating receivers at 136 inches (11'4"), he posted the second-best vertical at 39.5 inches.
College scout and Football Outsiders contributor Matt Waldman compared Hunter's athleticism to Randy Moss', and that's not that big an exaggeration when you consider how impressive his agility drills were for the second-tallest receiver at the combine.
Hunter has a lot of work to do in route running and maintaining crispness coming in and out of cuts while maintaining precise footwork.
He also has an enormous problem with drops that needs to be addressed, but there's a good chance that better ball placement in the NFL will help him. A good gauntlet drill helped resolve those concerns, but teams will want to work him out on their own before they are fully comfortable.
The 40-yard dash is shockingly relevant for linebackers. In fact, it could be one of the most important metrics, according to DraftMetrics. It just so happens that of all the inside linebackers, Jon Bostic had the fastest 40-time at 4.61 seconds. Only Zaviar Gooden and Cornelius Washington, both outside linebackers, had a faster 40 time.
More interesting is that Bostic posted such a score at 245 pounds (Gooden ran his 4.47 at 234 pounds), which gave him the best weight-to-speed ratio of all inside linebackers (as determined by Football Outsiders' "speed score" which takes both into account).
Beyond that, his excellent 10-yard split and 20-yard shuttle (next in importance in terms of combine numbers for linebackers) should put him in the conversation as one of the more athletic inside linebackers to come out of the draft for some time.
Without hitting any of the combine red flags (40-time over 4.82, fewer than 16 bench reps, height below 6'0"), Bostic may overperform his draft position.
On the field, Bostic has been impressive as well. While not getting the press that Ogletree, Minter or Brown received (and certainly not receiving the attention Manti Te'o found himself dealing with), he's been quietly productive both as a pass defender and run-stopper.
He may have resolved some change-of-direction concerns with good performances in the agility drills, and if so, he'll be the most mobile defensive player on the front seven. He can drop deep (as required by the Vikings' scheme) quickly and explodes out of his backpedal to get to the ball.
As a run plugger, the Gator took consistently good angles, even if he needs to wrap up his tackles a bit better. Luckily, his ability to read complex offenses and sift through traffic ensure that he'll make an impact, if only to slow the ball-carrier down.
He needs some work getting off of blocks—Chance Warmack had a fantastic day against him during the season—but he's generally more polished than the hype would have you believe.
Aggies wide receiver Ryan Swope may have been one of the biggest "winners" from the combine, and he posted the highest "athleticism score" from the previously discussed combine formula of all qualifying receivers.
In fact, when adjusting for the receivers who nearly qualified, Swope finishes second only to Marquise Goodwin's electrifying combine performance. Swope's 10-yard split (again, one of the more important drills for a receiver) was the third best in the class, behind Tavon Austin and Goodwin. What's more impressive is that Swope weighs at least 20 pounds more than either receiver.
For those who find the 20-yard shuttle to be a better indicator of success, the Texas product should still impress. His 4.25 shuttle time at 205 pounds is somewhat impressive and speaks well to his short-area agility.
Aside from his straight-line speed (posting a 4.34 40-yard dash time), Swope's solid vertical (37") should cement him as an underrated athletic talent who could go on to do big things in the NFL.
On the field, Swope has done more than his pedestrian numbers suggest. Against the best opponents, Swope has made a big impact, including 11 receptions for 111 yards against Dee Milliner and Alabama.
Generally, he's been reliable with his hands and is a great route-runner for a mid-round prospect. Usually creating separation with quickness in and out of cuts, Swope can find himself with an open field in front of him in a flash.
At Texas A&M, he wasn't asked to go deep too often, so it is difficult to gauge whether or not he can add that dynamic to the Minnesota offense, but his consistent hands and fast straight-line capability certainly provide opportunities for the Vikings to expand and deepen the complexity and explosiveness of their offense.
Brandon McGee finished with one of the fastest 10-yard splits of the weekend, at 1.46 seconds, but it's the fact that his speed, burst and capability are packaged together with a 193-pound frame that's more impressive. Every player, cornerback or not, that finished with a faster 10-yard split weighed at least 15 pounds less than McGee did.
Not only that, McGee finished with excellent three-cone and shuttle times (6.71 seconds and 4.18 seconds, respectively), which underscores his agility and explosiveness.
Given that combine results correlate with NFL performance more for cornerbacks than any other position, the emphasis on McGee's excellent 40-yard dash speed (run in 4.4 seconds) is well warranted.
The Hurricane can perform on the field as well. He uses his 5'11" frame excellent to high-point the ball and grab interceptions without risking too much or giving away ground. During the East-West Shrine Game, McGee consistently wowed evaluators, and may have had the best week of practice out of everyone there.
Aside from some footwork issues on day one (which were immediately resolved), the young cornerback consistently played to his receiver, staying off the correct hip and turning well. He could anticipate routes, read receivers and break to the ball. With fluidity and discipline, McGee might end up as a steal as well.
Given that Antoine Winfield will likely see fewer snaps for the Vikings in 2013, the Vikings will need to find a corner that can protect the slot with short-area quickness and push, while protecting the outside with range and speed. McGee has both of those qualities and can stick it to receivers if need be.
Evaluators will need to look back on his film to figure out why McGee is such a late riser, by itself a minor red flag, and determine if his somewhat subpar vertical jump is indicative of poor elevation against the ball.
Grabbing interceptions in seven-on-seven drills, or while lined up against a receiver one on one in practice is fine, but playing in a game is more important—they'll want to know why he had excellent ball skills in All-Star practices and the combine, but only ended up with two interceptions on the year.
Earl Wolff proved to be explosive in his workouts, with one of the top vertical jumps of the invited safeties (39 inches), the longest broad jump (134 inches, or 11'2") and the second-fastest 10-yard split (1.49 seconds).
That wasn't much of a question for Wolff, who has consistently proven that he can burst forward when needed. A very good downhill run defender, a number of people could have expected a good combine from him. A bigger issue for Wolff was his lateral ability and capacity to cover a deep middle zone.
While he still has to resolve those concerns, his amazing shuttle time (4.07 seconds) should allay some problems people have with his range—the test of initial lateral quickness, stop-start ability and overall explosion does a decent job at figuring out if prospects can click to the ball.
Once again, the 40-yard dash is the most important predictor of NFL success of all the combine workouts and it shows up on the field—he can play in man coverage against speedy and shifty receivers, and his loose hips allow him to change direction on a dime.
His practices at the East-West were demonstrative of his overall ability at North Carolina State, where he read quarterbacks and reacted well to thrown balls in the air. He's been extremely instinctive and has good awareness in zone coverage.
Wolff's transition, fluidity and range should give him consideration, and his versatility in playing either safety role should make him a great fit for the Vikings' system, which doesn't designate a true strong or free safety.
Aside from Akeem Spence, no defensive tackle prospect had a better set of workouts at the combine than Josh Boyd. His 1.67-second 10-yard split was the fastest among defensive tackles, particularly impressive for a 1-technique nose tackle.
At 310 pounds, Boyd has proven he can generate serious power off the snap by posting an incredible time for such a big player. With that, he's also posted impressive times in the shuttle drill (4.64 seconds) and three-cone drill (7.16 seconds).
The appeal of Boyd has a little to do with his combine performance, however—overall combine performance is less important for defensive tackles than for other positions.
Boyd started out his time at the Senior Bowl poorly, with a "bad body" that seems unfit for defensive tackle and poor flexibility in warm-ups. But as soon as practices went live, he lit up his competition.
The 23-year-old defensive tackle plays with an extremely high motor, and displays on-field leadership capabilities rare for players playing his age or position. He doesn't take a play off and successfully encourages teammates to do the same.
Boyd is surprisingly polished for a late-round prospect and carries with him a variety of power-rushing moves that take advantage of his excellent strength, even using them to put up good games against strong offensive lines, like the decorated Alabama offensive line.
Both Boyd and Sylvester Williams can play in either defensive tackle role, which will give the Vikings the versatility they love having up front. Line rotation is extremely important for Minnesota, although Williams is a natural fit at the 3-technique while Boyd has more often lined up between the guard and the center at 1-technique.
Before the season started, Boyd was slated as a potential second-round prospect and simply hasn't made enough noise to keep that spot. But he still has that talent and could become a surprise late-round sleeper.
Not every drafted player will have attended the NFL combine, and the Vikings' draft board will be no exception. Regardless, it's irrelevant what Alex Carder's workout numbers would have been—at quarterback, the 40-yard dash doesn't mean a lot.
Carder played in a system that didn't take advantage of all of his strengths—there were a lot of designed quick passes in their no-huddle system, and Carder had the ability to lead a receiver downfield deep if he wanted to.
Regardless, he had a productive career at Western Michigan despite missing games due to a broken finger.
As a junior, Carder put up over 3,800 yards and had 7.72 yards per attempt while throwing 31 touchdowns. His senior year saw him missing six games, but playing in a high-volume offense that demanded fast quarterback reads and many pass attempts.
In some ways, he's the anti-Christian Ponder, given his ability to make quick decisions and put a tight spiral on every ball he throws. Carder has the arm strength to make all the throws and also has good mechanics when scrambling.
He's not the athlete that Ponder is, but he is extremely tough and can still make plays with his legs. He's not known for scrambling, but his pocket presence is good enough that he can avoid a number of sacks. He needs to go through progressions quicker and hasn't made a lot of throws outside his first read, but he is very likely underrated.
Carder has clear football intelligence and often adjusts the offense at the line.
He has clear flaws moving beyond the first progression but has loads of football potential. He can work on his mechanics as well, and is probably a few years away before contributing on the field. The Vikings have a clear need at backup quarterback and could do a lot worse than Alex Carder.
While not nearly as well known as his inside linebacker teammate A.J. Klein at Iowa State, Jake Knott has football talent that should have seen him compete for a mid-round draft spot. Unfortunately, a strong outside linebacker class and an injury midway through his season dropped his draft stock.
The surgery to repair his shoulder unfortunately didn't heal in time for him to fully participate in the NFL combine, but he did put on extra weight to fill out his frame and resolve some concerns some teams may have had about him being undersized.
The shoulder concern has been a lingering problem with Knott, who suffered an injury to the same shoulder the previous year. Still, Knott played through the pain of the injury against Baylor, finishing with 11 tackles and as Big 12 player of the week. The injury wasn't such that additional play would aggravate it, but he instead underwent surgery to preserve his overall career.
Despite missing five games, he leaves Iowa State as the career record holder in tackles, with 347 (fifth most in Big 12 history). In addition, he has eight interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.
Knott is the perfect fit at weak-side linebacker and can navigate through traffic to get to the ball-carrier. He doesn't have explosive burst, but he makes up for it with awareness and excellent placement, including taking proper angles and playing within his assignments well.
With good read-react skills, Knott flashes the ability to make plays both in the run game and in the passing game—his five pass deflections and two interceptions over eight games is impressive, and it speaks to his range.
Even though he doesn't fly from sideline to sideline, it's easy to see him constantly around the ball and in the right place at the right time.
The Vikings could use him to back up Erin Henderson, and he may even have the ability to start in several years. Knott is often overlooked and could end up as one of the better late-round picks in this year's draft.