The Best Rookie Storylines at the Vikings' OTAs
With offseason training activities in full bore, the Minnesota Vikings brass—and many of the fans—will get their first look at how their newly acquired rookies will perform against top-tier NFL talent.
OTAs also come with a bevy of storylines that football-starved fans will have to consume as the football season draws ever nearer. With arguably the most electric draft class of 2013, the Vikings have ensured that this year will be even more exciting to those insatiable fans.
From unmolded talent to promising injury bugs, the Vikings have nearly every type of rookie story to carry with them through the offseason. Even outside of their rookies they'll have quite a few storylines and plot twists to explore before the first kickoff of 2013 commences.
What's the most appealing story to you?
Will Punter Jeff Locke Live Down the Controversy?
Through no fault of his own, fifth-round draft pick Jeff Locke was immediately embroiled in a media brouhaha about his predecessor, the ever-outspoken Chris Kluwe.
Questions about the Vikings' motives in replacing Kluwe, who has been an activist for gay rights as well as an outspoken critic of the NFL, have overshadowed Locke's capabilities.
Previous statements from the Vikings' special teams coach Mike Priefer (winner of the 2012 Special Teams Coordinator of the Year Award) have at least raised eyebrow's about why the Vikings felt it necessary to cut a player that was at least performing above a replacement level.
The appropriateness of the Locke selection will always be colored by the impact Kluwe has had with the organization and its fans.
Even from a football perspective, the fact remains that many didn't feel that the Vikings didn't need a punter given Kluwe's performance for Minnesota. More than that, Minnesota selected a punter as early as the fifth round—a fool's choice, according to some personnel men around the league.
On the other hand, noted draft experts at CBS—among the draft coverage leaders—have said that Locke could have gone as early as the third round.
Comparisons to Bryan Anger, the Jacksonville punter selected in the third round, are not entirely untoward. Punting specialists have said there may be little difference between the two, and there is little doubt that Anger is a very good punter.
The pressure on Locke is heavier than it is on most incoming specialists. Given that he is replacing one of the Vikings' most high-profile players, while also working to justify his relatively high investment, Locke will find out if he is made of stern stuff, particularly because the Vikings did so well with their Blair Walsh pick a year earlier.
Can Middle Linebacker Michael Mauti Return to Form?
One of the most intriguing prospects entering the 2012 season, former Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti played exceptionally well before re-injuring his left knee. In fact, before the injury, Mauti was ranked as the fourth-best inside linebacker by CBS Sports.
During rookie minicamp, Mauti hadn't yet recovered from his late-season ACL tear. He was a fixture in the background, working with Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman in his rehabilitation. With everything preceding apace, the young Penn State product looks to see the field this next season.
Unfortunately, the precedents of Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson may have set expectations too high for the budding linebacker. The worry is that he more closely matches the repeated troubles of Cedric Griffin, the once-promising cornerback whose knee injuries turned him from an explosive playmaker to a defensive liability.
Mauti has the capability to lock down the inside linebacker position for years to come, and has clearly demonstrated solid run defense, pass coverage and leadership abilities in his time at Penn State. Should he become healthy, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the linebacker corps turn from a weakness into a strength.
Because of that, one of the most interesting stories during the offseason training activities will be his recovery.
Was Cordarrelle Patterson Worth the Investment?
One of the more dramatic moves of the draft, the Vikings' bold effort to secure Cordarrelle Patterson drew the lion's share of attention on the first day.
In doing so, the Vikings sacrificed an opportunity to draft in the second round, third round or fourth round. In addition, they gave up a seventh-round pick that they reacquired through a trade back later on.
The blockbuster deal was to grab the single most athletic skill player in the draft, and the Vikings (or anyone else) won't really know the value of the trade for some time. Even contemporary numerical analysis can fail to really grasp the impact of the trade.
While most analysts figure that Patterson is a raw receiver who will take time to make an impact on the field, the first glimpse that many beat writers and Vikings evaluators will have of Patterson against bona fide NFL talent will be at OTAs. There, the Vikings will be able to assess his learning curve and really see if he has the chops to make it in the NFL.
Did Sharrif Floyd's Fall Mean the Vikings Should Worry?
Despite the Patterson trade, the move that really solidified the Vikings' draft as a "winner" rather than "loser" was the ability of the Vikings to wait and select Floyd with the 23rd overall pick. Considered a top-five pick by many analysts, including Walter Football, Matt Miller, the ESPN crew (behind the Insider paywall) and many more, Floyd seemed a lock for the top half of the draft.
The Vikings and much of the draft community were in for a surprise when he ended up available at 23, and Minnesota didn't hesitate to pick him.
Many pundits were scrambling to explain Floyd's drop, and it's worrisome. The most common criticism seems to be his arm length, because there aren't any well-known character flaws or failed drug tests to speak of.
It's true that arm length can be useful in creating leverage and space against pass protection units as well as run-blockers, but if technique and physicality can overcome that issue in college, there's a good chance it can do so in the NFL. Floyd's film speaks much better to him than his box score or measureables, but with 21 teams passing on drafting him, there may be an issue the Vikings are unaware of.
On the other hand, every single draft pick beside the first is someone that others passed on—speculating on how and why a particular prospect fell may simply be an exercise in futility. The Vikings will know what they need to know the more they see Floyd. The OTAs will be a prime opportunity for them to get an early look.
Which Free Agent Gem Will Assert Himself?
The Minnesota Vikings reeled in 15 undrafted free agents along with their draft class, and some could easily pop out and make contributions on the team.
North Carolina alum Erik Highsmith will compete with local boy Adam Thielen from Minnesota State-Mankato for either a spot on the practice squad or the opportunity to supplant a player like Stephen Burton. With a thin receiver corps, it's well within the realm of possibility for the surprising Thielen (who had arrived at minicamp as a tryout without a contract) or the relatively refined Highsmith.
On the other side of the ball, Roderick Williams from Alcorn State will hope to follow in Leslie Frazier's footsteps. Frazier arrived in Chicago as an undrafted free agent from the same school and could have a soft spot for the CFL All-Star.
Along with him in the secondary are safeties Brandan Bishop from North Carolina State and Darius Eubanks from Georgia Southern. Eubanks is a linebacker convert who hits with power, while Bishop is a cerebral safety who could play alongside the more explosive David Amerson and Earl Wolff.
Marquis Jackson from Portland State and Collins Ukwu from Kentucky will both have to fight for very limited space on a talented defensive end corps, although they might have a better opportunity to make the practice squad in case the Vikings feel like there is instability at the position—their three best defensive ends are entering free agency next year, after all.
The lone defensive tackle free agent, Anthony McCloud from Florida State, has spent time playing alongside Everett Dawkins and could have a leg up on other defensive tackles, given his projection to play at the nose—a particular area of weakness for the Vikings at the moment.
More difficult will be the jobs of Jerodis Williams and Bradley Randle, running backs from Furman and Nevada-Las Vegas, respectively. While Matt Asiata's spot on the roster isn't secure by any means, he was impressive enough to make the decision easy last year. Between Asiata and Banyard, the two of them will have quite a lot to work through in order to make the roster.
James Vandenberg, the quarterback from Iowa, has a different challenge ahead of him. Instead of competing with four players for one spot, he might only have to compete with one other player to earn a shot at making the roster. The Vikings traditionally carry three quarterbacks, and Vandenberg's best chance to make the roster will be to beat out the strong-armed McLeod Bethel-Thompson, formerly of Sacramento State and the Sacramento Mountain Lions.
That leaves Camden Wentz, who will hope to make the roster as a center, but will likely need to prove his worth as a swing guard as well. Also from NC State, Wentz won't hurt for company, but will find himself looking to compete for limited space against the drafted Jeff Baca and Travis Bond.
Alongside those two are proven journeyman Joe Berger and the struggling Tyler Holmes. Troy Kropog also looks to get into the mix as a potential player in the interior, and Seth Olsen will make life difficult for the relatively undersized Wentz. Nevertheless, with three or four backup linemen spots available, Wentz could slide on to the roster.