8 Players the Minnesota Vikings Should Consider Adding Before Week 1
The Minnesota Vikings took it to the deadline, and announced their final 53-man roster moments after they were required to make the cut. While fans can debate endlessly over who should have made the cut and who should have stayed, it's clear that the process isn't done—the Vikings can target any number of players who have been released by other teams.
While teams have much longer lists of players they'll consider, they only end up making claims on one or two players and could trade for a few more. Last year, the Vikings traded for Arizona cornerback A.J. Jefferson and claimed offensive lineman Mark Asper on waivers.
This year, they could do the same, making space by reducing the size of the linebacker or defensive line rosters, both of which have more players than teams traditionally carry.
Here are eight players the Vikings might consider before heading into the first week of the 2013 regular season.
1. Everette Brown, DE/OLB: Waived by the Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have some sneaky defensive line talent, even after shedding players like Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins this last offseason. With players like Brandon Graham and Cedric Thornton primed for big seasons, there wasn't much room for players not deemed scheme fits for the new Philadelphia Eagles 3-4.
Everette Brown was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft by the Carolina Panthers—who traded away their 2010 first-round pick in order to secure him. Questions about his size saw him fall in the draft, but he had first-round talent.
Since he weighed in at 245 pounds at the time, it may have looked like a risky pick for the Panthers, but as a rookie he recorded three sacks, seven hits and 13 hurries in situational roles (265 pass-rushing snaps) per Pro Football Focus, a subscription service.
He faltered in run defense over his time with the Panthers but slowly gained weight to deal with the problem. They released him after 2010, and over the years, he's spent time with the San Diego Chargers, Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles before becoming a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 preseason.
Moving teams may not seem like a resume builder, and he never did as well as his rookie season in terms of pass-rushing productivity, but he looked to have turned a corner with the Eagles; he was the seventh-most productive pass rusher in the preseason with four sacks, a hit and five hurries in 35 pass-rushing snaps.
Brown may never live up to his hype, and may never resolve his concerns in the run game, but would be a solid backup for the Vikings. He's likely a better player than George Johnson. All of this may be because of improved hand-work and additional weight (the Eagles list him at 263 pounds), and he certainly excelled in his time in the preseason.
The former Seminole is worth a serious look in the offseason, as he finally looks like a proper 4-3 defensive end who has come into his own without losing his explosiveness. He's a solid athletic backup who can see the field in nickel situations and make a big impact.
With the Vikings' top three defensive ends entering free agency the next offseason, it's a worthwhile investment.
2. Bobby Rainey, HB: Waived by the Baltimore Ravens
An undrafted free agent, Bobby Rainey's NFL prospects coming out of Western Kentucky in 2012 were weak. At 5'7" and 206 pounds, his record-breaking season at WKU didn't attract much interest from NFL teams.
But he cracked the practice squad in Baltimore and moved to the full roster after Lardarius Webb's injury but was never made active. A knee injury put him on injured reserve, but he's looked impressive in the offseason.
Bobby Rainey was, by far, the most impressive running back in the preseason. He racked up 89 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts. The two touchdowns came in the Ravens' last preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. Rainey dominated that game, and it looked as if he would definitely be making the final roster. His return skills were also amazing in the preseason. On kickoff returns, Rainey had a total of seven returns for 223 yards, with his longest being a 58-yarder.
The Ravens only have two active halfbacks on the roster, although carrying two fullbacks in Kyle Juszczyk and Vonta Leach may mean a different style of running attack.
Regardless, Rainey has been nothing short of phenomenal in the preseason.
The Vikings want more than simply a "space back" like Darren Sproles or the recently released Bradley Randle—they want versatile pass protectors as well.
While Minnesota has long eschewed the concept of a "third-down back" who can excel on passing downs, there's no question that Rainey can contribute both as a pass-catcher and pass-blocker. He allowed no hurries, hits or sacks in his 16 pass-blocking snaps in the preseason and was similarly proficient last offseason.
The Vikings may like Matt Asiata, a fullback/halfback hybrid, but Rainey could add more in depth than Asiata even without fulfilling the same role.
3. Antonio Dixon, NT: Released by the Philadelphia Eagles
Another undrafted free agent, Antonio Dixon has spent significant time in the league since his entrance in 2009, although he wasn't active until the Eagles picked him up off of waivers.
His move to the Colts in 2012 was perhaps a mistake, and his return to the Eagles this offseason didn't serve him well either. Indianapolis moved to a two-gap system, and the Eagles will purportedly use their nose tackles the same way, according both to Gang Green Nation and Philadelphia Magazine.
When the Eagles were a one-gap 4-3 defense, Dixon did well as a nose tackle and was powerful defending the run while also collapsing the pocket. The switch to the Wide 9 scheme didn't do Dixon any favors, as his alignment outside of the A gap wasn't useful, and he dropped off before shipping to the Colts for a subpar season.
But when in his natural position, Dixon can play at a starting level. The Vikings have well-established questions at nose tackle, and bringing in Dixon could push Letroy Guion and Fred Evans to do better if he doesn't replace one of them outright.
Dixon doesn't "wow" on film, but he doesn't have to. Playing at a borderline starter level doing what he's best at would be a massive upgrade for the Vikings, who employ a series of natural 3-technique tackles at the nose position instead of a 1-technique who can really command blocks.
The 322-pound Antonio Dixon could change that.
4. Sione Fua, NT: Released by the Carolina Panthers
Carolina saw fit to release Sione Fua, a former Panther, after three years. The third-round pick has never been impressive but is definitely serviceable as a backup.
But drafting Star Lotulelei was the first warning sign for Fua, who never really lived up to expectations.
Despite a solid preseason, the nose tackle couldn't beat veteran Colin Cole out of a backup spot and will be searching the league for the best fit as a free agent.
He could do much worse than the Vikings, who need not only a 4-3 nose tackle designed to fill gaps and stop the run, but also one that won't be moved around too much and free up other rushers.
He had a strong showing in the preseason, recording seven pressures and three tackles in 131 snaps. His 2012 was disappointing, but certainly no worse than Letroy Guion's performance in the same year. His astonishing strength and instinctive play is a move away from the speed-oriented tackles the Vikings enjoy employing, but certainly an upgrade.
Fua is no Pat Williams, but he could rejuvenate a beleaguered nose tackle unit for at least one season until the Vikings find a long-term solution in the next offseason, despite knocks on his speed.
5. Fernando Velasco, G/C: Released by the Tennessee Titans
It's not often that the second-best offensive lineman on a team is released the next year, and the people at Music City Miracles—a Tennessee Titans blog—are shocked that someone they considered a lock to make the roster saw walking papers.
Aside from Michael Roos, Fernando Velasco has been a standout player for the Titans at both guard and tackle. The undrafted free agent from Georgia was Pro Football Focus' 11th-best center of 2011, and played 200 fewer snaps at center than everyone above him.
He ended up playing over 1000 snaps for the season, but he didn't grade out higher as a center because he switched to guard partway through the season in order to replace Steve Hutchinson, who was put on IR following a broken leg.
An intelligent and strong player, Velasco stands strong at the point of attack and understands Tennessee's stretch running game intuitively. Capable against speed and bull-rushers, Velasco will provide some team with excellent capability.
He was more than serviceable as a guard and could outright replace Charlie Johnson on the left side if not provide more than excellent depth instead of aging veteran Joe Berger. Providing backup opportunities at guard and center should make Velasco a simple decision for most front offices, and it's more likely that the Vikings will have to compete for his services than anything else.
6. Chris Jones, NT: Waived by the Houston Texans
Chris Jones is a sixth-round rookie out of Bowling Green State who recorded double-digit sacks from the interior of the defensive line and led the MAC in sacks for two consecutive seasons (with a total of 21, according to College Football Reference).
At only 302 pounds, Jones isn't a prototypical nose tackle, and he enjoys getting upfield when the situation warrants it, but his strength and low center of gravity make him a good candidate for the nose, which is what the Texans saw when they drafted him.
Jones has played across the line in his time with Bowling Green and is a perfect fit for one-gap defenses looking to create pressure. Despite a limited array of pass-rushing moves, he is nevertheless effective in hurrying the quarterback from the interior and taking him down.
That's not to say he can't play against the run. He's anchored well in the preseason, and his three stops (defined by Pro Football Focus as a tackle that "constitutes as a loss for the offense") meant he led the NFL in preseason run stop percentage (another proprietary PFF statistic)—the percentage of run plays he was in on that led to a stop.
He doesn't quite qualify for their rankings, having only played on six run snaps, but it does suggest that he has solid instincts against the run and can make a real difference.
It's likely that Jones needs much more seasoning before he can be a real contributor in the NFL, but the Vikings have done well to develop defensive line talent and could certainly benefit from his talents as he continues to grow in the NFL.
7. Marcus Trufant, CB: Released by the Jacksonville Jaguars
A surprise release by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Marcus Trufant's experience around the league was not enough to keep him on the roster despite a strong showing in the preseason—allowing only three receptions and grabbing an interception.
A first-round pick for the Seahawks back in 2003, he was disappointing in some senses but not a liability. He earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods after a strong 2007 season where he recorded seven interceptions and 85 tackles.
Trufant was one of the better slot defenders in the NFL in the 2013 preseason (as well as a number of regular seasons) and was the seventh-best slot cornerback in yards allowed per snap in coverage and 10th in receptions allowed per snaps in coverage—both statistics provided by Pro Football Focus.
Again, Trufant is not likely to be a long-term solution at age 32, but he certainly could cover while a transitioning Josh Robinson better adjusts to covering the slot, something he's never done before.
Robinson's struggles in slot coverage are perhaps temporary, as the nickel cornerback position is an entirely different beast than outside corner and takes some time to learn. Robinson has the physical skills and body makeup to do well in the slot, as well as a physical style of play that should translate well but it won't be immediate.
The Vikings made the playoffs in part because of strong slot play by Antoine Winfield. Moving Robinson to the inside will probably downgrade the position, and the Vikings could make another run with experience on the inside.
Trufant clearly still has more gas left in the tank and should come cheap to the Vikings. There's no question that he should be worth a look while the Vikings develop the rest of their young secondary.
8. Da'Rick Rogers, WR: Waived by the Buffalo Bills
Da'Rick Rogers was perhaps the most hyped undrafted free agent after the 2013 NFL draft, and had first-round football ability. Concerns about his character dropped him out of the draft entirely, and arrests paired with failed drug tests scared NFL front offices away from him.
His obvious skill made him look impressive early in the offseason. Regardless, Rogers was on thin ice with new Bills head coach Doug Marrone and could afford few mistakes. He looked good enough to work with the first team offense for some time, but the Bills saw fit to release him—a crowded young roster with rookies Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods didn't leave much room for Rogers, but he's talented enough to play as a starter in the NFL.
His preseason wasn't extraordinarily impressive, but he only played 34 snaps. Accumulating two receptions for 12 yards and a touchdown was perhaps the best he could do with limited time, and he certainly deserves another shot with the NFL.
Matt Waldman, a talent evaluator who composes wide receiver rankings independent of off-field issues, ranked Rogers as his 10th-best receiver and had very kind words to say about Rogers in his for-pay draft report (among the best in the country):
If Rogers adds another 5-10 pounds of muscle, you’re looking at a player with Dwayne Bowe or Kenny Britt’s potential. The difference is that I think Rogers got his bouts of immaturity out of the way earlier than the two players I mentioned and he’s a more fluid player than Britt.
Taking weekly drug tests at Tennessee Tech, a junior college he had to attend as a result of his dismissal at Tennessee, Rogers tried proving his sincerity and development as a player both mentally and emotionally. He passed every one of those tests, but his extensive history was still enough to keep him from being drafted.
Tailed by a drug history and waived, Rogers' career may eventually mirror former Vikings great Cris Carter, who was waived from Philadelphia following concerns about his drug use. That's not the only comparison to Carter that Rogers has been subject of, either.
His former assistant coach at Tennessee, Charlie Baggett, made even more stunning comparisons than Matt Waldman, via Robert Klemko of USA Today:
Da'Rick is the second-smartest football player I've been around, and (Hall of Famer) Cris Carter is the first. Da'Rick doesn't know how to be a pro like Cris Carter was, but he can immediately comprehend things the normal guy his age takes time to learn.
Should Rogers flash only a portion of that ability, he's well worth a roster spot with the Vikings.
For a full accounting of potential target players, be sure to tweet and Follow @ArifHasanDN on Twitter.