5 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Minnesota Vikings

Giancarlo Ferrari-King@@GiancarloKingFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2014

5 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Minnesota Vikings

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    As the offseason continues to unfold for the Minnesota Vikings, all eyes are slowly gravitating toward the 2014 NFL draft.

    With Gil Brandt of NFL.com reporting that 80 underclassmen have already have applied for early entry into the NFL, this year's class will give teams the luxury of accruing lots of talent throughout various stages of the draft.

    Once again, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman will be called on to find players who will be able to contribute right away and help get this team back into the playoffs.

    So who are some some of the prospects that are sure to spark the interest of the Vikings? Studying film to analyze various players and cut through the hyperbole, it's time to answer that burning question.

    *All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

Brett Smith, QB, Wyoming

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    If you're of the mindset that the Vikings can't reach for a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming draft, then quarterback prospect Brett Smith is a name worth paying attention to.

    Coming out of Wyoming, Smith is a dual-threat signal-caller who has a special knack for keeping plays alive with his legs. Dubbed by Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com as a "more controlled version" of Johnny Manziel, Smith is one of the most exciting prospects in this year's draft class.

    At 6'3", 206 pounds, the young man from West Salem High School in Oregon possesses enough size to comfortably play the position. Armed with a quick release and natural instincts, on film you see right away that Smith is able to maneuver beautifully in the pocket and constantly find ways to drive the football all over the field.

    When you watch any quarterback play on film, one thing you have to look for is how they handle pressure. In Smith's case, when faced with pressure or a crumbling pocket, this young man seems to have great understanding of his surroundings. He reacts well to pressure and always does a superb job of keeping his eyes downfield.

    Despite not being a finished product, Smith has a lot of traits you look for in a quarterback. For those reasons alone, if the Vikings decide not to go after a quarterback early in the draft, Smith is definitely a guy worth watching.

    Because of his confidence in the pocket, capable arm strength and stellar mobility, the former Wyoming Cowboy needs to stay on Spielman's radar this offseason.

Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

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    With plenty of talented cornerbacks entering the 2014 draft, one name that sometimes gets forgotten is Kyle Fuller out of Virginia Tech.

    Standing at 6'0", weighing 194 pounds, Fuller boasts great size for the position. Watching him work on film, a couple of things jump out at you right away.

    For starters, Fuller is a really physical cornerback. He's always out there engaging with opposing wide receivers every chance he gets, making sure they understand he isn't just a coverage guy.

    From a pass defense standpoint, Fuller is impressive in coverage. His size and athleticism allow him not only to jam people at the line of scrimmage, but also to stick with them downfield. Showing off his ridiculous athletic ability to the nation, last season Fuller soared above Alabama Crimson Tide wide receiver Christion Jones and made a spectacular play.

    In spite of his ability on the field, the knock on Fuller has been his constant battle with injuries. After sustaining a core muscle injury back in November, Virgina Tech tweeted that Fuller had to undergo surgery to correct the problem.

    Proving he can overcome injuries is going to be critical for Fuller's future. If he slips into the second or third round of the draft, there's simply too much potential there for the Vikings front office not to bite. When you have a pass defense that gave up 287.2 yards per game last season, infusing a guy like Fuller into the secondary would help change that tune right away.

    Putting all of the hyperbole aside for a second, great drafts are predicated on value. Finding standout prospects in the later rounds is what helps build championship rosters—just ask Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider.

Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State

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    If you watched the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, one player who stood out above the rest was Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

    The 6'2", 298-pound Jernigan served as a tour de force, bullying his way into Auburn's backfield with a relentless first step and tremendous burst off the line of scrimmage.

    What will intrigue Minnesota the most about the former Florida State Seminole is his upside. At just 21 years old, it's scary to think Jernigan still has plenty of room to grow as a player.

    Already looking like a young man who could come in and help this defense out from Day 1, Jernigan's long-term ability to evolve into a dominant force would help solidify a Vikings run defense that allowed 110.4 rushing yards per game during the 2013 season.

Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford

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    In today's NFL, brilliant pass-rushers are one commodity teams can never have enough of.

    With guys like Jared Allen and Everson Griffen set to hit free agency, the Vikings would be wise to take a look at former Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy to help shore up a position of need.

    Evaluating his game, Bleacher Report's own Matt Miller said the following:

    Murphy isn't a quick-twitch athlete, to use an older reference. He won't blow scouts away with straight-line speed or jaw-dropping explosiveness, but he's a smart technician who uses his hands well to disengage from blockers. Watch Murphy against Michigan State and you'll see No. 93 using his hands to chop down the punch of blockers and then accelerate to get into the backfield. That's a veteran NFL pass-rushing move, and Murphy is already showing strong use of it.

    Playing in 13 games this past season, the young man from Stanford was nothing but productive. Finishing with 14 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, Murphy showed off his outstanding football instincts while leading the Pac-12 in both categories.

    Aside from his ability on the field, what you have to like most about Murphy is that he's all about loyalty. Sitting down with Pac-12 Network host Ashley Adamson, Murphy talked about returning to Stanford this past season to finish what he started with guys he came in with.

    With CBSSports.com projecting Murphy to be selected between the late first and early second round, the Vikings may have to get lucky in order to land the former Cardinal. Still, no matter where he ends up getting drafted, Spielman and his staff have to be intrigued by such a high-character pass-rusher like Murphy.

De'Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon

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    With De'Anthony Thomas, the name of the game is versatility. Finishing his collegiate career with over 5,000 all-purpose yards, the former Oregon Duck has proven he can do it all.

    An explosive athlete who helped ignite a dynamic Oregon offense, CBSSports.com has Thomas projected to be selected in the sixth round of the draft. Despite not being built like a traditional every-down back, Thomas' particular skill set makes him a valuable asset at the next level.

    Outside of being able to spread a defense out with his blistering speed, Thomas has a history of making spectacular things happen on special teams. For Minnesota, his game-breaking ability in the return game and his astounding quickness make him a must-have for this franchise.

    No one knows for sure what's going to happen with Minnesota's offense next season. But the one thing we do know is that having versatile players on your roster gives your offense the freedom needed to drench the playbook with creative ideas.

    If his late-round projection holds up come draft day, Thomas is the type of player who would work wonders for the purple and gold machine.