Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was named the offensive MVP for the East-West Shrine Game. He makes his his second all-star appearance for the South team in the Senior Bowl.
The offseason for the Minnesota Vikings continues with the Senior Bowl this weekend. There are 109 players from 71 schools hoping to catch the attention of the scouts from any of the 32 teams during the practices this week.
Most of the players that are participating in the game are hoping to increase their draft stock. Based on the prospect rankings from NFL Draft Scout, there are only seven players that are projected to be drafted in the first round. The highest ranked player in the game is Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Walter Football ranks him as the second-best defensive tackle in the draft and a first-round pick.
The Vikings will have eight picks in this year's draft. They should be looking to address their biggest needs at linebacker, quarterback, defensive line and cornerback.
Here's a breakdown of the players at the Senior Bowl the Vikings should be considering at each of these positions.
There are six quarterbacks participating in this year's Senior Bowl. If you believe the rankings from Walter Football or NFL Draft Scout, the South roster will have the advantage in this game. Derek Carr from Fresno State is the fourth-ranked quarterback in the draft by both sites. Eastern Illinois quarterback, and East-West Shrine Game offensive MVP, Jimmy Garoppolo is ranked fifth by CBS Sports and projected as a second-round pick.
According to a tweet from Peter Schrager from Fox Sports, Carr deserves to be in the mix with the top quarterbacks in the draft. This past season, Carr passed for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns and only eight interceptions. He led the Bulldogs to an 11-3 record.
With the eighth pick in the first round, Carr represents a dilemma for the Vikings. While the defense has a lot more holes to plug, the right quarterback can make a bigger impact. Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs, who went from 2-14 in 2012 with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn at quarterback, to 11-5 in 2013 with Alex Smith.
Carr could be a reach with the eighth pick, but most likely will not be around by the time the Vikings select with the 40th pick in the draft—especially if he plays well in the Senior Bowl.
For Garoppolo, this will be his second consecutive All-Star game. Last week he completed 9-of-14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown for the East team. He finished the season with just as impressive numbers as Carr. Garoppolo passed for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
The Star Tribune reported that Garoppolo met with 10 members of the Vikings coaching staff Tuesday evening, including new head coach Mike Zimmer.
According to Adam Hoge from CBS Chicago, Garoppolo and Carr were the top two quarterbacks during practice on Monday.
The top-ranked quarterback prospect for the North team is Tajh Boyd from Clemson. There's a big difference in opinion about where Boyd may go in the draft—Walter Football projects anywhere from the first to the third round and NFL Draft Scout projects him as a fifth-round selection.
Boyd passed for 3,851 yards with 34 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the Tigers. Boyd could be a possible selection for the Vikings later in the draft if they choose to address the defense first.
The Minnesota Vikings need to find a couple of linebackers to play alongside Chad Greenway.
Second-year player Audie Cole made five starts at middle linebacker last season after Erin Henderson was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. Those starts came after the Vikings waived him from the team and then re-signed him. You don't release potential starters.
With another arrest on New Year's Day for Henderson, his days with the Vikings could be running out. A tweet from Chris Tomasson from the Pioneer Press indicates that Henderson will be waived after the Super Bowl.
In his latest mock draft on CBS Sports, Rob Rang has the Vikings selecting linebacker Anthony Barr from UCLA with the eighth pick in the draft. According to Walter Football, Barr is the top outside linebacker in the draft and projected as a top-10 pick. Because he has nothing to prove, Barr is not participating in the Senior Bowl this weekend.
The top outside linebacker in the Senior Bowl is Kyle Van Noy from BYU. This season, he finished third for the Cougars with 67 tackles, 17 of them for a loss, four sacks and two interceptions. Van Noy is projected as a late first-round or second-round pick.
A tweet from Scott Bischoff covering the practices at the Senior Bowl calls Van Noy special. At 6'3" and 245 pounds, he has the size to play linebacker, but according to Bischoff, moves like a cornerback. Sounds like the kind of linebacker the Vikings can use to help boost the passing defense. Van Noy is playing for the South team.
Two other outside linebackers to follow in the game are Michael Sam of Missouri, playing on the North team, and Telvin Smith from Florida State, playing on the South. Both could potentially be drafted as high as the second round.
Sam led the Missouri Tigers this past season with 11.5 sacks. At 6'2" and 255 pounds, he projects as an outside linebacker in the NFL but could serve as a pass rushing specialist.
Smith led the Seminoles with 69 tackles. He had 4.5 tackles for a loss with three sacks. He also had three interceptions and scored two defensive touchdowns.
As a graduate from the University of Minnesota, I'm not accustomed to seeing too many Gophers listed among the top players at their position. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is the highest ranked player in the Senior Bowl. Both Walter Football and NFL Draft Scout rank Hageman second among defensive tackles, projecting him as a first-round draft pick.
B/R Lead NFL writer Matt Miller tweeted that Hageman will be moving up on his draft board.
The knock on Hageman from Walter Football is that he needs to be more consistent. Last year for the Golden Gophers, while facing plenty of double teams, he only recorded two sacks. At 6'6" and 311 pounds, he has the same bulk to him that also gave him some versatility to play anywhere along the line.
Another top-ranked defensive lineman is Trent Murphy from Stanford. The defensive end is ranked fourth and projected as a late first-round or early second-round pick. Murphy led the Cardinal with 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss. He also had an interception this season and knocked down six passes.
Scott Bair from Comcast Sportsnet reports that Murphy has the ability to put pressure on the quarterback from two positions—outside linebacker and defensive end. The 6'6" Murphy has dropped his weight to 252 in order to play faster and potentially play outside linebacker in the NFL.
It could be fun watching Hageman and Murphy—a couple of potential first-round draft picks—line up next to each other for the North team in the Senior Bowl.
A couple of other defensive ends to watch are Kareem Martin from North Carolina and Chris Smith from Arkansas.
Martin led the Tar Heels with 11.5 sacks and was third with 82 tackles. At 6'6" and 265 pounds, Martin is the same size as Jared Allen—a fourth-round draft pick by Kansas City in 2004. Projected as a late second-round or third-round pick, Martin could be a potential replacement for the Vikings.
Smith led the Razorbacks with 8.5 sacks and finished the season with 36 tackles. At 6'3" and 268 pounds, Smith is slightly smaller than defensive end Everson Griffen, who is a pending free agent.
It seems that the top cornerbacks in the draft decided not to participate in the Senior Bowl. Already projected as top picks, there's no upside to participate and risk injury—something that Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin can attest to. According to a tweet from Viking Update, Colvin, projected as high as a second-round pick, tore his ACL during practice at the Senior Bowl.
One of the best cornerbacks so far this week comes from one of the smallest schools—Pierre Desir from Lindenwood. Like quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Desir played in the East-West Shrine Game last week.
At 6"2" and 206 pounds, Desir has the size of free-agent cornerback Chris Cook (6'2", 212 lbs). Desir led the Lions with four interceptions this season. A tweet from Eric Galko from Optimum Scouting indicates that Desir had a very good day of practice on Wednesday.
CBS Sports projects Desir as a second- or third-round pick.
Based on the rankings from NFL Draft Scout, Desir and Colvin were the top two cornerbacks in the game.
Another cornerback to watch is Stanley Jean-Baptiste from Nebraska. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, Jean-Baptiste is a little bit bigger than cornerback Xavier Rhodes (6'2", 210 lbs). This past season, Jean-Baptiste led the Cornhuskers with four interceptions and 12 passes defended.
One tweet indicates that the Vikings have met twice with Jean-Baptiste at the Senior Bowl this week.