Previewing What the Vikings Will Be Looking for at the Scouting Combine
Starting on Feb. 22 and running through Feb. 25, NFL hopefuls will trot themselves out in front of teams like a herd of cattle and showcase their physical abilities.
The Minnesota Vikings will be there. And they will have a long list of players and position types they'll want to inquire about.
That's where this slideshow comes in.
The focus here is to asses the positions and specific players the Vikings will have their eye on.
Many of the players referenced will be potential first-round picks, but there will be players mentioned here that are projected to be selected after the first round.
The slides are listed in no particular order.
The 'Big 3' Quarterbacks
In the eyes of most, there are three quarterbacks that have separated themselves from their peers and could easily be the No. 1 quarterback taken at the NFL draft.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. Central Florida's Blake Bortles. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
Depending on whom you ask, all three have been declared the No. 1 quarterback of this draft class, and most mock drafts have all three gone by the time the 10th pick is being made.
And the Minnesota Vikings, who have only Christian Ponder on their roster at quarterback, have a gaping hole at quarterback for 2014 and beyond.
Should one of these three be available when the Vikings pick at No. 8, it is assumed they will end up in Minnesota.
Now, it's unlikely that more than one of these players would still be on the board at No. 8, but the Vikings will want to be extra careful in their scouting of all three so that they have a clear pecking order should more than one be available on draft day.
Fresno State Quarterback Derek Carr
This is probably the most divisive prospect in the draft to discuss among Vikings fans.
Depending on which corner you find yourself in, he's either a steal for Minnesota at No. 8 or he's the next Christian Ponder at that spot.
Chalk me up to the latter.
He'd be a great second-round pick, but at No. 8, he feels like a reach, much in the same way Ponder did. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah ranks Carr as the No. 44 overall prospect, while Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him at No. 13.
But that doesn't mean the Vikings won't be keeping an extra close watch on him.
They absolutely should given that Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman are no longer with the organization and Ponder is the lone quarterback on the roster at this time.
They need to do their homework to find out if Jeremiah or Miller is closer on who Carr can become as a football player. If Miller is right and the Vikings pass at No. 8 and he's gone before their second-round pick, general manager Rick Spielman will be done.
If Jeremiah is right and the Vikings can get him in the second round, then that's a great deal.
By the time the Vikings make their selection at No. 8 overall in the first round (if they keep it), there's a strong possibility Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles are all gone.
There's an outside chance that Derek Carr would be off the board as well, and even if he is, there are many out there who think he'd be a poor No. 8 pick (plenty of smart people who think he'd be a great pick, too).
The Vikings, for all we know, may not want to take a quarterback at No. 8. They may want to address a porous defense with the selection.
And as the Seattle Seahawks (Russell Wilson, third round), San Francisco 49ers (Colin Kaepernick, second round), Cincinnati Bengals (Andy Dalton, second round), Dallas Cowboys (Tony Romo, undrafted free agent) and New England Patriots (Tom Brady, sixth round) have shown, teams need not take a quarterback in the first round to be in the playoff hunt on a yearly basis.
So, the Vikings should be prepared to do their homework on the quarterbacks pegged to go after the first round.
The top four names that come to mind are: Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, Alabama's AJ McCarron, Georgia's Aaron Murray and LSU's Zach Mettenberger.
Mettenberger and Murray are recovering from torn ACLs, so it's unlikely Minnesota would learn too much about either at the combine other than to get updates on their recoveries.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks Garoppolo as the fifth-best quarterback (No. 56 overall prospect), Mettenberger the sixth (No. 87 overall), McCarron the seventh (No. 101 overall) and Murray the 10th best (No. 150 overall).
Minnesota has plenty of defensive holes to fill (more discussion on that later), and if it believes one of those four could be a diamond in the rough, then the organization could benefit from passing on a quarterback in the first round.
Run-Stuffing Defensive Tackles
The Vikings believe Shariff Floyd, a first-round pick in 2013, has a bright future as a defensive tackle in their defense.
But at his size (6'3" and 305 pounds), his skills lend themselves to providing an interior pass rush more so than stuffing the run.
He's in line to be Minnesota's next Kevin Williams, which means the defensive line is in search of its next Pat Williams (6'3" and who played his best at roughly 340 pounds).
If the Vikings pass on a quarterback with their No. 8 overall pick, then Louis Nix could be on their radar.
Nix, ranked as the No. 2 defensive tackle and No. 26 overall prospect by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, is a massive football player (6'2" and 345 pounds) who is known for his run-stuffing abilities. CBS Sports compares him to B.J. Raji.
Tennessee's Daniel McCullers (6'7" and 348 pounds) is another player known for clogging the middle of the trenches. Miller ranks him as the No. 12 defensive tackle and No. 112 prospect overall.
The Vikings ranked 16th against the run last season (110.4 yards per game), and Nix or McCullers could help beef up an interior that is likely to lose Kevin Williams and, beyond Floyd, employs Fred Evans (6'4" and 305 pounds) and Letroy Guion (6'4" and 303 pounds) as regular rotation players.
With Chris Cook and Marcus Sherels entering free agency and a pass defense that finished 31st in the NFL by allowing 287.2 yards per game, Minnesota will address the cornerback position this offseason (either by draft or free agency).
Xavier Rhodes, a 2013 first-round pick, showed growth throughout his rookie campaign and appears to be in line to develop into a starting-caliber cornerback.
A.J. Jefferson was cut after off-field trouble.
Sherels I expect to return, but it seems like Cook's time in Minnesota is through.
Josh Robinson was awful in the slot last season, his first full season of his football career there, and the Vikings should do all they can to move him back outside where he's comfortable because Robinson is very athletic.
In order to expedite Robinson's move back outside, the Vikings should keep an eye on the likes of Florida State's Lamarcus Joyner (5'8" and 190 pounds), who spent most of his time in slot coverage, according to CBS Sports.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller rates him the sixth-best cornerback and 53rd best prospect overall, meaning he'd likely be selected in the second or third round.
Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard are considered the cream of the crop, ranked first and second, respectively, by Miller, and Minnesota should have its eye on them should it decide to address that position with the No. 8 pick. Either one could be a good pick.
One thing is certain at this position for the Vikings: Harrison Smith will be a starter in 2014.
The question is, who will start beside him?
The beautiful thing about Smith is that he has the coverage skills to play the free safety and the run-stuffing, power-hitting skills to play the strong safety.
Regardless, Smith gives Minnesota freedom on how to address his future partner in crime.
Jamarca Sanford has revealed himself as a severe liability in pass coverage despite his strengths as a run-stuffing safety. Mistral Raymond continues to fizzle. Robert Blanton has shown little. And Andrew Sendejo has been inconsistent.
All that being said, the position could use another body, which is why the Vikings should pay attention to some of the notable players at the position during the combine.
Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is the consensus No. 1 safety in this class (Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks him the No. 17 overall prospect). To get him, Minnesota would have to select him at No. 8 or trade back into the first round.
If Minnesota opts not to select a safety so soon, Baylor's Ahmad Dixon or Vanderbilt's Kenny Ladler would be worth a look. Miller ranks Ladler the No. 125 overall prospect and No. 6 free safety (meaning roughly a third- or fourth-round pick) and ranks Dixon the No. 2 strong safety and No. 55 overall prospect (roughly a second- or third-round pick).
Dixon is known as a monster hitter whom CBS Sports describes as "aggressive" in pass coverage and as someone who "loves to get his hands dirty in the run game."
Depending on how you feel about Audie Cole or Michael Mauti as Minnesota's possible middle linebacker next season, you may prefer middle linebacker to be in this slide.
But given the way Cole played, when healthy, down the stretch, he should have an opportunity to win the starting gig.
Meanwhile, at outside linebacker, the Vikings released Erin Henderson this week and are unlikely to re-sign the injury-prone Desmond Bishop. And who knows what will happen with free agent Marvin Mitchell? This leaves Gerald Hodges (a 2013 fourth-round pick) to start opposite of Chad Greenway (who is 31 years old).
You feeling uncomfortable yet, or is that just me?
Buffalo's Khalil Mack and UCLA's Anthony Barr are the No. 1 and No. 2 prospects at the position, respectively, according to Bleacher Report's Matt Miller. He ranks them No. 6 and No. 7 as prospects, overall, which means they'd be good value picks for Minnesota at No. 8.
Both players are built more as pass-rushing outside backers in a 3-4 defense, which doesn't at all fit Minnesota's scheme. Selecting a talented player who isn't built for your system isn't the best thing to do with a top-10 pick; the Vikings should still assess both players at the combine to see if they believe they're athletic enough to adjust to a 4-3 defense.
Iowa's Christian Kirksey is someone to watch. He comes from the same school as Greenway and projects as a third-round pick by CBS Sports. Miller ranks him as the No. 9 outside linebacker and No. 98 overall prospect.
CBS Sports calls him a "versatile athlete" who can run with receivers in coverage and also "demonstrates nice physicality when playing up at the line of scrimmage."
The offensive line is one of the strongest units of the Vikings.
But there is one particular member of the unit that doesn't play at as high of a level as the rest: Charlie Johnson.
The 29-year-old left guard was declared by Pro Football Focus as the weakest link of the chain that it considers the sixth best in the NFL. It also declared him best suited for a backup role. With him set for free agency, it's unlikely the Vikings will retain his services in any role.
That means a new left guard is likely needed, and the draft could be a great way to find him.
There's no player worthy of the No. 8 pick at this position, which means the earliest Minnesota would address the position would be the second or third round.
That's where Baylor's Cyril Richardson (6'5" and 348 pounds) or Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson (6'4" and 339 pounds) could come into play. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller ranks them as the No. 3 and No. 4 guards, respectively, and No. 62 and No. 90 overall prospects, respectively.
Wisconsin's Ryan Groy is an intriguing prospect that the Vikings may want to keep an eye on. Miller ranks him as the No. 14 guard and No. 254 prospect overall (suggesting he shouldn't be drafted), but Wisconsin has had a way with developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen in recent years. And Groy has experience at left guard and left tackle, making him more valuable as a versatile backup.