Draft Prospects Whose Pro Days the Minnesota Vikings Shouldn't Ignore

Arif Hasan@ArifHasanNFLContributor IIIMarch 24, 2015

Draft Prospects Whose Pro Days the Minnesota Vikings Shouldn't Ignore

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    With the free-agency period dying down, fans of the Minnesota Vikings may turn themselves back toward the draft and specifically at hidden gems who may fit the team. With about half of the country's pro days complete, as well as the NFL regional combine, we can take a look at players who didn't work out at the NFL draft combine in February but still have measurables worth noting.

    For the most part, this list includes players who have good athletic scores and not necessarily those with high-level NFL talent. Given that most of these players were not invited to the combine, that makes sense—starting-quality talent is difficult to find after getting rid of the 300-plus players that teams requested work out in Indianapolis.

    Still, some measure of field talent needs to be there to make the list, or these players wouldn't be considered good enough to earn camp invites otherwise.

    A number of late-round picks and undrafted free agents grab the attention of NFL scouts after resoundingly good performances at their pro days, including the Vikings' own (presumed) starting wide receiver, Charles Johnson, whose 4.39 40-yard dash at Grand Valley State was fast enough to encourage the Green Bay Packers to draft him in the seventh round.

    This year, some players have gone a long way to do that at their respective college workouts.

    All pro-day measurements listed were gathered firsthand in conversations with scouts and draft insiders unless otherwise noted.

Kristjan Sokoli, DT, Buffalo

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    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

    Perhaps the single most impressive pro day at any position so far, Kristjan Sokoli’s path shares some similarities with the fifth overall pick of last year’s draft, Khalil Mack. Aside from both playing for Buffalo, both players went unnoticed on the recruiting trail because of their size, and both bulked up in big ways while there without losing the athleticism that made them intriguing to Buffalo in the first place.

    Going from 220 pounds as a freshman to over 300 pounds as a junior, Sokoli navigated the bulking process well and figures to be one of the more exciting late-round picks or undrafted free agents coming out of this year’s draft class.

    He also shares some similarities with a former defensive line pick made for Mike Zimmer’s defense in Cincinnati, Margus Hunt. Originally from Albania, Sokoli’s family immigrated to the United States when he was nine years old, and he didn’t speak a word of English.

    Though his story of struggle is compelling by itself, fans may be more intrigued by what he can do on the field. His production seems subpar, though a nose tackle’s job is always difficult to evaluate.

    While his low sack numbers and sparse tackle numbers seem like a warning flag—0.0 sacks, 3.0 tackles for loss, 32 total tackles, six pass deflections, per Sports-Reference.com—similarly low sack numbers for Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe—1.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss, 32 total tackles, three pass deflections, per Sports-Reference.com—while a senior at Memphis should serve as a reminder that at the nose tackle position, production isn’t always measured in the box score.

    The high number of pass deflections for a defensive lineman is a good thing and is in fact an input in modeling a college player’s ability to generate sacks in the NFL.

    Add that to a workout performance similar to J.J. Watt’s (one of the best combine performances of all time), and there’s an intriguing package there that should demand a late-round selection.

    PlayerHeightWeight40-yard DashBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpThree Cone
    Kristjan Sokoli 6'6 "295 lbs4.8431389'11"7.19
    J.J. Watt6'5"290 lbs4.84343710'6.88

    His biggest issue on film is consistency. He has flashed the ability to penetrate and disrupt the pocket from the 0-technique position and has chased down running backs to the edge. He has even been used to spy the quarterback against variable spread offenses before too. His motor and off-field work ethic are big pluses as well, and he’d be a valuable addition to any camp roster, with a good shot at making a practice squad or even a 53-man roster.

Josh Bredl, DT, Colorado State-Pueblo

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    Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

    While quarterback Chris Bonner is beginning to earn the attention of draft experts (and deservedly so), it may be a teammate on the other side of the ball who could be the more intriguing sleeper.

    HeightWeight40-yard DashBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpThree Cone
    6'7"295 lbs4.8930339'3"7.13

    Josh Bredl’s results at the NFL Super Regional should invite extra attention for him and for Colorado State-Pueblo’s pro day, where he may or may not be invited to replicate the workouts that earned him the acclaim he’s been building.

    The former tight end’s scores are remarkable and are arguably the best in the class for any player vying for interior defensive lineman, given what generally leads to success for defensive tackles.

    Bredl is a particular fit for the Mike Zimmer defense not just because of his preference for athletes, but because of the versatility he can provide. With the length to play in a two-gap system, Bredl has the quickness needed for typical one-gap players, and he has the speed and agility to play on the edge or the power to play inside.

    Further, he could be considered for a conversion to 4-3 defensive end (he played as a 3-4 defensive end) instead of defensive tackle because of Zimmer’s preference for larger DEs.

    Though his natural strength and speed are both at extremely high levels for an NFL athlete, he will need to develop his technique and feel for the game as an NFL player in order to fully unlock it. Though he had limited production at CSU-Pueblo, he has a lot of tools worth looking for.

Shaquille Riddick, Edge Defender, West Virginia

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    The other big name to have an extraordinary workout without a combine invite, Riddick’s scores are nearly identical to Randy Gregory’s but with the added benefit of running them at a better weight—244 pounds.

    PlayerHeightWeight40-yard Dash10-yard SplitBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    Shaquille Riddick6'5 "244 lbs4.651.59193610'4"4.286.80
    Randy Gregory6'4 ¾"235 lbs4.641.612436.510'5"4.306.79

    That difference in weight translates to a large difference on the field, as Riddick can bring more force to bear with the same speed (in theory).

    Much of that only flashes on the field for Riddick, which is why he isn’t in the same discussion as Gregory—he has issues actually converting that speed into power, a problem for a player who was a 5-technique defensive end at West Virginia.

    Unlike Bruce Irvin, who also made the switch from interior defensive line player at WVU to an outside pass-rusher in the NFL, Riddick doesn’t seem to possess the same functional pass-rushing ability to make a big impact early on.

    For the Vikings, he may be best served as an off-ball linebacker convert—he has the weight and functional athleticism that they seem to be looking for. He isn’t built to beat up offensive linemen on every play and could be more explosive if lined up away from the ball. His motor and instincts better fit the linebacker position, and he could be a late-round pick to back up the “Will” linebacker role or compete with Brandon Watts for a special team spot.

    It’s possible that this small-school transfer can be coached up. With only a year of FBS football under his belt (and at a position he won’t play in the NFL), there’s little question that Riddick has more to unlock, but there’s no guarantee coaching will actually resolve his issues. His first step and acceleration should earn him a spot on a 90-man training camp roster, but for now he remains a project with a lot to improve upon.

    Given the success of edge-rusher convert Anthony Barr as a linebacker, Riddick may be better served playing for Minnesota than most other teams.

Jimmy Hall, LB, Northwestern

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    Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

    Though not a premier player in the Big Ten for the Northwestern Wildcats, Hall flashed high-level play at times, including a memorably good game against Wisconsin. Though tackle totals are an exceedingly poor way to evaluate players, especially linebackers, it is a red flag when a linebacker has fewer tackles than three of the defensive backs on the roster.

    HeightWeight40-yard DashBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    6'1"228 lbs4.502439.510'10"4.196.96

    Signing Hall as a priority free agent after the draft would be a show of faith toward his potential, which is fine—upside is in short supply among rookies after the draft is over, and Hall has as much as anyone in this regard.

    Though undersized and considered by some to be a safety convert, Hall could be a developmental nickel linebacker and is exactly the kind of player coaches value on special teams, both in terms of mentality and athleticism.

    Hall's biggest issue isn't size or technique, but instinct. Late to react to plays, Hall is often overrun not by faster players but by faster plays. His tackling angles are poor, and he doesn't make up for it with either his raw speed or with good anticipation.

    Often having difficulty getting off of blocks, Hall's bigger issue when engaging a blocker is that he doesn't keep his head up or read the play while doing it, making the blocker effective regardless of the blocker's actual skill level.

    Hall doesn't bring down the hammer on opposing runners either, which is disappointing considering how much momentum he can generate. Regardless, a patient enough coach could mold his raw ability and speed.

    For the Vikings, he could be on a similar development pattern as Jayson DiManche or Emmanuel Lamur of the Cincinnati Bengals, both undersized but athletic linebackers who lived at the "Will" spot and allowed others to clear the road ahead of them. Hall would certainly be an intriguing option here, and if he can grow as a player, his ceiling is immense.

Damien Wilson, LB, Minnesota

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

    A hometown pick, Damien Wilson would be fun to keep in Minnesota if only to extend his time in TCF Bank Stadium. That isn’t close to the only reason he should be considered as a pro-day gem, but it doesn’t hurt to have hometown flair when constructing a team.

    Wilson’s workouts were genuinely intriguing, and any team would benefit from having him in camp.

    HeightWeight40-yard Dash20-yard Split10-yard SplitBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    6'0"245 lbs4.772.761.6522379'11"4.207.21

    Showing spectacular explosion with a quick 10-yard split and a fantastic vertical leap, Wilson's height is the only real physical barrier to his success. At 245 pounds, he's a dense player who can feature as a run-stuffer plugging up the middle.

    The good news is that unlike most stout linebackers, Wilson shows talent in coverage and has a natural feel for how offenses move the ball through the air. And he drops well in zone coverage, breaking to the ball and mirroring the quarterback during the drop.

    Getting his hand on the ball helps for sure, but his athleticism comes into play in all kinds of coverage, with underrated fluidity on display in man coverage and leaping ability in jump-ball situations.

    Though his long speed isn't impressive, he spills to the corner quickly on the field and makes up for a poor 40-yard dash time with excellent splits, which provide a good representation of how he plays.

    In charge of the defense in Minnesota, Wilson is a savvy player who clearly spends time in the film room, but he does have trouble translating what works on the chalkboard onto the field, sometimes playing with slow instincts or overrunning the play.

    Wilson needs to be more aggressive against the run, especially because he has the build and strength for it, before really seeing the field, but the whole package is there.

    The Vikings, who have a need at linebacker, could keep Wilson in Chad Greenway's "Will" linebacker spot, where he would have more luxury to flow to the ball without having to worry about blockers or could take over Jasper Brinkley's spot in the middle. Either way, his range and explosion make him an intriguing fit for a linebacker corps seeking to get faster.

Darryl Roberts, CB, Marshall

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    Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

    With an outstanding set of workout numbers to build off of, Darryl Roberts has only to overcome the stigma of shorter defensive backs. At a shade over 5'10", Roberts comes in at what used to be a more traditional cornerback height but is now considered undersized.

    Even with all that in mind, his workouts are astounding.

    HeightWeight40-yard Dash20-yard Split10-yard SplitBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    5'10 "181 lbs4.362.501.48283911'1"4.086.66

    Nailing the upper-10th percentile or better in every single one of the workout categories he participated in, Roberts is one of the draft's rare athletic talents. While the 40-yard dash time is sure to catch one's eye, consider how uncommon it is for a 181-pound player to put up 28 bench reps.

    Roberts recovered from a season-ending leg injury in 2012 even stronger than before, and he plays with the kind of physical abandon that may remind Vikings fans of Antoine Winfield. He doesn't quite wrap up as well as Winfield did, though his improvement over the past several seasons in that specific technique can give one hope.

    He plays longer than he looks, and his arms seem to be unnaturally long for his height, which is only a good thing. It's helped him rack up pass deflections in Conference USA, though his timing issues have kept his interception totals down. Though an impressive leaper, he still needs to do a better job in the air.

    His click-and-close ability in zone coverage is enviable, and he does a good job dislodging the ball from crossers. With growing instincts, the surprisingly strong Marshall corner could prove to be a coup for the Vikings.

Tyrell Williams, WR, Western Oregon

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    6’3”, 204-pound receivers are generally found to be in high demand, even in a draft full of players who are known to high-point the ball well. That Tyrell Williams performed at the high end of the draft class at his pro day is an even bigger boon.

    HeightWeight40-yard DashVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    6'3 ½"204 lbs4.4239.510'7"4.116.55

    The Vikings, after trading for Mike Wallace, have made major investments in their receiver corps over the last couple of years, incurring dead-money costs after shedding an expensive Greg Jennings contract and taking on another expensive one with Mike Wallace.

    Pairing that with a first-round pick that cost four other picks to acquire in Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings’ best chances to improve their receiver corps may come from trying to extract as much value from the later rounds and undrafted free-agent pool while building the roster elsewhere.

    His workout numbers are nothing short of spectacular and would top the combine participants in more than one category, with his three-cone performance shining in particular.

    Unsurprisingly, the small-school receiver isn’t a refined player. He has a lot of improvements to make both in terms of learning different techniques to run cleaner routes and deceive defensive backs. The Vikings are looking for a receiver who can get open vertically, which Williams excelled at.

    Regardless, he has highlight-reel catches to his name and displays phenomenal concentration in the air.

    If they decide that Mike Wallace isn’t working out for them, then a deep threat who happened to play that role in college (unlike Patterson, who has the tools but not the resume for such a role) can fill in while they cut Wallace consequence-free. At the very least it will give them leverage to restructure his contract if need be.

Cameron Meredith, WR, Illinois State

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    TIM SHARP/Associated Press

    With 1,061 receiving yards and nine touchdowns on 66 receptions, Cameron Meredith was the engine behind Illinois State’s run at the FCS championship, nearly unseating powerhouse North Dakota State. Though not likely a better prospect than Illinois State’s previous NFL-caliber receiver, third-round pick Laurent Robinson, Meredith certainly has more upside.

    HeightWeight40-yard DashBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    6'3 "207 lbs4.42123910'7"4.176.76

    A quarterback convert who switched to receiver after failing to win the quarterback job, Meredith’s path to the NFL may have been helped by the position switch in 2012. He has a natural ability to run with the ball in his hands and can break tackles with relative ease, though whether he can do it at a higher level remains to be seen.

    He has surprising timing and concentration for a position convert, and he may have many natural skills at receiver that make him worth looking at.

    Meredith will need to understand how to take advantage of his quickness in order to create separation, an issue he had even at a lower level of football, and currently does not run routes with very much skill. Like Tyrell Williams he’s a raw project banking on his athleticism, but there’s a gap—not all raw receivers are the same, and Meredith has a fair bit further to go than Williams does.

    Still, it’s always intriguing to invest in athletic talent, even if it doesn’t always pay off. The Vikings should consider Meredith for the same reasons they should consider Tyrell Williams and consider Meredith a backup plan if they can’t get an ideal receiver in the middle or late rounds.

Quinton Spain, OG, West Virginia

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

    One of the highest-profile names on the list and the only offensive lineman, Quinton Spain’s pro-day workouts could not have gone better. For those used to receiver times and 40-yard dashes closer to 4.4 than 5.0, it may not seem impressive that Spain ran a 5.02 40-yard dash, but his total workout numbers are extremely impressive for his weight and what historically correlates with offensive line success.

    HeightWeight40-yard Dash20-yard Split10-yard SplitBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    6'5 ¼"330 lbs5.022.881.7028298'7"4.627.52

    In addition to an excellent workout, Spain has the body type and long arms to make him an intriguing developmental prospect. He has excellent leg drive, his agility shows up on the tape and he has the upside to be a plus run-blocker. He can combo block well and gets up to the second level.

    A nasty demeanor as a blocker, Spain likes to finish opponents and does it often. In pass protection he exhibits patience and balance and plays with good awareness.

    Unfortunately, his handwork in both the run and pass game is fundamentally awful and alone could be a reason he doesn’t go in the first two days. Along with that issue are leverage and footwork problems that rob him of his natural strength when playing.

    Both of his fatal flaws are coachable, and Spain can be an impact starter with the right situation—his athleticism speaks to his upside. For the Vikings, he fits the model of an offensive guard and has the scheme flexibility Minnesota needs with the front that offensive line coach Jeff Davidson likes to run.

    His movement laterally and downhill fit the zone-running plays that the Vikings employ more often than not, but his drive and open-area movement fit the multiple responsibilities needed for a power-blocking scheme, which the Vikings mix up with their zone running more than most teams.

    The complex and changing assignments of the Vikings' blocking require linemen who show a variety of skills, athletic talents and techniques.

    Spain perfectly fits the profile of the kind of late-round interior linemen Rick Spielman loves to draft.

Honorable Mentions

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    Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

    Chandler Worthy, WR, Troy

    Undersized, Chandler Worthy is unlikely to draw serious attention as a draft prospect but certainly deserves some notice for his workouts. At 5'7 " it's good that he ran a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash, but it won't be enough to overcome his size as it relates to NFL play. Limited to returner options, Worthy's inconsistent hands may betray him there as well. Though the leading receiver for Troy, he still only caught 44 passes.

    Darius Davis, WR, Henderson State

    It was a disappointing pro day for Darius Davis as far as his 40-time is concerned, but he had an otherwise impressive showing for a player of his weight. He will likely need to schedule another private workout or prove he can put on the testing track what he seems to put on the field as a dangerous punt returner and deadly screen-game receiver. His jump scores at his weight alone make him worth investigating.

    Dreamius Smith, HB, West Virginia

    A straight-line runner without much demonstrated vision, Smith isn’t a prospect who will end up receiving many plaudits in a stacked running back class, but he does have potential if only because he has demonstrated the kind of quickness running backs need in testing. He just needs to learn to do it in pads.

    Nathan Jeffery, HB, UTEP

    Should the Vikings seek to invest in a short-yardage back specifically, they may want to wait until after the draft to do it, given how much easier they are to find. If Peterson is gone and they need to spell Jerick McKinnon on certain downs, a player like Jeffery would be a great fit.

    Jeffery was one of the most consistent short-yardage backs in the country last year, and though he didn't unlock it while at UTEP (perhaps because of injury), his 4.48 40-yard dash implies he could be more if he learns to harness all of his speed. As it is, his explosion (as evidenced by a 40.5-inch vertical leap and 1.55-second 10-yard split) pushes piles, and his vision helps him navigate when that doesn't work.

    Hayden Pierce, S, Army

    With no production worth mentioning and the constraints of military service imposed on Pierce, it is unlikely that he’ll earn even a tryout invite. But it is admittedly intriguing to think of a player who, at 6’4”, demonstrates top-tier agility in testing and sports a 39-inch vertical.

    Dan Sullivan, LB, Monmouth

    Suspended for the entire 2013 season for an undisclosed violation of team rules, Sullivan would have been a four-year starter at Monmouth were it not for whatever indiscretion forced him out of the lineup. The nature of that violation will determine how the NFL approaches this FCS prospect, but at the very least his athletic scores are worth mention.

    PlayerPosHeightWeight40-yard Dash20-yard Split10-yard SplitBench PressVertical LeapBroad JumpShort ShuttleThree Cone
    Chandler WorthyWR5'7 "176 lbs4.342.511.511739.511'5"4.046.94
    Darius DavisWR5'11 "226 lbs4.642.691.561737.59'9"4.407.28
    Dreamius SmithRB5'10 "223 lbs4.502.651.59 3510'4"4.166.87
    Nathan JefferyRB5'10 "210 lbs4.482.581.55 40.510'4"4.186.93
    Hayden PierceS6'4"190 lbs4.502.561.54103910'7"4.126.82
    Dan SullivanLB6'1 "225 lbs4.65  333810'9"  

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