Monday, March 31, 2008

Vikings' Links on Opening Day

"There is no sports event like Opening Day of baseball, the sense of beating back the forces of darkness and the National Football League." -- George Vecsey

Unlike last summer, I don't plan on shutting down this blog during the dog days of summer between the NFL draft and the beginning of training camp. Instead, I'm going to allow myself a little more leeway in my topics and will have posts about baseball, the Twins and any other sports related topics that strikes my fancy. I won't ignore the Vikings, but they won't be my sole topic. That's one of the reasons why I don't have a draft preview up today. I'm still planning on writing something on wide receivers Limas Sweed, DeSean Jackson, Devin Thomas, as well as taking a look at some second and third round prospects (and I might preview a few of the first round corners if I have time), but I just couldn't bring myself to write about the draft during Opening Day.

For those of you who aren't excited about Opening Day (and I don't know what to think about you), you're in luck. There's still a lot of good NFL stuff out there to read.

  • Football Outsiders has a piece on about the quarterbacks that took the most punishment last year. If you're looking for a reason for the Vikings to draft a lineman in the first round, this is the article for you. Only nine more quarterbacks got hit (and sacked) as often as Tarvaris Jackson was last year, and no NFL team allowed their quarterback to get hit as often as the Vikings did.
  • There's a new Vikings blog, Viking Vision. As I always say, the more the merrier (the lack of quality Vikings' blogs back in the day was one of the main reasons I started the Ragnarok). It's definitely worth checking out, especially the VikesTube section, which has an archive of quite a few good Vikings videos.
  • Cold Hard Football Facts has been profiling all 32 teams prior to the draft, and their Vikings' profile was put up earlier this month. I missed it when it was originally posted, but it's still worth a read, especially because they consider the Vikings to have 10-6 talent, even now (as do I). The Purple should be a playoff team this year or they should find a new coach, simple as that.
  • Like Childress' first year, the Vikings are opening on the road on Monday Night Football. As someone who currently lives on the East Coast, I'm all for more nationally televised games, so this is good. And I remember the last time the Purple played the reigning division champion Packers on Monday Night Football. Who could forget Moss' 190 yard, 2 touchdown performance at Lambeau his rookie year?
  • The Star Tribune has a good rundown on the Vikings' issues finding a quality backup for Tarvaris Jackson. If they can get Sage Rosenfels or J.P. Lohsman, I'd be happy, as either one could step in and perform well enough to give the Vikings a chance to win and both would be able to mentor Tarvaris without complaining about backing him up.
Finally, I'd just like to thank everyone who's stopped by this site in March. This month was only the second time I've ever had more than 3000 site visits (the other being this December) and I'm still stunned that many people would read my Vikings stuff, especially in March. And for those of you who do stop by, please don't hesitate to leave me feedback, positive or negative (constructive only, please). I write the site because I enjoy it, but I also do it because it makes me a better writer, so any feed back is appreciated.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Jeff Otah

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt, Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma, Phillip Merling, a defensive end from Clemson and Ryan Clady, an offensive tackle from Boise St.]

The final lineman that the Vikings may end up drafting is widely considered to have the most upside of any of the offensive tackles available, due largely to the fact that he's played himself into the first round despite first donning a football uniform his senior year of high school. Jeff Otah only played two years at Pittsburgh after spending a year at a prep school, but the amount of praise that scouts and his coaches have heaped on him is impressive, and he's talented enough to back it up, provided he is able to learn the position, and the game.

At 6'6", 340 pounds, Otah's certainly big enough to play the position. He has all of the physical attributes you look for in a left tackle, including long arms and solid legs. Not surprisingly (considering Pitt's not much of a football factory), he stepped right into the starting left tackle position when he arrived at Pittsburgh and he's improved in his two years, even going so far as to earn the most improved player award his junior year.

His improvement was apparent in the aggressiveness he began to show last year. He didn't need to think as much because he was more comfortable, and thus was able to let his natural abilities come through. Make no mistake about it--Otah is a project. He isn't consistent yet. But when he's clicking, he's very good. He has the punch, the drive blocking ability and holds his ground against even the fiercest bull rush. His footwork can use some work, but he's able to beat most defensive ends to the edge, using his size to wall them off. He's able to win the hand battles when he's using the proper technique, but as you'd expect from someone who doesn't have it ingrained yet, he doesn't always use it.

Aside from his inexperience, Otah has a few other question marks as well. He is a soft 340 and needs to get in much better shape. That extra weight might have something to do with his tendency to not get low enough in his stance and his sub par quickness. He doesn't get off the ball especially quickly, and he can get in trouble when he's left alone on an island, which is not something you want in a left tackle. He shut down Chris Long, the defensive end from Virginia, but he also got abused in the game against Michigan St. Finally, there are questions about his work ethic, which is the last thing you want to hear about a project player. He'll do the work, but the coaches have to be on him consistently.

Otah is, quite simply, a project. He flashes amazing talent, but there's no question that he's inexperienced. He might be able to step in and start at right tackle, but he is, at best, a long term solution to the McKinnie problem. That's why I don't think that Otah would be a very good fit for the Vikings. This team needs to win in the next few years if it's going to, and Otah probably won't be ready to be a major contributor by then, if he develops at all.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Ryan Clady

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt, Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma and Phillip Merling, a defensive end from Clemson.]

The reason that Ryan Clady wasn't the first offensive lineman I previewed (as you may have noticed, I tend to do the players I like more first), was because I just don't see him still being available at #17. He's too good, with too few question marks to drop out of the top 15. But if he does, he'd be a great choice as the successor to the legally troubled Bryant McKinnie.

Clady left Boise State after his redshirt junior year and stands 6'6". He weighs 309 pounds, but has a frame that could easily support 20 more pounds without impacting his quickness. His career at Boise St. was ridiculously successful, as he earned All American honors as a junior (the first Boise St. player to do so since 1992) and his blocking grades were 82.23% and 85.77% his final two years, despite mainly playing defensive tackle in high school and during his redshirt year.

Then again, it's not surprising that Clady was able to dominate as a left tackle despite his inexperience. He's quick, has a long reach and plays aggressively, seeking out and destroying his blocking assignment (he had 224 career knockdowns). He is an outstanding pass blocker, able to lock down rushers that engage him and beat speed rushers to the edge. His footwork is impressive, he keeps his weight back, doesn't lunge and gets his arms locked.

His run blocking is also impressive, though not as much as his pass blocking. He's a good drive blocker, and explodes off the ball, but he has room to improve, as he doesn't always get low enough, something he was able to get away with in college, but that will get him driven back by the stronger linemen in the NFL. He isn't as strong as you'd like either, but that's something that he can improve upon once he gets into an NFL strength program.

There are two question marks with Clady and neither is too glaring. The first is his work ethic. While its hard to question the work ethic of someone who turned himself from a redshirt defensive tackle into an All American left tackle, there are some rumors about how motivated he is off the field. He isn't a slacker, but he'll need to be constantly monitored. If the coaching staff stays on him though, he'll put in all the work you'd expect. That'll help him fix the other question mark, which is his lower body strength. Clady has trouble stopping the bull rush, as he can be driven back into the pocket. He doesn't get knocked down, but stronger defensive linemen can force him back into the quarterback. Luckily, it isn't a technique issue, but a strength one, and should be fixable with enough time in the weight room.

Ryan Clady would be a great choice for the Vikings at #17, and would be able to step right in and contribute at either offensive tackle position. The problem is that he's too good of a prospect and isn't likely to still be on the board when the Vikings' pick. If he's still there though, the Vikings should jump on him, especially if Derrick Harvey's no longer available.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A Few Links Before More Previews

I've been working on my previews of left tackles Ryan Clady from Boise St. and Jeff Otah from Pitt (they'll be going up Saturday and Sunday), but I thought I'd put up some links for anyone, who, like me, is watching the NCAA tournament and surfing the internet. And no, I'm not bitter about the fact that poor officiating and poor free throw shooting kept Georgetown (my alma mater) from cruising to an Elite Eight game against Kansas. It figures that the first time JT3 gets a national commercial, it's about Cinderellas (and the lack there of). It sucks rooting for teams that are known more for their losses than their victories (the Vikings, obviously, and Georgetown, known best for the NCAA Final losses in 1982, 1985 and now their loss to Davidson this year). At least I can console myself with the knowledge that the Hoyas are going to be good as long as JT3 is there.

Ok. Time to change the subject before I get too depressed. Let's talk football, where the pain from last season has subsided. Football Outsiders had two articles this week that Vikings' fans should be interested in. The first is on the NFC North's transactions so far this offseason, where they give the Bernard Berrian signing a positive review and discuss the issues created by Bryant McKinnie's legal issues (and all the other issues faced by the other NFC North teams). The second article, a feature piece on left tackle Chris Williams of Vanderbilt, is of interest because of those legal troubles (my take on Williams can be found here). It's also worth a read because of the position it takes on the (over) analysis of Williams and the other tackles likely to be drafted in the first round, including Ryan Clady and Jeff Otah.

Shifting the focus from the line to the quarterback position, it seems that Chris Simms is going to be available, whether through a trade or via free agency. I'm not sure that Simms is the answer to the Vikings' backup quarterback question though. He had one good year, in 2005, where he threw for 2035 yards in 11 games, completing 61% of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions, for an 81.4 QB rating. In the eight other games he's played in (5 in 2004, 3 in 2006), however, he's completed 55.8% of his passes, thrown only two touchdowns and been picked off ten times. He hasn't played since he suffered a spleen injury in the third game of 2006, either. The combination of uncertainty about his ability to rebound from his injury, his desire to start (I assume, seeing how young he is) and his inability to mentor Tarvaris (he only has three more starts than the Revolution) makes him a poor fit to be the backup. He's worth a shot if the Purple want to bring in a a real competitor for the starting spot, but if they are committed to Tarvaris as their starter, they should pass on him. It'd be nice if Sage Rosenfels was available, but it doesn't seem like he is.

Finally, if you're worried about the Vikings' long term future in Minnesota, you should have been happy to hear the news that the State Senate Tax Committee has authorized a study on how to replace the Metrodome. The $2 million price tag isn't coming out of the taxpayers pocket, but as Kevin Seifert explains at Access Vikings, it does mean that the Vikings are finally going to get the issue out of committee. As someone that works in politics, I can tell you that is a huge step. Committees are where controversial bills go to die and a new stadium for the Vikings is nothing if not controversial.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Phillip Merling

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida, Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt and Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver from Oklahoma]

Many of the mock drafts, knowing the Vikings' need for a pass rusher, but thinking that Derrick Harvey will be drafted higher than #17, have guessed that the Vikings will draft Phillip Merling, a junior defensive end from Clemson. It makes a certain amount of sense-Merling is the only other defensive end seen as a mid first round pick aside from Harvey. Of course, like all things, it's slightly more complicated than that. As you may have heard, Merling hasn't yet worked out for anybody due to a sports hernia, an injury for which he just underwent surgery.

According to, a sports hernia is "a weakening of the muscles or tendons of the lower abdominal wall". It's not a muscle injury, however. "The problem with the abdominal wall in people with a sports hernia is not a muscle strength issue. Rather, the abdominal wall in a particular region is too thin, allowing the hernia to form. The sports hernia does not occur in the area of the large, thick part of the muscle." It usually requires surgery, and it takes about 8 weeks to recover from the surgery. Which means that the Vikings, were they to draft Merling, would be drafting someone they had never seen workout in person, and someone coming off an injury that sidelined him for months. Not exactly the recipe for a successful draft pick.

Aside from that whole surgery thing, Merling does have quite a lot going for him. He racked up 7 sacks and 17 TFLs as a junior, despite being the primary focus of opposing blocking schemes. He's a big guy, standing 6'4" and weighing in (pre surgery) at 276 pounds. He has a good burst as well, but he isn't so fast that he can just run past offensive tackles. He has enough moves, however, that he can get off of a block, and he routinely showed the ability to split the double team his junior year. He also plays the run well, is a solid tackler and was routinely praised for his backside pursuit, all of which he displayed while making 78 tackles last year.

The surgery wasn't the only question about Merling, however. Despite having Gaines Adams (4th overall pick in 2007) to draw the offense's focus, he only had 3 sacks his sophomore year. His 12 career sacks aren't as impressive when one considers that he played in the worst BCS conference. He also lacks the speed and quickness that a dominant pass rusher needs in the NFL, and he never displayed the strength necessary to compensate, leaving him as something of a tweener. Big linemen were able to swallow him up, and his burst, reactions and pass rush were significantly worse when he was set then when he was moving in a stunt or a twist.

With a good workout, in which he was able to address the questions about his speed, quickness and strength, Merling might have been able to justify his selection at #17. He wasn't able to work out, however, and is likely even further behind where a first round pick should be, in terms of conditioning, strength and ability to make an immediate impact. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and Merling missed his chance because of an injury. It would be a mistake for the Vikings' to draft him in the first round because they need a defensive end, when other talented players are available at other positions that the Vikings could use more talent at.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Nathan Poole Can Burn

Vikings Update (there is a not safe for sanity video at that link--don't say you weren't warned) is reporting that the NFL Competition Committee is considering eliminating the rule that gives a receiver a catch if he is shoved out of bounds prior to landing and he maintains possession. The change being considered would change it so the player is only awarded the catch if they are “actually held and carried out of bounds” by the defender. Otherwise they would have to get both feet in bounds.

I would endorse this idea whole heartedly, except, I just know that the Vikings will get screwed by the rule change and end up losing a game when Bernard Berrian or Sydney Rice get shoved out of bounds while making a catch in the air. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to thinking about the draft before I get too depressed.

Solving Our Problems: Malcom Kelly

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida and Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt]

By signing Bernard Berrian, the Vikings seemed to have solved their problems at wide receiver, allowing them to focus on other positions with their first round pick. With the #17 pick, however, the Purple need to be willing to take the best player available. Focusing on need, rather than talent, leads to draft picks like Troy Williamson. Focusing on talent rather than need, leads to draft picks like Adrian Peterson. Enough said there.

Because of that, the Vikings need to be willing to draft a receiver in the first round if that receiver is the best player available. And there is a good possibility that Malcolm Kelly, a wide receiver out of Oklahoma, will be the best player available to the Vikings, something they seem to understand, as he is scheduled to visit Winter Park on April 10th. Kelly is a 6'3, 224 pound junior, with good speed, great hands and the ability be a big time play maker in the mold of Larry Fitzgerald.

Kelly had good but not great stats at Oklahoma, never breaking the 1000 yard mark, but averaging 55 catches for over 900 yards and more than 9 touchdowns his final two years. What was impressive was how he wrote his name all over the Oklahoma record books. He is the school's fifth-leading receiver with 144 catches, is second all time for receiving yardage (2,285), touchdown catches (21) and games with at least 100 yards receiving (nine). His 21 scoring receptions also rank tied for seventh in Big Twelve Conference history. His stats were impressive for their context, that of an offense that focused on the run (more than understandable, considering they had Adrian Peterson for the first two years he was there, and a freshman quarterback his final year.). Of course, that meant he learned how to block, something he is pretty good at. Kelly also showed why his hands are considered the best in the draft class, as he dropped only one pass in two years. In doing so, he also demonstrated superb body control by being able to adjust to almost any throw.

While he's not a speed demon, Kelly has more than enough speed to be a deep threat. His forty time is around 4.5 seconds, and he was used as the Sooners primary deep threat. So while he has the size and strength to fight off a jam at the line, the ability to go over the middle, and the soft hands you'd want in a possession receiver, he's not limited by his speed in the way Dwayne Jarret or Keyshawn Johnson were. He's also considered a superb route runner, who, despite have long strides, is able to get low into his breaks (rare for taller receivers) and explode out of them. And once gets the ball in the open field, he's going to be able to break a lot of tackles due to his size and strength.

Kelly appears to be the complete package, but there are some question marks. He 1asn't been able to work out at the combine because of a thigh injury, and he has had problems with minor injuries, causing him to miss the majority of three separate games his last two years. Kelly also had a tendency to go long stretches without impacting the game. Whether that was due to his own lack of focus or the Sooners focus on the run is up in the air.

With only a few minor question marks, and lots of talent and potential, Malcolm Kelly is the best receiver in the draft. If he is available to the Vikings with the 17th pick, and their top choice at defensive end and offensive tackle are gone, they should strongly consider drafting him, no matter what Brad Childress thinks about drafting receivers in the first round.

Also, Malcom Kelly can rap. And yes, this video does move him to the top of my draft board.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Chris Williams

[With Free Agency all but over, it's time to take a look at who the Vikings might select in the first round with the #17 pick. Today, we're previewing Chris Williams, an offensive tackle from Vanderbilt. Previously, I previewed Derrick Harvey, a defensive end from Florida.]

One of the less talked about problems facing the Vikings this season is their offensive line, specifically the tackle and center positions. At left tackle, Bryant McKinnie is the on field stalwart, big, talented and willing to play hurt.Off the field, he’s just violated the NFL’s conduct policy for the second time and will almost certainly be forced to miss four or more games because of it. At right tackle, Ryan Cook has been inconsistent at best in his two seasons. He’s also the backup left tackle (a position he’ll likely play during McKinnie’s suspension) and the backup center, which was the position he was drafted to play and one that he may need to play, as Matt Birk, like all people, continues to age. If Birk were to be injured,(or pout and holdout) especially during McKinnie’s suspension, it would force Marcus Johnson and Chase Johnson (I don't know who he is either) into the lineup, and guarantee that Tarvaris Jackson would get to know the NFL North’s pass rushers intimately, the last thing you would want a young, inexperienced quarterback with a history of injury problems to do.

The Vikings chose not to pursue any linemen in free agency, which means that, unless they choose to trade McKinnie for another lineman (not likely), they are going to have to address their line issues via the draft, which I expect them to do. I would be surprised to see the Purple take less than two offensive linemen with their 9 picks, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them take a replacement for McKinnie in the first round, allowing them to trade their trouble making left tackle. Today I’m going to take a look at Chris Williams, a senior All SEC left tackle from Vanderbilt.

Williams is a tall guy, measuring in at 6’6”, but he doesn’t have the bulk you’d expect from someone that tall, weighing in at “only” 317 pounds. That didn’t affect his ability to contain some of the best pass rushers in college football, however, as he allowed only two sacks in his last two years at Vanderbilt, one in the first game of his junior year and one in his senior year. He did so by using quick footwork, a tremendous reach and good body control to contain and control the pass rusher off the edge. He also has tremendous football instincts, quickly recognizing stunts and twists, and he communicates well with his guard.

His communication skills also show up as leadership abilities, as his coaches at Vanderbilt counted on him as a mentor to younger players and as the leader of the offensive line. He responded well 0to these extra responsibilities, and continued to put in extra work in the film room and practice to improve. He has the work ethic that you want out of your first round pick, and doesn’t need the continual monitoring that other players do.

Like all prospects, there are some question marks. While there are no doubts about his work ethic, there are doubts about his intensity and killer instinct. He wasn’t the mauler that you’d expect someone his size to be. He relied mainly on technique, rather than raw strength, to contain pass rushers. His run blocking isn’t great either, despite the fact that Vanderbilt liked to run behind him. He struggles with drive blocking because of his height, and doesn’t always get low enough. He isn’t as strong as you’d want him to be either, something that manifests in his run blocking and his use of finesse pass blocking techniques.

The big question with Williams is his intensity. He can and should get stronger in an NFL workout plan, which he can be counted on to follow through with. He has almost everything else you’d want in a left tackle. Whether that will translate into a dominant left tackle will depend a lot on whether he plays aggressively, supplementing his technique with strength and a willingness to attack the rusher, rather than let the rusher come to him. If he does that, he’d be a great addition to the Vikings line, and would allow the Purple to shop Bryant Mckinnie. If he can’t, he should still be good, but he won’t be the reliable pass blocker a good team needs at left tackle.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wrapping Up the Week

The Vikings were busy the last week (as was I), but in this period between the first flurry of free agent signings and the Draft, nothing too exciting happens. So while the Purple was signing Ellis Wyms, Derrick Pope and Dallas Sartz, and resigning Robert Ferguson, I was staying late at work to meet some critical deadlines.

As for the signings, they all helped address areas that the Vikings needed to address. Wyms adds depth at defensive end as well as a veteran presence at the position. He's not a sack machine, having only gotten to the QB 16.5 times in his seven year career, but he's more than good enough to be in the end of the rotation, and he won't kill you if you have to play him due to injuries.

The signing of Pope and Sartz adds depth at linebacker and special teams, as Pope will be able to compete with Heath Farwell for the primary backup role, and he'll fit in nicely on the coverage teams, an area that can always be improved when you play in a division that includes Koren Robinson and Devin Hester. Sartz will be competing with the healed Rufus Alexander for the last LB spot and a spot on special teams, positions that you want to have as mich competition for as possible.

As for Ferguson, he showed last year that he can have value as a fourth or fifth reciever, catching 32 passes for 392 yards and a touchdown. He's also one of the league's best downfield blockers, a skill that the Vikings just might be ab le to find a use for.

In slightly worse news, Bryant McKinnie pleaded "Not Guilty" to a list of charges in Miami, reminding me that I should add all of the linemen that might be drafted in late first round to my to my list of prospects to preview.

If the Vikings do end up using their first round pick on an offensive lineman, they can still upgrade at defensive end, as, word out of Carolina is that that Julius Peppers, quite possibly the most talented defensive end in the NFL, is available for the right price. He won't be cheap though, as the Panthers would likely ask for a 1st and 3rd round pick for him. Is he worth it? Well, that depends a lot on what your opinion of the Vikings is. If you believe that they have a legitimate chance of going to the Super Bowl in the next two years, then Peppers is more than worth it, as he would immediately give the Purple a defensive line that only the Giants could challenge. If, however, you look at the uncertainty at important offensive positions like Left Tackle and Quarterback and think its more likely that they're upside is "playoff team" at best, then those picks can be used to improve a roster that is still recovering from the horrendous 2004 and 2005 drafts. More than anything though, I'd be wary of Peppers production dropoff last year, where he only notched 2.5 sacks in 14 games (his season was cut short by a knee sprain). That kind of precipitous drop off may just be because of a bad season, or it may signal the end of the his reign as the NFL's best defensive end. And make no mistake about it--whichever team gets Peppers will be giving up the draft picks that the NFL's best defensive end would cost.

Another option for the Vikings is to draft a defensive end in the second, third or fourth round, similar to what they did last year when they drafted Brian Robison. If you haven't seen it yet, an anonymous commenter left a scouting report on Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones, who'll be a player the Vikings are looking at on the second day:

"Eastern Michigan's Jason Jones should at least be considered in the 4th (maybe 3rd) round. For starters, his build is similar to Derrick Harvey's (slightly taller -- above 6'5, slightly longer arms), although Jones played around 275-280 in college and slimmed down in anticipation of a move to DE in the pros after playing @ DT his senior year.

There are concerns about his production. He got 19 sacks in 4 years as a starter, and had no double-digit pressures/hurries in a season until '07. Without having seen EMU's games it's hard to determine if those numbers should be taken at face value, or if other factors come into play. However, he's always able to make tackles and take guys down in the backfield.

In the Senior Bowl he returned to playing @ DE and manhandled the tackle lined up against him (Kirk Barton, Ohio State) during practice. In the game itself he was able to collapse the pocket and force mistakes. He showed quickness, athleticism, the skill to utilize a variety of pass rush moves, and the ability to use his wingspan to his advantage. At the Combine he got 18 reps in the bench press; either he isn't a workout fiend, or Harvey's 30 reps means he's far stronger than he looks. Inconsistent agility tests -- great 3-cone drill time, average shuttle, poor vertical -- mean little considering what he showed during Senior Bowl Week, leading back to the point you made in your post.

Given his ability to improve (in terms of conditioning/shape as well as skill) I could see him becoming a surprise down the road, like Justin Tuck. He's able to line up in various spots and continue to be a threat regardless of where he is. It's funny how the Tampa Two's success starts with your front four; yet it's Coughlin/Spagnuolo's Giants who embraced that more than anyone by employing versatile DEs they can rely on to produce in an unorthodox manner, e.g. Tuck lined up @ DT, Umenyiora/Kiwanuka @ OLB."
Comments like that are more than appreciated (he also left some more thoughts on Derrick Harvey which you should read). The more information and discussion we have, the better, in my opinion.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Solving Our Problems: Derrick Harvey

[Solving Our Problems is an ongoing series here at the Ragnarok where I evaluate the Vikings' options going into the offseason. I started by looking at the quarterback options, examining Derek Anderson, Donovan McNabb and possible backups for Tarvaris Jackson. I've tried to figure out who the QB is going to throw to, starting with free agents Bernard Berrian and Donte Stallworth, and taken a detour to look at a safety the Vikings might sign, Madieu Williams. While detouring, I figured that it might be worth it to look at another QB the Vikings might end up with, Sage Rosenfels. Now that free agency is all but over, it's time to look at some of the Vikings' draft options, starting with Derrick Harvey, a junior end from Florida.]

Derrick Harvey, a redshirt junior out of Florida, is perhaps the best defensive end that could be available to the Vikings (I've yet to see a mock draft where Chris Long or Vernon Gholston drops out of the top ten). He's almost 6'5, weighs about 271 lbs and is cat quick, something he demonstrated in his last two years at Florida, where he racked up 11 sacks and 13 tackles for a loss his sophomore year and 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for a loss his junior year. His junior year production was enough to lead the Gators in both sacks and tackles, and both totals were fifth in the SEC, despite being the main focus of opposing teams pass protection schemes. He has a reputation as a good run stopper as well, as can be seen by how many tackles he made in the backfield.

Harvey isn't perfect, however. 271 is undersized for a defensive end (though not undersized for the Vikings, where he would be the third heaviest end, behind Keneci Udeze and Jayme Mitchell) and his 4.83 forty time isn't great. Neither his weight, nor his forty time are worth worrying about. While he was overpowered by larger tackles at times, he was still very productive despite facing tackles that weighed an average of 311 pounds. And he's shown that he can put on weight, as he entered college weighing only 235 pounds. Of course, if he adds too much weight, he'll lose the main reason for his success: his quickness. His forty time doesn't stick out, but that doesn't matter as much as his initial first step, something scouts are raving about.

Harvey has the quickness, the production and the upside that you want in your first round pick. He would also help address a position of need for the Purple, and could have an impact in his rookie year, just like another speed demon who left Florida early after winning a national title in his redshirt sophomore year.

[If you're looking for draft information, I recommend NFL Draft Countdown and NFL Draft Scout, both of which are also linked on the sidebar.]

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Tyranny of Veterans and A Lack of Defensive Ends

The Vikings have been riding high since the beginning of free agency. They've addressed their needs at fullback, safety and wide receiver, watched the star quarterback of the division favorite retire and laughed as the two teams they finished ahead of last year got worse. Aside from the Favre retirement, however, they have had mixed results this week, signing running back/return specialist Maurice Hicks and scheduling multiple visits with defensive ends that never happened.

Maurice Hicks
I'm with Pacifist Viking on this one--I don't understand this signing. It seems that Hicks is meant to replace Mewelde Moore, who signed with the Steelers, as the third down back and punt returner. The thing is, the Vikings don't really need the former, and Hicks has no experience with the latter. With Chester Taylor and the Purple Jesus, the Vikings don't really need to worry too much about finding a third down back, which is one of the main reasons that Moore is now wearing Black and Gold. With the talent ahead of him, Hicks should only be used if needed due to injuries, because he doesn't add anything in the passing game that Taylor or Peterson does, averaging less than a catch a game for 7.7 yards over his four years. If he is needed to step up due to injury, however, he should be fine, as he has a career rushing average of 4.2 yards per carry.

So as added depth at running back, Hicks is a fine signing. As a return specialist, however, he's surprisingly inexperienced at the position the Vikings need him most--punt returner. He's never returned a punt in the NFL. With the loss of Moore, only Bobby Wade and Charles Gordon (who, in 2006, returned 1 punt for 1 yard) have any experiencing returning punts on the Vikings' roster. As the starting slot receiver, Wade is too important to the offense to spend a lot of time returning punts, and there's obviously a reason why Gordon only got one chance. Which likely means that the Purple are going to try Hicks back there, something that isn't ideal. Returning punts is, in my opinion, harder than returning kickoffs, because the punt returner has to make their decision more quickly and has to do so while the coverage team converges on them. Kick returners usually have a little more time, and can catch the ball without worrying about getting drilled immediately or whether they need to call a fair catch. Any decision they make comes after the catch, which is why returning punts isn't necessarily something you want an inexperienced player doing.

The other reason the Hicks signing seems like a mistake is that the Purple already have a solid kick returner. Aundrae Allison averaged 28.7 yards on 20 returns last year, including a franchise record 104 yard return for a touchdown. That performance, however, wasn't enough to keep Allison as the return man all year, as Childress had Adrian Peterson returning kicks in Week 17. In contrast, Hicks returned 63 kicks for an average of 23.8 yards per return last year and has a career average of 22.9 yards per return. He has 185 career returns, but he's never returned a kick for touchdown and he's only returned 8 kicks for more than 40 yards, something Allison has already done three times. In fact, the Hicks signing seems like it was made to allow Childress to go with the "veteran" over the more talented and explosive second year player, a mistake the Purple can't afford with their offensive deficiencies.

Defensive Ends
The only one of their weaknesses that the Vikings have yet to address is defensive end. They've scheduled multiple visits with free agent pass rushers, but have yet to have any make it to Winter Park, watching Justin Smith, Antwan Odom and Javon Kearse sign with other teams. The thing is, I'm not sure that any of them were the answer. Smith was mediocre last year, only notching 2.5 sacks, has never been dominant (his career high is 8.5 sacks in his rookie year) and signed a huge contract with the 49ers, which the Vikings would have had to match if they'd signed him. Odom had a breakout year last year with 8 sacks, but had never had more than 2 in a season before that. And Kearse's injury history (he hasn't played in 16 games in a season since 2001) , which has been matched by a performance decline, should have told everyone that he was not the answer to the Purple's pass rush problems.

It's for those reasons that I don't think the Vikings need to be too worried about their inability to land a pass rusher in free agency. Nor do I think that they need to be as worried about their pass rush going into next year, because they have two young defensive ends in Brian Robison and Ray Edwards that have shown the ability to get to the quarterback. Robison was a rookie last year, and Edwards was only in his second year, and despite Robison hitting the proverbial rookie wall and Edwards "missing" the last four games of the year, Robison had 4.5 sacks and Edwards had 5, tying them for fourth and first overall. A full offseason of NFL training for Robison and a full season from Edwards should allow both of them to take another step toward becoming an elite pass rusher. And any improvement on the ends will likely lead to an improvement in the middle, as it will take opponents' focus away from the Williams.

The real problem lies with the Vikings' lack of depth behind Robison and Edwards. Darrion Scott is an unrestricted free agent, Keneci Udeze is likely out for the year because of leukemia and Erasmus James is coming off of another injury and has only played 8 games in the last two years. Jayme Mitchell and Otis Grigsby are still on the roster, and while Mitchell is good enough to be a part of the defensive end rotation (Grigsby is roster filler) neither is good enough to be a major part of the rotation.

What this means is that the Vikings have to find quality players to support Robison and Edwards, something that isn't readily available in the free agent market (the complete list is available here). So the Purple likely will look to the draft to provide their young defensive line with more depth. As I've said before, there are quite a few quality ends available, and, with the Berrian signing, the Vikings can focus on their pass rush in the draft, something I'll be doing next week, barring anything crazy happening.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

A Tribute to Brett Favre - The Interception King

The only fitting tribute for a man whose final pass was an interception:

He's simply the best.

Nananana, Nananana, Hey, Hey, Hey, Goodbye

Brett Favre is retiring and I am ecstatic. My better nature wants me to talk in platitudes, discuss how much good he was, blah blah. Luckily, I am well trained in ignoring my better nature. Brett Favre was a very good quarterback. He was also the most over hyped player in football. I hated watching any game the Packers were playing because of how much love received from the announcers. I hated the way the media fawned over him. And I hated him. The reasons for my hatred are too numerous to list in their entirety, but some of my favorites include:

  • No quarterback has ever thrown as many interceptions as he has, a fact that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.
  • Chris Berman saying that "rooting for Favre is like rooting for America."
  • Not being fined for high fiving referees, a blatant violation of the rule prohibiting any kind of contact with officials.
  • Joe Buck and Troy Aikmen discussing how much fun Favre was having after he threw a pass 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, drawing a penalty that pushed his team out of field goal range in the playoff game the Packers lost to the Vikings, even going so far as to claim that a stone faced referee was "laughing".
  • His refusal to make a decision on whether to retire until the absolute last minute the last few years. And it's kind of interesting that he retired the season after he set the touchdown mark, despite the fact that the Packers would likely be a Super Bowl contender again this year with him at the helm, don't you think?
  • The media's insistence on comparing him to Cal Ripken, despite the fact that he was nowhere near the true NFL Iron Man, Jim Marshall, who, assuming that Favre doesn't pull a Clemens, is still 19 games ahead of Favre, despite playing defensive line, which is a more physical position (Farve and Marshall are also still behind punter Jeff Feagles).
  • The fact that he spells his name in such an obnoxious way.
So goodbye Brett Favre, Interception King. Thanks for finally leaving.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Weekend Roundup: BERNARD BERRIAN!!!

In one of the better sports weekends in my recent memory, the Hoyas came away with an amazing come from behind win at #21 Marquette, the Vikings filled some of the holes in their roster, including the signing of a legitimate wide receiver who is an actual deep threat, something the Purple haven't had since they traded Randy Moss away after the 2004 season.

The signing of Berrian is huge. And when I say huge, I mean "create a 'hope' tag for the first time" huge. He was, quite simply, the best receiver available to the Vikings on the free agent market. When I wrote about him earlier, I didn't expect him to make it away from Chicago, because I expected da Bears to either sign him or use the franchise tag on him. They didn't do either, and because of Zygi Wilf's willingness to spend money to make his team better (this is the second time since he took over in 2005 that the Vikings have made a splash in free agency), the Vikings have added the biggest piece missing from their offense (assuming that the Purple are planning on continuing the Tarvaris Revolution).

And while Berrian has never had 1000 yards receiving, or 100 receptions, what he has done is produce despite having mediocre to bad quarterbacks throwing him the ball. No matter what your opinion of Tarvaris is, he's not that much worse than Kyle Orton, Rex Grossman and Brian Griese, especially when you consider that da Bears played in conditions that weren't favorable to passing.

Of course, some seem to think that the Vikings overpaid for Berrian. His contract for six years included $16 million in guaranteed money and was worth $42 million overall, which makes him the fourth highest paid receiver in the NFL. Is he the 4th best receiver in the NFL? Probably not. That's a flawed metric to use in order to determine if the Vikings overpaid, however, because the market for free agents this year is different than last year's, or the year before that, or the year before that. The question one needs to ask to determine if the Vikings overpaid is to determine whether they could have used the money to acquire a better player and if Berrian's value to the Vikings is worth the cap space he takes up. I think he was the best receiver available and that he will be more than worth the money to the Vikings and to Adrian Peterson, who will only have to run into eight and nine man fronts, instead of the nine and ten man fronts he saw last year.

First off, Berrian greatly upgrades the Vikings' weakest position, something that the Purple absolutely had to do this off season. Secondly, the Vikings had the cap room to spend, something they are likely to continue to have, considering the ability they have shown at managing their cap (for example, Chester Taylor, Steve Hutchinson and the rest of the Vikings' big signings in 2005 didn't effect their ability to pursue free agents last year or to sign free agents this year). Finally, when one considers that Donte' Stallworth, a receiver who was an inferior version of Berrian, signed a contract for seven years, with $10 million of it's $35 million total guaranteed, Berrian's contract looks a lot better. One of the keys to free agency is to spend your money on the best talent. Where a team can get itself in trouble is when it starts shelling out money to mid range talent. And Berrian was clearly the best talent available at wide receiver. And now he's a Viking.

As I said earlier in the post, it was a good weekend.

[Up next--Who's left the Purple, Who's rushing the quarterback, and Maurice Hicks & Jabar Gaffney]