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.

No comments: