Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's See How Drafting for Need Works Out

I guess it was a mistake discounting all of the rumors about the Vikings drafting Percy Harvin. It wasn't a stupid mistake (he says, having made it), what with the Vikings over zealous efforts to play the misinformation game in previous years, the "culture of accountability" and Brad Childress' statements about not wanting to draft wide receivers in the first round, but it was a mistake.

But was it a mistake by the Vikings? That, I'm not sure about. Harvin has a lot of red flags. There's his positive test for marijuana at the Combine, which says a lot about his decision making, none of which is good. There's his issues in high school, where he was suspended for fighting. And there's his injury history. He's never had the kind of career changing injury that Daunte Culpepper or Willis McGahee had, but he's been constantly hurt through out his college career. He didn't miss a lot of games, so you can't say anything about his toughness, but when your injury history inspires posts like this one, its not a good sign, especially when you're 5'11, 195lbs and constantly handling the ball. Then again, drafting an "injury prone" running back with the 7th pick worked out well two years ago. Let's just hope the Vikings did their homework.

What you can't deny about Harvin is his game breaking speed and agility. He has all the upside (drink!) you could possibly ask for. If you get him the ball, he'll make things happen, just like he did at Florida. Of course, at Florida, he had an offensive genius running a system that isn't very compatible with NFL systems, featuring him as a running back and on a lot of short patterns at wide receiver. It wasn't exactly the West Coast offense, and he wasn't having to share the focus of the offense with Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian. And I'll let you make the comparison between Urban Meyer and Brad Childress. There's been a lot said about Childress' inability to use Chester Taylor properly, and he now has to figure out how to use a RB/WR hybrid as well. And make no mistake about it- Harvin's a hybrid (at least for now), another example of the effect of the spread on college football. Can he transition into the NFL as a wid eout, where his route running ability will be a much larger factor on his success than it did in college? Especially considering he's coming from the spread? Can he become what Devin Hester (he's probably the best comparison, both due to explosiveness and his raw offensive skills) is now?

And then there's the Vikings' Second round choice, Phil Loadholt, a massive tackle that will hopefully solve the Vikings problems at right tackle. And Loadholt should be a good one, starting two years at left tackle for Oklahoma, where he showed all of the skills needed to be a very good right tackle. At 6'8, 332, Loadholt is huge, he's strong and he can create huge holes for Adrian Peterson to run through. In his 822 snaps at OU, he had 94 knockdowns, eight down
field blocks and a league-high 16 touchdown-resulting blocks. He's a quality pass blocker as well and only allowed just one quarterback pressure and two sacks on 438 pass plays. Of course, there are questions about him as well. Some scouting reports question his intelligence, while others believe that along with his size come a pair of slow feet (there's a reason he wasn't seen as a first round left tackle) that could lead to a lot of holding calls once Loaderholt starts to face improved competition that is big and quick. He’s definitely not the prospect that Michael Oher was, but he looks to be good enough to step in and replace the mediocrity that is Ryan Cook.

The Vikings finished up their first three rounds by addressing their corner depth and return game (so, if anything, you have to give them credit for addressing their four biggest needs in the first three rounds) by drafting Antoine Winfield, I mean, Asher Allen from Georgia. Allen is Winfield, if Antoine Winfield had been drafted his junior year instead of his senior year and returned kicks and punts. He was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as a junior (Winfield won the award as the best defensive back his senior year), he’s a sure tackler and while he may not have the ridiculous athleticism of some corners, he’s a solid cover corner and he’s tough, playing the last five games of the season with a fractured hand. And even more importantly, he has the ability to contribute in the return game, something the Vikings desperately need. Of course, like any other third round pick, there are some question marks (even aside from his height). He only had three interceptions in his three years at Georgia, one against Troy and two against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl (not exactly elite competition, especially when you remember that Colt Brennan was getting knocked down every single play by Georgia’s pass rush in the Sugar Bowl). And he’s only returned 10 punts, meaning he’s likely not the punt returner the Vikings need even more than they need a kick returner.

Overall, this draft could be a good one for the Vikings. If the fears about Harvin are overblown and Childress can figure out how to get him the ball where he can make plays, he can be the offensive weapon the Purple need to compliment Peterson and Berrian. If Loadholt’s transition to the right side allows him to overcome or hide his problems with quicker pass rushers and he uses his bulk to create huge holes for Peterson, Taylor and Harvin, he could be answer to the Vikings’ right side issues. And Allen could develop into Antoine Winfield, Jr., providing amazing run support and solid coverage all while returning kicks and punts. It could also be a 2005 style disaster, with Harvin using the deadly combination of injuries and poor decision making to play himself out of the league, Loadholt’s slow feet forcing him to clutch and grab his way to holding penalties galore and Allen showing why there aren’t more good defensive backs Antoine Winfield’s size in the NFL.

Friday, April 24, 2009

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 32nd Pick

And so we come to the end, with the Super Bowl Champions making the final pick in this mock draft. Picking on behalf of former Vikings' Defensive Coordinator Mike Tomlin are the writers from Steelers Today.

With the 32nd pick in the Mock Draft Among Blogs, the Pittsburgh Steelers select:

Fili Moala, Defensive Tackle, USC

I had a hard time with this pick. Everyone knows that the Steelers need offensive line help. However, all of the offensive tackles that I was interested in are gone. William Beatty was borderline, but I ultimately decided that he didn't deserve a first round selection. The only interior lineman that I thought was worth a 1st round pick was Alex Mack, but he was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles (curse you!!!!).

I looked hard at defensive backs. I absolutely love Sean Smith, and he would have been my selection had I not taken Moala. The Steelers lost Bryant McFadden in free agency, so CB is a need. However, backup William Gay is ready to start, so that need isn't as pressing as it may seem. We definitely need depth at both CB and safety, but we can take care of that later in the draft.

I was ecstatic when the Arizona Cardinals took Beanie Wells with the 31st pick. Now I won't have to explain not taking him to Steelers fans who are dying for a "power back". Besides, we took Rashard Mendenhall last year. 2008 was essentially a redshirt year for him.

Ultimately, I couldn't overlook the fact that all of the Steelers' defensive line starters are over 30 years old. Aaron Smith will be 33 this season. His days are winding down, and Dick LeBeau's system is complex. Few players start on the Steelers' defense in their first year. We need to bring in Smith's replacement now to give him a year to learn, and prepare him to take over in 2010.

Fili Moala is a 6'4", 303 lbs. defensive tackle who has started 38 games in one of the best programs in the country (USC). I have Moala rated as the 3rd best defensive tackle in the draft. However, I have him rated right below Tyson Jackson as the 2nd best 3-4 defensive end in the draft. Moala's knock as a defensive tackle is that he is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher. He just doesn't get enough sacks. However, he is lauded for his rare strength, and his ability to collapse the pocket and make tackles despite fighting off double teams. Hmmmm, a 300 lb. run stopper who can handle double teams and collapse the pocket. Sounds like a 3-4 defensive end to me. Aaron Smith's successor has been found.

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 31st Pick

Two picks left, both of whom are on the Vikings' schedule this year. First up, the team that, outside of Detroit, is the least likely to make the playoffs this year (due to the Super Bowl Loser Curse). Picking on behalf of the Cardinals, the writers of Raising 'Zona.

With the 31st pick in the Mock Draft Among Blogs, the Arizona Cardinals select:

Chris Wells, RB, OSU

Why the Cardinals chose Wells as per

The Cardinals might be the only team in the league that counts running back as one of their top Draft Day priorities, but that could work out well for them as there should be some excellent options on the board here. There is certainly a chance that Knowshon Moreno will be long gone by this point but running backs do tend to slide a bit and unless a team goes against the grain and takes one even though it’s not a glaring need, a la Pittsburgh with Rashard Mendenhall last year, he could still be available late in round one.

There are some who feel Moreno is one of the ten best players in this entire draft and in some ways he is similar to Cadillac Williams in that he doesn’t have elite size or speed but makes up for it with outstanding instincts and vision. If Wells and Moreno are both gone Arizona could turn their attention to Donald Brown or LeSean McCoy. The Cardinals could also use an upgrade at center and after the way James Harrison abused Mike Gandy in the Super Bowl they have to at least consider bringing in a new left tackle as well. Keep an eye on outside linebacker here too because even though the Cards have some solid options like Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor they really don’t have that impact pass rusher at the position.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 30th Pick

Only three picks remaining and this one should allow Vikings' fans to gain some familiarity with another player that may end up holding up a Purple and Gold Jersey this weekend. Next up are the folks from the Music City Miracles selecting on behalf of the #1 seed Tennessee Titans.

With the 30th pick in the 2009 NFL draft the Tennessee Titans select....

D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt

The Titans are in desperate need for depth at the corner back position after losing 3 of their backups in free agency this offseason. Combine that with the fact that one of their starters, Nick Harper, is aging and missed a lot of games last season, and that one of the backup corners they lost in free agency, Chris Carr, was their kickoff and punt returner, Moore is the perfect pick for the Titans.

Moore did it all for the Commodores. He played corner at a very high level, returned punts and kicks, and even played some receiver. The Titans are still in desperate need for playmakers, and Moore is exactly that. He is slipping on a lot of draft boards because of his poor 40 times at the combine and at his Pro Day, but if you saw him play at all in his career at Vandy, you will have no doubts that he will be an excellent corner/returner on Sundays.

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 29th Pick

We're finally starting to wrap things up here in the mock draft. I'll have a big, big Vikings' draft preview up either tomorrow or Saturday morning, but first we gotta get this mock draft done (and, like all good mock drafts, it gives you an idea of who some of the prospects the Vikings' might take are). So here's the writers from Big Blue 101 drafting for the Giants:

With the 29th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the New York Giants select -

Hakeem Nicks - WR, North Carolina

This is an ideal situation for the New York Giants, as the team is ready to win now, and needs a dangerous receiving threat. I feel that the 6'1 214lb Nicks is more ready to contribute right away than any receiver in this draft. He may not have as high of a ceiling as Darius Heyward-Bey, but his floor is also not as low and I think there is a relatively small chance Nicks is a bust.

Nicks ran a 4.50 40 yard dash at the combine and probably has the best hands and runs some of the best routes in this draft. He reminds me a lot of Anquan Boldin, because while he may not beat you deep, he will go up and get any ball and is great after the catch. He is also a very willing down field blocker and supposedly has great character. As a senior Nicks caught 68 passes for 1222 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Anybody who saw Nicks catch eight passes for 217 yards and score three touchdowns in North Carolina's bowl game against West Virginia knows he can dominate a game.

I am not going to delve into the Plaxico Burress situation, because we all have heard it a million times this off season, but if you watched the team play at all this season you know how badly Eli Manning needs another target. Pairing Nicks with a impressive young reciving core including Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, Mario Manningham, Kevin Boss and Sinorice Moss will really help the Giants until Plaxico Burress is able to retun to the field and should make the run first Giants much more dangerous through the air in 2009.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 28th Pick

Next up is the Philadelphia Eagles, making their second selection of the first round and once again facing needs similar to those of the Vikings. Once again, the writers of the Iggles Blog will be making the selection, and their choice could well be a player that ends up holding up a Purple Jersey next weekend.

With the 28th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select:

Alex Mack, OL, California

Man, I love this pick. The scouting reports on this kid are glowing. He's considered the best center prospect since (at least) Nick Mangold. I've heard him do a couple interviews since the Combine and have been impressed with him both times.

There's really nothing not to love about this guy. And the bottom line is that I'd much rather see the Eagles take a truly elite guy at the center position, rather than reach for the fifth-best dude at tackle.

As for how he fits in with the Eagles, there's a short answer and a long answer. The short version is right now the Eagles have four guys penciled in as starters for next year's offensive line. Mack will play center in this league some day, but just on raw talent and ability he can come in next year and start right away at guard, allowing one of the current guards to move out and play left tackle.

The long version is more complicated and -- let's face it -- a lot less interesting to people who aren't Eagles fans. But for the benefit of the folks on the blog, I'll dig in a bit.

Selecting Mack fixes the 2009 issue addressed above, but it's most interesting for what it does in 2010. Right now, there are a couple guys on this line who are never going to reach their full potential if they don't demonstrate a more significant commitment to controlling their weight. Fourth-year guard Max Jean-Gilles could be a dominating interior lineman, but he's not going to get there by following his workout program from the 2008 offseason. If he can get himself down to the 335 range, the sky is going to be the limit for what he can do.

At the center position, Jamaal Jackson has the same issue. Once MJG got hurt last year, the Eagles offensive line was four trim dudes and one big ol' chubs in the middle. You could argue that the added weight helps him anchor against the league's biggest nose tackles, but it's also true that for every other task he has on the field, losing ten pounds wouldn't hurt him.

Alex Mack is by all accounts a very bright guy, but I don't foresee the Eagles turning over the line calls to a rookie with the team in the place it's at right now. Add that to the fact that MJG is still coming back from his rather gruesome season-ending broken ankle injury from last year, and it's not easy to see how MJG is going to beat Jackson onto the field in 2009.

It's a wide open competition in 2010, however, and once that all shakes out, you're looking at one heck of a line for the next five years. (And one that should be able to block well for whichever back-up running back the Eagles select somewhere later in this draft after not taking one with this pick.)

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 27th Pick

And the mock draft keeps rolling. Don't be surprised to see some players taken here in the next few picks that the Vikings are going to be considering on draft day. The Colts are on the clock looking to shore up their defense (when are they NOT looking to shore up their defense) and to possibly supply Peyton Manning with some more weapons on offense. Making the pick are the writers of 18 to 88.

With the 27th pick, the Indianapolis Colts select:

Peria Jerry, DT, Mississippi State

Bill Polian has an unblemished record of hitting on first round picks in Indianapolis. Every player he has taken has become a starter, if not an outright star. At the same time, many of his picks were roundly criticized at the time. Edge James wasn’t Ricky Williams. Dwight Freeney was too small and a reach. Reggie Wayne should have been passed over for a defender. The Colts do not draft for need, but always take the highest player available on the board. 2009 the rare exception where the Colts greatest need IS the highest player on the board. Polian has said publicly that he doubts the team will take a defensive tackle, primarily because history tells us that good DTs are off the board in the top 15 picks, and that the next ‘value slot’ is down around the 5th round. If Peria Jerry were to miraculously fall to 27, however, Polian would probably do a dance and happily select him. Jerry would be the perfect DT for the Colts system, as he is a disruptive tackle who makes plays in the backfield. His only negative is that he is slightly undersized (something the Colts simply do not worry about). Indy desperately needs a DT, but will not reach for a player just to fill a need. The results have been spectacular for the Colts this decade, and the selection of Jerry would cause widespread rejoicing among the Colt faithful.

A word of caution to Mr. Jerry: If selected he should immediately take out a large life insurance policy. The Colts are currently experiencing the “Curse of Corey Simon” when it comes to DTs. Indy has had a need for a top flight DT for 4 seasons now, but every time Polian addresses the need, something horrible happens to the player:

2005 Corey Simon is signed…one year later he is out of the league (chronic fatness)

2006 Montae Reagor is in a severe car accident and never plays for the Colts again

2007 Booger McFarland blows out a knee in training camp

2008 Ed Johnson is cut for refeer

2008 Quinn Pitcock decides to retire at the ripe old age of 23

2008 John McCargo fails a physical and is returned to Buffalo after a trade. He never plays with the Colts.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Schedule Released--Time for Speculation

The Vikings' schedule has been released and it looks relatively favorable. Of course, there's so much that can happen before the first game, let alone the seventh, tenth, or sixteenth, so really, any talk about how the schedule plays out is ridiculously premature. (Honestly, how the heck did ESPN get an hour long special out of it? And who watched that?)

The first five games set up for a fast start for the Purple, even with two road games against the Browns and Lions to open the season. After that, the Vikings return home for games against the 49ers and Packers before traveling to St. Louis. All five of those teams are drafting in the top ten next Saturday, and while the NFL is known for it turnarounds from season to season, it's still better to start against teams that are likely to be bad (especially with the possibility of the Williams having to sit out due to a suspension). The Vikings' goal should definitely be 4-1 through this stretch, as the schedule gets harder before their bye in Week 9.

For their three final games before the bye, the Purple face the two teams that faced off in the AFC Championship and their arch rival. They host Baltimore and then travel to Heinz Field to play the Steelers' imposing defense and try to deal with their awful turf. They then close out the first half of the season with a trip to Lambeau to face the Packers and, hopefully, take a shot at sweeping Green Bay. Realistically, the Vikings should hope to win 1 of these 3, and if they can pull off 2-1, that would be amazing.

So, hopefully, after the bye, the Vikings will be sitting at 5-3, and their schedule likely starts to get harder, but only after the Purple get to host Detroit and Seattle and hopefully push their record to 7-3. And then comes the stretch run, with Chicago and Jay Cutler coming to the Dome in Week 12, followed by a trip to Arizona to play the NFC Champions, a "break" against the Bengals at home (no team with Carson Palmer is a break) followed by trips to Carolina and then Chicago, which will likely decide the NFC North title. Finally, the Vikings once again face the Giants to close the season, hopefully with the same results.

As of right now, it looks a lot like the final five games will really be the deciding factor in whether the Vikings' get a bye, winning the division or even if they make the playoffs. The Vikings could just as easily finish the year 4-1 as they could 1-4. And it makes their start all the more important, because if they don't beat the bad teams, it won't be easy to get the wins they need to make the playoffs in the final weeks of the season.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 26th Pick

Like the Vikings, the Ravens are coming off a successful season, and like the Vikings, the Ravens' success was largely due to their defense. Unlike the Vikings, however, they don't need a quarterback and they lost some key defensive players to free agency. So which way will they go in the Draft? The folks from Ebony Bird are making the pick for the other Purple team.

With the 26th pick, the Baltimore Ravens select:

Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers

The Ravens have had their most active offseason in team history, re-signing Ray Lewis, signing CB Dominique Foxworth, CB Chris Carr, C Matt Birk and TE L.J. Smith, along with bringing in multiple new coaches and cutting veterans Samari Rolle and Chris McAllister. In re-signing Lewis, the linebackers corps remains strong, and the secondary should be helped by the new additions and the emergence of Fabian Washington. Therefore, the main need that the Purple and Black need have is at receiver. Derrick Mason is getting old, Mark Clayton is inconsistent and Demetrius Williams has never been healthy enough or productive enough to become a regular for the team. With Joe Flacco as the team's most successful quarterback since Trent Dilfer, Unibrow Boy needs a "toolsy" receiver to help him become a star. Britt has very good speed, and great hands, and his 6'3", 218 lb. frame makes him a big target. When you combine all of those, you get one of Rutgers' best receivers in school history. Seeing him in person 8 times in Piscataway, I can tell you from firsthand accounts how daunting of a task is to cover Mr. Britt. Picking Britt would bring the Ravens that much closer to the lofty status of Super Bowl champion.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

No Logo Needed Mock Draft: 25th Pick

It's been awhile (and you can refresh your memory of the previous picks by following the links on the side), but its time to get back into the No Logo Needed Mock Draft (and really start diving into the draft, which is coming up a lot faster than I thought). We left off with the Dolphins, the surprise winners of the AFC East last year. Making the pick on behalf of the Tuna will be the writers at the Phinsider.

With the 25th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, the Miami Dolphins select...

LB Larry English, Northern Illinois

There were two ways to go about this pick. I could have taken the player I like the most that is still on the board - which would have been either CB Darius Butler or CB Sean Smith. That would have also addressed Miami's most glaring hole. But this is a mock draft - and I'm going to select the player that I think the Dolphins would most likely draft if the actual draft played out this way.

Bill Parcells loves linebackers. That's no secret. And among Miami's top three needs is the outside linebacker position (right up there with CB and WR). Larry English has the size and strength that this regime loves. And while I worry a litle bit about English's ability to drop back into coverage due to his lack of fluidity in his hips, I do think that Larry's upside here is tremendous as a pass rusher and potential heir to Joey Porter. He's also tough, smart, and a "high-motor" player - all things that Bill Parcells demands from his linebackers.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Opening Day and Thoughts On Cutler

"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 Vescey
It's Opening Day. Thankfully. Because the events of the past week have made the upcoming NFL season look a little less exciting. The Bears have a franchise quarterback for the first time in my lifetime, and, while it looks like the Vikings did not have a chance to get Jay Cutler once Matt Cassel was traded to the Chiefs, it's still disappointing to see him end up in the NFC North.

And yes, I know that Cutler is a horrible human being (because their love for Brett Favre shows the media's ability to judge character) , that he doesn't have the intangibles to make the playoffs (last I checked, football is the ultimate team game and his defense was about as bad as the Lions' last year) and that no quarterback that has every demanded a trade could possibly lead a team to the Super Bowl (Eli Manning and John Elway say hello). Doesn't matter to me. Jay Cutler is really, really, really good, he's 25, he made the Pro Bowl last year and he's going to spend at least the next 10 years running the Bears offense and running it well. Really, the only difference between this trade and the Jared Allen trade is one more first round pick, which pays for the two extra years of Cutler's career that will be played with the Bears.

So are the Bears going to win the Super Bowl next year? Probably not. As others have pointed out, Chicago's team is a little too old on defense and a little too shy of play makers on offense (though you'll be surprised how much better their offense is with a real quarterback). But the trade means that not only are they're going to be in contention for the NFC North again this year, but they're probably the favorites to win it and that's mainly because when their offense trots out onto the field, the guy under center is a Pro Bowler, not Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels.