Everyone can appreciate cheering for the underdog.
And when it comes to draft prospects, nothing is more fun than trying to peg a player or two as the proverbial diamond in the rough. We got a potential 'steal of the draft' guy last April in LB Michael Mauti -- and while the jury is certainly still out (actually, the jury has yet to technically convene), Mauti is a fine example of a player with early round potential who slipped for whatever reason -- maybe it's injury, maybe it's level of competition, maybe it's a guy who is still raw and has a bit of untapped potential.
Last year, my guy was former Gopher CB Michael Carter -- and while he went undrafted, the Vikes still signed him as a UDFA and gave him a tryout in camp. Unfortunately for him (and us, as I still contend), he suffered a foot sprain early on and never got a chance to make the team. (Side note: he's still out there... hint hint...)
But that got me wanting to look ahead and see what 'underdog' types are out there for this draft -- Day 3 (or potentially undrafted) players who you hope your team will land, and years from now when they become starters you can look back and say, 'Yup, I saw that coming.'
Let's dive into the first of what I hope will be several prospects we look at over the coming months.
DT Caraun Reid, Princeton
Draft Projection: Mid-rd Pick
Let's begin with his career numbers for the stat junkies -- lots of starting experience in 3 yrs, and it would have been more had he not missed all but one game his sophomore year in 2010 due to a season-ending pectoral injury:
2 FFs (1 FR)
9 Pass Breakups
6 Blocked Kicks
I particularly like the last two stats, there -- from what I have seen, he likes to get his hands up when a pass is coming. Sound fundamentals. But six blocked kicks is very impressive -- three each in his final two seasons at Princeton. He will certainly have the opportunity to display that ability in the NFL and be an immediate contributor on Special Teams.
But there is absolutely more to Reid's game.
Generally speaking, his accolades are numerous (including three-time first-team All-Ivy League and Buck Buchanan Award finalist), and Todd McShay even called him the best prospect in the FCS at the beginning of this college season. Reid has accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl -- only the second Princeton player to do so. I expect he'll stand out during those practices and we'll be hearing more about him on the national stage as we lead up to the Combine and draft.
On the field, he has a high motor and is not overpowered on one-on-one match-ups; which may explain why he is frequently double- and (per his coach) triple-teamed. He has the natural ability to anchor the DLine, but is versatile and athletic enough (4.8 forty) to play as a situational outside rusher at Princeton. Reid has a quick burst off the snap, and a strong bull rush.
Off the field, Reid displays good character. He has a strong Christian background, both in his family (his father is a Bishop) and on campus (exec board position for Princeton's Christian Faith in Action group). And to preserve his final year of eligibility, Reid withdrew from his spring semester last year and accepted a low-paying job as a student aide working with younger kids. His work ethic is similarly strong -- during the last offseason, he worked with former player and DLine coach Chuck Smith to improve his game. As a fun side note, he's also a musical talent as a singer (which adds to my already strong bias, as my career is in music and my smarty-pants sister also attended Princeton).
Of course, there are perceived weaknesses to Reid as a prospect. The obvious case of facing inferior competition will likely jump to the forefront of the conversation. This has resulted in a self-admitted chip on his shoulder, but the level of competition doesn't worry me too much -- particularly when considering Reid was recruited by several FBS schools, including Marshall. However, naturally, he may be considered a bit of a project -- he didn't start playing football until high school, but I also believe that speaks to his talent and potential to develop into an even greater player.
So, how does this fit into the Vikings' draft plans??
Reid will be a guy to target in the 4th round -- potentially even our late 3rd rdr (via Seattle), if he impresses at the Senior Bowl, Combine and personal workouts.
And, how does he fit our defense, especially if we draft him with a valuable pick??
Well... it's not out of the realm of possibility that he could be converted to NT -- it simply remains to be seen how he holds up against NFL caliber talent. To get a feel for that, one option would be to re-sign Kevin Williams, provided he would be open to being our starting NT (something he has been outspokenly against, but he should absolutely consider for many reasons most fans already know).
More realistically, though, I believe Reid can backup Floyd at the 3-tech. And given his strengths, I would feel very comfortable using Reid in nickel sub-packages as a pass-rushing DT (as opposed to kicking a backup DE inside, as we have in recent years with Griffen). This would also allow the FO to go after a highly-touted NT earlier in the draft.
All in all, Reid has the potential to be a solid backup, role player and strong figure in the community. Perhaps we can strike gold and he could work his way into a starting role down the road.
Conclusion: Make. It. Happen.