Vikings Draft Preview.
Possible Options on Thursday and Beyond.
It can be said that the Vikings only truly need help at a few positions to become a major contender. On the offensive side of the ball, the Vikings need a wide receiver and a possible upgrade at guard. On the defensive side, the Vikings could use a new middle linebacker, interior defensive line help, new pieces in the secondary, or even defensive end depth with Jared Allen, Everson Griffen, and Brian Robison all looking for new contracts this coming offseason. What follows is the breakdown of these positions and what players the Vikings could target in different rounds to fill these needs.
Wide Receiver: Wide receiver might be the most glaring need on the Vikings roster, maybe only because the Vikings were awful through the air last year, ranking 31st with only 2751 pass yards. They were also second to last in terms of yard per attempt at 6.1. While Greg Jennings might be considered the savior for the pass game, there are a number of reasons why this probably isn’t true. He’s an old 29 year old coming off an injury. Even if Jennings returns to form, he can’t be expected to post multiple 1000 yard seasons as he did in Green Bay. While Jennings could be part of the solution at wide receiver, he clearly isn’t the savior some think he will be. It appears as if Rick Spielman will target a receiver early to prevent the Vikings from having a group of pass-catchers as hodge-podge as they did last year. Look for the Vikings to pick a receiver in Rounds 1-2. Possible options are as follows:
Tavon Austin (West Virginia): Tavon is a quick and agile receiver with absolutely blazing speed. He clocked in at 4.34 seconds in the 40 at the combine. Austin has often been compared to Percy Harvin and is a prototypical slot receiver at 5’8” and 174lbs. Unfortunately the Vikings probably do not have a shot at landing this Harvin-like slot receiver to replace Harvin himself because Austin is thought to be a top 15 selection with such landing places as the New York Jets at 13 and the St. Louis Rams at 16 being quite likely.
Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee): This 6’2” 216lbs wide receiver out of Tennessee has the raw tools to be the next Brandon Marshall or Dwayne Bowe. Patterson has the speed and jumping ability to be a homerun threat, but there are still question marks. After playing only one season of football at Tennessee, Cordarrelle lacks the quantity of film that many NFL teams want to see from a player they are going to draft in the first round. Because of this, Patterson has been viewed by many to be a ‘project’ that lacks the refinement to step into an NFL huddle immediately and be a game-changer. Some thought Patterson would be a top ten pick as recently as a couple of weeks ago, but look for him to fall in the top 25. A logical spot for Patterson is with the Vikings at 23. Patterson should be selected before fifteen seconds slide off the clock by the Vikings if he happens to slip past the Rams at 22 because they picked Austin earlier in the round. If the Jets pick Austin, expect to see the Rams panic and select Cordarrelle or another team to trade up and reach for him as he has the ability to be great.
Keenan Allen (California): The Vikings could add another Allen to the roster if they decide to take Keenan. Maybe the best all-around receiver in the draft, Keenan Allen doesn’t have the speed of Austin or the raw talent of Cordarrelle Patterson, but he has size 6’2” 206lbs and refined tools to be a good NFL player. Allen catches the ball in front of his body, and runs sharp route in order to lose defenders. The best part about Allen however, might be that he comes from a school where they didn’t have a great college quarterback throwing him the ball, forcing him to work hard and learn the nuances of the position in order to succeed, the same cannot be said of any of the other top 6 receivers. The downside with Allen is that he is coming off his injury, but if he has proven himself healthy to teams, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Like DeAndre Hopkins and Justin Hunter, Keenan Allen could go to the Vikings if the top two players at wide receiver are off the board. If Allen gets past the Vikings, he could land with Texans at 27 or slide into the second round where some team will be thrilled to get him. Allen will most likely be a late 1st round pick.
DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson): DeAndre Hopkins is an interesting and intriguing player. He could see his draft stock slide into the second round as reports have come out that he vandalized his hotel room at the combine and is immature with poor work ethic. On the other hand, he works hard on the field, using his 6’1” 214lbs frame to position himself in front of defenders. He also uses his hands, to fight the press and get downfield even though he has mediocre speed (4.57 40). Look for Hopkins to go towards the end of round 1 or the beginning of round 2. He is in the second tier of receivers behind Patterson and Austin. Hopkins could go before, after, or between Keenan Allen and Justin Hunter depending on how teams view these players.
Justin Hunter (Tennessee): Justin Hunter could be one of the best wide receivers in the draft. Many NFL teams are starting to look down on Cordarrelle Patterson, but Patterson’s Tennessee teammate Hunter is rising up the boards. Justin Hunter entered the 2012 season as the second highest ranked prospect at receiver, behind only Robert Woods. With the emergence of Patterson, Hunter’s coaches relied on Hunter to do the duties that are not as glamorous. He blocked more often and his receiving stats suffered. Now NFL scouts are re-watching tape and seeing this 6’4” 196lbs receiver do more than just catch passes. Similar to AJ Green, Hunter has the height that Vikings fans miss from the Randy Moss days, but he also plays every down and not only when he wants to play. Mock drafts have hunter going in the late 1st round, but with his current trajectory, I expect him to end up in the top 25. He could go to the Rams, the Vikings, or even the Packers at 26.
Robert Woods (University of Southern California): Woods was the top wide receiver prospect going into the 2012 season. Many thought he could even be a top 5 pick! Unfortunately for Robert Woods, this is no longer the case. With 6’1” 201lbs size, Woods isn’t going to impress you with his body, but he is a reliable and quite spectacular route runner, maybe the best in the draft. He isn’t going to blow past cornerbacks, but he could leave them stumbling with a quick and smooth turn. A team is going to be happy with Robert Woods in the round 2, and as Vikings fans, we should be thrilled if we end up with Woods after failing to get a receiver in the first day of the draft.
Terrance Williams (Baylor): Terrance Williams is a moderately skilled player, most famous for the fact that he played with a famous college quarterback. Williams had some trouble in 2012 breaking away from coverage when the cornerbacks didn’t have their eyes in the backfield in every play as they did in 2011. Also, he didn’t play with Kendell Wright across from him, which made him suffer as well. In addition, Williams lacks great route running or the speed to find himself open much of the time. There will be a team who selects Williams to be their number two receiver in the late second or early third round, I just hope it isn’t the Vikings.
Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech): This 6’ 204lbs wide receiver was one of the small school darlings of this draft class. It is easy to see why that is. While Patton doesn’t have the size but he runs nice routes and isn’t afraid to be physical. Patton transferred after a couple seasons at a community college, and even was recruited by the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The decision to play for Louisiana Tech in the WAC seems to have been the right thing for Patton. He received all-conference honors twice and seems to be the type of player you want on the field. Expectations are that Patton will be a late second to third round pick, but teams may think he is deserving of an earlier selection.
Guard: The Vikings seem fairly set on the offensive side of the ball. They have a quarterback, a running back, two above average tackles, and a good center. Only wide receiver and guard seem to need much improvement. The problem is, it seems like the 2013 NFL draft is not going to involve the Vikings taking a guard early. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Vikings select one of Saturday, but of the four players that garner Thursday or Friday consideration, I don’t believe that Vikings are players on any of them. So just to touch on them briefly, here they are:
Chance Warmack (Alabama): Chance Warmack was the top guard in this draft class for months until Jonathan Cooper shot up the board during workout season. The All-American Warmack is strong and a great guard, however he showed some holes during the combine and didn’t test very well in the timed events. When he moved to the linemen drills he truly impressed and showed how he tore apart the Notre Dame defense during the National Championship Game. Warmack is a top 12 pick there is no doubt about it. The three most likely spots for Warmack to land are with the Bills at 8, the Titans at 10, or the Chargers at 11.
Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina): Like Warmack, Cooper possesses the skills, speed, and strength to be a stellar NFL guard. Both Warmack and Cooper, if they remain healthy will be pro-bowl or all-pro guards in their day. The 2013 draft has the best pair of guards that may have ever appeared together in a single class, and Cooper like Warmack will be a top 12 pick. Cooper will land in Buffalo, Tennessee, or San Diego and teams will just need to decide who they prefer, Chance or Jonathan.
Larry Warford (Kentucky): This Kentucky product is the consensus number three guard in the 2013 draft class. Larry Warford is miles behind Cooper and Warmack in terms of refinement and future potential. At 6’3” 332lbs, Larry has the size to be a solid guard in the NFL and coupled with his tenacity, he could prove to be a positive acquisition for a team in the second round.
Brian Winters (Kent State): Brian Winters is a decent prospect to many teams. Winters played much of his career on the outside at tackle before moving inside as an upperclassmen. Teams may view his 6’4” 320lbs slightly undersized to play tackle and he lacks true athleticism to stop pure speed rushers at the next level. The versatility Winters enjoys may see him claw his way into the later parts of the second round, but as a guard, Brian Winters seems to be a third round prospect.
Defensive Tackle: Defensive Tackle is an incredibly strong and deep position for the 2013 draft. The Vikings last season saw themselves finishing 11th against the run, giving up 1692 yards. This isn’t horrible, but considering the Vikings were the best rush defense in the NFL for years, it was disappointing to see them regress towards the mean the last couple seasons. In order to change this slide that the Vikings are on, many suspect that they will select a defensive tackle to sure up their run defense. There are eight defensive tackles that may be selected in the first two rounds and a dozen that have garnered Thursday and Friday consideration. We will just look at the top eight who make this the strongest DT class in years.
Sharrif Floyd (Florida): Sharrif Floyd has the explosiveness off of the line of scrimmage to decimate offensive lines around the NFL. With an ability to play both a defensive end in the 3-4 and a defensive tackle in the 4-3, Floyd offers flexibility to whatever team selects him. Coming in at 297lbs and 6’3” he has an incredibly quick first step and uses that to push himself between the double-team and disrupt the players in the offensive backfield. Sharrif Floyd looks as if he will be a top 3 pick, likely landing in Jacksonville at 2 or Oakland at 3.
Star Lotulelei (Utah): Lotulelei is as equally talented as Floyd, but had some heart concerns at the combine. These reports were dispelled but in all likelihood will hurt his draft stock to some extent. While playing at Utah, Lotulelei often found himself up against double and even triple teams, so his 42 tackles in 2012 are all that more impressive. He has the size 6’2” 311lbs to push offensive around and have even been favorably compared to Kevin Williams because of his quickness and power. Early in his collegiate career, while in junior college, Star had issues with motivation and even ballooned to 350lbs but has since found his stride. He has grown up to become one of the top defensive line prospects in years. He has even shown the maturity to return to school for his senior season just to complete a degree. Not to mention he is a happily married father and he spurned the lights of New York City by declining a draft invitation, which increases his value in my book. Look for Star Lotulelei to be a top 8 pick, likely landing with the Eagles at 4, Cardinals at 7, or the Jets at 9.
Sheldon Richardson (Missouri): Sheldon Richardson is the consensus third best defensive tackle in the 2013 draft class. Playing in the tough SEC for Missouri, Richardson had to face some of the toughest offenses in the country but still finished his senior season with 75 tackles and 10.5 tackles for a loss. Richardson’s 294lbs sits on a 6’3” frame, so he looks to be a more agile and athletic defensive tackle. He possesses a quick first step and can slide through offensive linemen and disrupt the backfield. If a team can look past the fact that he seems to have some motivational concerns, he could develop into a top DT at the next level. Expect Sheldon Richardson to be picked in the top 20 with the potential to be picked higher if the top two defensive tackles are off the board and a team feels they need to land a DT. Possible landing places are with the Panthers at 14, the Saints at 15, or the Cowboys at 18. If he somehow fell to the Vikings, he would be a no-brainer.
John Jenkins (Georgia): In the SEC Championship, John Jenkins admits to weighing in at 370lbs, which is a massive amount of weight to spread over a frame that is only 6’4”. This startling revelation had the potential to scare away many NFL teams that liked Jenkins’ potential, but that didn’t come to pass. Jenkins reportedly has lost around 40 pounds in the last few months. Still a mass of humanity, Jenkins throws around his weight sucking up the double-team and clogging running lanes. John Jenkins is much too large to pose a big threat in the pass-rushing game and has to be substituted frequently, but he has the potential to lift a marginal run defense to the next level or turn an already good run defense into an elite one. Expect John Jenkins to go in round one.
Sylvester Williams (North Carolina): Sylvester Williams is of the same caliber as John Jenkins, but he will fill a different role in the NFL. While Jenkins will slow down the oppositions run game, Williams poses a legitimate threat to sack the quarterback on any play with the combination of speed and an excellent swim move. Williams’ 313lbs sits nicely on his 6’3” body and shows that he has a lot of muscle to go along with his speed. He even did 27 bench presses along with a sub-5 second 40 meter dash. Williams is an interesting prospect and will likely go in the 1st round in front of or behind John Jenkins. It would be nice to see the Vikings grab Sylvester Williams even if it’s only for the novelty of having the Williams Wall for a few more years.
Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State): Johnathan Hankins is one of the only hopes for the Big Ten to have a first round draft pick this year, which is sad because the Big Ten has had at least one first rounder every year for 60 years. Hankins very well could be deserving of first round consideration because he is one of the most versatile defensive tackles in this draft class. At times Hankins seems to be the perfect run stuffer and gap filler, but then at other times Hankins moves to the outside and plays defensive end. Clearly his 6’3” 320lbs is large enough to play in the interior of the defensive line, but he possesses the rare intangibles to be a threat anywhere on the line of scrimmage. Hankins has even been known to drop into coverage! Hankins could be selected at the end of round one, but look for him to be picked early second round.
Kawann Short (Purdue): This Purdue product is the other hope of the Big Ten to have a first round selection, the other being Johnathan Hankins. Kawann Short is a two-time all-conference selection and that distinction doesn’t disappoint. Weighing in at just under 300 pounds, the 6 foot 3 inch Short is as wide as he is tall. He uses his length to grab runners as they attempt to slip past him, while also being known for racking up two consecutive 6 sack seasons from the interior defensive line. Short in all likelihood won’t be a perennial pro-bowler in the NFL, but he has the potential to be a slightly above average defensive tackle at the next level. Kawann Short has shown glimpses in the past of why he could be considered a first round draft pick, but look for him to be selected in the first half of round one.
Jesse Williams (Alabama): Jesse Williams in my opinion is the eighth best defensive tackle prospect in this year’s draft, however, that isn’t as bad as it sounds. With maybe one of the best DT classes in the history of the NFL, finishing in 8th isn’t so bad. The problem with Jesse Williams is that he is a one-trick pony. He is a good nose-tackle, but doesn’t have the agility or quickness to pursue runners or get to the back field to pull down a quarterback. This Australian product is strong in the weight room, notably consistently benching over 600 pounds. Williams translates this well to the field and often uses his compact frame to push centers backwards and give his teammates the opportunity to make plays. Expect a team to select Jesse Williams in the second half of the second round and utilize his strength to improve the play of other defensive players.
Middle Linebacker: Although the hype surrounding the middle linebackers in the 2013 draft is earth shattering, the talent isn’t as deep as the coverage would suggest. Compared to the 2012 class, the 2013’ers are less talented and have more question marks. The Vikings are in need of a middle linebacker desperately, so they may be forced into taking one early in the draft. With Audie Cole slotted in the MLB spot, the Vikings should be worried going into this next season unless they can find a replacement. Middle linebacker is often called the quarterback of the defense and to have a good one playing in the Tampa-2 is crucial because they’re typically responsible for the entire middle of the field. There are 5 players who may warrant a selection in the first three rounds, but it is possible that a desperate for a middle linebacker could reach on any one of them.
Alec Ogletree (Georgia): A true athlete, Alec Ogletree is viewed by many as a weak side linebacker because of his speed and agility, but others see him as a fast middle linebacker who can use his feet to make plays most players at the position can’t make. Ogletree arrived in Georgia as a safety but grew into a linebacker. Most NFL teams who see Ogletree as a MLB are likely looking for him to add more weight to his 6’3” 242lbs frame, because he was considered a tad small and not physical enough in the tough SEC. Ogletree has a lot of potential and is clearly one of the better linebacker prospects in the draft. Expect him to fall in the top 25, even though there was top 10 interest early on. Ogletree’s off the field issues which include failed drug tests, misdemeanor theft, and driving under the influence may scare a number of teams away.
Manti Te'o (Notre Dame): Manti Te’o has been one of the most polarizing figures in recent sports history. We all have heard the off the field intrigue, but chances are that won’t hurt his draft stock all that much because it doesn’t necessarily show a behavioral deficiency. What may hurt Manti’s draft stock is his play in the National Championship. He is either the world’s greatest magician, being able to disappear for extended periods of time, or he lacks some intangible that makes a middle linebacker perform against high levels of competition. Chances are it’s the latter. On the bright side, Te’o plays ‘downfield’ and shows a propensity to read and evaluate offensives quickly and perform defensive adjustment accordingly. Manti Te’o may need to bulk up from his 6’1” 241lbs size, because he was occasionally overpowered by stronger offensive players. Look for a team to select Manti Te’o in the 2nd round when his value will be strongest. There is a chance a team will buy into the hype that was growing all year long, and select Manti higher than he should be taken. Manti is one of the biggest wild cards in this draft.
Kevin Minter (LSU): Kevin Minter is the final middle line backing prospect that could find himself in the first round. Like most LSU players, he has been a highly touted prospect much of his life and that isn’t going to change as he transitions into the NFL. Minter is an instinctual defender and uses that to find his way into many plays. Last season, he racked up 111 tackles to lead a very good LSU defense. While Minter is only 6’ and 246lbs he is a thick shorter man in the middle that possesses a great ability to always make the tackle. Teams, will jump at the chance to select Minter in the first half of round 2. He has the chance of being selected in front of Te’o if a team prefers not to have the limelight shined in their locker-room, something that Te’o would bring with him anywhere he lands.
Kiko Alonso (Oregon): Oregon is known for its athletic players, and this 6’4” 238lbs product doesn’t disappoint on that front. Kiko Alonso, was the star of the Oregon defense and played well in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, he even earned MVP honors. Alonso steps in big games and that is something a lot of teams look for. He also has the ability to chase down running backs horizontally and make plays in the backfield. Like many of the middle linebackers in the 2013 class, Kiko Alonso has a lot of question marks. He has had a number of run-ins with the police and he even had to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges to avoid jail time. A team could be desperate and select Kiko in round two but he should go in the third round to a team that already has most of their pieces and can afford to take a chance.
A.J. Klein (Iowa State): One of most consistent linebackers over the last few years, A.J. Klein racked up 344 tackles over the past three seasons as the Cyclones’ defensive signal caller. Klein, unlike many of his fellow MLB prospects hasn’t had any notable off the field issues, which many teams view as a sign of maturity. This two-time team captain possesses an analytical ability more akin to a quarterback than a typical defender. Being 6’1” and 250lbs, Klein has the size to play in the middle and his above average open field tackling will be an asset at the next level. A.J. Klein is in a position to bring his success from Iowa State into the NFL and a team who selects him at the end of the third round to the beginning of round four will be happy with the player they receive.
Cornerbacks: There could be as many as 10 cornerbacks taken in the first two rounds of this draft, which is a massive number. This isn’t because there is more talent at this position than there normally is, but because after the top few guys, there are a large number of players that have a second to third round grades. I am just going to look at the most intriguing prospects, including those that seem to be the top talents and highest potential players. The Vikings are likely looking to select a cornerback towards the front of the draft. Chris Cook is in the final year of his rookie contract and Josh Robinson has shown flashes of potential so far, but a selection of a good cornerback would give the Vikings leverage when negotiating with Cook next offseason and the ability to move Robinson inside to the nickel. In all likelihood the Vikings will use their two first round picks to take players in positions of greater need, but look for them to potentially select a second round cornerback.
DeMarcus Milliner (Alabama): Dee Milliner is the consensus top cornerback in the 2013 draft and for good reason. When ranking the best man-to-man coverage prospect in the draft, Dee Milliner outshines all and with excellent footwork and good speed (4.35 40-yard dash). Milliner also led all FBS corners with 20 passes defended, adding strong ball skills to the equation. In addition to being spectacular in coverage, Milliner is also strong against the run and often pulled down larger stronger running backs in the SEC. 6’1” 201lbs is the perfect frame to play corner in the NFL at this time and is just one more asset DeMarcus possesses. Unfortunately, everything isn’t sunshine with this Alabama product. It has recently come to light that Milliner has already had five surgeries in his career, including a shoulder surgery in March that will keep him out of team activities until training camp. With this in mind, it is still possible for Milliner to be selected in the top 10, but he seems to be more of a top 12 player at this time. Don’t be surprised if a team trades up to select him if he falls out of the top 10. If he isn’t trade bait, he could go to the Browns at 6 or the Titans at 10. The Jets may even be tempted to select him after trading away their own franchise player.
Xavier Rhodes (Florida State): Xavier Rhodes is possibly the most polished cornerback prospect in this year’s draft. Rhodes started for three straight seasons at Florida State, giving him plenty of time to hone his skills. In those three years, Rhodes had 8 interceptions and 31 passes defended. He also enjoys a larger than typical frame (6’2” 210lbs) that he uses aggressively and to snatch passes out of the air. Rhodes needs to make sure he isn’t flagged for pass interference in the offensive centric NFL. In terms of stopping the run, Rhodes is well above average. He uses his large body to shed blocks from wide receivers and will destroy running backs if given the opportunity. A good summation of Xavier Rhodes is that he is a large highly aggressive corner who will punish offenses for throwing or running to his side. Expect Xavier to be picked in the middle of the first round with the possibility of slipping into the early 20’s.
Desmond Trufant (Washington): This 5’11” 190lbs player had deceptive statistics last season. Trufant was on his own all year in one-on-one coverage typically against the best receiver on the opposing team but he didn’t let his coaches down. He only had 35 tackles in 2012 but that wasn’t because he didn’t put in the effort. This four-year starter shows good footwork and good intuition to find the play and track the ball when it is in the air. Desmond Trufant isn’t incredibly flashy, but he should be a good cornerback in the NFL, especially if he is selected by a team that already has a lot of talent. It’s very likely that he will go to a talented team, because he is projected a late first round pick.
D.J. Hayden (Houston): I have D.J. Hayden as the fourth best cornerback prospect in the draft, but many have him as the fifth or even the sixth best corner. This is because many view Johnthan Banks of Jamar Taylor to be better and these three players could go in any order. Hayden is believed by many to have first round talent, but because he almost died last season because of a ruptured vein in his abdominal sustained during practice, he will likely be an early- to mid-second rounder. Last season Hayden had four interceptions returning two for touchdowns in just nine games. He is incredibly fast, running a 4.33 40 at the Houston pro-day. D.J. Hayden is still fairly raw because he played against sub-par competition in college, but he has the raw talent and intangibles to be an elite cornerback in the NFL. A team who isn’t afraid of his life threatening injury could find the steal of the draft in D.J. Hayden.
Johnthan Banks (Mississippi State): Johnthan Banks played in the top cornerback tamden in college football alongside prospect Darius Slay. Slay is a third round talent that could sneak into the top of the second round if a team likes him. Banks on the other hand is a player who many viewed as a first rounder until he suffered a hampering knee injury that plagued him throughout the second half of last season. When Banks is healthy, he has the potential to be a great cornerback both against the run and the pass, using his 6’2” 185lbs body to snatch passes out of the air. Banks is also an incredibly passionate player, often seen yelling at teammates and motivating players before the game. He wants to win and wants his teammates to want to win as well. A team will select Johnthan Banks in the first half of round 2.
Jamar Taylor (Boise State): Playing at Boise State, Jamar Taylor didn’t often get the attention he probably deserved. When the media examined the Broncos, they looked at the offense and not the defense. If Taylor played in a larger conference he would be getting first round buzz, even now there has been speculation that some teams view Taylor as the second best cornerback in the 2013 draft. With average size (5’11” 198lbs) Taylor wows with his 4.37 combine 40 and his superior back pedal. In addition to speed and good footwork, Taylor is also fairly aggressive and makes strong breaks on the ball. Look for a team to select Jamar Taylor in the same range as Johnthan Banks and D.J. Hayden will be chosen, in the top half of round 2.
Blidi Wreh-Wilson (Connecticut): I placed Blidi Wreh-Wilson on this list not because he is the consensus number seven corner, but because he is very interesting prospect. Seen by many to be a late 2nd round pick, Blidi enjoys a good build 6’1” 195lbs and solid instincts to grow into a good corner for whichever team decides to select him. The beauty with selecting a guy like Blidi Wreh-Wilson is that he could be a number two on a team who already has other pieces in place in the secondary. I think there is solid chance that a team like the Vikings picks Blidi in the third round after he slides a bit, potentially converting him to safety if he can clean up his tackling.
Safety: Safety is likely the strongest position in the 2013 draft. With at least five safeties that will be selected in the first and second rounds, this class blows last years out of the water. However, there isn’t only talent at the top of this class, there are immediate starters that might slip into the third day of the draft. The Vikings are in an interesting position this year. After trading back into the first round, the Vikes selected Harrison Smith and to their credit it worked very well. After seeing how Harrison elevated the play of the secondary and really the entire defense, it makes sense that the front-office would see the value in selecting another safety to play alongside him. The flip side is that the Vikings just resigned Jamarca Sanford to a two-year $5 million contract. It seems as if the Vikings like Sanford enough that he would be the starter again next year, but you never know with the draft. The Vikings could decide to select a project in the later rounds and stick with what they have at the position now, as there are a lot of later round safeties with a whole lot of talent. Below are the six players I think have the best chance of going in the first two rounds, if the Vikings want a day one starter they will go with one of these guys.
Kenny Vaccaro (Texas): Kenny Vaccaro is hands-down the top safety prospect in this year’s very deep class. Vaccaro has prototypical size, 6’ 214lbs, and possesses the skills to be an elite safety in the NFL for at least the next decade. Vaccaro was known at Texas for the ability to drop into the slot and cover the quickest receiver on the field and also for his aggressiveness when running up into the box to support the run defense. Kenny Vaccaro has a rare skill set that will transition well into the NFL. He would have a place as a starting safety on almost any team in the league. Expect him to be a top 16 pick likely going to a team in the teens desperate for safety help. Likely landing spots include the Panthers at 14 or the Rams at 16.
Matt Elam (Florida): This two year starter at Florida racked up 154 tackles as the primary strong safety for the Gators. Matt Elam is not the guy offensive players want to see coming towards them when they have the ball. Known for his ruthlessness and hitting ability, Elam uses his closing ability to put wicked hits on the competition. A little short, the 5’10” 208lbs Elam is great on the line of scrimmage, but often times doesn’t win jump balls down field. Elam is passionate about football and has a natural ability to inspire his teammates. Coupled with another more coverage oriented safety, Elam could be one of the better SS in the NFL. Look for Elam to leave the board in the second half of round one. Pundits seem to think that he’ll land with the 49ers at 31 or the Ravens at 32, chances are that any team that ends up with Matt Elam will be happy with their decision.
Jonathan Cyprien (Florida International): Like Matt Elam, Johnathan Cyprien is a late 1st round draft pick. Unlike Elam, Cyprien is more of a ball-hawk and less of a hitter. That’s not to say that Cyprien can’t hit hard, which he can, but he seems to be more of a coverage safety. In a passing-centric league, having a safety who can cover players downfield is very important and Cyprien can fit the bill. Standing in at 6 feet tall and 217 pounds Cyprien has the typical safety build that allows him to compete with taller NFL receivers. A downside of Cyprien is that he is less proven than many of his fellow prospects because he played at a small school. It’ll be interesting to see if Jonathan Cyprien can transition smoothly to the NFL or if he experiences this learning curve we all hear so much about.
Eric Reid (LSU): Eric Reid seems to be the fourth favorite safety to almost every draft expert out there. With a 6’1” 213lbs body, Reid has all the physical tools to be considered a top prospect up there with Kenny Vaccaro. However, Reid is incredibly aggressive, much too aggressive at times. He bites on play-action consistently and one can only envision Aaron Rodgers with a play action fake and a wide open touchdown to Randal Cobb twice a season if the Vikings happened to select Eric Reid. His aggressiveness does pay off occasionally nevertheless, with 4.5 tackles for loss as a starter at LSU and he often hits runners like a freight train. Expect Eric Reid to be picked somewhere in the middle of round two, unless a team feel they can slow him down and save him from himself.
Bacarri Rambo (Georgia): Bacarri Rambo has a whole lot of upside, but some concerns still plague him. This three year starter, four year player ended his career in Georgia with 235 tackles and 16 interception. These numbers are incredible when considering all the talent in front of him that often make the play before he can get there. Rambo catches like a receiver and has superior tracking that allows him at 6’1” 211lbs to dominate small receivers. In addition to playing the ball well, Rambo a FS at Georgia has the ability to play either safety position because he can make tackles with the best of them. The downside with this safety occurs both on and off the field. On the field he tends to lead with the shoulder and not always wrap up and on closer inspection he sometimes is overly aggressive in pass coverage. Off the field, Rambo has failed two drug tests including one that led to a four game suspension this past season. On a good SEC in Georgia team, one can only begin to imagine how many of his tests were buried in order to keep him on the field. If a team can overlook these deficiencies Bacarri Rambo will provide good value at the end of round two or the beginning of round three.
D.J. Swearinger (South Carolina): Like many other safety prospects, Swearinger seems to go for broke on his hits. He often hits hard enough to pop the ball out however, forcing four fumbles in his career at South Carolina. Over-aggressiveness isn’t his only deficiency, he often has trouble running with quicker receivers and recorded a slow 4.63 40 at the combine. The upside is that D.J. is versatile, playing a number of games at both safety positions in his career as a Gamecock. He also has the strength and bulk at 5’11” 208lbs to tackle even the largest and strongest running backs. Even though D.J. Swearinger has a number of holes in his game, don’t be surprised if a team takes a chance on him in the late 2nd round or early 3rd round.
Wrap Up: Every year there are a number of players who slip down in the first round to be picked up by smart teams who have an eye for value. If the Vikings want to be an elite NFL team, Rick Spielman has to begin a trend of scooping up players with high potential that fall throughout Thursday and into Friday. We have looked the positions of greatest need for the Vikings and they would do well to pick a player from these positions. However, sometimes a great talent will fall into the waiting lap of an unsuspecting team, if this happens to the Vikings they can’t be afraid to pounce on that player.