The dust has started to settle on another crazy NFL Draft cyclone that swept through the league last weekend. Once again, every single one of the 2.63 kajillion mock drafts posted online was incorrect. Once again, Rick Spielman dealt his way back into the tail end of the opening night of the draft for an additional first round pick. Once again, Spielman made trade after trade late in the draft to end up with a total amount of draft picks in the double digits.
And once again, now it's time for completely meaningless draft grades and 2015 mock drafts!
Just kidding. Hopefully you know my stance on mock drafts and immediately handing out draft grades by now. (Short answer: I'll leave the mocking to Mark, and the only grades I'll read about are the grades like CCNorseman posted on Sunday--for drafts that happened at least three years ago). The NFL's "Silly Season" is still in full swing even after the draft since we're still months from actual football, but at least we have real live players to talk about now instead of endless speculation about who might be on the team.
Training Camp is still over two months away, but don't fret--Vikings rookie mini-camp starts today! (The portion open to the media starts Friday.) Naturally everyone is excited to see what the new guys can do. From the big names at the top to the undrafted free agents signed after the draft, Vikings fans are hoping to get some big contributions from the new blood to reverse the fortunes of a dismal 2013 campaign.
But what can we really expect from the large 2014 Minnesota Vikings rookie class? After covering all three days of the NFL draft from Vikings headquarters at Winter Park and interacting with the beat writers, I can let you in on an NFL Insider secret:
Nobody knows what to expect.
If there was a crystal ball for the NFL Draft we wouldn't have to look back and wonder what the hell the Vikings were thinking by drafting All-Pros like Chris Cook, Marcus McCauley, and...well, the entire 2005 draft class. The draft was, is, and always will be an imperfect science of educated guesses. So instead of guessing how all ten draft picks will pan out or predicting which rookies will have the most impact (mostly because Chris already did that), let's take a look at the best and worse case scenarios for each of the ten players the Vikings chose.
Best case: The linebacker from UCLA lives up to his top-10 draft status and terrorizes opposing quarterbacks all year off the edge. His superior athleticism allows him to quickly accommodate to the strong side linebacker role in Mike Zimmer's defense and changes a position that was a major liability last year into an asset. His versatility keeps him on the field as a 3-down linebacker that can attack the pass and run from numerous places on the field.
Worst case: Barr's lack of experience on the defensive side of the ball makes him too much a liability in coverage. His freakish athleticism can't cover his lack of technique and he's gobbled up by blockers with better hands. He can only take the field in obvious pass rushing situations, and linebacker remains a major weak point for the Vikings in 2014.
Best case: Teddy proves he's the player that was a consensus top pick most of last year. He proves the phrase "pro ready" isn't just a draft day buzzword. The Vikings cautiously bring Bridgewater along, making sure he has a firm grasp of Norv Turner's offense before throwing him to the wolves. But Bridgewater quickly shows that he can read and react at the high level he has shown throughout his career and the game never seems "too fast" for him. Bridgewater's pinpoint accuracy, especially in the face of pressure, has the Vikings constantly moving the sticks and opens up running lanes for Adrian Peterson. His college experience running a pro style offense allows him to easily transition into a bona fide NFL starting quarterback. Finally, after years and years of trying and failing, it looks like the Minnesota Vikings have their quarterback of the future. Stores can't seem to keep purple #5 jerseys in stock. Chris and Arif write articles with stats and anecdotes that politely say "I told you so" to all of Bridgewater's earlier detractors. Ted writes Stock Market Reports that have Bridgewater in the "Blue Chip" section every week. And finally, Kyle's gameday tweets from Florida are happy drunk, not sad drunk.
Worst case: Uh oh. This was why he slid down the boards so much on draft day. His quiet demeanor proves that he isn't comfortable leading a professional team. His playing time is one of two extremes: a) the Vikings threw him out there too early and his ensuing struggles ruined his confidence, or b) his reps at practice have shown the coaches that he can't even beat out Matt Cassel or Christian Ponder. His lack of arm strength gets him into trouble and he's forcing throws that only certain quarterbacks should be making. His lack of prototypical size means he's constantly banged up and never 100% healthy. After years and years of trying, it looks like the Vikings have once again failed to find their quarterback of the future.
Best case: Crichton proves that he was worthy of top-50 grade that many draft experts gave him and should have been selected much higher than the third round. He uses his explosive power and relentless motor to become an integral part of Zimmer's defensive line rotation. His inside moves and excellent anticipation stop countless draw plays and runs to his side. Not only can he give Brian Robison and Everson Griffen rest to keep them fresh, he can take meaningful snaps on the interior line in place of Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd to give them a quick break as well. Crichton does so well that he elevates the play of the entire defensive line and makes the Vikings' pass rush a headache for opposing quarterbacks all year.
Worst case: Crichton struggles in camp and can't win snaps over the likes of Fred Evans, Chase Baker, and Spencer Nealy. He doesn't develop additional pass rush techniques and is scouted as a one-trick pony that can easily be ushered out of harm's way by opposing schemes. Instead of being an integral part of the rotation, he becomes just another body that's there in case one of the starters gets hurt.
Best case: Two words: Darren Sproles. McKinnon's off-the-charts athleticism makes him a formidable change-of-pace back that's a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Norv Turner uses McKinnon in the same manner he used Sproles in San Diego, adding another dangerous dimension to Minnesota's offense. He can come in on third downs and be a reliable backup to Adrian Peterson, making sure that AP stays fresh throughout the season.
Worst case: McKinnon's lack of experience playing running back makes him a liability in pass protection and hinders his field vision when reading blocks from the backfield. While an amazing athlete, he struggles to find a niche in Turner's offense and can't get past guys like Matt Asiata and Joe Banyard on the depth chart. McKinnon becomes the poor man's version of Joe Webb--an athlete that never really fit anywhere in the Vikings' scheme.
Best case: Quite simply, he takes Charlie Johnson's job. Yankey quickly proves that falling to the fifth round was a big mistake for the teams that passed on him. He uses his size, power, and intelligence to rocket up the Vikings depth chart and solidify the interior of the Vikings offensive line for years to come.
Worst case: Yankey's inconsistent footwork and below-average foot speed get him into trouble. At Stanford he could simply out-muscle most people that lined up across from him; in the NFL defenders are simply running around him. Yankey becomes just another guy and doesn't play any significant snaps outside of filling in for injuries.
Best case: Exum proves why so many people were hoping the Vikings picked him up in the later rounds. He quickly makes a name for himself in Training Camp with thunderous hits and leapfrogs the likes of Andrew Sendejo and Jamarca Sanford on the depth chart at Strong Safety by the end of the season. He teams with Harrison Smith to become one of the more feared safety tandems in the league for wide receivers running routes across the middle of the field. He can even take snaps as a physical cornerback in a pinch.
Worst case: Exum is a "tweener" that doesn't really fit at safety or corner. His slow closing speed causes him to get burned in the preseason and buried in the depth chart. His knees, which were a question mark coming into the draft, act up again and he doesn't make an impact on defense or special teams.
Best case: James uses his athleticism to make waves on defense and special teams from the get-go. His instincts against the pass prove to give the Vikings some valuable depth in an area they desperately need it.
Worst case: His questionable tackling ability and below average size prevents him from catching on with defensive teams, and he doesn't do enough on defense to merit a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Best case: The rich get richer--the Vikings defensive line adds another rotational piece that can play meaningful snaps and keep the starters fresh. He uses his formidable size and strength to earn a roster spot as a nose tackle.
Worst case: He doesn't fit into a unit that's becoming more and more crowded after free agency and the draft. He's a better fit as a 3-4 defensive end and needs to look for an NFL job elsewhere.
Best case: Watts uses his top-notch speed and fluid movement to his advantage to surprise people at camp. He becomes a remix of Larry Dean--a versatile linebacker that can shine on special teams and provide depth in an area that desperately needs it. Allows fans like me to use the phrase "TURN DOWN FOR WATTS!" on Twitter every time he makes a play.
Worst case: He's a bad remix of Larry Dean--an undersized linebacker that doesn't make it on the special teams unit or out of training camp.
Best case: The obviously emphasis the Vikings put on speed and athleticism pays off--the late-round pick Price is able to stick around by using his athleticism to his advantage on special teams. It might be at the expense of fellow draftees like Exum and James, but Price makes the squad to give both the special teams and secondary a nice bump in depth.
Worst case: He proves why he was a 7th round pick and the last of ten players drafted by the Vikings this year. He didn't do anything especially great in college, and that didn't change in the pros. Cut.
Of course most of what actually happens for each player the Vikings drafted will fall somewhere in between, but let's hope that everyone's first paragraph is a better description of how their NFL careers turn out. What do you expect from each player the Vikings drafted? Can some expectations go even higher or lower than what I projected? Let us know in the comments.