In Round 8 of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected 22 players (either by signing or offering tryouts). With only 53 spots on the final roster and as few reps in training camp as possible to prove they deserve it, undrafted free agents provide the most drama and are sometimes the best stories. While competing with some of the best the game has to offer, how will the rookie free agents fare?
As far as I can tell, the following are the 22 rookie free agents the Vikings have either signed or offered a tryout to, according to NEPatriotsDraft or SBNation. The Vikings recently announced 16 UDFA contract signings, but they do not include tryouts, so I am going to assume that those rumored to come to the Vikings will have to tryout in rookie camp. For the purposes of this article, they are the same. There are at least 20 more players in tryouts, but I do not know who they are, so I won't write about them.
As it is, this post is already too long. Bring a snack.
Rodney Smith, WR, Florida State
Erik Highsmith, WR, North Carolina
Nicolas Edwards, WR, Eastern Washington
Brandan Bishop, FS, North Carolina State
Zach Line, FB, SMU
Robbie Rouse, RB, Fresno State
Mark Jackson, OG Glenville State
James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Colin Anderson, TE, Furman
Jerodis Williams, RB, Furman
Darius Eubanks, LB/S, Georgia Southern
Rayon Simmons, RB, Winona State
Collins Ukwu, DE, Kentucky
Camden Wentz, C, North Carolina State
Nathan Williams, LB/DE, Ohio State
Michael Carter, CB Minnesota
Joe Bonadies, OL Penn
Anthony McCloud, DT Florida State
Marquis Jackson, DE Portland State
Duron Carter, WR Florida Atlantic
Garth Heikkinen, OG University of Minnesota-Duluth
Bradley Randle, RB UNLV
We can start with the three players I've already reviewed, the wide receivers. For this, I won't add any new insights, just compile what I've already put together.
Rodney Smith, WR Florida State
It's easier for me to list the problems I have with Rodney Smith than describe why he'll make an impact, but at a fundamental level, he will contribute on a field, just not very much at all. He's like Kaufman in the respect that his matchup/size advantage will get a few receptions thrown his way, but you can't really expect him to consistently make a difference.
He has much more athleticism than Kaufman (these comparisons will keep coming), but in a world where athleticism has more currency-college football-Smith never exceeded 550 receiving yards in a year. Against the better defensive teams (NC State, Florida, etc.) his production has been even more underwhelming, struggling to get even more than two receptions against strong defensive play.
While Smith displays a basic ability to hit his landmarks, find soft zones in holes, and good positioning, he falls short in a lot of areas. Not only does he drop easy catches fairly often, he shows no ability to beat press coverage, no ability to generate YAC (no elusiveness and poor leverage when powering past tacklers)
The Seminole has all of the tools to be an incredible receiver and none of the ability, it seems. He doesn't break to the ball well, and doesn't work back to the quarterback when he needs to. While he can generally get some separation on intermediate routes, his inability to beat tight coverage is a huge problem. He doesn't sink his hips, set up his breaks or manipulate cornerbacks. Neither does he block well or have solid technique.
Rodney Smith is unique in the draft for his sheer physical talent and range (he should have a better catch radius than he does), but his numbers in shorts don't match his numbers in the box score.
Erik Highsmith, WR North Carolina
Highsmith has shown significantly more athleticism on the field than his pro day numbers imply, and he hasn't even begun to use it. Right now, he plays more of a possession role, but he has deep threat capability should he develop properly-a track star that still has the ability to generate suddenness if he improves his release technique and sinks his hips at the break while learning to plant. Given that he runs precise routes, he's avoided some of the bad habits that those without a lot of burst capability at the break have given themselves over to, and many of his routes look the same. He still has a lot of improvement here with what his hips and shoulders do, but he's been good at this over time.
The Tar Heel has a lot of good habits that leave room for improvement, including a wide catch radius with extended arms and a natural tendency to catch with his hands rather than his body. Without a high drop rate, Highsmith is a very reliable target. He also adjusts very well to the ball in the air and tracks it well, a process he completes by focusing on the ball to secure the catch before turning upfield. With that, he regularly outpositions defenders and attacks the ball.
Highsmith is also reliable for good YAC with some elusiveness but a lot of powers; you seem him dragging would-be tacklers for quite some yardage from time to time.
There are a lot of problems, too. He doesn't have a lot of experience with press coverage, and is poor against it when given the opportunity. Despite his decent strength, he doesn't usually win the fight for contested balls and needs to do more when coming back to the ball to ensure that he is the only one with relevant real estate to catch the ball. While he reads zone defenses well, it's difficult for him to create real separation against man coverage until he can create a better burst.
He's an able player who was lauded for his work ethic until the plagiarism scandal broke. He improves consistently and takes care not to form bad habits. He may be limited physically, but could use improvements in technique to cover up for it. He may be talented enough to see the field early on in his career, but he won't have a real impact for some time. For the Vikings, he has the ability to line up most anywhere, but would be most effective at flanker until he learns how to beat press coverage.
Nicholas Edwards, WR Eastern Washington
Nicholas Edwards was the "other" receiver at Eastern Washington, who is likely not as talented as Brandon Kaufman overall but is a better fit. Entering the year, Edwards was expected to be the better receiver of the two, but natural development from Kaufman along with a switch at quarterback (from Bo Levi Mitchell to a two-QB system featuring Kyle Padron and Vernon Adams) and new offense set Edwards significantly behind. More than anything else, however, a knee injury in September before the season began left him behind the entire year.
Going from 1250 receiving yards to 436 receiving yards must be disheartening, but it's not like his talent evaporated. Kaufman's appearance was surprising, to say the least (373 yards to FCS leading 1850 yards).
His greatest talent might be his ability to track the ball, adjust to it and save poorly thrown passes. Unfortunately, he will not maintain this level of concentration throughout the catch and will lose the ball when hit before he tightens up his grip on the ball. Nevertheless, he makes tough catches look easy and has been in all sorts of positions when reeling in the ball, including with his back to the line of scrimmage.
That's not to say Edwards isn't tough—he is. He played through a knee injury and consistently takes hits both before and after the catch while staying upright and delivering his own blows. He's been inconsistent generally speaking as a catcher, but he will make difficult catches and has a very wide catch radius. He has a lot of balance, and a vertical of 40 inches (and a height of 6'3") makes it very likely he can compete in the air on a deep ball or fade route.
As a runner, he's very elusive, but his nimbleness after the catch doesn't show up in his route running, where he'll play a little stiff. His patterns are smart and crisp and created a lot of separation in 2011. His 3-cone and shuttle times (6.90 and 4.10, respectively) are evidence of this, difficult at his height. In addition, a broad jump of 129 inches proves he has the explosion necessary to create separation if he learns to sink his hips in route. He knows how to box out defenders and create exclusive real estate by which to catch the ball, giving him the ability to create larger passing windows for his quarterback.
What's most shocking is that if he harnesses his after catch quickness as a route runner, he could turn out to be a big slot target in the NFL, which will hide deficiencies as a player without an extraordinary sense of the sideline and first-read (you never want your first read to be the guy who drops the ball consistently). He may want to improve his release off the snap and ability to beat press coverage before he adopts a role as a true split end, but if he does that, he might be set despite not having a lot of long speed (although he runs faster than his timed 4.60 40-yard dash would imply).
If Edwards had displayed more consistency and better hands, he'd be a lock for a draft pick. As it is, his decline, injury and school will relegate him to fighting for a spot as an undrafted free agent.
Out of the three receivers the Vikings signed, Highsmith seems most likely to make the roster to me, while I see Edwards and Smith look to be practice squad candidates. One of them will probably land a practice squad invite with another team and the other will compete with Chris Summers for limited space. From what I know, Chris Summers should lose that competition. The player that the Vikings will likely elect to keep, in my opinion, is Nicholas Edwards.
Brandan Bishop, S NC State
Brandan Bishop was perhaps the most overlooked member of the powerful NC State secondary. While Earl Wolff and David Amerson grabbed the headlines, Bishop toiled in the background playing in both the deep zone and in the box without making a ton of splash plays up front or in the box, although he did record 94 tackles despite missing a game against Tennessee.
Bishop hangs his hat on his instincts, and was the leader of the defense. He was responsible for coverage adjustments and has been an incredibly intelligent player who audibled pre-snap in order to adjust to offensive reads. Beyond that, his ability to intuit the offense means he doesn't get sucked into play fakes or take false steps. He looks to be a film room junkie, as he plays to the offense's tendencies.
He likes to see the field ahead of them, and is most comfortable in a deep zone. He follows the quarterback's eyes, breaks on the ball, and moves his landmarks based on what he sees the quarterback doing. He bursts out of backpedal well and can break on the ball before it leaves the quarterback's hands and is aware of where receivers are and how they are positioned on the field. This has allowed him to generate 12 career interceptions, and 5 in 2011 alone.
Fortunately for Bishop, one of his greatest weaknesses is not too important to the Vikings: man coverage. He has stiff hips and doesn't transition well, often getting turned around too far or not enough and missing his marker. When he opens the gate, receivers can easily take advantage of him and he shouldn't be used to cover the slot receiver or the tight end. He does press well, and that's a trademark of his physical play.
Bishop relishes contact and could continue the tradition of the "hard hitting safety" that Minnesota has been enjoying. He has played quite a few snaps in the box and knows how to sift through traffic to get to the ball carrier. He drives through his tackles and squares up when breaking down the tackle, making sure to keep form. He takes care to strip the ball at every moment and knows how to maintain depth against runs or attack downhill when needed.
The reason Bishop didn't get drafted is because he's simply not very athletic. He's bigger than his teammate, but not nearly as rangy. He didn't struggle in the Shrine Game practices, but neither did he impress. While he probably should have been drafted in later rounds, Bishop's slow speed (4.59 40-yard dash, 1.57 10-yard split) will limit him. Still a decent shuttle time (4.18) and a very fast 3-cone (6.89) speak well to him, as does the great 22 bench reps he put together.
Bishop looks like a player who could display Andrew Sendejo (who I like) on the roster, and currently looks to be the UDFA most likely to survive cuts and make the final 53.
Zach Line, FB SMU
A powerful build and excellent burst made Line one of the top fullback prospects in the country, although limited value for the position pushed him off the boards. My fourth-ranked fullback, Zach Line's draft snub may have been disappointing, but it wasn't quite surprising.
At Southern Methodist, Line did much more than simply lead block. He tied Eric Dickerson's SMU record in total career touchdowns with 47 and surpassed Dickerson in total yardage (4,185 yards)—all while running from the fullback position instead of being given lead run time like a halfback.
Line is a throwback to 1940's single-wing football. He has great burst running north-south and has fantastic power at the point of attack, despite playing an outdated role for what looks to be an outdated position. Even more interesting, he attained his records despite only playing as a starter for three years.
At 6'0" and 232 pounds, he has some of the size needed to play as a lead blocker, but could gain more (Felton is 6'0" and 248 pounds and Kleinsasser was astonishingly 6'3' and 272 pounds). He hasn't done much lead blocking but could give the Vikings versatility in their run game if he develops that skill—the fake fourth down try to "fullback" Toby Gerhart would be more effective with Line up the backfield. Line has the frame to add more muscle mass, but shouldn't overdo it. He'll need to find a way to balance this with speed, or he'll lose the diversity advantage he has over other fullbacks.
As it is, I'm sure the Vikings are looking for players with diverse skill sets (too bad Juszczyk had to be drafted) or solid measurables and coach up lead blocking. Given that much of the skill set for lead blocking involves reading holes and hitting them with power, this makes sense. Line carries both of those skills and only needs to be on the same page as Adrian Peterson when hitting those gaps.
In the passing game, Line is an accomplished pass blocker who reads his keys well and picks up blitzers before popping them. His form is good and he knows how to get low. This isn't an advantage he has over Felton, who is also an excellent pass blocker, but it is something he needs to have in order to make the roster. He also can run the set of routes you would expect of any backfield pass-catcher and has soft hands.
He cuts quicker than his measurables imply, reading holes before they open up. He keeps his legs driving through contact and sheds arm tackles easily. He has the speed to break off a decent run before getting run down from behind and plays faster in pads than he looks in shorts, although he's not a speed demon.
Before joining the Vikings, Felton hadn't really been a lead blocker. In camp, he showed a natural ability to block (impressing running backs coach Janes Saxon enough that he kept pointing to Felton as the example in technique drills) and secured a position from there.
I fully expected Zach Line to get drafted, and the Vikings got away with something by signing him. Unfortunately, due to the clog at FB (Rhett Ellison and Jerome Felton are admirable) and the fact that the primary role of the fullback in the Vikings offense is to be a lead blocker, I see him making the practice squad (if he isn't signed away) as he brushes up on technique and the differences between running the ball and grading the way. He may also begin to learn routes from the slot as he could be a more versatile H-back type player, given his route-running and catching ability.
Robbie Rouse, RB Fresno State
I would be more worried about Rouse if he was a traditional running back, as I can't imagine any reason why a pure running back would sign with the Vikings rather than another team more committed to the running back-by-committee approach.
Instead, Rouse is more like a Darren Sproles (or Percy Harvin) stylistically. He's one of the best receiving running backs in the entire class, although doesn't have a lot else to go on. He's criticized for being small, although a more accurate characterization is that he's short. At 5'6", he'll raise questions, but at 190 pounds, he can pack a punch. Remember, Percy Harvin is four inches taller and was (allegedly) 185 pounds.
Rouse found the right scheme to work in. He's a one-cut zone runner that finds a hole and hits it decisively. While some have accused Adrian Peterson of not being patient enough (a criticism he has mostly shed recently), Rouse seems to blend the two qualities of decisiveness and patience when running. Rouse is not too concerned with the size of the crease and will get low as he hits the hole, which is probably the reason he's earned the nickname "Mighty Mouse."
While some running backs could easily be criticized for bouncing outside too often to make the big play, Rouse intuitively understands that taking small gains instead of risking losses for the chance of a large gain is useful for the offense and gets things done, making him a fairly mature runner. More than that, he always finds a way to fall forward and even gains ground when cutting, generally finding ways to consistently increase yardage, even with lateral moves.
At the college level, he looked quick and has made defenders miss with a combination of short-area quickness, subtle shoulder fakes and a good use of jump cuts. He drives well and makes up for his height by churning his feet at contact, running through tackles and getting the most of short-yardage situations. Unfortunately, his film speaks more for him than his actual talent does because his tape is commonly against slower defenders.
His game against Oregon includes some highlights which showcase his shiftiness, but he doesn't have the acceleration and downfield speed that make him a true change-of-pace back. But he does change directions really well, as his performances on screen passes show. He simply needs space to get anything done. He can use larger holes well, but he won't often have those in the NFL, and his ability to make plays in limited space is worrisome.
He's not a very good pass blocker, and he knows it. When asked to block, he compensates for his size by going far too low and can't hold up a block. He seems to read blitzers well, but there isn't much he can do with that information.
Rouse is one player who I see doing well on kick returns however, despite his speed. Rouse is the kind of player I really like, and I hope I'm wrong on. As it stands, I see him as a practice squad player at best. His versatility saves him a little bit and he deserves a long look by the Vikings, especially if he can learn to run routes from the slot, given his hands. Matt Waldman summed it up best in his Rookie Scouting Portfolio:
He's a terrific college running back with pro level conceptual skills and effort, but I'm not sure he has the size and athleticism to compete in the NFL. His best asset might be as an outlet receiver.
Overall, I could see Rouse making the roster above Asiata as he offers more versatility. If not, he should make the practice squad.
Mark Jackson, OG Glenville State
Before the season started, Jackson was in the conversation for a mid-round draft pick and could have been one of the top tackles in the class. While he didn't do anything to play himself out of the draft, he didn't help himself enough in a very, very strong offensive line class.
Jackson will have to transition from tackle to guard in order to succeed in the NFL. He initially committed to Illinois as one of the top high school tackle prospects in the country, but left to play for Glenville State for various off-the-field issues. Since then, he's won a number of awards for his play at the Division II powerhouse and has been projected by various outlets as a solid pickup between the 5th and 7th rounds.
At the East-West Shrine Game, he weighed in at 341 pounds, and during the season he may have weighed in at up to 355, but he brought his weight down to 328 during the combine. This is pretty important, as he played far too heavy when he as at Glenville State.
Regardless, his weight loss didn't seem to affect his speed all too much as he ran a 5.56 40-yard dash, a 5.03 second shuttle and a 8.07 three cone. With that, he recorded a 91 inch broad jump and a 1.9 second 10-yard split. This would make him the second-least athletic tackle in the NFL and the least athletic guard.
This has shown up a bit in his play, as he doesn't move out well against speed rushers, slide kicking poorly. It's somewhat unsurprising that he's "heavy-footed' given all that, but he was very rarely beaten by the Division II competition he regularly stonewalled.
Part of that is because he has physical skills that don't show up on combine tests. He's flexible and extends away from his body well and understands leverage. Scouts at the East-West game were generally surprised by how athletically Jackson could play, but he really doesn't have an ability to maintain agility or be a second-level blocker.
Jackson is strong enough to play guard and has done a good job in one-on-one situations as a run blocker, but can struggle in the pass game against better competition. While he has the technique to lock onto pass rusher, he doesn't sustain his blocks.
He anchors fine against bull rushers and does just as well pushing off the ball. Jackson will need to prove he has the footwork to make second level blocks and navigate traffic for zone running schemes, but he's a solid player who may even be able to beat out a player like Travis Bond.
James Vandenberg, QB Iowa
Vandenberg's 2012 stats won't blow you away, and most Iowa fans seem to have more to complain about with him than praise, but there's reason to believe Vandenberg could beat out a player like McLeod Bethel-Thompson and even Joe Webb for a backup spot. Not only was his 2011 season stellar, he has a lot of the subjective qualities you want to see in a quarterback.
The Hawkeye has the baseline physical skills to play in the NFL, and is technically more proficient than most undrafted free agents. His mobility is sound and can roll out on boot action to the right and the left, and is accurate in short distances when on the move. He has decent arm strength, throwing with a good degree of zip and a solid spiral.
He has enough skill and experience to look off defenders to shift coverages and exploiting it. His footwork on his drops look good, and he could really be described as potentially the opposite of Webb or Bethel-Thompson, with good enough physicality but better technical skills. An interesting improvement in a year full of disappointment, as his 2011 footwork was fairly poor. He still shows more inconsistency in this area than others, and will need to drill down on this if he wants to play in the NFL.
In 2011, and to some extend 2012, Vandenberg has been loathe to attack the secondary deep and hasn't really had to throw deep balls with precision or lead receivers, choosing to check down even when receivers break open downfield. Part of this has to do with his tendency to lock on to a primary target, even when he moves his eyes around.
Shifting to a new offense hurt Vandenberg significantly. In 2011, he flashed ability to place the ball to lead receivers and move away from defensive backs, while 2012 showed some significant problems adjusting to the new timing of the offense. While his pre-snap reads and post-snap progressions have improved, he's still relatively raw in this capacity. Overall, I would characterize this as a net downgrade, as his ball placement has shown a relative inability to create plays for his receivers or avoid defenders.
He's a fine play-action passer and also happens to have a consistent throwing motion, regardless of the drop or play fake. Unfortunately, that consistent motion has led to throws that work with one speed, meaning he doesn't finesse his balls to account for the situation.
Because of his on-field intelligence and good play in 2011, I wouldn't be surprised to see Vandenberg hit the practice squad. He needs to prove himself though, which will be difficult to do with limited reps against a crowded QB roster.
Colin Anderson, TE Furman
Anderson is a fun guy to read about. Initially a walk-on for the Furman program, he switched from quarterback to tight end and became an FCS All-American, setting five school records including career touchdown receptions for a tight end and single game receptions for a tight end. He's also made the honor roll several times at Furman.
The Furman Paladin is an undersized tight end at 237 pounds, and could simply be a slot receiver unless he gains weight. He's much more of a pass-catching tight end than anything else. Unfortunately, with a 4.8 40-yard dash and a 1.76 10-yard split, he looks to have abysmal speed for a pass-catcher. Interestingly, his 3-cone drill was an impressive 6.85 seconds.
Anderson is a natural route-runner who can change direction smoothly and has run a number of routes from in-line, in the slot and even split wide. Not only does he hit his landmarks well, but he can read zone defenses and sits in holes. He will occasionally waste steps at the stem and lacks burst coming out of the cuts, but he consistently created separation for himself at Furman. At times, he rounds off routes as well, but this isn't as big an issue as it is for most tight ends.
His best attribute is his ability to maintain control throughout the process of the catch. He knows how to work back towards the line of scrimmage and break open on scrambling plays, but he really excels once the ball is in the air. He's better than all but the top tight ends in the class at adjusting to the ball in the air and demonstrates excellent body control, even reeling in some highlight-reel type catches that come from having a high effort player with a large catch radius. He high-points the ball naturally and makes sure to attack it as soon as possible in order to create space for himself when catching.
A natural hands-catcher, he knows to extend his arms to catch every ball and will eventually turn into a solid red zone target if he makes it in the NFL. He doesn't have amazing jump ability, but has great timing enough to make up for it, and has generally won the ball in the air, although some of this is due to the level of competition he went up against.
Unfortunately, he's extremely limited as a blocker, not only in-line but split out in the slot or in the backfield. He possesses neither the power nor the technique to move people around on the field. He simply needs to add muscle and learn to get low. He cannot lead block, he cannot protect against the pass (Clemson simply bull-rushed him all game) and he can't wall off defenders at the point of attack.
I see him (like the others above) making the practice squad so that he can gain upper and lower body strength, to eventually develop into a TE2.
Furman has a good history with Minnesota, incidentally. Aside from signing teammate Jerodis Williams, Minnesota also carries Furman alum Jerome Felton.
Jerodis Williams, RB Furman
Small school scouts have ranked Williams as the third-best small-school running back coming out of the draft, although that's not a distinction one really carries around with extraordinary pride. Miguel Maysonet basically dominates among small-school running backs, and it's not close after that.
Williams is not all that interesting from a height/weight/speed perspective (4.47 at 5'10" and 203 pounds—average for his weight), at least from the perspective of Pro Day numbers. What's most impressive is his vertical jump, logged at 39.5 inches. You don't see that from a player rocking 203 pounds. His broad jump of 121 inches was also good. Looking at film, he seems to run faster than that, and outrunning defenses speaks to that.
He absolutely embarrassed Florida, for example, which might be why he's worth a look. In 2011, he ran all over the Gators to the tune of 133 yards and two touchdowns on just 19 carries (7.0 yards a carry). He finished his 2012 season with 5.9 yards a carry and 1170 yards with 11 touchdowns. The Gator defense is the one where his speed was best on display, making some of them look silly in the open field.
Aside from excellent receiving skills, which I will detail in a moment, Williams has incredible balance. Whether it's recovering from a cut tackle or moving downhill while spinning, Williams knows how to stay upright against arm tackles and keep the play going.
But beyond that, Williams is good with the ball in the air. He knows how to catch the football (extending the arms past the body and setting himself up for YAC) while running a few—not many—routes at Furman. In the open field, he's fairly good, displaying a solid ability to cut and forcing tacklers to take some poor angles. He won't break anyone's ankles, but he'll surprise someone with his YAC skill.
As a blocker, Williams has the same problems and strengths as Rouse, although the issues are not nearly as pronounced. The few times I saw him pass block, I saw him correctly diagnose the blitzer and go low. He is willing to punch and his hands to slow down rushers, but can get bowled over.
Because Williams seems somewhat like a poor man's Rouse without the pedigree or same physical talent set, I do not see him making the Vikings roster. Teams interested in a versatile back will certainly keep their eye on him though.
Darius Eubanks, LB Georgia Southern
The Vikings evidently watched quite a bit of the Southern Conference, as Eubanks is the third such player on the Vikings taken from the underrated FCS powerhouse conference (which include Wofford, Georgia Southern, Samford, Furman, Appalachian State and Elon, all of whom have players in the NFL or prominent rookies).
I'm not so sure I should be listing Eubanks as a linebacker, as he's projected to play as a safety in the NFL, despite the fact that he played (some) linebacker at Georgia Southern. He switched to free safety partway through the year at Southern, and at 215 pounds should probably stay there. That meant he paired with more highly rated prospect J.J. Wilcox, who was drafted in the third round.
His tackling form is sound. He squares up to defenders, keeps a solid base, drives through the ballcarrier and hits with power. Unfortunately, he plays with more depth in running plays than you want to see in the NFL (a common problem throughout all levels of college football) and will need to be comfortable attacking downhill. When I've seen him do that (normally on screen passes, not runs), he's been effective. The few times he's had to deal with a long run or a receiver on a tear, he's generally taken a poor tackling angle, although I haven't seen him actually miss a player because of it. More, he simply gives them too many yards before he makes the tackle.
Against Southern Conference players, he's done a good job shedding blockers by keeping them at length and shedding with some minimal technique. In order to get a better read on this, I looked at his game against Georgia. He didn't do as well against high quality competition, but he did have a good instinct of where to be. Reading the run well is important, but he doesn't really have a consistent ability to stack and shed.
Aaron Murray forced Southern to constantly play a deep safety, and Eubanks was their chose despite Wilcox's obvious skill as a pass defender. His backpedal is a little stiff and high, but otherwise gets to his depth markers quickly enough (it is a fast backpedal) and bursts out of it fine. I think he's a little slow to react, but it has been difficult to get a read on him. He's still learning a lot about zone coverage it seems, and needs to trust his instincts more, as they are generally correct.
He's an extremely athletic player who should excel at whichever position they end up having him perform (4.48 40-yard dash, 1.60 10-yard split, 23 reps, 35 inch vertical, 125 broad jump, 4.17 second short shuttle and a 3-cone time of 6.95—athletic at every single drill). Were he to work on his play recognition (he gets sucked in on play action) and trusted his instincts, he would be a good backup safety. As it is, he has a lot of things left to develop even with a relatively athletic frame for a safety.
Unfortunately, with Bishop and Sendejo fighting for either the last safety spot or a practice squad spot, Eubanks is not likely to make a roster, as Bishop is more experienced at the position even if he's not as athletic.
Rayon Simmons, RB Winona State
Simmons is a fairly dense running back, weighing 223 pounds at only 5'9", and should pack quite a punch for any linebacker who would underestimate him because of his height.
He comes from a zone running offense that encourages one-cut running and quick thinking. Simmons is definitely decisive and plunges through any openings he sees. What's encouraging is that he'll choose smaller holes than most college running backs would be OK with choosing, although he still gets most of his good yardage from runs to the outside—not something he should rely on in the NFL.
Simmons might be best characterized as a "power back" although that would unfairly pigeon hole him and his skill set. He does like to drive through people, although he does like to drive through people. Instead, Simmons has largely relied on his agility and ability to make people miss in the open field. Not often run down at the Division II level, Simmons probably has quite a bit more to learn and change about his running style at the NFL level than most rookie prospects. While he's definitely much more agile than the average running back his size and speed, he will need to adopt a more bruising style to get his yards. As it stands right now, he isn't fast enough to continue with the same style of running (4.67 40).
He seems much more concerned with getting the big play, but isn't entirely afraid to run between the tackles. And Simmons is willing to make the blue-collar plays as well, sticking it to blitzers and maintaining blocking form. He has a lot of technique issues to work out, but the fundamentals are there.
Like Williams, Simmons is a good pass-catcher that has developed hands, although seems to run a smaller variety of routes and didn't have to do as much in the passing game from what I saw, mostly running screen passes. Still, there's room here for Simmons to gain ground against other running backs.
He probably won't make the practice squad, but his pass-catching ability does give him a leg up against the dime-a-dozen running backs that hit training camps every year.
Collins Ukwu, DE Kentucky
Ukwu was blessed with some of the longest arms in college football (aside from massive outliers like D.J. Fluker), and has the ideal build for a defensive end. He could stand to gain a few pounds, but for the most part is fit physically as a 4-3 pass rusher.
At Kentucky, he was used as a rush linebacker, 4-3 defensive end and pass-rushing defensive tackle and his capability seems to speak more to him as a rush linebacker. Nevertheless, his physical attributes will encourage the Vikings to keep him at end instead of moving him around, although his flexibility could encourage Alan Williams to train Ukwu for an Everson Griffen-type role, moving him around to create mismatches, etc.
While explosive off the line, he doesn't offer much bend or flexibility. He needs to dip better when attacking and doesn't find a way to get underneath the offensive tackle while using his explosive capability and too easily gets blocked out. His 3.0 sacks for the year is underwhelming (especially when considering it is a year high), and a lot of this has to do with his extremely limited move set and reliance on his power and speed when bull rushing.
Ukwu, unfortunately, isn't as athletic as Griffen so his ability to move around to create blitzing/blocking mismatches or confusion is limited. He ran a 1.67 second 10-yard split with a 4.94 40-yard dash, and benched 16 reps. By comparison, Griffen's numbers included a 1.63 second 10-yard split, 4.65 second 40-yard dash, and 32 reps. Griffen also had a better vertical jump and broad jump.
He doesn't instinctively use his physical advantages to create separation yet, so is raw from both a technique and physical perspective. To me, he seems like the kind of player that would stay on a practice squad for two years before he makes a roster proper. As it is, Ukwu is up against tough competition in D'Aundre Reed and Nathan Williams for a practice squad spot and would not make it. In order to hit a practice squad, he would need to show the ability to add strength quickly.
Camden Wentz, C NC State
The second of the two NC State players to be signed by the Vikings, Wentz was a three-year starter for the Wolfpack before declaring for the draft.
Wentz is a bit different han the prototypical undrafted free agent; he has most of the technical ability he needs to do well, but has a lot of questions about his physical talent. If he has already topped out as a technical player and can prove he has the baseline physical skills for an NFL player, he should make a team somewhere as a backup.
For most scouts, a baseline 40-yard dash of 5.2 seconds is important for centers and Camden unfortunately ran a 5.33 at his Pro Day. Coupled with abysmal agility drills (7.77 seconds in the 3-cone and 4.72 seconds in the short shuttle) it looks like he may not have the requisite physical characteristics to do well in the NFL. Even his more relevant 10-yard split time is extremely worrisome, at 1.91 seconds.
While his 27 bench reps do speak well for him, he doesn't have the measurables that would make you think he's explosive, jumping 27 inches high and only 101 inches in the broad jump. All of these concerns have shown up on film, where Wentz has looked less than athletic and not extremely capable of using his base to secure holes for his running back, especially against the bigger defensive tackles in college.
He doesn't have the footwork to take on speed rushers very well, which is why Everett Dawkins abused him in their game while Wentz was filling in at left guard. Wentz doesn't look to have the agility or footwork to play guard and may be restricted to center, especially given that his frame has maxed out at 305 pounds.
But Wentz is intelligent and capable. His kickslide is slow but sound and he knows where to place his feet. He bends at the knees and understands the principles of leverage to gain an advantage. He can redirect defenders and often uses his anticipation to redirect late blitzers or twisting tackles. He works well on double teams and has a natural chemistry with teammates that makes him effective in double teams and he also keeps churning his legs on double teams/
The gap between him and the backup center at NC State was fairly large and demonstrates the difference in ability the two had—Wentz can anchor against the bull rush and plays with a wide enough base to restrict opposing defensive tackles to speed-rushing moves. Nevertheless, he can't keep a block moving when stepping laterally and doesn't seem to be a fit for a zone scheme despite that being a strength of his as he entered his freshman year. perhaps he could gain his old steps back, but it is hard to imagine him doing that and keeping weight. I would not project Wentz to make the practice squad.
Nathan Williams, LB/DE Ohio State
Nathan Williams is an injury-ridden rush linebacker from the Big Ten, which means he certainly has promise. Teammate John Simon looks to do very well in the NFL, and Williams has a lot of the skills that had made Simon a 4th round pick.
Williams doesn't have the long arms that Ukwu has, but has much more production and game that he can bring. He started the year still recovering from a knee injury that ended his hope to be drafted in 2011, and the medical redshirt eligibility that the NCAA granted him may have restored his hopes to play in the NFL. Urban Meyer and his staff have been nothing but impressed with his progress, and Williams certainly looked to return to full strength by the end of the year.
Aside from the length of his arms, Williams also looks perfectly build to be a football player, with a strong and cut upper body and a solid build. Unfortunately, at 241 pounds, he may not have a natural position in the NFL—at least as a 4-3 player. As a linebacker, he'd be suited for the tough Sam position, taking on lead blockers, and would probably have to put on extra weight, about 12 or so pounds.. As a defensive end, he certainly would need to add weight and would need to chart at least 260 pounds before he would be traditional playing weight for the spot.
Regardless, Williams looks to fit into Everson Griffen's mold more than anything else. Like Ukwu, he was used not just across the line but in every linebacker spot as well, specializing as a blitzer who could take advantage of unique rushing matchups and angles.
He closes on the ballcarrier quickly, takes smart angles and is quick both in backside pursuit or closing in on the play from the point of attack. Against blockers he shows both technique and strength, holding up well when forcing a play against the run when lined up against lead blockers or in-line blockers like tight ends or tackles. He's aggressive, playing with constant energy and ferocity, making sure to punch out when confronted by bodies.
As a tackler, he's been inconsistent, but will frequently use his large and strong hands (10⅛") to knock the ball out or secure a hold. When lined up against linemen, he'll get swallowed up and does have the base strength to maintain position or the upper body strength to fully shed the block (although that is where he has the greatest advantage). He's not very flexible and needs to use his hands more violently. Nevertheless he's been productive and gets in the backfield.
In coverage he's been pretty good, and in fact looked better their in positional drills than he did as a pass rusher. He hits his depth landmarks and knows how to play a zone defense, as he closes in on the ballcarrier quickly, reads the quarterback well and plays with instincts in space. I haven't seen much of him man to man, but I suspect his hips are a bit too stiff for that to be a strength of his. At the very least this makes him an effective drop in zone coverage when zone blitzing.
If the knee injury (which required microfracture surgery and arthroscopic surgery) is behind him, I don't see how he avoids a practice squad invite as he bulks up to his position.
Anthony McCloud, DT Florida State
Playing alongside Everett Dawkins, Cornelius "Tank" Carradine and Bjoern Werner, McCloud certainly got lost in the shuffle. A relatively small body for a nose tackle at 305 pounds and standing at 6'2", McCloud relies much more on positioning and technique than merely being a wide body in order to get things done
He's a nose tackle that has also taken snaps at under tackle, but is largely asked to fill in the gaps and plug against the run. he didn't pile up statistics, but has been largely stout for the Seminoles.
His measurables were awful, except the 24 bench press reps, which were merely adequate. This more than anything else should have dropped him out of the draft, as he could have been a 5th round pick with proper combine conditioning. But a 3-cone drill of 8.19 seconds, one of the worst three cone I have ever heard of (and I logged every 3-cone of every DT/NT in the NFL over the past five years), and a 40-yard dash of 5.21 seconds speak to how terrible his pro day experience was. The only NFL starters with worse 3-cone times were C.J. Mosley and Darell Scott, both of whom have flamed out as NFL prospects.
This all gives him an athleticism score of 1.6, worrisome for anybody but especially for an undrafted free agent. Still, he's been fine with what he'd been asked to do at Florida State which is to not be moved. He knows how to sit still against double teams, generally winning the leverage battle and playing with a wide base. He has played with a strong upper body and has been able to use his hands to keep blockers out of his pads, preventing them from locking in.
McCloud knows the importance of vision, and can generally suss out the difference between fakes and base plays, making him valuable on draws and play action. He also recognizes screen plays and does well to move into position when given a release for screen. He can sink his pads and anchor well and knows where he ball is going to be.
Unfortunately, his pro day scores show up in the game. He has had a good initial burst on some plays but it has been poor on most other plays. In either case he cannot sustain a strong push past a second, so if he doesn't create pocket pressure by then, it's not likely happening. In one on one drills against Earl Watford and Garth Heikkinen, McCloud came out behind. He's a waist-bender that can't really maintain leverage and needs to add more to his lower body before he can make an impact in the NFL.
Without consistently solid technique and a relatively poor track record in one-on-ones, it's unlikely McCloud makes it in the NFL, especially without a high degree of athleticism. Even though the Vikings have a hole at nose tackle, I doubt McCloud fills it.
Michael Carter, CB Minnesota
Carter came out of nowhere for fans of the Big Ten, turning in excellent performances throughout the year when he was quiet the year before. With four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and 14 pass breakups for one of the best statistical defensive back performances in the country.
The Gopher is an extremely instinctive and aggressive corner who really turned it on after becoming familiar with how film room work translated into on-field success. Carter plays with savvy, undercutting routes and playing the ball to the best of his ability. His game against Purdue was one long highlight reel, where he showcased his aggressive style of play and willingness to open up the passing game to freewheeling wide receivers in exchange for jumping routes and making plays on the ball. Seriously, watch the video starting at 1:47 and tell me that it isn't one of the single greatest defensive series from a single defensive player you've ever seen.
His willingness to gamble paid off more often than not in 2012 for the Golden Gophers, but these things could come back to bite you. While he generally breaks on the ball after reading the quarterback and recognizing the route, there are times where he will jump the gun before the quarterback commits. It paid off in the NCAA, but it shouldn't be nearly as fruitful in the NFL.
Carter opens the gate early in order to aid his transition, as his hips don't move as fluidly as some of the more agile rookie defensive backs, and that will get him lost in a professional game. I'm worried that option routes in the NFL will kill his game, as reliant as he is on jumping routes before the ball is thrown. He'll lose positioning on unfamiliar routes and quarterbacks will exploit his tendencies to jump underneath.
That said, if this is a consistent skill, he will definitely find himself on an NFL roster. He has below average athleticism (4.63 40-yard dash, 4.41 short shuttle, 32.5 inch vertical), and will need to rely on those instincts in order to produce.
As a run defender, Carter is poor. He doesn't shed blocks very well at all and doesn't play with the physicality that marks his game as a pass defender. He hits hard when closing on receivers, and has a good tendency to knock the ball loose, but doesn't fly as recklessly to the ball on running plays, even when he's not locked up. His tackling form could use some work, as he doesn't drive through or wrap up and instead will go for the big hit.
Joe Bonadies, OL Penn
An Ivy League product, Bonadies played tackle for the Quakers, but could just as easily swing inside at guard or even center, as he was originally projected to in high school as the country's 12th ranked center. Penn has quietly dominated the Ivy League, winning the league three of the last four years, but unable to make a postseason appearance due to Ivy League rules.
Not only did Bonadies earn First Team All-Ivy honors, he made the All-Ivy Academic Team as well. He'll likely have to play interior as his footwork outside in pass protection isn't great, but he reads pass-rushers well. His reaction to pass rushers is generally fine, but his feet are a hair slow, although in general his footwork is relatively precise.
There isn't a lot of film of him against top-tier competition and he didn't tour the all-star circuit, but looks to be a decent zone blocker who could play guard. He has enough power at guard and has a couple of highlight pancakes to his credit. He doesn't have second-level blocks to his credit while playing as a tackle, so it may be difficult to tell if he's a great fit for the zone runs the Vikings engage in, but he at least is solid in his lateral run blocking steps.
Bonadies seems much more a run blocker than a pass blocker and plays high when protecting the pocket. He's inconsistent off the snap and sometimes gets into his stance quickly while at other times struggling to recover. His recovery isn't great and he'll get caught reaching. He needs to tighten up his stance to work against bull rushers while improving his footwork to win against speed rushers.
The Quaker will also need to have significantly more reps at guard before he can play in the NFL (he has had quite a few at Penn) simply so that he has experience reading blitzers and playing his assignment. There wasn't a lot of film of him playing as a pass protector in space or picking up delayed blitzers because he played many more snaps on the outside than the inside.
Bonadies looks to need some serious work before he's NFL ready, but he certainly deserves a shot. Regardless, I don't see him making the practice squad.
Marquis Jackson, DE/DT Portland State
As one Viking to another, Jackson doesn't have to change the mascot he identifies with. In fact, the Minnesota Vikings hosted a previous Portland State Viking last year (Reggie Jones). At Portland State, Jackson rotated between 3-technique and 4-3 defensive end, and even played as a stand-up rush linebacker. Small-school scouts identified him as the fourth-best small-school defensive end (third-best rush end) and he has a lot of skills that should get him noticed.
He's the twin of former Tennessee defensive end Malik Jackson, and took a fairly circuitous route to the NFL. Coming out of high school, Jackson was heavily recruited and committed to USC. Unfortunately, due to grade concerns, he needed to play in junior college before he transferring to a four-year institution. He did after one year, moving to Texas Southern. He was first team All-Southwestern Athletic Conference in 2010 and 2011 and then transferred to Portland State, and finished with a 7.5 sack senior season.
At 6'4" and with 33" arms, he plays with length and has the bend to get around pass protection. He's explosive and can move extremely well in space, sifting through traffic on backside pursuit or rushing from further out wide. With a 1.74 second 10-yard split (4.98 40-yard dash) and a 109 inch broad jump, Jackson has the leg strength to drive offensive linemen back if need be. Jackson has a good pad level at times, but is very inconsistent. Unfortunately, his time at Portland State saw a small regression in that consistency over his time at Texas Southern.
He has good balance and plays with control, and uses this balance to get around the edge, which allows him to finish with his long arms and make the play. Along with that come solid fundamentals with his hands. He punches out well, and can change his technique while rushing.
He needs to resolve concerns about his inconsistent pad level, but will mostly have to prove he can play against high-level competition. He doesn't have great change-of-direction skills despite his flexibility and burst, and needs to shore up his anticipation skills in the run game, as he can be exploited on the open field. He also needs to add a little bulk if he wants to be a defensive end. To me, Jackson was talented enough to be drafted, but probably doesn't have space on this team.
Duron Carter, WR Florida Atlantic
It is extremely difficult to get a read on Carter, as he has only played serious snaps at the Juco level, with only 13 receptions his freshman year at Ohio State. He transferred from Ohio State to Coffeyville Community College to Alabama, where he didn't play a down due to eligibility issues. Then he transferred to Florida Atlantic, where he still didn't play a down.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Carter certainly has the physique of a high-level NFL player, but with a 4.58 40-yard dash and a disappointing 33 inch vertical, he clearly has to rely on more than just physical skills. A 124 inch broad jump and 6.9 second 3-cone both speak very well for him, but he needs to have a little more agility on the field if he wants to make the moves he has been making at Coffeyville.
From what little I've seen, Carter is a surprisingly polished route runner who knows how to sink his hips and hit his landmarks. He's slightly inconsistent as a hands-catcher, but will generally extend and catch the ball away from his body. He could secure it a bit better, but still is more accomplished here than most players who have spent most of their career as a junior college player.
His on-field speed is nothing too impressive, but it is by no means a liability. He's always looking to add yards after the catch and is ready to make the first move on defenders. I don't think he has the ability to do this consistently at the next level as he looks a little slow coming out of his cuts, but he has good vision and consistently works forward.
There are a lot of technical things to work on, and it'll take time for him to get on the field if he proves he deserves a shot, but it's interesting to see how far along in his development he seems. Nevertheless, I don't really see him making the roster. He left quite a few plays on the field, and there are some pretty legitimate concerns about his ability to learn from a playbook, given his public difficulty with grades. Cris Carter says he has a high IQ, but just "didn't like school." I can sympathize with that, but a high IQ won't help him learn the playbook without hard, boring work.
Given that he doesn't have all-world athleticism, I could see a team not having much patience with him. Nevertheless, I'll be cheering for him.
Oh, and he has some pretty impressive sideline catches.
Garth Heikkinen, OG University of Minnesota-Duluth
One of the more highly-touted Division II prospects, Heikkinen fell far in the post-season evaluation process, showing poorly in the East-West game. His film at UMD is nothing but impressive, but compared to players at a higher level leaves a lot wanting.
Heikkinen earned an automatic invite to the East-West game as the Gene Upshaw Award, given to the top lineman in Division II, but he likely would have earned that invite anyway. He has the weight to do well and the instincts that an offensive lineman needs, but perhaps not the physical ability.
The biggest thing that stood out was his lack of agility and quickness. His footwork was sluggish and it looks like speed rushers will get the best of him consistently. He couldn't move laterally to anticipate defenders and should be vulnerable to countermoves.
Despite being the shortest lineman at the game, he did have the length to compete, just not the physical capability. His pro day time of 5.32 was slower than what you'd like to see in terms of baseline athleticism, and his 1.85 10-yard split is also disappointing. With 19 reps and a slow 3-cone drill (8.08 seconds), I'd be wary of putting him on a roster unless he showed strong technical capability, which I think is lacking.
He's been characterized as a waist-bender who often overextends and doesn't square up when he approaches his defenders. He's better as one-on-one blocker and can dominate over some linemen, but wasn't consistently powerful. Beating out Anthony McCloud and Joe Vellano but not much else, Heikkinen didn't prove he belonged as an NFL player. He does know what he needs to do, but can't really do much of it.
Bradley Randle, RB UNLV
Best characterized as a "speed back," Randle comes in a little smaller at 189 pounds and 5'7". Unfortunately, with that sort of weight, he needs to have game-breaking speed. With a 4.47 40, he's hardly going to make defenders miss with straight-line speed.
My favorite thing about how Randle plays is how he always seeks yardage. Even when making cuts or evading defenders laterally he finds ways of moving downhill and is always getting extra yards. Still, he should find ways to make defenders pay for aggressive tackling angles and I don't know if he has the ability to play in zone schemes and take cutback opportunities.
As a blocker, Randle reads blitzes well enough and worked with Nevada's unique protection scheme to help enable the passing game. Sometimes, Randle chooses to go too low and enables better athletes the leeway they need to make the play, but is otherwise sound.
Randle doesn't have that much power to break tackles, but will always lower his pads and fall forward when approaching defenders who are squared up. He's decisive about choosing his seam and won't bounce it outside nearly as often as you'd expect a faster back to do, although it's still a problem. Running backs tend to be cheap and easy to find, but Randle might be a small cut above because of it.
There's not a lot of film out there of him going through smaller holes, and that's a problem. I don't know how he reacts to heavy contact or difficult seams, but he seems like the kind of player who sticks it. He won't move a pile, but he could be a nice change of pace option. His smooth running style makes him look slower than he is, so he's relatively deceptive in his running. Nevertheless, he is still not as quick as you want from a speedy running back. He's very boom-bust, which is frustrating to have as a third down option.
His hands aren't spectacular, but neither are they a liability. He only had 8 receptions in his final year at UNLV, but also didn't release into too many pass patterns. I wouldn't count him as a multicapable threat until he shows more than an ability to produce on screen or wheel routes.
As the backup to a running back that didn't get drafted either, Randle is clearly a longshot. I don't think he makes a roster despite the fact that he is probably better than most practice squad running backs. It is not a markedly great bar to compare oneself to, but that is where he seems to fall. Not a fast speed back with one great quality and not a lot of other assets.
Many of you are fans of the specific teams these players hail from, so you will have more insightful comments than I will. Please contribute what you know!
For the most part, it's a good UDFA class. Last year, the UDFA rookie pickups weren't as impressive, and I'm confident some of this had to do with the fact that the Vikings made the playoffs and were a more attractive team to sign to. At the same time, the Vikings do have some serious holes that give a potential UDFA a lot of hope to make a roster. I also think the strength and depth of the wide receiver class pushed some quality receivers down the board and made for some juicy undrafted free agent pickups.
That leads to the following stupidly early and ridiculously bold projections (5 UDFAs make the roster, including an additional fullback):
QB: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Robbie Rouse
FB: Jerome Felton, Zach Line
TE: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison
SE: Jerome Simpson, Greg Childs, Erik Highsmith
FL: Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright
LT: Matt Kalil
LG: Charlie Johnson, Mark Jackson
C: John Sullivan, Jeff Baca
RG: Brandon Fusco
RT: Phil Loadholt, DeMarcus Love
RDE: Jared Allen, Everson Griffen
DT: Kevin Williams, Shariff Floyd, Everett Dawkins
NT: Letroy Guion, Fred Evans
LDE: Brian Robison, Lawrence Jackson
SLB: Chad Greenway, Larry Dean
MLB: Mike Mauti, Audie Cole
WLB: Erin Henderson, Gerald Hodges
FS: Harrison Smith, Brandan Bishop
SS: Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond
LCB: Xavier Rhodes, Josh Robinson, Jacob Lacey
RCB: Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, Brandon Burton
K: Blair Walsh
P: Jeff Locke
LS: Cullen Loeffler
KR: Cordarrelle Patterson
PR: Cordarrelle Patterson
PS: James Vandenberg, QB
PS: Nicholas Edwards, WR
PS: Nathan Williams, LB/DE
PS: Travis Bond, OG
PS: Michael Carter, CB
PS: Andrew Sendejo, S
PS: Kevin Murphy, OT/G
PS: Anthony McCloud, DT
Picked up by other teams
PS: Rodney Smith, WR
PS: Darius Eubanks, LB/S
PS: Colin Anderson, TE
PS: Bobby Felder, CB
PS: Marquise Jackson, DE/DT
Roster: Christian Ballard, DT/DE
Roster: Joe Webb, QB/WR/KR
Roster: D'Aundre Reed, DE
Roster: Robert Blanton, S
Roster: Joe Berger, OG