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Combine Preview: What to Look For When Looking For Vikings (Offense)

What can three years of player acquisition data tell us? Not much, but it gives us the tools to guess. Do the Vikings have positional cutoffs for combine workouts?

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Combine is in progress, and we have the opportunity to see if any players stand out, and which players, if any, meet the Vikings' standards for workouts for their position. While all of the standards below are speculation, some of them draw from a very small pool of eligible players, and the Vikings seemingly have had no problem investing in that pool of players.

We'll look at the last three years of player acquisition in order to determine whether or not the Vikings have workout cutoffs or standards, focusing today on the offense. While each individual position hasn't seen a lot of play, every passing year gives us more opportunity to determine whether or not Minnesota chooses to implement positional standards.

Some teams have well-known positional standards that operate as cutoffs—the Seahawks and the Packers will not invest in shorter corners (the Packers won't take one below 5'11" and the Seahawks won't take one below 6'0")—while others show clear preference for specific drills—New England and the three-cone comes to mind.

For the Vikings, not much has leaked about what they prefer at what position, so we're left to divine (perhaps incorrectly) about what they like based on who they pick.

We know that head coach Mike Zimmer seems to have a preference for taller cornerbacks (at least as rookies... congrats to Captain Munnerlyn for overcoming that) and both he and general manager Rick Spielman have talked about length at the position.

Further, both have mentioned the need for athleticism at defensive end, a preference they keep buying into every season, with players like Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Scott Crichton and Danielle Hunter all in the mix.

Other than that, we're left to guess.

For now, let's see what we know and whether or not it's a hard rule or a soft rule. Without looking at the boards or inside the draft room, we'll never know if our assumptions are correct. We'll play the odds and see who meets the standards the Vikings seemingly impose.

Receiver

It's well-known that the Vikings didn't avail themselves the last two offseasons with receiving weapons and could stand to do so with potentially more serious investment this year. We'll know on March 12th whether or not the Vikings will keep Matt Kalil on his current contract and the answer to that question will give us some clues as to the relative priority that other offensive positions will have.

With starting receiver Mike Wallace scheduled to earn $11.5 million (and costing that much against the cap) and no security for that money, it may be safer to assume that he's likely gone sooner rather than later. While the Vikings can cut him any time before Week 1 without any cap penalties (assuming I know enough about his contract), it behooves them to do it sooner rather than later if they want to be players in free agency. It could be such that they won't do it at the beginning of the league year on March 9th, but will shortly before signing a player worth significant dollars.

The Vikings could potentially make these moves even without cutting Wallace with very little creativity involved, simply by pushing money into the 2017 league year and cutting Wallace after 2016, functionally making him a holding space for the $11.5M he costs against the cap next year.

Either way, the Vikings certainly seem like the kind of team who could grab a receiver or two in the draft and there are a lot of them. While this draft may not turn out as fruitful as the stacked 2014 class (Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, John Brown, Jordan Matthews, Brandin Cooks, Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Benjamin and Donte Moncrief all come to mind), many have remarked on its incredible depth.

That depth means there may be a fair number of receivers who will meet the Vikings' positional requirements. Last year, I predicted a speed requirement and guessed at an explosiveness requirement for receivers. While the speed requirement stayed true in the draft, the assumed explosiveness requirement did not.

It also bugged me that the Vikings invested in undrafted free agents in 2014 that did not really meet a speed requirement, but it may be safe to say they would need either speed or agility, because all of the players who did not run a sub-4.45 40-yard dash (something only 32% of receivers who ran the 40-yard dash achieved) ran a sub-6.90 second three-cone (something 40% of receivers could do).

In fact, Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson are the only players at all to run a three-cone drill slower than 7.00 seconds. Diggs is quick, and ran the fastest short-shuttle time of all the receivers the Vikings have acquired, so it may be the case that the three-cone is a stringent requirement instead of an alternate requirement... especially given the fact that Charles Johnson was acquired because of his connection to Norv Turner and Stefon Diggs had a uniquely insistent advocate in Scott Turner.

For now, we'll implement an either/or approach. The Vikings last year had the fastest or second-fastest receiving corps in the NFL, running an average age-adjusted 4.33-second 40-yard dash among their top four receivers. Speed may be a trademark they're going for.

One could also interpret the results as seeking trump cards, as every receiver has at least one trump card that puts them in the top 30th percentile of their peers in some way.

Players

Test

Percentile

Donte Foster, Tyrone Walker, Charles Johnson, DaVaris Daniels

Vertical Leap

15th

Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson

40-Yard Dash

20th

Jordan Leslie, Donte Foster, DaVaris Daniels, Charles Johnson

Broad Jump

5th

Jordan Leslie, Stefon Diggs

Short Shuttle

20th

Kain Colter, Erik Lora, Gavin Lutman, DaVaris Daniels, Andy Cruse

Three Cone

30th

While "trump card" might be the real answer, I'm going to assume that it's an either/or question for speed or agility because of the prevalence of both traits on the receiving roster. We'll use those cutoffs at the end of the piece.

Offensive Line

I have 17 offensive line transactions logged since the beginning of the Zimmer era, but I think that two of them—Mike Remmers and J'Marcus Webb—don't quite count as they were free agents signed to the team, and therefore "known quantities" in ways that rookies or young practice squad acquisitions are. Further, Michael Harris is hard to place because he was "known" to Norv Turner, and was initially an offensive tackle before moving inside to guard (notably, despite Mike Zimmer's comments about his length impeding the ease of his transition, he has the shortest arms of the tackles on the roster).

For offensive tackles, players who were not "known" to coaches or the front office generally had some pretty long arms (34" or more), though Pierce Burton's 33 ¼" arms are contraindicators. He was a free agent, so this may be a marker of preference more than it is a cutoff. Saying "the Vikings like long arms at tackle" probably doesn't mean anything, as most teams do. Still, it's something to note.

The Vikings may have been after two separate prototypes at tackle, one generally on the right side of the line, weighing 320+ pounds, with at least 34" arms and great scores in the broad jump while the left side may be more about the quick tackles with sub-7.70 second three-cones, sub-4.50 second short shuttles and/or sub-1.90 second 10-yard splits.

This is one of the reasons why I think Clemmings will eventually switch to the left side of the line (or rather, that was the original plan) because he meets the second proposed prototype.

All of this may have changed with the addition of new offensive line coach Tony Sparano

I've noted before that Tony Sparano has a good track record when it comes to OL acquisition and that may inform what the Vikings do. With the Raiders, he worked under new acquisitions Menelik Watson and Gabe Jackson. In other places, he worked with Jake Long, Mike Pouncey, John Jerry, Donald Thomas, Shawn Murphy and Andrew Gardner. I'm excluding the "known quantity" vets at this point.

Every young guard acquisition under Sparano had faster-than-average times in the short shuttle for their position (4.83 seconds) and the Vikings seemed to preference that as well, though two players (Jordan McCray and David Yankey) had slower times than that (Yankey only marginally). Austin Shepherd is the only guard in both the Sparano and Davidson groups to have a broad jump of less than 100 inches—8'4" (the guard average at the combine), and though their original plan for him was guard, he seems to be doing just fine at backup tackle. Let's institute both of these as cutoffs and see how we do.

There were no particular weight or density cutoffs for the Vikings that struck me as significant, and so too with Sparano. There are no arm length requirements, it seems, or bench press requirements. There may be a vertical leap requirement (and notably, Shepherd had a great vertical leap despite having a poor broad jump) but if so, it does not apply to centers. Conor Boffeli would be the only player who would not meet a somewhat stringent vertical leap requirement, at 27 inches.

There do not seem to be dash requirements, at any split.

For tackles, the arm length "requirement" (though, if we're going to call Shepherd a tackle like I did just a few paragraphs ago, I should point out that his arms are "short" at 32 7/8" inches) holds true, though again nothing seems set in stone. Jake Long and Menelik Watson both have 34"+ arms (Long is the subject of odd controversy as CBS lists his arms at 32 7/8" and others, like Ourlads, list them at 35 7/8"—I am assuming the 35"+ model because the CBS scouting report specifically mentions long arms, and the reinforcement of another source).

Just like the guards, the tackles had good broad jump scores, but differing vertical leap scores. There do not seem to be any interesting notes with regards to the short shuttle and three cone scores, which is a little surprising given the conventional wisdom of offensive lineman and the three-cone, and at tackle particularly. If we wanted to add another limiting factor, all the tackles selected were at least 6'5", though because height and arm length are pretty highly correlated, that may not mean much.

If I restrict the tackles to "unknowns" and exclude the Sparano tackles, then one can institute a three-cone cut-off at about 7.80, which is average for a tackle. We'll do that for now, just so we can produce a more cohesive list.

Once more, Michael Harris stands as an outlier to all of these. I think it may simply be safe to say there are no cutoffs for offensive tackles, but there are preferences: broad jump scores, height and arm length. These may be irrelevant with a new OL coach.

The two centers acquired under Spielman and the one under Sparano have little in common. They have variable heights, range from 301-310 pounds, ran slow 40s (but both the Vikings' centers had fast 10-yard splits), and had inconsistent bench press and vertical leap scores. All three did broad jump at least 100 inches/eight-feet, four-inches.

Quarterback

There is no reasonable test for quarterback, though some claim that three-cone scores may be indicative of the kind of foot quickness needed to navigate the pocket. All five quarterbacks in the Zimmer era have quick three cones, but I wouldn't call this definitive enough to mean anything.

Running Back

At running back, it's difficult to tell what the Vikings look for in combine players because four of the five players acquired were so incredibly freakish in so many areas. The other one, Dominique Williams, seemed to be a low-priority free agent, but had a great three-cone (6.72 seconds).

For now, we can just assume they want freaks. The freakiest freak from two drafts ago was Jerick McKinnon. The freakiest freak from the last draft was David Johnson... which... damn, I was really interested in him.

So, to that end, running backs who are dense who run a fast forty, jump high and far, and run quick agility drills are ones the Vikings want. Let's just stick with athleticism score to make it easier instead of saying that running backs must pass all these tests (with an emphasis on three-cone).

Tight End

Same caveats as with the offensive line; a new tight ends coach could mean different cutoffs. In this case, I doubt it if only because Norv Turner has been quite vocal about what he wants in a tight end and that he's much more involved in the passing game (naturally) than in the running game.

Every tight end acquired in the Zimmer era has run faster than the NFL average (4.74 seconds) by some margin (all by at least 0.05 seconds), and naturally have had quick 20-yard and 10-yard splits, though the difference there isn't as stark. All of their bench press scores have been above 15, but that encompasses a wide range of tight ends, so that doesn't seem like a reasonable cutoff.

The vertical leap score has generally been above average but with at least one exception and two others at exactly average, I wouldn't really consider it. The three-cone and short-shuttle scores don't reveal anything.

Cutoffs and Preferences

Here are the cutoffs I've guessed at, with preferences marked by a word instead of a relevant number:

Position

Ht

Wt

Arm Length

40-Yd Dash

20-Yd Split

10-Yd Split

Bench

Vert

Broad

Shuttle

3 Cone

Athlete Score

QB

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Yes

-

WR

6'0"

190

-

4.50

2.57

-

8

-

-

-

7.05

-

HB

-

-

-

4.45

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

70

TE

-

-

-

4.70

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

OT

-

-

Yes

-

-

-

-

-

Yes

-

7.80

Yes

OG

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Yes

Yes

-

7.85

-

OC

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Athlete Score is just a generalized score for how well players did in certain tests relative to their height and weight. It just measures the difference between what is expected for those heights and weights and how far from expectation they are. 70 means in the top 30th percentile, but I suspect the cutoff is in fact higher.

I'm not sure if that height/weight exclusion is real for the Vikings for wide receivers or not, and when we look back at the combine, I won't include them. Same for the 20-yard split. I merely included them because it gives us a slightly better picture of the receivers the Vikings have acquired.

When the combine is over, I'll go over the players at each position who met the positional cutoffs, as well as the players who scored well in the preferred athlete categories.