Beyond Mocks: Understanding The Vikings Role-specific Team Draft Board

"2017 is the cloudiest draft I have ever seen" according to Mike Mayock - "it's going to be a more needs-based draft, with more teams looking to trade down into the 2nd and 3rd round".

Add to that a complete systemic overhaul of the Vikings offense, including a change in OC, and in the relationship between head coach and OC, and the picture gets even murkier for Vikings fans.

"It is a role-specific league now, in the draft" says Brian Billick, "...we need a defensive end - do we need an edge-rusher, a point-of-attack-guy, a hybrid guy... tight end - a point-of-attack guy, or a move guy... safety - box, or back-end guy or slot? We keep narrowing it down, and it's tough to get a guy who can do all of those things."

The Vikings under HC Mike Zimmer are a systems-based organization. Not a surprise, as he is renowned as the inventor of one of the most sophisticated and successful defensive systems in the NFL - a system that is oft copied in a copy-cat league.

And a systems-understanding of Vikings role-specific needs has proved an uncanny predictor of Vikings draft choices in recent years, a perspective that was predictive of Trae Waynes, Danielle Hunter, TJ Clemmings, MyCole Pruitt, and Laquon Treadwell.

But with a new and more secretive offensive system in the works (and its debut commanding a higher priority in draft selection, with more open roster spots to fill), at best we see through a lens darkly in 2017 as to the schematic requirements of this draft.

Though the official statements from the Vikings organization suggest that Shurmur is the sole architect of the new Vikings offense to debut in 2017, it is no secret that Coach Zimmer will have a much more hands-on approach than he had with outgoing OC Norv Turner's system, including in the inception of this new Vikings offensive system. It is my further opinion that Zimmer will even act as chief innovator, with Shurmur acting as a grounding influence, keeping ideas practical and implementable. Shurmur does not have the track record of innovation that Zimmer does, nor does offenses he has implemented in the past represent a great stride forward in the kind of complementary football that would best take advantage of Zimmer's defenses.

With no first round pick, some of the obvious offensive weapons that could help the new Zimmer/Shurmur offensive system prove out, the ones that, as Billick says "can do it all" out of reach, the selections must rely more than ever on role-specific choices.

So what does role-specific drafting look like for the 2017 Vikings?

Two "positions of need" for the Vikes going into the 2017 draft are Guard and Wide Receiver.

But what kind of guard? Run blocking, Pass pro, Zone, Power - does your scheme call more for speed or strength or size?

What kind of WR? deep threat? possession? red-zone? route-runner, or YAC guy?

Further, it is important to understand another profound difference between the specific-roles for the two position groups: Offensive Line requires integrative talent, whereas the WR group requires differential talent.

In other words, an OLine is only as strong as its weakest link, and needs to be more or less on the same page, and function as a group. It doesn't make really make sense to have 3 power and 2 zone blocking specialists as starters. (Teams experimented with left-side pass-pro and right-side run-blocking for some years, but as defenses have become more symmetrical, so have offensive lines.)

The WR position group stands in stark relief, in that the group best complements with specialization: having a deep threat that stretches the field vertically, a possession (large catch radius) receiver to move the chains over the middle, and a YAC specialist working the flats and occasional slant or double-cross route can help to create favorable matchups.

In all of this, there is good news for the Vikings in 2017, according to Billick: "With role specific drafting ... that's where the 2nd and 3rd round can be very productive, as the ones that can do it all go in the top 15 [overall]."

Here's a look at what that might look like in terms of a role-specific Vikings Team Board, from composite DN sources:


Selecting from a plethora of submissions of draft prospects from the DN's top draft experts, and filtering from a role-specific perspective, among those in the mid-to later rounds that can't "do it all", and who have the missing role-specific skill sets that the Vikings new system puts most in demand.

For example, given that we generally want our OLs to be more alike than dissimilar in skill set, and our WRs to be more dissimilar than alike, what is the general profile of the OLine that is being put together?

(Knowing also that the offense being designed is a run-first, ball-control, TOP-optimized complementary football offense.)

Answer: Competent (not excellent) at pass pro, but better than average run-blocking in a power scheme, able to drive defenders off of the point of attack.

Value picks that are likely to fall into the Vikings draft range that meet these criteria are:

Taylor Moton, Dion Dawkins, Pat Elflein, Dorian Johnson, and Zach Banner.

Lamp is probably the best overall guard in the draft, but is better at pass pro and outside running game in a zone scheme, and not likely to fall to the Vikings 48th pick either - trading up for a less than ideal fit is not particularly cost-effective.

Similarly, Feeney and Pocic are technique-driven, zone-blocking, lacking strength at point of attack, etc. Not good schematic fits for the Vikings run-first offense.

A second example:

Thielen and Diggs comprise a solid WR core, but both are generally classic general purpose receivers. Though both can threaten deep (I knew that Thielen had wheels, but until last season, man, who knew he had that wicked double move?). Though both can threaten deep, there is no true deep-threat receiver on board. With the promise of Cordarrelle Patterson departing unfulfilled, the position group is also lacking a YAC man.

Curtis Samuel could be a step-in replacement in that respect, as potentially Carlos Henderson. With John Ross and Corey Davis unlikely to fall low enough for Spielman to consider trading up to acquire, the only potential deep threats I could find are lower value-picks that may or may not be in a position to contribute as rookies: Taywan Taylor and KD Cannon. Godwin, Westbrook and many other names that would fit a more simplistic BPA WR concept do not fit role-specific needs of the Vikings WR position group, IMO. Even Taylor's skill set doesn't neccesarily differentiate (positively) from Diggs, for example, but at least "could line up" in reasonable 4 WR sets, or cover for inevitable minor injuries to group.

These kinds of questions arise for each position group on offense and defense. Since Zimmer's defense is more stable, the schematic needs are better known, including what the potential role-specific success parameters may be.

Consider "tweeners": We haven't seen much of an ability to successfully utilize this kind of talent offensively in Zimmer's time as head coach, but defensively, he has been masterful at making the best of this kind of talent.

Acquired in free-agency to fill an immediate need for 3-technique DT, Datone Jones should prove a good example of good tweener use, as his prior experience and skills in outside rushing and falling back into coverage can greatly augment Zimmer's famed audible transitions from 4-3 to 3-4 to WTF-is-going-on 7-0 formations, confounding opponents attempts to create favorable match-ups for their weapons, while at the same time creating favorable match-ups for his pass rush.

I guess you could say that "tweeners" have multiple specific roles - they can't necessarily "do it all", as you might expect from "high value" picks, but they can do more than one thing in potentially effective combination - just not the accompaniment of skills that are normally demanded by conventional roles. Because they require special attention to take advantage of their unique combination of skills, demand for them can sometimes be greatly reduced, and the value proposition for those coaches that know how to use them to advantage can soar.

Examples of value-picks that may shine in this regard in the 2017 draft are Hardy Nickerson, Elijah Lee, and maybe Corn Elder.


After Thoughts

("All thought is after thought" - Hannah Arendt)

On the topic of the balancing of immediate need vs. long-term needs during the draft, Billick had this to say: "[I focus on] what keeps my job. It's great to say 'the long perspective', but, I want to know I can line up on my opener. 'Long term needs' means the end of the season, because they may run my ass out of town. During the draft, on the one side is your team's board, on the other side is your roster - so you're balancing that all the time."

The above board attempts to strike this balance as well.

This FanPost was created by a registered user of The Daily Norseman, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the staff of the site. However, since this is a community, that view is no less important.