Darren Page, DLD Writer
The Vikings are still trying to recover from the depleted roster that the Brad Childress regime left behind. They took a big step forward on the field last season, but are still in the roster and depth building phase. It was always a given that Christian Ponder will get another year, so the objectives of GM Rick Spielman going into the draft were to give Ponder another target to help him reach the next level as well as continuing the youth movement on the defensive side of the ball.
The axing of the final year from Kevin Williams’ contract really put the writing on the wall. He’s not getting any younger and his play has gradually declined over the last few years. The three technique position is of utmost importance in the Vikings defense. Sharrif Floyd is clearly the future up front whether or not Kevin Williams is retained. By all means, this appeared to be a “best player available” selection for the Vikings.
Floyd is actually a bit more of a raw prospect than most pundits would lead you to believe. He struggles with technique and pad level and isn’t the productive pass rusher he should be for such an impressive athlete. Even so, he was a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields at Florida. He has a natural burst off the snap and can split a gap as well as any defensive tackle prospect. His ability to redirect and find the football after getting into the backfield leads to a high number of tackles for loss. He’s also has experience all over the Florida front four, from rush end to one technique. He will likely play a rotational and situational role as a rookie with an eye towards a shift into the starting lineup in 2014.
The Vikings were probably always going to draft a cornerback high to get younger and more stable at the back end. Once Antoine Winfield was cut, it was a virtual certainty. Even though Josh Robinson had an up and down rookie season, his future is bright. He probably will shift to the nickel spot now that Xavier Rhodes has been added to the mix. Rhodes paired with Chris Cook gives the Vikings a pair of big, physical, and athletic corners on the boundary. It may even allow them to vary their coverage more often.
Rhodes fits the mold of the most sought-after cornerbacks in today’s league. He’s all parts big, physical, and explosive. With the combine performance he put up, it was a lock that he would be drafted in the first round. He’s a cornerback with fluid hips, plus instincts, and natural ball skills. His skillset translates to both man and zone schemes for the reasons already listed. He’s also a solid tackler when coming forward, which is icing on the cake. Rhodes has a tendency to get a bit grabby with receivers and attract flags and can get caught being overaggressive from time to time. Now that he’ll play in a base Tampa 2, he’ll be able to utilize that strength against receivers and can be aggressive when it comes to jumping routes.
Rick Spielman pulled the trigger on a spendy trade to move up and pick Patterson at the end of the first round. If the Vikings hadn’t drafted a wide receiver in one of the first two rounds, it would have been a shock. Even though they brought in Greg Jennings in free agency, more help was needed. Patterson may now fill the role of Percy Harvin in Bill Musgrave’s offense. The roll will probably be tweaked a bit though, as they aren’t as similar as most say. The similarity is that both do their best work with the ball in their hands.
Patterson is a risky prospect. There’s no way around that. He only played a single season at Tennessee and is a raw route runner at best. He’s also a bit prone to some concentration drops. His flash plays are what drew people to him though. With the ball in his hands, he’s truly a threat to go the distance every time. He’s an instinctive and patient runner who is almost impossible to get to the ground in 1 v. 1 situations. He also pops as a pure pass catcher with an ability to pluck the ball away from his body and protect it from defensive backs. If he’s able to put it all together, the sky is the limit. He has a long way to go though.
Mike linebacker Jasper Brinkley left in free agency and was never the answer anyways. Most expected the Vikings to draft his replacement in the draft. Instead, they waited until the fourth round and took an outside linebacker in Gerald Hodges. That probably means they plan on bumping Erin Henderson to the middle and it’s very likely Hodges could start as a rookie at the Will linebacker spot.
Hodges is a versatile linebacker who made an impact in a variety of ways for the Penn State defense. He’s an adequate athlete and has nimble footwork for pass coverage. He’s a productive and consistent tackler who also brings value as a blitzer. Hodges is a rangy linebacker who thrives chasing down plays. He’s not yet as strong as the Vikings will probably need him to be. Another concern is that he shows spotty instincts when reading and reacting to what he sees in front of him. He’s far more comfortable playing in space and coming forward or chasing laterally than he is weeding through traffic in the box.
Chris Kluwe had a down year last season and there have been grumblings that the coaching staff is not happy with his outspoken nature off the field. While his statistics aren’t overly egregious, over the last two years he’s had too many shanked punts. He hasn’t been a consistent enough punter and the Vikings obviously feel they can make a big upgrade to spend a fifth round pick on a punter.
By all accounts, Jeff Locke is a game-changing punter who can really boom the ball. Some say he’s a better prospect than third round pick Bryan Anger was last year. Time will tell. Either way, I expect the Vikings will cut Chris Kluwe sooner or later.
Geoff Schwartz skipped town in free agency, so depth up front was a concern regardless of whether or not the coaching staff views Baca as competition for either guard spot (which seems unlikely). Both Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco have their starting jobs under wraps for the meantime, but neither is by any means a long-term answer unless improvement is shown soon.
Baca put up on the more impressive combine performances for offensive guards, showing off quick feet in the agility drills. He thrives pulling out around the corner with his foot quickness. He also keeps his head on a swivel and is a leverage-aware blocker. Baca has a wide base and a strong anchor for pass protection as well. He’s not an overpowering run blocker by any stretch of the imagination and gets flagged far too often. If able to clean up some deficiencies in his game, he’ll provide solid depth with an eye toward a starting role in the future.
The Vikings deepened their ranks at linebacker with a second Penn State linebacker. In the seventh round, Mauti is a low-risk yet high reward prospect. It was imperative for whichever team drafted him that he got the okay medically. If healthy, he bottoms out as a special teams ace and as good a locker room guy as you’ll find.
Mauti is a fearless linebacker who plays with a high energy level and is an emotional leader on the field. He has disciplined eyes when reading between the tackles and is a smart player. He doesn’t have exceptional size, strength, or speed, but makes up for it to a degree with the way he plays the game. The biggest question mark is his durability though. He’s had multiple major knee surgeries and simply hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy long-term. If that were the case, we’d probably be looking at a second day pick.
Travis Bond is a massive lineman with a wide base and daunting wingspan. He plays with a bit of a mean streak and creates movement up front as a run blocker. He probably translates best to the guard position. He’s not a skilled mover though, playing a bit heavy-footed. His technique is underdeveloped at this point. He really lunges into blocks and always seems to be going for the knockout blow. Even so, he has the natural strength and playing style coaches like to take a chance on late in the draft.
Everett Dawkins seems a surprising pick for the Vikings, even as a seventh rounder. The defensive tackle group on the roster is deep as is, even though it’s starting to age. Dawkins may be a player they try to stash on the practice squad for a season before he gets a shot to crack the rotation. Dawkins made his biggest impact in pass rush situations for the Florida State defense. He struggles to stack and shed against the run and doesn’t have impressive functional strength. He was productive because of a quick first step and consistently low pad level, which are both quality traits at the next level. He’s a depth pick who probably won’t make the roster as a rookie.