5 Quarterbacks the Minnesota Vikings Must Target in 2014 NFL Draft
The three-ring circus that has developed at the quarterback position has caused many fans to shake their head and question whether the front office in Minnesota are in on some sick inside joke.
After an 0-3 start to the season led by Christian Ponder behind center, a mysterious rib injury caused the third-year quarterback to be sidelined with backup Matt Cassel taking the reigns, as the team headed to Wembley Stadium in London.
Cassel played a relatively error-free game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a winning effort, seemingly supplanting him ahead of Ponder on the depth chart for the foreseeable future—injury or not.
And if a quarterback battle between two players wasn't enough to increase the drama level in Minnesota, general manager Rick Spielman pulled another surprise from his bag of tricks by signing Josh Freeman prior to the team's Week 6 matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Despite Cassel's positive display in his first start of the season, a 35-10 drubbing by the Panthers paved the way for Freeman to get the nod against the New York Giants the following week on Monday Night Football.
To say that Freeman was unprepared in his opening performance with the Vikings would be an understatement, as the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer went 20-of-53 for 190 yards and one interception. Only one other time in NFL history has a quarterback thrown for fewer than 200 yards with at least 50 attempts and no touchdowns.
However, that complete disaster did not seem to faze head coach Leslie Frazier, as early reports indicated that Freeman would remain the starter heading into Sunday Night against the Green Bay Packers.
Well, that of course was before Freeman reported concussion-like symptoms on Tuesday, leading Frazier to name Ponder back as the likely starter.
If your head is spinning, you're not alone. An appropriate question to ask is where do the Vikings go from here, especially looking ahead to the 2014 season, considering any playoff hopes for this squad are in the rear-view mirror.
Unless something drastically changes for the Vikings this season, the team must look at drafting another quarterback in the upcoming draft. At some point, Spielman needs to admit the errors of his ways and start over at the most important position in football.
These are five signal-callers that could fit very well in Minnesota, something that has been a problem for the Vikings over the past decade.
Prospects were determined by a projected No. 4 draft position, based on current winning percentage.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN, unless otherwise noted.
5. Aaron Murray, Georgia (Round 2)
Although the Minnesota Vikings may have a top-five draft selection come April of the NFL draft, they could choose to address other positions of need with their first overall pick.
We understand mock drafts this early are extremely volatile, but it still demonstrates an approach where Minnesota could choose the best player available in the first round and wait until Round 2 to swipe up a quarterback.
If that's the case, Aaron Murray of Georgia would be an excellent option for the Vikings to consider, a player who has demonstrated accuracy in both short and deep passes.
In 2012, he completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,893 yards, with 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His average yards per pass attempt of 10.1 led all Division 1-A players.
So far this season, the fifth-year senior has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,938 yards, with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions.
Murray has a strong arm and is technically sound when delivering the football, characteristics that would help a rather lackluster passing game for the Vikings.
If general manager Rick Spielman chooses to wait until the second round for a quarterback, Murray should be highlighted on the team's draft board.
4. Derek Carr, Fresno State (Round 2)
Another excellent option for the Minnesota Vikings to consider in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft is Derek Carr of Fresno State. Similar to Aaron Murray, Carr is a redshirt senior with an excellent resume under his belt in the FBS.
Carr has been phenomenal over his career in both accuracy and decision-making, posting a completion percentage this season of 70.4, which ranks ninth among all Division 1-A players. He has 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions, demonstrating remarkable efficiency.
In addition to fantastic numbers, Carr has been a winner this season, helping lead the Bulldogs to a 6-0 start, including gritty wins against Rutgers (52-51 in overtime) and Boise State (41-40).
Based on Carr's performance up to this point, it's possible he continues to climb draft boards and may sneak into the bottom of the first round. But if he's available at a pick in the mid-30s, the Vikings would be wise to pull the trigger on a player who could help transcend the offense.
3. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (Round 1)
Moving into the first round of the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings will have an adequate sample of quarterbacks to choose from, starting with last season's Heisman Trophy winner.
Johnny Manziel has become somewhat of a household name, unfortunately in many ways as much because of his off-the-field antics as his on-the-field success.
The investigation into whether the redshirt sophomore received money for his autograph this past summer overshadowed his upcoming season after winning the highest collegiate honor, the first as a freshman in the award's history.
Although there are concerns around Maziel's maturity and dedication, his talent level cannot be questioned at a position with the greatest impact on a team. He demonstrates pure athleticism with a mobile approach in the pocket, blending a strong arm with escapability.
Nicknamed Johnny Football, Manziel has continued his strong college campaign from last season, ranking in the top five in several key areas. His 73.3 completion percentage is second best among Division 1-A players and his average yards per attempt (10.5) ranks third best.
There's no doubt that the Vikings front office will need to perform its due diligence in researching Manziel, but he presents the type of talent that simply doesn't come around every year. His height will be questioned at 6'1", as well as his pocket presence, but those pale in comparison to Manziel's physical gifts at quarterback.
2. Tajh Boyd, Clemson (Round 1)
Another player the Minnesota Vikings should have on their radar for next season is redshirt senior Tajh Boyd out of Clemson.
At 6'1" and 225 pounds, he will need to ease height concerns similar to Johnny Manziel, but Boyd makes up for a few lost inches with a host of positive attributes.
An area of focus for the Vikings that has been lost with Christian Ponder is a consistent downfield attack. In 2012, Boyd averaged 9.1 yards per attempt, ranking fifth in the FBS. He had long passes of at least 34 yards in 11 of 12 games, including six games over 50 yards.
He has also blended good touch on a deep ball with accuracy in short and intermediate routes, posting a 67.2 completion percentage last season.
Boyd's performance has dipped slightly in 2013, causing some to question whether the standout prospect is still a first-round talent. He put up poor numbers against Florida State, finishing 17-of-37 for 156 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
One game should not tarnish Boyd's candidacy for a top pick in next year's draft and the Vikings will be watching closely how he finishes the remainder of the season. Boyd would provide a similar prospect as Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks in terms of stature, mobility and a durable build.
1. Brett Hundley, UCLA (Round 1)
If the Minnesota Vikings decide to select a quarterback in the first round of next year's draft, Brett Hundley of UCLA would be the best option given their projected draft order.
I anticipate both Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Marcus Mariota of Oregon to be selected prior to the Vikings turn in the draft, as do the guys over at CBSSports.com.
Hundley is your prototypical quarterback at 6'3", 222 pounds, and possesses a very strong arm to pinpoint passes to his receivers, appearing effortless when watching him play. He has a commanding presence in the pocket, but is elusive against defenders with a dual-threat to pass or run.
While posting strong numbers in 2012, Hundley broke out in a performance this season against California. The redshirt sophomore threw for 410 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
The areas for improvement are less pronounced in Hundley than many prospects this season, but he will need to learn how to make quicker reads and anticipate pressure. Given his poise and athleticism, this should not be a steep learning curve when transitioning to the NFL.
For Minnesota, the 2013 season has been a disaster thus far. And while there is still hope for some strong games in the coming weeks, it appears less likely that the future at quarterback resides on the current roster.
Hundley would help change that with a big investment in the first round by general manager Rick Spielman, bringing a blue chip prospect to the Vikings, who are in desperate need of quarterback stability.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.