Minnesota Vikings: Complete 2014 NFL Draft Wrap-Up and Analysis
The Minnesota Vikings exited the 2014 NFL draft to high praise for the way they used their 10 draft picks, a few of which were accumulated through draft-day trades. It was an important draft with the Vikings overhauling their coaching staff and needing a new, young quarterback for the future.
Minnesota added a new quarterback into the fold. They also infused the defense with youth through a majority of their picks. Competition seems to be the focus for the new staff and head coach Mike Zimmer. The new additions confirm the idea that no spot on the roster is safe and the best players will play.
The Vikings' overall haul of draftees has been met with wide praise. They drafted a mixture of pro-ready talents and prospects with untapped potential. Let's put Minnesota's rookie class under the magnifying glass.
Round 1, Pick 9: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Round 1, Pick 32: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
Round 3, Pick 72: Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
Round 3, Pick 96: Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
Round 5, Pick 145: David Yankey, OG, Stanford
Round 6, Pick 182: Antone Exum, S, Virginia Tech
Round 6, Pick 184: Kendall James, CB, Maine
Round 7, Pick 220: Shamar Stephen, DT, Connecticut
Round 7, Pick 223: Brandon Watts, OLB, Georgia Tech
Round 7, Pick 225: Jabari Price, CB, North Carolina
At any future point in time, the analysis of the 2014 class will revolve around the quarterback selection. For a general manager, to take a quarterback in the first round is to tie your job security to said player. Rick Spielman has done this once before and come up on the wrong side. If he's wrong this time, the Vikings will have both a new quarterback and new GM within a few years.
Teddy Bridgewater has the polish to compete with Matt Cassel for the starting spot. He is also not a finished product, so fans should not expect him to plateau just yet. Bridgewater was worth what the Vikings paid to get him and should become their long-term starter.
Though the needs of the Vikings were considered most glaring in the secondary, their first two defensive picks addressed the front seven. Minnesota went to the Pac-12 Conference and found two prospects who can make a difference on the edge.
Both Anthony Barr and Scott Crichton are selections that speak to the change in defensive philosophy. First, Mike Zimmer's defense will feature more blitz packages and more variety than the previous system. Second, rotations will be rampant on the defensive line. The need for quality depth increases. Barr and Crichton will both see a high number of snaps as rookies.
To some surprise, Minnesota drafted a pair of offensive prospects with their subsequent picks. The philosophy to the selections was vastly different, which is related to their positions to some degree.
Jerick McKinnon has the profile of an uncommon athlete who has a massive transition when it comes to his position in the NFL. He was primarily a quarterback in a triple-option offense in college, so that athleticism is what Minnesota is banking on. David Yankey goes the opposite direction. He played in a pro-style offense in college and showed functional skills, but is a limited athlete in every sense.
Minnesota infused the defensive depth chart with youth from there on out. Exum, James and Stephen stand out as guys who have the best chance to make the team and eventually contribute. The large number of defensive backs now in the fold has competition written all over it. Watts and Price will have tougher battles toward making the final roster. If they have enough quality to push the play of their teammates in the right direction, their selections will still be worthwhile.
Best Pick: Teddy Bridgewater
Minnesota made its splash on the 2014 NFL draft by trading into the first round at the final pick on Thursday night. Even though they had already made a selection, this one would prove to be their most important and best.
Teddy Bridgewater was torn apart as a prospect between his final game and draft day. Anonymous scouts spilled their opinions about every one of his deficiencies. His pro day was truly terrible. Concerns over small hands, a lean frame and even skinny knees were brought up regarding Bridgewater. Though he never missed a collegiate game, his durability was repeatedly questioned.
The biggest problem with the analysis from January to May was that very little of it related to the mental processes of the quarterback position. Not even a pro day provides a glimpse into the most important aspect of the position. That's where Bridgewater thrives.
Bridgewater made steps forward in each of his three seasons as the Cardinals quarterback. By the time his junior season rolled around, he had become one of the most highly polished quarterback prospects. ESPN's Kevin Seifert has an enlightening stat:
Teddy Bridgewater vs. blitz in 2013: 70.1 pct completions, 11 YPA, 15 TD, 1 INT.— Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) May 9, 2014
His footwork, stride, eye level and pocket presence are all that of an NFL starter from the first day on the job. Bridgewater picks out coverages with ease and throws to openings in the defense with proper anticipation. Unlike most quarterback prospects, he operated a pro-style offense and made calls at the line of scrimmage. His overall understanding of the quarterback position should not be understated.
Minnesota's roster is calling out for a quality quarterback. The offense is stocked with talent and the window of dominance for Adrian Peterson will begin to close. As soon as Bridgewater grasps Norv Turner's offense with a full understanding, he should win the starting job. In 2015, Bridgewater's second season in the system, expectations should rise even higher.
Worst Pick: Jerick McKinnon
The first pick Minnesota made that was truly a surprise was selecting Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon at the end of the third round.
My biggest qualm with the selection of McKinnon is that he has a big transition to make. He probably won't contribute much as a rookie even though Minnesota has a big hole behind Adrian Peterson. A pro-ready back with skills for passing-down contributions would ease the transition of a new quarterback as well.
The reason McKinnon has so far to go comes down to what he did in college. He played both quarterback and running back at different times in a triple-option offense. The differences between that scheme and an NFL scheme are numerous. McKinnon will be making entirely different reads as a runner and following different blockers. Skills like patience and vision are developed over time, not just purely instinctive.
The bigger concern is that his pass-catching skills were not able to develop. According to the Washington Post, McKinnon only caught 10 passes during his Georgia Southern career. His responsibilities in pass protection will also be entirely different now. Spelling Adrian Peterson has always meant snaps on passing downs, so McKinnon has a lot to prove. Minnesota needs help there right now.
Beyond the factors that make this a risky pick and one with little immediate value, there's some cause for optimism. McKinnon proved to be one of the best athletes of this year's running back prospects at the combine. Norv Turner will find ways to get McKinnon the ball in space. He should be able to make things happen.
Undrafted Free Agents
The Vikings quickly signed 15 undrafted free agents at the draft's conclusion, with a few big names mixed in.
Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
NFL.com's Chase Goodbread speculated back in February that Richardson could drop due to concerns over his knees. That seems to be the case, because "Tiny" Richardson is too big, physical and athletic to fall out of the draft otherwise.
Kain Colter, WR, Northwestern
One of the Big Ten's most dynamic players in the past few years has signed with Minnesota and will be making a full-time position change to wide receiver.
A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
Leonard has endless athletic potential, but maturity questions likely lead to his draft drop. He walked away from the Florida Gators in 2012 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor battery.
Zac Kerin, C, Toledo
Kerin started three years for the Rockets at center and showed a chippy demeanor at the East-West Shrine Game in January.
Austin Wentworth, OT/OG, Fresno State
A transition is ahead for Wentworth, who played in a quick-hitting spread offense at Fresno State. A shift inside to guard may be imminent.
Donte Foster, WR, Ohio
Foster came on strong as a senior, but doesn't show enough special qualities to be a real factor for a roster spot.
Matt Hall, OT, Belhaven
At a listed 6'10" 325 pounds, Hall may be the most interesting of the undrafted free-agent crop for Minnesota.
Erik Lora, WR, Eastern Illinois
Lora is an undersized receiver who's production went through the roof in 2013 catching passes from Jimmy Garoppolo.
Conor Boffeli, OG, Iowa
Boffeli only started a single season on the Hawkeyes offensive line. He looks like a long shot to make an impact in camp.
Jake Snyder, DE, Virginia
Synder started three seasons for the Cavaliers but never made a significant statistical impact, especially as a pass-rusher.
Dominique Williams, RB, Wagner
After averaging 4.4 yards per carry and scoring only six rushing touchdowns as a senior, it's tough to see Williams as an NFL back.
Isame Faciane, DT, Florida International
Minnesota's defensive line coach Andre Patterson held the same position at FIU in 2013. That gave Faciane the path to a contract.
Pierce Burton, OT, Ole Miss
Burton started two seasons at right tackles for the Rebels after transferring in from San Jose State. Listed at 6'6", 290 pounds, he's of the lean variety.
Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern
Scott ranks sixth all time in sacks at Northwestern with 16. He earned a second consecutive All-Big Ten honor in 2013.
Rakim Cox, DE, Villanova
A lack of even average athleticism could doom Cox in camp. He was a solid contributor for the Wildcats, starting for four seasons.
What's Next for the Vikings?
The biggest storylines as the Vikings continue to work through their offseason will revolve around competitions at a number of key positions. A quarterback battle between Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel, and maybe even Christian Ponder would headline, of course.
Mike Zimmer and his staff will evaluate the pieces they have added in preparation for training camp. As with most teams after an overhauled coaching staff, players will have to earn their starting spots as if they have never had them. That will be a refreshing development in Minnesota.
The offense has the most clarity in terms of playing time as things stand. The offensive line, receiving corps and starting running back are likely to remain unchanged from a season ago.
Zimmer's defense will see more question marks on the speculative depth chart at this stage. Once the new defensive coaches get their hands on the veterans, they will further evaluate their fit into a new defensive scheme. There will be a handful of new starters on the defense. How they come together and operate Mike Zimmer's defensive strategies should get a lot of attention through camps and the preseason.