2014 Vikings draft preview: Quarterbacks
FOX Sports North’s Brian Hall provides complete coverage of the Vikings and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. Today is the second day of his Vikings draft previews. You can find the entire series here.
TODAY’S POSITION: QUARTERBACKS
Importance (1-to-10 scale): 9
On the roster
This position was graded as 3 for need at this point last year and Minnesota returns its top two quarterbacks from last season. But the past year has brought a lot of change for the Vikings. Last year, Christian Ponder was coming off a strong finish to his second season and looking to build in an important third season. Matt Cassel was the veteran signed to backup Ponder and provide insurance against injuries or continued inconsistency by Ponder.
What changed? The third season ultimately proved Ponder was unable to take control of the position long-term and the inconsistencies and injuries continued to plague Ponder. Ponder finished with a 63.6 percent completion rate and 77.6 quarterback rating last season. Cassel took the reins and performed admirably, giving Minnesota a credible, if unspectacular passing attack. Cassel was the only Vikings quarterback to have more touchdowns than interceptions. He had just a 60.2 completion percentage, but he had an 81.6 quarterback rating, more yards per attempt than Ponder and was sacked far less often. In one year, the hope for Ponder is gone and Cassel is the starter for now.
With Ponder’s three-year evaluation window over, the Vikings now turn their attention to the future at the position and will try to find another answer for a franchise quarterback in May’s draft. Cassel will enter the season as the likely starter after re-signing with Minnesota in the offseason. Ponder is the backup before May’s draft takes place.
Last five quarterbacks drafted
Philosophy at the position
Spielman has openly said the team will draft a quarterback. Though he says the next attempt at a franchise quarterback will come in this draft, he publicly says the pick doesn’t need to come when Minnesota is on the clock with the No. 8 overall pick. Spielman said there is depth in the draft and he wouldn’t have a problem dipping into the quarterback position later in the draft. But expect the Vikings to expend a pick within the first two days on a quarterback.
In the past, Minnesota was OK with a caretaker at the position — someone to not make mistakes, make the occasional big play and be a complement to running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson is surely still going to be a big part of the Vikings’ offense under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, but Turner will want to stretch the field as he’s done throughout his coaching career. Minnesota has upgraded its receiving corps with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson in recent years and now needs a quarterback to grow with the offense.
Turner will also be key in the decision-making and development of a new quarterback. Spielman and new coach Mike Zimmer are leaning on Turner for help in evaluating the most important position in the league. Turner’s offense has typically utilized big, strong-armed passers who can throw the ball down the field.
Day 1 name to remember (Round 1)
Derek Carr, senior, Fresno State (6-foot-2, 214 pounds): The "Big Three" of Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles have been at the top since the season ended and each opted to join the draft early. All three are likely to be picked in the first round, but the wild card is Carr, the senior from Fresno State. Carr very well could hear his name called on Day 1 and maybe even leapfrog some of the "Big Three." Carr has been scrutinized nearly as much as Manziel, Bridgewater and Bortles as the highest-ranked senior quarterback. And, of course, there’s the link to Derek’s brother, David Carr, who some can’t get out of their head when looking at Derek. David was the No. 1 overall pick in 2002 and never lived up to the selection, despite an 11-year pro career.
Those failings have been unfairly transferred to Derek by some. But Derek has his own credentials. He might have the strongest arm of any quarterback in the draft and a big Pro Day — in which he was sick in the hospital the previous night — really brought the attention to Carr. The Vikings met extensively with Carr at his Pro Day and reportedly came away impressed with his workout. Carr is athletic and has worked out of different offensive systems, though he’s seen as a shotgun quarterback after working nearly exclusively in the shotgun last year.
Carr threw for 5,083 yards last season in a pass-happy offense and had 50 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He completed 68.9 percent of his passes and started much of his last three seasons with the Bulldogs. The key traits NFL teams will project are Carr’s arm strength and athleticism, and he’s considered a strong leader.
Carr comes across as gregarious and easy-going and is a mature prospect. Carr is already married and has dealt with health issues for his son, who was born with intestinal malrotation and has undergone several surgeries. Carr demonstrates his appreciation and good nature in talking about his son.
Said Carr: "I’ve been getting ready for this since I was 3. I’ve been trained by my dad and my brother. I’ve been watching NFL film since I was 12. I think, from a mental standpoint, just having David is such an advantage, such a resource. He’s done all this. Of course social media wasn’t around when he was doing this, but it’s such an advantage to have him. And my preparation, I’m not 6-6 and I’m not going to run a 4.3, but I will outprepare anybody."
Day 2 name to remember (Rounds 2-3)
Zach Mettenberger, senior, Louisiana State (6-5, 224): Mettenberger fits right in line with Turner’s history with quarterbacks. He’s a big, strong-armed prospect and a prototypical dropback passer. Mettenberger’s movement skills are in question. He doesn’t have the athleticism that many of the other new-age quarterbacks do in this draft.
The biggest concern for Mettenberger, though, is his surgically repaired knee. Mettenberger finished his senior season at LSU with 3,082 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions, becoming just the third Tigers’ player to pass for 3,000 yards and the only LSU quarterback to throw for more than 2,500 yards in back-to-back seasons. But he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the regular-season finale and was held out of the Outback Bowl and wasn’t able to participate in February’s NFL Scouting Combine.
With one of the latest Pro Days, Mettenberger showed NFL teams how far he’s come from surgery, which might have eased concerns. Mettenberger took snaps and moved around at his Pro Day. He was never known as a scrambler anyway and teams should have come away pleased with his progress.
Mettenberger has the size many NFL teams look for and has arm strength, with the ability to make any throw. At LSU, he played in an NFL-style offense under coach Cam Cameron, a former NFL offensive coordinator. As the draft has neared, Mettenberger has reportedly received a lot of interest from NFL teams and is squarely in early second-round consideration.
Mettenberger will have to answer questions about his maturity, as well. He was arrested once and transferred twice during his college career. As far as pure passers, though, Mettenberger can rival anyone in the draft. He had a 64.9 completion percentage as a senior and averaged 10.4 yards per attempt.
Mettenberger says: "In the NFL they’re always going to need guys who can throw the ball. That’s something I do well. It’s something I talked to coach (Cam) Cameron about. The game is changing. There are linemen today running in the 4.8s, freakish time. The game is getting faster. But at the end of the day the QB position needs to be a guy who makes tough decisions, smart decisions, to be pinpoint accurate when its crunch time."
Day 3 name to remember (Rounds 4-7)
Aaron Murray, senior, Georgia (6-1, 207): Murray can’t match Carr’s arm strength, Mettenberger’s size or the athleticism of someone like Manziel, but he’s experienced and well-rounded. Murray and Mettenberger have been linked before; Murray won the competition against Mettenberger to be Georgia’s starting quarterback in 2010 and Mettenberger eventually transferred. Murray started all four years with the Bulldogs. But like Mettenberger, Murray’s senior season was ended by a torn ACL.
Murray is the only Southeastern Conference quarterback in history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in four separate seasons. Murray doesn’t have great size, but he has a quick release which led to a senior season in which he completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Before the knee injury, Murray was considered to have good movement in and out of the pocket, though he’s certainly a pass-first quarterback.
Murray played in a pro-style offense, is seen as an intelligent player and a leader. Murray would have been considered among the Day 1 and Day 2 prospects before his injury. If teams are convinced he will recover with no issues, still have the same mobility to go with a quick, accurate release, Murray could still find his name called among the first several quarterbacks drafted. He is an experienced player with plenty of game film for teams to evaluate and maybe can develop into an starter in the NFL despite likely being selected on Day 3 of May’s draft.
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