Brian Hall’s May 13 Vikings mailbag
Free agency has all but finished. The NFL Draft is in the books and the Minnesota Vikings have added 10 draft picks along with 15 undrafted rookies.
Most of the offseason decision-making is complete for Minnesota and general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer.
With that in mind, we wanted to answer a few of the questions from our readers, with the draft still on the top of everyone’s minds. Here goes:
Question: Can Teddy Bridgewater step in and start in the Vikings offense? — John R.
Answer: I don’t think you will see Bridgewater step in right away and start for Minnesota. This has been the plan all along. The Vikings re-signed Matt Cassel so a rookie isn’t forced in. Cassel should be the starter when Minnesota opens the season. Cassel is the perfect veteran complement to Bridgewater and someone who will be willing to work with a young quarterback and help him prepare for the NFL. Cassel has been around the block. He handles the situation like a professional. I’m sure he will want to extended his time as much as possible, but he likely knew the inevitable when he signed back with the Vikings.
And for Minnesota’s part, they shouldn’t feel rushed into starting Bridgewater right away. If the best thing for his development is to sit and learn, that’s what should be done. I’d argue that even if Bridgewater looks better than Cassel or Ponder, and it’s still good for his development, he should be sit, watch and learn. His development should be the first priority and he shouldn’t play until he’s ready, regardless of the other quarterbacks on the roster.
Now, Bridgewater is a smart player who excelled in a pro-style offense at Louisville, so his learning curve isn’t likely to be steep. But with the importance of finding the right quarterback and the investment in Bridgewater, Minnesota should do everything it can to help him succeed long-term, not as a rookie.
Q: Will Antone Exum be a safety or a corner? Do you think he will make the team and if so, do you think his injuries will be an issue down the road? — Danny
A: Spielman came out after the draft and said Exum will be used as a safety, where he spent the first two years at Virginia Tech. He spent the past two seasons at cornerback, which intrigued the Vikings because they are looking for a cornerback with some coverage skills to play alongside Harrison Smith. It would be a surprise to see Exum start as a rookie, but I do think he makes the team and has a role on special teams as a rookie.
The fact he had two injuries cut short last season is a concern. But the two injuries weren’t connected and can’t be seen as chronic issues, yet. He said he is fully healthy now and he’s been checked out by Minnesota’s doctors. So, there is no reason to believe the injuries will be an ongoing problem.
Exum should carve out a role, but likely won’t be able to vault over Jamarca Sanford or Robert Blanton at safety as a rookie. Blanton, too, has those coverage skills from his time as a cornerback in college. Zimmer is looking for a safety to start next to Smith, a budding star at the position. According to Spielman, he wants someone who can cover. Curiously, Blanton was working next to Smith, his college teammate, during the portion of the Vikings’ minicamp open to reporters. Blanton might have an edge even on Sanford, the starter much of the past two seasons.
Sanford is still a quality player, but is one who thrives more in run support and making the big hit. Maybe he sees his role reduced in favor of coverage-type players like Blanton and Exum. Exum’s selection might mean the end of Mistral Raymond with Minnesota.
Q: Why did David Yankey fall so far? Many people saw him as a second round choice, not a fifth rounder — Mike
A: Yankey’s situation simply seems to be an overreaction by draft analysts early in the process. Entering the evaluation period, Yankey was seen as one of the top guards in the entire draft. But as the process went on, you could see he was discussed less and less. In reality, it might have been the media and draftniks catching up to NFL perception.
I asked Yankey about the slide and where he expected to be drafted. He said he was prepared to go later than many were projecting. So, he was hearing from NFL teams about what his expectations were. That said, I feel getting Yankey was a solid pick in the fifth round and someone who can potentially develop for the Vikings.
Q: How else can Norv Turner utilize Jerick McKinnon? I keep hearing that he doesn’t really fit at any position or that he can play at any position, which is it? — Luke
A: McKinnon was definitely an interesting pick. He has experience playing a lot of places; quarterback in a mostly running system, running back and even defensive back. But he’ll concentrate on being a running back with Minnesota.
Turner will surely find ways to utilize McKinnon, who seemed to be a selection to fit a certain need for the Vikings. McKinnon likely can’t be seen as a backup to Adrian Peterson or eventual replacement. His size (5-foot-9, 208 pounds) likely isn’t suited for being an every-down back. Instead, look for McKinnon to fill specific roles, such as a pass-catching back.
When Toby Gerhart signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota had to find a replacement behind Peterson. Matt Asiata, a bigger back, flashed at the end of last season and would likely take up any early down role for Peterson, if needed. McKinnon can likely take Gerhart’s spot on third downs as a speedy, dangerous pass catcher.
McKinnon didn’t catch many passes in Georgia Southern’s run-heavy offense, but the Vikings are convinced he has the ability. Spielman likened McKinnon to other backs Turner has used in the past as open-field threats catching the ball like Washington’s Brian Mitchell and San Diego’s Darren Sproles.
Q: For the past three years, I’ve gotten praise for how aggressive I am with the draft. Does another year of moving up to the first round mean anything about my job status? — Rick Spielman
A: Come on Rick, we all know your job status is dependent on the success of Bridgewater. The quarterback will make or break this draft for Minnesota and Spielman, who got another chance to draft another franchise quarterback after the failure of Christian Ponder. While the constant moving around for Spielman doesn’t necessarily mean anything regarding his job status, he has added a lot of talent to the core of this team over the past few years.
Getting seven first-round picks in a three-year span is really something. We still have to see how all those picks develop, but Spieman has certainly put a lot of perceived talent on the team for new coach Mike Zimmer. Just in the first round of the past three drafts, Spielman has addressed several key spots. He’s added a potential franchise quarterback, a cornerstone left tackle, a promising playmaking safety, a big defensive tackles, potential shutdown cornerback, elite kick returner and developing receiver and a pass-rushing linebacker.
The moves themselves don’t equate to job security for Spielman, but added to the foundation of the team in several important areas gives Minnesota a chance for success, which is how Spielman will ultimately be judged.
Q: What did you see out of Mike Zimmer’s first draft with the team? How much influence do you think he had over Rick Spielman when it came to decision making? — Brian F.; St. Louis Park
A: I believe Zimmer had plenty of influence in his first draft with the Vikings. However, it was still Spielman calling the shots. Zimmer likely had input on the selection of Anthony Barr at No. 9 overall. He sees Barr as a good fit with room to grow as a pass-rushing linebacker in Zimmer’s 4-3 defensive system.
But you can see that it was still Spielman and his scouts leading the way by what Spielman said after the draft. Spielman admitted Zimmer began to worry as Spielman traded back several times on Day 3 of the draft. Spielman said Zimmer was worried as he saw defensive backs going off the board and Spielman simply assured Zimmer everything would be OK and Minnesota would bring in defensive backs for Zimmer to develop.
There was also the pick of Bridgewater. From what I’ve been able to gather and from what has been reported elsewhere, the Vikings wanted to draft Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In the end, they couldn’t meet the price given up by the Cleveland Browns to move up to No. 22 and pick Manziel. While fans were outraged about the swing and miss, Spielman recovered and later traded up for Bridgewater. With the two quarterbacks being considered close in value, Spielman couldn’t part with the extra picks that would have been needed to secure Manziel.
So, there was a good partnership in the Vikings’ first draft. Zimmer played a big part, which can be seen in the heavy lean to addressing defensive needs and giving him more pieces to run his more aggressive style of defense. But in the end, Spielman was the one calling the shots.
Q: Who is the sleeper in this year’s draft class? — Duncan Marden; Hugo, MN
A: McKinnon certainly fits the "sleeper" status as someone who wasn’t very well known heading into the draft. But for my sleeper, I lean Yankey. I envision Yankey eventually taking over as a starting guard for Minnesota, possibly next season. After Barr and Bridgewater, I’m not sure if the Vikings ended up with any starters out of this draft, although defensive Scott Crichton (third round) certainly has the chance to develop into a starter.
Crichton was a value pick for Minnesota, but he’s behind Brian Robison — Crichton is considered a Robison clone — and Everson Griffen at defensive end. Robison and Griffen are signed through the 2017 season.
So, I’ll go Yankey, who could eventually become the Vikings’ starter at left guard for Charlie Johnson. Yankey is a mauler in the running game and is a big body. He needs work, but he’ll have the chance to do develop with Minnesota offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. In the end, Yankey could be another late-round find for Spielman and the Vikings starting guards could be Yankey (a fifth-round pick) and Brandon Fusco (a sixth-round selection).
Q: Do you agree with Spielman’s strategy to constantly be trading/moving picks around? — Morgan Gallows; St. Cloud
A: Well, it’s not a matter of whether I agree with it or not. The strategy could be good or bad, depending on your point of view and whether the draft is yielding talent for the team. I think it’s a positive that Spielman is open to any possibility in the draft and is aggressive in trying to go get the players Minnesota wants and believes will make a difference.
Ultimately, what matters is bringing in the best players possible. Spielman’s track record — aside from quarterback — is strong. He has worked to reconstruct what was an aging roster and has focused on coming out of each draft with 10 new players. The strategy, one hopes, is finding talent but also adding competition. So, I think it’s a good thing for Spielman to aggressively address team needs and add more competition.
Q: The NFC North is dominated by QB play, do you eventually see Teddy Bridgewater stepping up and competing with the Rodgers/Cutler/Stafford group of elite arms? — Bev Anderson; Plymouth, MN
A: Sure. I don’t think we can rule anything out, at this point. With that said, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and would be a high ceiling for Bridgewater to reach. But Cutler and Stafford are strong-armed gamblers who lack consistency. Bridgewater, if he reaches his potential, can certainly be on the same level as the Staffords and Cutlers of the NFL.
Bridgewater doesn’t have the big arm that Stafford or Cutler have. But he’s also shown in college he won’t make mistakes. He completed 70.96 percent of his passes last season and 68.39 percent for his career. He threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions last season and had a 72 to 24 mark during his three seasons as Louisville’s starter. He has good athleticism, even if he’s not a true running quarterback. He is smart, accurate and can sense pressure and knows when to avoid trouble.
In reality, his college career is the opposite of what ultimately doomed Ponder. Ponder wasn’t consistent, too often let the pass rush bother him and made too many turnovers. Bridgewater ultimately can be an upper-echelon quarterback in the NFL with the right development, and he has the chance to work with Turner, who has helped many quarterbacks in his career.
Q: Did we reach for Barr in the first round? I’d like to trust Zimmer and what he sees in him athletically but I feel like we could have traded down again and still picked him up later in the first-round. — Andrew H; Woodbury
A: If Barr turns into a 15-sack linebacker, is anyone going to worry about where he was drafted? Honestly, I don’t worry about where a player is drafted as long as the reach isn’t egregious (maybe a full round or two difference). Barr was going to be a first-round pick, and Spielman is likely correct in his assumption that Barr wasn’t going to last much longer than No. 9.
Realistically, it’s possible Barr would have been under consideration for the Titans at No. 11 and especially the Steelers at No. 15 and the Cowboys at No. 16. I did hear the concern that the pick was "too early." But if you believe in the player and are fearful of losing him, what’s wrong with selecting when possible? Maybe Minnesota didn’t have a chance to trade back again.
No one will remember where Barr was selected a few years from now if he’s a quality player. No one will worry if it was a few picks early. Vikings’ fans shouldn’t worry as much about where Barr was selected as much as if Barr becomes the player Spielman and the coaches believe.
I was a bit surprised by the selection of Barr, to be honest. But Zimmer clearly believes in his potential, and until proven otherwise, you have to trust Zimmer knows what he’s looking for.
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