Monday, March 11, 2013

2013 Secondary Position

Secondary Grade: 7


The Minnesota Vikings looked much improved in 2012 in the secondary and we should see more improvement in 2013. Rick Spielman traded up to get back into the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft to select Harrison Smith with the #29th pick. Spielman hit on this pick and Harrison Smith had a fantastic rookie season. Look for the Vikings to get more help in the secondary with an aging Antoine Winfield and a young bunch like Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, A.J. Jefferson, Marcus Sharles, Robert Blanton, Brandon Burton, Jamarca Sandford, Mistral Raymond and Andrew Sendejo.

Harrison Smith was a stud in his rookie season and solidified a huge game at free safety. He is a big time thrasher back there and makes wide receivers get butter fingers because he will make you pay. He had 104 tackles, 1 sack, 3 interceptions and 2 touchdowns. Harrison is a game changer and was a huge part of our success in the secondary last season. Look for him to continue to make big plays and big hits and will be fun to watch improve after an outstanding rookie season.

Antoine Winfield has played 14 seasons in the NFL and doesn't have very many years left at age 35. Last season Winfield stayed relatively healthy and was the same old Winfield, big hitting play making machine. Leslie Frazier has limited Winfield with his on the field contributions and look for Leslie to do the same in 2013. His legs aren't able to hold up for every snap of the game, but when he is out there he still is productive. Don't look for the Vikings to make him into a safety, he doesn't want to convert at this point in his career. He is still a hard hitting cornerback who can make big time tackles in the open field, but has lost a step in his covering skills.

The Vikings welcomed Chris Cook back last season with open arms and were hoping that he would be a huge asset. Once again Cook couldn't stay healthy and was not very productive. We need him to be a #1 or #2 cornerback and he hasn't shown we can trust him yet. Will he prove us wrong in 2013? I sure hope so, but I am losing faith. He can cover big wide receivers well like Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson, but lacks big play ability and gets lost out there at times.

A.J. Jefferson is another guy who looks like he shows flashes, but then can't stay on the field and when he is can get burt. The Vikings were hoping he would be a nice #2 or #3 cornerback and hasn't shown much yet. Is this the year? He is still young and has good size, but must improve this offseason.

Josh Robinson is a young corner who has big play ability and has shown that at points last season. He looks like a good cover cornerback who is hungry for the ball, but then again only started in 6 games in 2012. Look for Josh to contribute next season and provide us with some good young talent.

Will the Vikings give Mistral Raymond another shot at Safety or will they try to get something in the draft? Mistral didn't get much time to prove himself as he also was injured for 6 games. At times he looked like the perfect complement to Harrison Smith and other times he looked like a second year safety out of place. I know he will compete for the starting role and must show improvement in order to be the answer at Safety. The Vikings want Safeties who can be versatile and shut down big plays, but also create run support and pressure on the quarterback. They are not easy to find in the NFL, let alone in the draft.

Look for other guys to improve like Marcus Sharels, Robert Blanton, Brandon Burton, Jamarca Sandford and Andrew Sendajo. All of these guys need to step in at some point whether it's due to injury or due to their skill set.

The Vikings may be interested in these types of players in the draft:
-Jordan Poyer CB (Oregon State), he has great closing burst and plays much more physical than his size. He can matchup against big receivers and has playmaker ability.
-Tyrann Mathieu aka Honey Badger CB (LSU), he is a huge playmaker who has had a checkered past. He plays very tough and will play up on the line, he can shut down wide receivers. His stock is rising after a great combine and could be a top 5 CB. He could be an Antoine Winfield replacement!
-Tharold Simon CB (LSU), this guy is a long armed corner who can make plays with his long frame. He will be a mid round pick 4-5 rd.
-Steve Williams CB (California), can you say "sleeper", this dude is a stud who has the quickness and speed to matchup with an NFL receiver. Yes, he is only 5-9 but this guy can still hit and make big time tackles. Projected to be drafted in 6-7th rd.
-Matt Elam SS (Florida), another Harrison Smith? Matt is a smaller guy at 5-10, but this little guy crushes people. He is that versatile SS the Vikings need as he can come up to the line and play in run support and also go back and cover. He loves the game and reminds me of a Troy Polamalu type player. He can be all over the field and will make offenses pay attention to where he is because he makes big time plays. Projected 1st-2nd round.

Overall the Vikings will try to add depth and another playmaker to take over Winfield's position in the near future and must try hitting these players in the draft. Most cornerbacks decline when they hit 30 years old, so most free agents are either getting close or are already there or just haven't proven they can play at a high level. I don't see the Vikings making a splash and paying big bucks in free agency. This is definitely an area we need to improve at because our division has top tier quarterbacks and wide receivers. Let's improve again in 2013!

2013 Linebacker Position

LB Grade: 9

The Vikings know Chad Greenway is the answer at strong linebacker, but many questions must be answered at middle linebacker and weak side linebacker. Will they resign Erin Henderson? Will they resign Jasper Brinkley? Both guys are unrestricted free agents and both could be on new teams in 2013.

How great is Chad Greenway? Chad has started all 16 games again for the 4th straight season and has been very productive. Last season he had 148 total tackles with 3 sacks, 4 passes defended, 1 interception and 2 fumble recoveries. He is a huge piece to our defense and is all over the field, he can pass rush, cover and tackle. Look for Chad Greenway to stay productive and healthy in 2013 and continue to be a big part of the community.

Should we resign Erin Henderson? Erin hasn't been able to solidify himself as a true NFL starting linebacker in this league. He does some good things, but at times is lost out there and can't stay healthy. I don't see the Vikings bringing Henderson back for another season unless they get a discount on him. He isn't the type of player that Spielman will lock up for a long-term contract, if he stays in purple he will probably only get a 1 or 2 year deal. Look for the Vikings to explore their options in free agency or possibly with a early round pick. This team needs a playmaker at this position and I think will find someone in free agency.

What about Jasper Brinkley? Jasper hasn't lived up to the hype after we drafted him in 2009, he stepped up to fill in for an injured EJ Henderson that year and has had his own health issues. He had 99 total tackles in 2012 with zero sacks and it might just be time to find a replacement at middle linebacker. We need a middle linebacker that can bust inside and get pressure, provide key run stopping ability and also cover. Look for the Vikings to either grab a free agent or solidify through the draft. Will they take a chance on Notre Dame star middle linebacker Manti Te'o with the number 23rd pick? Manti could be a huge asset and be a franchise type middle linebacker, he is so good getting pressure and being a big time run stopper. We will see what Rick Spielman has in mind with that #23 pick.

Other guys to see if they can provide support at linebacker are Marvin Mitchell who didn't do much in his 6th NFL season. Preseason sensation Audie Cole who didn't get a chance during regular season to show what he can do. Larry Dean the backup to Chad Greenway and backup Tyron McKenzie.

The free agent market at linebacker isn't anything to be excited about, but Spielman could find some pieces. Look for the Vikings to look at individuals like Baltimore Ravens Dannell Ellerbe, Daryl Smith from Jacksonville, Rey Maualuga from Cincinnati, Packers Brad Jones, five time Pro Bowler James Harrison, Jets Bart Scott, Bills Nick Barnett and possibly Bears Brian Urlacher.

The draft looks like where the Vikings will add key linebackers like Manti Te'o, Jarvis Jones, Kevin Minter, Arthur Brown, Kevin Reddick, Nico Johnson, William Compton. Of course I would love to get a guy in the early of the first round like Alec Ogletree or Dion Jordan, but the Vikings aren't going to want to trade up I don't feel to get one of these guys.

Overall the Minnesota Vikings must add both in free agency and in the draft to fill in some major gaps and holes at this position. Spielman hopefully can find us some support and we must improve our linebacker play in 2013. It is a top priority and it should be very interesting how management will purse good talent.

2013 Defensive Line Position

DL Grade: 6

The Defensive Line for the Vikings in 2012 looked pretty good with some great play by Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams and Everson Griffen. We have some work to do this offseason to address the Defensive Tackle position, but on the outside we still can get to the quarterback and create big plays. Look for the Vikings to add depth in the draft and also in free agency this offseason, we will probably look for a young talent in the draft by trying to find a long-term replacement for the aging Kevin Williams. 

Jared Allen is a key piece to our defense line and offensive lineman must pay extra attention to keep him from getting pressure on their quarterback.  Jared didn’t have the type of year he had in 2011 with 22.0 sacks, but still was productive and we should see him still be productive in 2013. Yes,  Jared Allen isn’t in his prime anymore and must play smarter to create havoc. At 30 years old Jared Allen is still one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and can get the crowd pumped up with his relentless play. 

If you want a stellar pass rush opposite Allen you must look for a guy such as Brian Robison to be a key asset. Brian Robison was hampered with a shoulder injury last season late in the season, but still had a heck of a year with 8.5 sacks and was a pass swatting machine with 7 passes batted down. Brian is very quick and has a mentality like Allen and can create headaches for quarterbacks with the amount of pressure he can provide. Yes, Robison should still improve in 2013 at age 29 and will need better play from the tackle positions to free up some space. 

An aging Kevin Williams at 32 has not been the dominate Defensive Tackle he was with his old counter part Pat Williams. Is he decreasing with productivity or does he just need some support inside? In 2012 he had 7 passes defended and only 2 sacks, he isn't getting the pressure this big tackle should get up the middle. Look for the Vikings to find a long-term answer to replace Kevin during the draft.

A 25 year old Letroy Guion started 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings last season and needs to improve in 2013. He tallied only 2 sacks and 31 total tackles in 2012. Yes, he is only 25 years old but must improve his quickness, hands and speed rushing skills to create more productivity. Is he the answer next to help Jared Allen and the rest of the line get pressure? I am not sure yet, he is young and needs to improve his overall game.

How athletic is Everson Griffen? This beast is a nightmare for offensive lineman and quarterbacks. He played in 16 games and only started in 1 game due to Brian Robison's shoulder injury, but recorded 8 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception for a touchdown last season. The problem with Everson is that he can't be on the field more because Robison. Can you put him inside? I think the Vikings and Leslie Friazier need to find ways to get him on the field more. He is machine and can create big plays and can be a huge part of this defense. Look for Griffen to have an outstanding year in 2013.

Other guys we need to step up in 2013 is Fred Evans and Christian Ballard, they both add depth inside and must improve to compete for more work next season. Don't be surprised to see more of both of these guys next season. The Vikings do a great job shuffling in fresh legs and these two can both help in the middle. 

Other young talent to keep your eye on if they can get on the field like George Johnson and D'Aundre Reed. Both guys are raw and need to improve in order to make the team next season. 

Overall the Vikings Defensive Line is solid with some big playmakers and look for them to add depth this offseason both in the draft and in free agency. Spielman will take some risk finding young playmakers to improve this lines run stopping and pass rushing ability. We must get younger up front and don't be surprised if Spielman adds 2 rookies in the draft.

Monday, March 4, 2013

2013 Offensive Line Position

Grade: 6

I think Rick Spielman and the Vikings hit on rookie LT Matt Kalil with the third overall pick in last years draft. Leslie Frazier also had to move Charlie Johnson out of the LT position and into the LG position and it worked (isn’t the long-term answer, but it worked). John Sullivan had a great year at Center and should have been a Pro Bowler. Brandon Fusco was serviceable for a second year guy and filling in for an injury prone Geoff Schwartz. Phil Loadholt is a unrestricted free agent this offseason and is a good run blocking tackle, but not the greatest pass protector in the league. We could see some change around the offensive line this offseason and can build around John Sullivan, Matt Kalil and maybe even Phil Loadholt.

Let’s chat about Pro Bowl Left Tackle Matt Kalil, this guy is a monster and should be a Minnesota Viking a very long, long time. You didn’t hear much about him last season and this is usually a good thing when it comes to offensive lineman. I remember watching games and focusing right on him and every time he either held the defensive end in check or sprung a nice block for Adrian. He should be a franchise player and go to many Pro Bowls in the future. In his first season in the National Football League he was everything we dreamed he would be and should see him become a true leader and student of the game.

My applause goes out to someone named Charlie Johnson, the Vikings draft LT Matt Kalil and then ask Charlie to move from LT to LG and didn’t complain for one second. Most people would take that as a demotion, but he took it as he could help out the offensive line by moving to LG. Now is Charlie the best LG in the NFL? No, but in 2012 he blocked for the best running back in the game and did some good things protecting Christian Ponder. Now is he the answer long-term? No, but I would say he is serviceable at the LG position and the Vikings shouldn’t be in a panic. Now he has a full offseason to work on fundamentals and improve at that position.

How key is John Sullivan to this offensive line? He is a really good Center and has filled in nicely after our hero Matt Birk left us. John has helped Christian run this offense and will be a key piece to this offensive line for years to come. After an outstanding season Center John Sullivan got snubbed and did not get selected to his first Pro Bowl. We should see him improve every year as long as he can stay healthy.

The Vikings signed free agent Geoff Schwartz in 2012 offseason to give them some offensive line help and during training camp needed sports hernia surgery which put him our 4-6 weeks. So the Vikings needed Brandon Fusco to step in and fill in for an injured Schwartz. Brandon won the starting job and did a decent job, at points he looked shaky but overall was productive. He didn’t do anything to lose his job to Schwartz.

What will the Vikings do with Phil Loadholt who is an unrestricted free agent? Can they afford to lose him? Will they place the franchise tag on him? The Vikings think Phil Loadholt is a top 10 RT in this league but don’t want to pay him as a top 5 RT. If they franchise him at $9.7 million, they feel that is elite tackle money and he is not worth elite tackle money. So the Vikings need to reach a 3-5 year deal, franchise him or let him walk. He is a good run blocker who is big and can drive defensive ends and linebackers and create holes for Adrian. He lacks pass blocking and is slow off the ball and can be beat by pass rushers. He also lacks focus and has been flagged numerous times for false start penalties. Look for the Vikings to keep him and lock him up for a few more years.

Other offensive lineman to keep an eye on is free agent Joe Berger, will they resign him? Probably not, he is a backup Center and Guard who hasn’t contributed and lacks as a run blocker. DeMarcus Love is locked in for another few years hopefully can stay healthy, he could be a nice backup if someone gets hurt. Also backup left tackle Troy Kropog is a restricted free agent and could be a fill in if needed.

Overall look for the Vikings to sign Loadholt and add some depth this offseason in the draft and also in free agency. We have some great guys on this line and should continue to see this line groom and improve over the years to come. This is a much better offensive line than we have seen in years past and look for Spielman and Leslie to add pieces where needed. Nice improvement in 2012 over 2011, hats off to the coaching staff and Spielman. This offensive line stepped up and helped Adrian Peterson reach 2,097 yards rushing. Congrats!