Vikings cut Ryan Longwell; Blair Walsh era begins

The Minnesota Vikings cut veteran Ryan Longwell today, paving the way for 6th-round pick Blair Walsh to take over as the starting kicker.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise based on the fact that you don’t typically draft kickers without a plan to immediately make them the starter. But given Longwell’s track record and Walsh’s lack of one, it’s a questionable move.

Walsh immediately steps in as the starter

Entering his senior year, Walsh looked like an elite prospect and was potentially on track to become the first kicker selected within the first three rounds since Mike Nugent in 2005. But Walsh crumbled under pressure as a senior, connecting on just 21 of 35 field goal attempts.

Walsh stood out for his impressive accuracy and range, connecting on 17 of 20 kicks from beyond 40 yards in his sophomore and junior years. But in 2011, Walsh made just 7 of 17 kicks beyond 40. Walsh also missed four kicks from under 40 yards, twice as many as he had missed during the previous two years combined.

Clearly he has the talent, but how will he handle the pressure of the NFL? That’s something the Vikings probably should have figured out before cutting ties with Longwell.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Vikings Comments Off

Draft Grades: Minnesota Vikings

When reports surfaced that the Minnesota Vikings were interested in Morris Claiborne with the 3rd pick, I was worried about the future of the franchise. Fortunately for Vikings fans, Rick Spielman got it right, and put together a reasonably solid draft class.

Matt Kalil was absolutely the right choice, and the fact that they picked up some extra draft picks from Cleveland was just icing on the cake. He’ll anchor their offensive line for the next decade, hopefully protecting Christian Ponder’s blind side.

I hate when rebuilding teams trade up in the draft, and the issue is compounded when they then reach for a specific position of need, which is exactly what the Vikings did by moving up to select Harrison Smith. I like Smith, but he’s not a 1st-round talent. He has the ability to start, but he won’t be a difference maker at the next level. I think Smith needs to play strong safety to be effective, but it sounds like the Vikings will be using him at free safety.

Josh Robinson was nice pick in the 3rd round and should compete for a starting job immediatelly. His impressive showing at the combine made him slightly overrated, but his speed should allow him to be a valuable cover corner against some of the league’s faster receivers. He’s a solid second option at cornerback.

I like the selection of Jarius Wright in the 4th round. He was one of the best deep threats still on the board and should be able to contribute in that capacity from day one.

Rhett Ellison is a fullback/tight end ‘tweener but I’m not sure how he fits in Minnesota. The Vikings already have Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson at tight end and recently signed fullback Jerome Felton. Ellison may have to fight just to stay on the roster.

Greg Childs was a great sleeper pickup in the late 4th round. If healthy, he could have been a 2nd-round selection, but injuries concerns caused him to plummet down draft boards. He has more upside than Wright, but is definitely a bigger risk.

Robert Blanton played cornerback at Notre Dame but is simply too slow to play the position at the next level, and may even be too slow to play safety. But he’ll be given an opportunity to win the starting strong safety job, and may actually be the favorite heading into camp.

Blair Walsh is a talented kicker but is coming off a terrible season. There was no reason his name should have been called before the late 7th round at the earliest. I don’t like his chances of beating out Ryan Longwell for the starting job, but he could catch on elsewhere if he can put his 2011 season behind him.

Audie Cole was a great 7th-round pick. He has the ability to provide some depth at inside or weak-side linebacker and I like his chances of making the final roster cuts.

Trevor Guyton may have been my favorite 7th-round pick of the draft. I had a late 4th-round grade on Guyton and I think he could be a quality backup at right defensive end or as a three-technique tackle. He has a potential to be one of the better steals of the draft.

While I don’t agree with every move the Vikings made, this was still a solid draft class. Rick Spielman did a nice job finding good value at all points of the draft and may have come away with at least three immediate starters (Kalil, Smith, Blanton).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2012, Vikings 3 Comments

Minnesota Vikings select Harrison Smith, Grade C

This was a desperation pick by the Minnesota Vikings. Harrison Smith is not a 1st-round prospect, and only comes off the board here because of the significant dropoff in talent at safety once he’s off the board. And while safety was definitely a need, the Vikings had more crucial holes to fill.

I also don’t like to see teams like the Vikings trade up. When you’re in full rebuilding mode, there’s no reason to trade up unless it’s for a difference maker at a critical position such as quarterback.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Vikings 2 Comments

Vikings select Matt Kalil, Grade A+

After creating much drama over the past few days, the Vikings end up selecting the guy we assumed they had targeted all along. I was worried about this franchise for awhile there when they were reportedly considering Claiborne, but they made the right choice.

After rolling the dice on Christian Ponder last year, they absolutely had to address the offensive line in this draft (especially considering his injury history). Matt Kalil will be, at worst, a solid starter for the next decade.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Vikings Comments Off

Vikings Offseason Priority: Protect Ponder

The Minnesota Vikings took a risk last year by investing a high 1st-round pick in Christian Ponder. And now that they have their franchise quarterback, it’s time to surround him with the talent he needs to succeed.

According to the Vikings offensive line ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of pass blocking efficiency (16th overall). But while they were acceptable as a group, there are some holes which could be filled.

The most glaring issue on the line is at left tackle, where free agent pickup Charlie Johnson struggled all season. ProFootballFocus ranked Johnson 42nd out of 58 tackles in terms of pass blocking efficiency (93.5%).

The best-case scenario for the Vikings would be land Matt Kalil with the 3rd overall selection. Adding Kalil would allow the Vikings to cut Johnson, who is set to earn $2.95M in each of the next two seasons.

If Kalil is off the board, however, there isn’t an offensive lineman worthy of the 3rd overall selection. However, if Kalil is gone, that means Robert Griffin is still on the board. The  Vikings could potentially trade down with either the Redskins or Dolphins and select Riley Reiff at a more appropriate position in the 1st round, while also adding some much needed draft picks.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Vikings Comments Off

NFL Draft Trade Scenarios: Minnesota Vikings

There’s been a lot of early focus on the St. Louis Rams potentially parting with the No. 2 overall pick, but perhaps the rumors should be focused on the Minnesota Vikings.

For starters, the Rams and Vikings are likely interested in the same players (Matt Kalil, Morris Claiborne, Justin Blackmon) and if the Rams trade down to No. 4 or No. 6, there’s no guarantee they’ll get the guy they covet. The Rams most glaring hole is at left tackle, and Kalil is the only true franchise left tackle available in this draft class. If the Rams were to drop to No. 4, and especially if they fell to No. 6, Kalil would likely be off the board.

On the flip side, there’s also no guarantee that the guy the Vikings want at No. 3 will be there if the Rams stay put. If the Rams select Kalil second overall, the Vikings may feel No. 3 is too early for a cornerback or receiver, and would be willing to trade down.

The Vikings also have more holes to fill overall than the Rams, who are just one year removed from nearly making the playoffs. One could argue that the Vikings simply need the extra picks more than the Rams.

Here are some potential trade scenarios:

Browns get: No. 3 pick
Vikings get: No. 4 pick, Browns 2nd-round pick

Redskins get: No. 3 pick
Vikings get: No. 6, Redskins 1st-round pick in 2013

Dolphins get: No. 3 pick
Vikings get: No. 9 pick, Dolphins 2nd-round pick, Dolphins 1st-round pick in 2013, Dolphins 3rd-round pick in 2013

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Browns, Dolphins, Rams, Redskins, Vikings Comments Off

2011 Draft Grades: Minnesota Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings class is very similar to the Titans: a complete debacle in the 1st round, followed by some very solid mid-round selections. Unfortunately no amount of mid-round picks can make up for reaching for a quarterback with the 12th overall selection.

Christian Ponder was mediocre college quarterback with a history of arm injuries. What exactly about that summary could lead anyone to even consider him in the 1st round? Take away the injuries and I could see rolling the dice in the 2nd round, but under no circumstances is he a 1st-round talent. This was a desperation draft pick of epic proportions, and one that the Vikings will regret for years to come.

As misguided as the selection of Ponder was, I do have to give the Vikings credit for rebounding in the 2nd round. Kyle Rudolph is a 1st-round talent, who slipped due to a recent injury. He’ll become a go-to target for Ponder early in his career, especially if Sidney Rice isn’t re-signed.

Christian Ballard played end at Iowa, but could shift inside to tackle to help replace Pat Williams. Based purely on talent he could have come off the board in the 2nd round, but likely fell due to a positive drug test at the combine.

I really like the selection of Brandon Burton in the 4th round. He isn’t an elite athlete, and may ultimately be moved to safety, but will give the Vikings some much needed depth in their injury-plagued secondary.

Demarcus Love was a reach, even in the 6th round. There’s no denying his talent (he was once considered a potential 1st-round pick) but his play is sloppy and lazy. He’s the type of player that could be out of the league before his career even takes off if he doesn’t show the motivation coaches need to see in training camp.

Brandon Fusco is one of the more underrated small-school prospects in this class. He’ll have a chance to compete for the backup job at center and could provide depth at guard as well.

I love the selection of Ross Homan. He has experience at all three linebacker positions in the 4-3 defense and should give the Vikings valuable depth. He’s a poor man’s Chad Greenway.

D’Aundre Reed was primarily a backup at Arizona, and is a bit of a project, but he has the raw athleticism of an elite pass rusher. He’s far from a guarantee, but the Vikings should be cautiously optimistic that they can develop him into consistent pass rush threat and an elite steal from the 7th round.

The Vikings really should have added a receiver before the 7th round if they’re at all concerned about being able to re-sign Sidney Rice, but at least they got decent value for Stephen Burton. He’ll have his work cut out for him fighting for a spot on the roster, but he has the potential to develop into a decent 4th or 5th option as a possession receiver.

The Vikings did an excellent job filling holes and landing good value picks in the 2nd-7th rounds, but the selection of Christian Ponder overshadows all of that. If your 1st-round quarterback is a bust – no one remembers the rest of the draft, and for good reason. If Ponder doesn’t work out, they’ll be right back here drafting a quarterback in three years, having wasted the prime of Adrian Peterson’s career.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Draft Grades - 2011, Vikings 1 Comment

5 teams most likely to trade down on draft day

5. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings need a quarterback, but the 12th pick is too early to reach for Locker or Mallett. To make matters worse, the 43rd pick may be too late to land either of those two, and possibly too late for Ponder as well. They may try to trade down to the late 1st-round in order to land a quarterback in a reasonable draft slot.

4. Carolina Panthers
There isn’t an obvious choice at No. 1 this year and the Panthers could get a similar player at a cheaper price if they trade down. If they can convince a team like the Bills or Bengals to trade up for a quarterback, the Panthers would gladly move down.

3. New England Patriots
The Patriots are a candidate here because, well, they always trade down. A great defensive lineman is likely to be on the board at No. 17 and the Patriots can probably find a trading partner. They may be able to pick up an additional 1st-round pick in the 2012 draft, continuing the cycle which Bill Belichick has mastered.

2. St. Louis Rams
If A.J. Green and Julio Jones are off the board the Rams will immediately begin shopping the 14th pick. There isn’t another receiver worthy of a top-15 pick and there isn’t anyone else that fills a glaring hole. The smart move would be to move down and possibly consider Jonathan Baldwin later in the round.

1. Detroit Lions
The Lions want a cornerback or a linebacker and there may not be anyone worthy of the 13th pick on the board at either position.  Unless Prince Amukamara or Von Miller somehow falls, the Lions will try hard to trade back. When they do, Akeem Ayers and Jimmy Smith could become targets.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Lions, Panthers, Patriots, Rams, Vikings Comments Off

Andy Dalton generating interest from teams

With a large class of potential 1st-round quarterbacks the middle-tier guys haven’t received much media attention. One under-the-radar guy that is starting to generate some buzz, however, is Andy Dalton (my 4th-rated quarterback).

According to various reports, Dalton has either already met with or is scheduled to visit the Bears, Bengals, Browns, Chiefs, Patriots and Vikings.

Dalton could wind up starting for someone in 2011

I have Newton rated ahead of potential 1st-round picks Cam Newton and Jake Locker, mainly because I believe he is the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year’s draft class. He isn’t the flashiest player with the strongest arm but he is a solid pocket passer with above-average athleticism.

The reason for all the interest in Dalton is the fact that he fills a variety of needs for different teams.

Teams like the Bears and Patriots are looking for a quality backup quarterback, and Dalton can fill that role immediately. He may not end up ever starting for those franchises, but he can provide some insurance behind Tom Brady and Jay Cutler.

Others may look to him as a short-term starter. The Vikings, for example, may miss out on the opportunity to land a top-tier quarterback in the 1st round. However, if Dalton is on the board in the 2nd or 3rd round, they could select him and plan on making him the starter for 2011. Given the uncertainty surrounded free agency, this would be a safe way to ensure that they have someone other than Joe Webb at quarterback if they’re unable to address that need in free agency. In that scenario Dalton may only start for season, but he would be a cheap one-year starter who would then become a valuable backup once the new franchise quarterback is brought in.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in Bears, Browns, Chiefs, Patriots, Vikings Comments Off

Draft Needs: Minnesota Vikings

Matt Peterson tracks the offseason needs of every team in the league. Today’s franchise, the Minnesota Vikings. [full archive here].

Season Recap - Minnesota Vikings would agree that 2010 was easily one of the most disappointing seasons in their recent memory. Just a season removed from a near Super bowl appearance, the Vikings were expected to make the trip this time around. The Vikings knew the only shot they had was with Brett Favre in charge, so four teammates flew to Mississippi to convince him back. Ultimately, Brett Favre’s consecutive game streak ended and the Vikings fired Head Coach Brad Childress halfway through the season. New Head Coach Leslie Frazier has to find a new quarterback in attempts of bringing the Vikings back to success.

1. Quarterback
– Brett Favre’s age finally caught up with him as he endured a career worst season. Favre promised that was the end and the Vikings attention now turns towards finding a new QB. Coach Frazier has already stated that QB is the team’s top need and they will surely find a new starter by next season. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave comes from Atlanta, where he developed the likes of star QB Matt Ryan. Look for the Vikings to make every attempt to trade into the top 10 in order to grab Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, or Cam Newton. Read more

Posted on by Matt Peterson in Draft Needs - 2011, Vikings Comments Off