Friday, May 09, 2014

Vikings 2014 draft: Round One

Round one of the 2014 NFL Draft is in the books. For the third consecutive year, my Minnesota Vikings maneuvered back into the first round to obtain another pick. As such, they hopefully secured the quarterback position for many years to come.

I'll get back to that.

The sentiment among most of the Vikings faithful going into Thursday evening's festivities was the club should do whatever it takes to draft Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Football Manziel. Despite some of the risks (e.g. diminutive stature, too improvisational), he became a fan favorite largely on the basis of Vikings Hall of Fame QB Fran Tarkenton vouching for him. So when Manziel was still available when the Vikings were ready to select at #8, there was almost breathless anticipation. But the anticipation quickly turned to angst when the Vikings swapped first round picks with the Cleveland Browns (who were selecting 9th overall) in addition to picking up an additional 5th rounder in the deal. There were equal parts rage and dejection at the Vikings' draft party in Minneapolis since the Browns were also in the market for a QB, so it was assumed Manziel would be taken right away. So when Cleveland took cornerback Justin Gilbert at #8, there was once again ecstasy among Vikings fans.

Personally I had a feeling the Vikings were not going to take Manziel at #9 since their new head coach, defensive guru Mike Zimmer, was looking to add depth to statistically one of the worst defensive units in the NFL. Since the Vikes have a pretty solid front four (DEs Brian Robison & Everson Griffen, free agent DT Linval Joseph and 2nd year DT Sharrif Floyd) on paper and, when healthy, an up and coming secondary (Safety Harrison Smith, 2nd year CB Xavier Rhodes and FA CB Captain Munnerlyn), the linebacking core was a major issue, thus in severe need of an upgrade. With Chad Greenway being the only proven LB on the roster, the Vikings this offseason resorted to signing MLB Jasper Brinkley, who had been serviceable at best in his initial tenure (2009-12) with the club. When the top rated linebacker in the draft, Khalil Mack, was snapped up by the Oakland Raiders at pick 5, UCLA's Anthony Barr seemed the logical choice. Once Barr's name was announced as the Vikings' choice at #9, I'm quite certain I saw a mushroom cloud over the Minneapolis Convention Center. While I too was intrigued by Manziel, I felt the selection of Barr was a safe pick in that it fills a desperate need combined with coach Zimmer knowing what kind of player best suits his defensive system. Early indications are that Zimmer sees Barr fulfilling a role similar to that of longtime Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison (sans cheap shots, hopefully), whom Zimmer coached in 2013 when Harrison signed with the Cincinnati Bengals. Barr's strength is more of a pass rusher as opposed to dropping into coverage, so that's another need the Vikings will have to address in the third round or later.

Less than a year ago, multiple scouts ranked Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater as the top QB prospect in the 2014 draft (likely before Manziel declared). However, Bridgewater's stock dropped upon his sub par performance in the NFL Combine. Nevertheless, new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner had seen enough of Bridgewater's game action to bring him in for private workouts. Apparently that assuaged any concerns as the Vikings surrendered their second round (#40 overall) and fourth round picks to the Seattle Seahawks in order to obtain the 32nd (and final) pick in the first round in order to draft Bridgewater.

Even though he may not have the strongest arm, Bridgewater more than makes up for it in poise and accuracy.

Against the blitz, he completed 71 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns and one interception, and his 53.5 completion percentage when under pressure was better than all players except UCLA's Brett Hundley. Bridgewater also threw 17 touchdowns without an interception in the red zone and converted 52.3  percent of his third-down passes for first downs, higher than all but (LSU QB Zach) Mettenberger.
While Manziel is said the have the highest "up side", Bridgewater is considered by a lot of scouts to be the most NFL ready QB right now.

Another factor is new Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner (Norv's son) was on the Carolina Panthers' staff in 2011 and 2012, which were QB Cam Newton's first two NFL seasons. That means Scott has some background dealing with a dynamic young quarterback.

All that said does not guarantee success or even a long career in the NFL. Nevertheless, I think Bridgewater is in a good position to become the franchise QB given he has a quality offensive coordinator with whom to work, a solid receiving core and a Hall of Fame running back. That combined with his talent and smarts make this a great fit for the Vikings.

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