The Minnesota Vikings had one of the strongest 2014 NFL Drafts, as GM Rick Spielman and first-year head coach Mike Zimmer went right to work. They snagged one of the most physically gifted edge rushers in Anthony Barr after trading down one spot with the Cleveland Browns, brilliantly moved up to draft the best quarterback in the draft, pulled another talented edge rusher in Scott Crichton, stole away Antone Exum, and yanked David Yankey. These moves make the Vikings a legitimate playoff threat in the NFC North, with the move to add Teddy Bridgewater obviously being the most important one. They made the playoffs two years ago with Christian Ponder under center, and they have a better quarterback in Bridgewater, who will be the most polished, accurate, and the best decision-maker of all the rookies QBs (watch how he reads defenses and moves through his progressions, as well as his calm work under pressure). If their defense can hold up (all eyes are on the secondary) and Bridgewater is as good as I think, then the Vikings are a team to watch closely.
1. Will David Yankey start?
Stanford Cardinal product David Yankey received first-round love in a couple of mock drafts that saw the Miami Dolphins reaching up for him in order to fill a big need at guard with the top offensive tackles off the board, but it was always clear that Yankey would be second day talent. Yankey, however, fell further than most of us expected before the Vikings ultimately snatched him away in the fifth round. He was a great value there, and he’s a pretty polished offensive line prospect who should immediately be a solid run blocker.
The question is whether or not he has the tools to be a good pass blocker, because his consistency in college is overshadowed by concerns regarding his athletic ability. If he can assert himself as at least an average pass blocker during offseason workouts and the preseason, then he has a very good chance of unseating starting left guard Charlie Johnson. Yankey has youth on his side, but Johnson has experience and is thus the safer option. I think the Vikings would love to have Yankey write his name in as the team’s starting LG on an offensive line that features top-notch blockers like Matt Kalil, Phil Loadholt, and John Sullivan, but while Johnson is a clear liability as a starter, the Vikings won’t just hand the job to their fifth-round rookie.
2. Undrafted Free Agent Watch
The players who get drafted unsurprisingly take up most of the headlines, but good teams are able to find talent in undrafted free agency. Chances are that at least one undrafted free agent will make the Vikings roster, and there are several quality names to keep in mind during the offseason. Antonio Richardson, Kain Colter, Erik Lora, Austin Wentworth, A.C. Leonard, and Zac Kerin are six undrafted signings who are either big names or have a strong chance at making an impact in the future.
Richardson was a surprise player on the undrafted list, because he actually received second-round love in a number of mock drafts during the pre-draft season. Colter is a big name with the ability to contribute at other positions from the practice squad, Wentworth was Derek Carr’s only competent blocker at Fresno State, and Lora is a talented slot receiver who was Jimmy Garoppolo’s favorite guy at Eastern Illinois. Of all of the prospects listed above, I think Lora has the best chance of making an impact as a rookie for the Vikings. They have plenty of pass-catching talent, but Lora can bring something different to the table by moving the chains in the slot, and he also possesses sub-4.5 wheels. Meanwhile, Kerin could be good depth at either center or guard, and Leonard is the kind of explosive tight end worth keeping a close eye on with TE-friendly offensive coordinator Norv Turner running the show. Leonard should have been drafted last week, and he’s the kind of “move” TE who could form a dangerous duo with the very talented Kyle Rudolph.
3. Greg Jennings was pretty good last year
It seems like Greg Jennings receives plenty of criticism for his play last season after inking a big contract with the Viking in the 2013 offseason, but the fact of the matter is that he was easily the Vikings best receiver last year. Cordarrelle Patterson showed plenty of promise, but Jennings’s 7.6 yards per target were a full 1.5 yards per target higher than Patterson‘s. He caught 68 passes for 804 yards, and only Rudolph caught more passes thrown at him than any other QB.
It’s true that as Jennings gets older, his ability to win downfield has declined. But it’s not like Jennings is “Molasses” Mike Jenkins out there either, and it’s clear to me that the Vikings deep passing attack struggled last season as a result of the guys throwing the passes last year. Bridgewater doesn’t come into the NFL with a touted arm, but he’ll do a better job than Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel in almost every facet. If not, then his rookie season will have been a disappointment, especially for Jennings, who should have at least 75 receptions next year. Jerome Simpson was a good deep threat with a little over 15 yards per reception, but the troublesome WR also caught just 48% of everything thrown at him. He received just six less targets (106 to 100) than Jennings, and I think it would be wise for the Vikings to increase that gap next season, especially if it means giving those targets to Patterson and Rudolph. Patterson didn’t play enough early in the season, while Rudolph played in just eight games due to an injury.