With a proven head coach and ever evolving young nucleus of players the Minnesota Vikings seem set on having the core foundation built, finding equal balance between both the short and long term plans.
Considering another drastic and encouraging leap in progression under Mike Zimmer from year one to year two, Vikings fans might want to cozy up to the idea of selecting in the 20s (and hopefully 30s) every April once the NFL draft rolls around.
Barring a trade up, Rick Spielman and the Vikings will be on the clock at pick 23, and rightfully should have been at least a few spots later had it not been for a frozen tundra chip shot last January gone pear shaped.
With Zimmer improving the defense from dead last in the league to fifth in points scored in just a two season span, it’s clear he understands how to be successful on that side of the ball.
With Zimmer improving the defense from dead last in the league to fifth in points scored in just a two season span, it’s clear he understands how to be successful on that side of the ball. Even so, Spielman gave him a plethora of toys and weapons after drafting the defensive side of the ball in the first three rounds last year consecutively (Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter).
This year however, it’s painfully clear from the front office to the fans that its the offenses turn to have its own shopping spree. Last season Bridgewater, while trying to make the most of what he was asked and more importantly what he was given, ranked near the bottom of the league in most statistical passing categories.
Of course, the offense unfoolishly chose a heavy power-running scheme utilizing and maximizing the league’s best tailback in Adrian Peterson, often limiting Bridgewater’s opportunities for an outpour of fantasy football type numbers.
Entering the critical year-three for a quarterback, many inside the organization have made it clear it’s time to push the chips all-in on Bridgewater and help maximize his true potential and talents. To do this the front office and coaches have made it a priority to help fix one of the league’s more inconsistent offensive lines and bolster Bridgewater’s weapons and playmakers outside of the hashes.
Entering the critical year-three for a quarterback, many inside the organization have made it clear it’s time to push the chips all-in on Bridgewater.
So far, Spielman and his staff have been aggressive targeting some of the biggest named offensive lineman available, and eventually signing former San Francisco 49er guard Alex Boone.
Notorious for his aggressive nature inside the trenches, Boone will have an immediate impact at left guard in 2016 as a mauler in the running game paving holes for Adrian Peterson. He should also help improve the pass protection from inside, where last year Brandon Fusco struggled giving Bridgewater a clean pocket in which to step into on a regular basis.
The acquisition also allows Fusco (who was not long ago considered one of the better up and coming interior linemen in the game, and received a hefty contract because of it) an opportunity to slide back over to right guard and compete with Mike Harris for the other starting position.
The Vikings also brought in veteran tackle Andre Smith on a one-year deal. The acquisition of the former 6th overall pick would add extreme depth and create even more competition at yet another position that was a liability on passing downs under rookie T.J. Clemmings after a season ending injury to Phil Loadholt.
However, these moves won’t be the end-all-be-all for the offensive line group as the team will likely draft another offensive lineman early in the draft to mold for the future.
The passing game is still thin, and desperate for any help they can get at the wide receiver position.
Before they do that however, the passing game is still thin, and desperate for any help they can get at the wide receiver position. After releasing Mike Wallace and clearing up a generous $11 million dollars, the passing attack is suddenly as limp and flimsy as ever.
While guys like Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen, and even Cordarrelle Patterson offer great production and potential, they have been reduced to specific roles inside the offense and are limited in their production potential.
Meanwhile Charles Johnson, who seemed primed for a breakout season, was a healthy scratch the last four games off the year leaving fans scratching their heads as to just what went wrong with the third-year wide out.
The front office have their eyes peeled on the top wide receiver prospects in the draft and hopeful one of them can come in and make an immediate impact. Bridgewater and the passing game need a guy who can help stretch the field vertically from day-one, taking advantage of the consistent eight and nine-man defensive fronts.
Bridgewater can’t afford the wasted time window to slowly develop a wideout needed in his critical year three.
While a higher upside and bigger ceiling potential sounds intriguing and fun on paper, Bridgewater can’t afford the wasted time window to slowly develop a wideout needed in his critical year three. Instead, taking a more polished wideout who can contribute to the passing game and aid Bridgewater in year one seems more sensible at this point in time.
Here are the three best case scenarios at the position for the Vikings. Letting them hit their pillow after Round One with ease and allowing them to dream about clean pockets, seven-step drops, and converted play action bombs down the field.
Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
9 ½” Hands
33 ⅜” Arms
Coming from the Ole Miss Rebels and playing in the SEC you have to understand that first and foremost Treadwell played against the top competition in the country on a consistent basis, and produced against some of the nation’s top cornerbacks like Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves (Top-10 pick).
Flip the tape on and it’s clear why scouts have compared him to some of the bigger bodies wideouts in the league. Cowboys’ Dez Bryant is who I instantly thought of with Treadwell’s ability to out muscle his opponent on any given play with the ball in the air.
Treadwell uses his strong frame to outwork and out man his opponent for position and body placement when attacking the ball. Combine that with his strong hands and it’s unlikely a smaller sized cornerback would be able to feel confident and contend against Treadwell on a down-to-down basis.
While he may not be able to jump through the roof with a great vertical leap or blow past defenders with sprinter speed (4.63 forty at his Pro Day), Treadwell just needs an opportunity to make a play on the ball and will use his body frame and aggressive nature to make the play.
Treadwell won’t win foot races in the NFL, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have a good initial burst with the ball in his hands and a surprising wiggle to make people miss in the open field.
By far the most underrated part of Treadwell’s game, however, is his down right tenacity in the running game. That’s right, Treadwell plays like a swing tackle on the outside of the hashes helping seal blocks at the line of scrimmage and deep downfield.
Treadwell will likely be the first wide receiver off the board but is far from a blue-chip “can’t miss” prospect. Between that and his sluggish 40-time, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Treadwell slip into the teens on draft night. If he can get past the likes of the Los Angeles Rams (still weird to say) and Detroit Lions at 14 and 15 respectively, then he could fall all the way into the lap of Uncle Rick on draft night.
Josh Doctson, TCU
9 ⅞” Hands
31 ⅞” Arms
Unlike Treadwell in the SEC, I’m always skeptical of Big-12 production against weaker defenses and secondaries while displaying high tempo spread-em out systems. However, Doctson brings such a unique skill-set that he would have had the similar success against anyone.
As a long-armed pass catcher, Doctson uses incredible body control and balance to track deep balls with ease. To be blunt, Doctson is the best deep ball threat in this class with his ability to box out defenders and use his long reach to pluck the ball out of the air at its highest point almost effortlessly.
Doctson too doesn’t have the outstanding long speed nor does he have great strength at this point, but a he’s shown he really doesn’t need either of those to be an impactful wideout.
Whether it’s one, two, or three defenders, Doctson has more than a fighter’s chance to come down with the deep ball if given a fair opportunity with a well placed ball. Even when the ball is poorly thrown, Doctson shows the body control to contort his body and reach out and back with his great wingspan to snatch the ball away from his body outside the hashes and over the middle of the field.
While he isn’t as dangerous after the catch as last years prospect DeVante Parker, Doctson is the next closest thing as a deep ball specialist. After an impressive showing in Indianapolis and at his Pro Day, Doctson may have improved his draft stock to vie for the first receiver to be taken. But if he can somehow trickle down to the 23rd selection, it has to be a no brainer for the Vikings to rush the card up to the podium and watch the progression of their hopeful franchise quarterback increase exponentially.
Michael Thomas, Ohio State
10 ½” Hands
32 ⅛” Arms
On paper, Thomas would appear to be the most prototypical fit for the Vikings offense, poising the biggest height and hands of the three listed above. Thomas certainly flashes number one wideout skills in which he displayed as the Buckeyes clear cut go to target in the passing game.
While Urban Meyer implemented a run-option oriented offense, Thomas gave his quarterback a big-bodied target when given the opportunity. Often showing exceptional hand-eye coordination in traffic and when contested. Thomas often looked natural and savvy using his pass catching hands away from his body consistently as well.
There are moments to Thomas’ game that reflects his football genes as the nephew to former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson. Thomas can be methodical and crafty the way he sets up his opponent off the line of scrimmage into his route looking like a he has mastered the art of getting open, and giving his thrower an open lane to do so.
However, that’s only part of the time. The other half Thomas looks boxy and choppy trying to get off jams and tight press coverage, looking to out juke his defender which leads to too much wasted movement.
Like Doctson, Thomas will also have plenty of growing pains early on when it comes to growing his route tree, as the Buckeyes simply didn’t employee many different routes in their week-to-week schemes.
Overall Thomas is a lighter blend of both Treadwell and Doctson as a big bodied target (Treadwell) that offers up big catch radius over the middle of the field and down in the redzone (Docston).
Thomas may have the biggest ceiling of all three if a team can harness his strengths and continue to develop and expand his overall game. Of course, with how inconsistent and raw he looked in some of the facets of the game you are banking on your coaching staff to progress his release off the line of scrimmage, route running, and nuances of playing the position.
While guys like Treadwell and Doctson excel at certain areas of the game offering true x-factor type skill-sets, Thomas lacks one true dominating trait. Instead, Thomas offers a wider range of stability with his frame, speed, and hands.
Translation: Thomas was a solid player in the majority of wide receiver traits, but wasn’t great at any one thing. Buyer beware.