Vikings

Watching the Combine: What Do the Vikings Look For?

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

How teams approach the draft often determines their identity. The Vikings have targeted a quick linebacker corps and a fast secondary, but have de-emphasized quickness on the outside for cornerbacks. Working in tandem, those groups of players can cover for the other’s weaknesses and have fostered one of the league’s top defenses.

More famously, the Seattle Seahawks have pursued length at cornerback and explosion from their defensive line, which created the well-known Legion of Boom and a Super Bowl-winning defense.

The filters by which teams narrow down their draft board often come from measurements taken at the NFL combine, and the Vikings are no different from other teams in this respect. While big media boards often have 300 or more players, teams often have as few as 150 draftable players — and New England famously has gone as small as 75.

Minnesota followed a clear set of guidelines after Mike Zimmer arrived when it came to what players needed to do in order to be put on their draft board, and we saw it with consistent patterns in the first few drafts and college free agent signings.

Having received confirmation that many of the identified filters were used in their player acquisition strategy, I’ve also been told that they’ve changed approaches — perhaps regrettable given the poor showing of the Vikings’ 2016 rookie class, especially when considering the incredible depth that the class turned out to have.

Had the Vikings stuck to their old workout filters, for example, they might have prioritized Michael Thomas over Laquon Treadwell, as Thomas met their prior receiver workout standards and Treadwell did not.

But even though the Vikings have dispensed with their old workout filters, they still use workouts to narrow down their board. By evaluating their transactions over the last few years, we might be able to identify those cutoffs and figure out who might be on the Vikings board after the combine.

Quarterback

Photo Credit: Brian Curski

The Vikings have never displayed a particular affinity for some workouts or sizes at quarterback, which makes sense given how little that position centers around inherent athletic ability. The Vikings have signed or traded for quarterbacks below 6’1” (both Case Keenum and Taylor Heinicke) as well as passers above 6’4”(Brad Sorenson and Sam Bradford).

Taylor Heinicke is by far the most athletic of every quarterback they’ve rostered, while also playing host to big-armed, relatively statue-like quarterbacks — like McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Sam Bradford.

It is likely a coincidence, but it is interesting that they’ve only acquired quarterbacks who have posted above-average scores at broad jump… though that might be a product of the fact that only a few quarterbacks attempt the broad jump in the first place. It’s unlikely that this is meaningful.

Running Back

(photo credit: Kyle Hansen)

With the potential departure of receiving back and workout superstar Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings may look in the draft to find another complementary option to Dalvin Cook. Prior to drafting Cook, the Vikings prioritized running backs with all-world athletic skill — not just McKinnon, but players like Ben Tate, Henry Josey, Jhurrell Pressley and Brandon Ross posted above-average scores in at least four if not all six workouts at the combine.

Even 2017 acquisitions Latavius Murray and Bronson Hill outdid their peers in most of their workouts. But Dalvin Cook, as well as Stevan Ridley and Mack Brown, famously underperformed at the combine — at least relative to expectations. Cook’s 4.49 forty-yard dash is still faster than the average running back, and it may be the case that they still strongly prefer athletic running backs except when their film grade is overwhelmingly high, like it was for Cook.

The running backs they’ve chosen have either had above-average agility workouts or an above-average forty-yard dash, so that seems to be at least the minimum. The averages at running back across the NFL for each workout are:

Height Weight 40-Yard Dash 20-Yard Split 10-Yard Split
5’10 1/2″ 214 4.54 2.62 1.58
Bench Press Reps Vertical Leap Broad Jump Short Shuttle Three cone
19.7 34.5 118 4.28 7.06

Wide Receiver

Photo Credit: Brian Curski

The Vikings briefly broke form on their receiver model when they drafted Stefon Diggs, and that may have convinced them to dispose of the model entirely, drafting three receivers over the past two years that haven’t met it.

That said, all of their recent receiver acquisitions have had excellent broad jump scores, jumping 10’0” or further — the average for receivers over the past decade has been exactly 10’0”. The only exception is Treadwell himself, and the Vikings seemed to be content with explaining away much of his poor testing with recovery from an injury he suffered in late 2014.

Of the eight non-Treadwell receivers they’ve acquired, seven jumped at least 10’0” or further. Not only that, eight receivers — including Treadwell himself — ran a faster than average “flying 20,” which is a measurement that takes the forty-yard dash time and subtracts it from the 20-yard split.

In theory, this measures how fast a player is once they’ve reached full acceleration, and it’s something Spielman’s mentioned before. On average, NFL receivers run a flying 20 of 1.91 seconds, and eight of the nine receivers they’ve added to the roster at any point in the past two years have run that fast or faster — including Treadwell.

They seem to have maintained their preference for faster three-cone times — since 2014, 20 of the 25 receivers that they’ve added to the roster in some capacity ran faster than NFL average three-cone times, though that trend hasn’t been as strong recently as it was early in Zimmer’s tenure. Either way, it’s worth monitoring.

For receivers, look for those running a flying 20 of 1.91 seconds or faster, a three-cone of 7.05 seconds or faster and a broad jump of at least 10’0”.

Tight End

(photo credit: Luke Inman)

Not much has changed for the Vikings in terms of finding tight ends. They generally prefer those with a good amount of vertical lift, with only David Morgan and MarQueis Gray jumping shorter than the NFL average of 33 inches high. The other 10 tight ends added to the roster at some point between 2014 and now jumped higher, often significantly higher. Bucky Hodges had a 39” vertical, Mike Higgins jumped 40” and MyCole Pruitt jumped 38”.

That seems to be the strongest indicator of a workout filter for the Vikings. It may be worth noting that Morgan had above-average workouts for three-cone, short shuttle and broad jump, so they might have been willing to waive their requirement for a high vertical leap.

Before 2016, they never acquired a tight end who ran a 40-yard dash slower than 4.70 seconds, but since then, they’ve acquired three. That may no longer be part of their evaluative criteria.

Look for tight ends that do well in the vertical leap.

Offensive Tackle

(photo credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media)

This might end up being the most relevant set of metrics given how important the offensive line will be to the Vikings offseason plans. They could draft a tackle and move Mike Remmers inside to guard or keep him on the outside and draft a player intended to play guard. The Vikings have been aggressive about acquiring a tackle, and in the past two years have put 10 on their roster, even if only for a short time.

Nine of the 10 tackles ran faster short shuttle times than NFL average, 4.78 seconds. The only one who didn’t — Dieugot Joseph — was signed to the practice squad after the 2017 regular season and is currently on a reserve/future contract.

That short shuttle filter seems to be new for the Vikings, who didn’t acquire a single tackle with a fast short shuttle in the first few years of Zimmer’s tenure… except for T.J. Clemmings. They seem to have shed the vertical leap requirement, but have apparently maintained their broad jump requirement. Eight of the 10 tackles they’ve rostered in the past two years jumped 8’4” or further (100 inches).

It may be worth keeping an eye on the 40-yard dash, too. As odd as it sounds, eight of the 10 recently acquired tackles ran faster than average for their position (5.23 seconds). That might be a byproduct of the other things they’ve looked at, though.

Weirdly, there is not a very consistent pattern in the 20-yard split or 10-yard split (seven of 10 are faster than average in the 10-split, which could just as easily be chance as it is intentional).

For now, keep an eye on tackles that run 4.78 seconds or faster in the short shuttle and jump 8’4” or further in the broad jump.

Offensive Interior

Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen

Because the Vikings — like many teams — move tackles inside if their first experience on the outside doesn’t work, they haven’t acquired as many guards over the same period of time. Only twelve guards and five centers have been acquired by the Vikings since 2014, and only four guards in the past two years. Many of the players they’ve kept at guard were converted from another position, like Mike Harris and Isame Faciane.

There’s also a good chance that a few of the tackles they’ve signed for the 2018 season, like Josh Andrews and Cedrick Lang, are intended to be guards. As a result, it’s difficult to really nail down what they expect at guard.

Not only that, they’ve only seemed to add two centers in the past two years, leaning on the depth that they’ve added in previous years — players like Joe Berger, Zac Kerin and so on.

Of the eighteen interior linemen they’ve added over the past four years, only one of them was not faster than average at either the three-cone or short shuttle: Vladimir Ducasse. He didn’t last long on the team, and the seventeen other interior linemen have been quick in some fashion. 14 have had above-average three cone scores and 11 have had better-than-average short shuttle times.

The potential tackle-to-guard converts are faster than average in those workouts as well, with Cedrick Lang, Josh Andrews and Storm Norton beating the average guard in both agility drills. Marquis Lucas wins in the short shuttle, while Dieugot Joseph wins in the three-cone.

They seemingly used to care about the broad jump, with the same 8’4” cutoff, but that may no longer be the case after they changed their combine strategy. Neither center has an above average broad jump score and one of the four guards — Freddie Tagaloa — has a much worse broad jump than his peers.

One of the potential tackle-to-guard players has a below average broad jump too, though the rest meet the criteria.

Still, it’s worth noting when watching some of the guard prospects work out in this week’s combine.

When interior linemen work out, look for short shuttle times of 4.78 seconds or faster, three-cone times of 7.84 seconds or faster and, to a lesser extent, broad jumps of 8’4” or further.

Defensive Tackle

Linval Joseph celebrating after a defensive stop (Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen)

There are two pretty clear body types at defensive tackle for the Vikings, with players generally 310 pounds or heavier playing nose tackle and those lighter than 300 pounds playing the three-technique position, sometimes called under tackle. There are two players in the last four years in between those two weights — Will Sutton and Shamar Stephen — but for the most part, they’ve committed to quickness at one position and stoutness at the other.

In the past two years, those who have played under tackle — Tom Johnson and Sharrif Floyd’s position — have had great short shuttle times. Across the NFL, defensive tackles weighing 300 pounds or less have posted an average short shuttle time of 4.65 seconds. Six of the seven lighter DTs that the Vikings have added since 2016 have run faster than that. Five of them have run faster than average three-cone times as well (7.65 seconds). Other than that, there don’t seem to be consistent patterns for smaller defensive tackles.

As for nose tackles, they prioritize the explosive workouts — the broad jump and vertical leap. Defensive tackles who weigh more than 310 pounds average a vertical leap of 28 inches and a broad jump of 8’4” (again). All five of the nose tackles that the Vikings have acquired have beaten both measures.

Three of the four who recorded a three-cone time also had a faster-than-average three cone, but that may be a coincidence. Also a likely coincidence: the fact that four of the five nose tackles recorded a faster-than-average flying 20 time.

Defensive End

Photo Credit: Brian Curski

The Vikings have consistently sought athletic edge rushers — it seems to be a hallmark of the Zimmer era. 11 of the 15 defensive ends they’ve acquired since 2014 have been above average athletically, and three were in the 90th percentile of athleticism at their position.

In the early Zimmer years, there was a priority placed on the three-cone drill, with six of the eight defensive ends they added to their roster posting significantly above-average times. Now, they seem to prioritize explosion.

Generally speaking, the only players — four of fifteen — that have not posted either above-average agility scores or above-average explosion scores were undrafted free agents. None of them have survived the first roster cut down to 75 players — when that was on the schedule — much less the more direct cut to the 53-man roster.

The prior focus on agility meant that fans would have been smart to zero in on players that had three cone scores of 7.30 seconds or faster. Now, the emphasis on explosion means that players jumping 9’7” or further would be the likely targets.

The one thread connecting both eras of workout metrics is the 10-yard split. Four players didn’t make the agility or explosion cutoffs also didn’t meet the 1.67-second cutoff at the 10-yard split. Three of them were among the four that didn’t make the early roster cuts, and the other one — Tyler Scott — didn’t leave a lasting impression.

Fans should pay attention to any edge rusher that posts a 1.67-second or faster 10-yard split, and should also look into the edge defenders that jump further than 9’7”. If any defensive end candidates also run faster than 7.30 seconds in the three-cone drill, they should note that as well.

Linebacker

Screenshot: NFL Gamepass

The Vikings just like athletic linebackers. Eighteen of the 23 linebackers they’ve added since 2014 scored in the 50th percentile or higher at their position in general athleticism scores. If they didn’t put together fantastic explosion scores, they usually put together great agility scores. And nearly all of them ran fast 40-yard dashes.

Three of them posted a 40-yard dash at their pro day or combine of 4.45 or faster, which is faster than most players at any position, much less one where the average player weighs 240 pounds. 18 of the 23 linebackers had faster-than-average (4.75 seconds) 40-yard dash times in general.

This seems to be independent of 10-yard splits, as only 12 of the 20 linebackers that we have 10-yard split data for ran faster-than-average 10-yard splits. Only 13 of them ran faster-than-average 20-yard splits and only 16 had faster-than-average flying 20 times. It really seems like the 40-yard dash, by itself, is what the Vikings prioritize.

That doesn’t mean they absolutely will not consider slower linebackers; Kentrell Brothers, who ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash, has been a valuable special teams player and they invested a decent amount of draft capital acquiring. Ben Gedeon earned the same investment from the Vikings and barely made the cutoff at 4.75 seconds exactly.

It helps that Brothers has quickness on his side, as he ran much faster than average in the short shuttle (4.11 seconds when the average is 4.33) and three-cone (6.99 seconds when the average is 7.17 seconds).

The Vikings have targeted linebackers who happened to perform well in explosion and quickness drills as well as the 40-yard dash, though not with the same consistency. 16 of the 22 linebackers they’ve added who performed the vertical leap and the broad jump at a combine or pro day had better-than-average scores (33.5 inches) in the vertical leap and the broad jump (average for a linebacker is 9’8”).

12 of 19 linebackers who performed the agility drills had either faster-than-average short shuttle times (4.33 seconds) or three-cone times (7.16 seconds).

All of the drills seem to matter, but the one that apparently matters the most is the 40-yard dash. The average Vikings linebacker ran a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, nearly a tenth of a second faster than the NFL average. If the Vikings target a linebacker, there’s a very good chance that it will be among the group who run the fastest.

Cornerback

Photo Credit: Brian Curski

The Vikings are well known for targeting speed at cornerback. This is one of the workouts where the priorities seemingly didn’t change at all, with 16 of 20 cornerbacks in the past four years ran 4.48 seconds or faster. Nine of them ran 4.40 seconds or faster, and only a fifth of cornerbacks league-wide ran that fast.

There’s a relationship to the 20-yard split, 10-yard split and flying 20, but none of those relationships are nearly as strong as the full 40-yard dash.

They also seem to care about the vertical leap. 19 cornerbacks performed a vertical leap at the combine or pro day, and 16 of them jumped 35 inches or higher. 18 of those 19 jumped 10’1” or further. That’s an even stronger relationship than the simple 40-yard dash test.

Minnesota has demonstrated several times that they don’t particularly pay attention to the agility drills when it comes to cornerbacks, and first-round pick Trae Waynes is one of many examples — 14 of the cornerbacks that they’ve added to the roster in the Zimmer era ran slower than average short shuttle times.

At cornerback, look for fast players (4.48 seconds or faster in the 40-yard dash) and explosive players (10’1” or further in the broad jump and possibly 35” or higher in the vertical leap).

Safety

Photo Credit: Thad Chesley

The Vikings have not added many safeties to their roster in the Zimmer era. They typically enter training camp with five or six safeties on the roster. Compare that to the nine or 10 cornerbacks, eight to 10 receivers or nine to 11 linebackers.

Not only that, the two starters, Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo, were added to the roster before Mike Zimmer arrived. That means they’ve only added 11 safeties to the roster in the past four years, with only four of them coming in the last two years.

That would normally make patterns difficult to divine, but it’s notable that every single safety that they’ve added to the roster ran a 20-yard split faster than 2.71 seconds — the NFL average at safety.

There’s no pattern at the position that has that same relationship. Even the 40-yard dash doesn’t, as only six of the 11 safeties ran faster than the NFL average. Eight safeties ran a faster-than-average 10-yard split, but it really only makes sense to hone in on the 20-yard split.

Other than that, there may be a relationship with the bench press — the Vikings have added 10 safeties who performed the bench press drill at the combine or pro day, and nine of them beat the NFL average of 15 reps.

It’s the only position where the Vikings have targeted above-average bench press scores, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care at other positions — they might simply have lower cutoffs than “NFL average.”

They haven’t shown a particular proclivity for quick safeties and though the last four safeties have had above average broad jumps (10’1” or further), it may just be a random quirk.

For now, any fans that hope the Vikings draft or sign a safety, may want to look at the safeties who post fast 20-yard splits and bench press at least 15 reps.


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