Now that the Vikings have signed every drafted rookie — except for Mike Hughes — to their contracts, it’s worth some speculation to see which professional players track closest to Vikings rookies from a measurable standpoint.
Measurable comparisons aren’t the end-all, be-all of rookie futures, but we know that the Minnesota Vikings themselves build some of their analytic models based on direct comparisons to historical players.
We might as well do something similar.
It should be stressed that these don’t represent the ceilings of the players in question; if a poor player gets compared to one of the rookies, it may very well be that the veteran had poor mental acuity, sloppy technique or unfortunate off-field incidents that prevented them from reaching their full potential.
Not only that, these tests are not weighted towards ones that historically matter; if two offensive linemen are very close in the bench press, 40-yard dash and vertical leap, it may mean they have some similar athletic traits, but not ones that matter to the big picture.
Knowing all of that, let’s take a look at the best comparables for Vikings rookies.
These tests use the best available score, so if a player did better at his pro day than at the combine, that score is used — for both the veteran and the rookie. Devante Downs and Dan Carlson weren’t included; Downs did not do any workouts and Carlson is a kicker.
Mike Hughes: Kenneth Acker
|Measure||Mike Hughes||Kenneth Acker|
|Arm Length||30 7/8″||31″|
|Height||5’10 1/8″||5’11 5/8″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.53||4.5|
|20 Yard Split||2.68||2.59|
|10 Yard Split||1.58||1.58|
Hughes is one of the players that doesn’t have a good workout comparison. Among non-starting cornerbacks, Hughes athletically compares somewhat strongly to Mackensie Alexander, and strongest to former Hawaii cornerback Mike Edwards, though even that is a bit of a stretch. In fact, his workout better matches some safeties, like Bacarri Rambo and Calvin Pryor.
Still, Hughes overall fits the profile of a relatively small cornerback with great agility and a somewhat worrisome 40-yard dash. In that broader sense, he matches closely with players like Leon McFadden, Vernon Hargreaves, Justin Coleman, Alterraun Verner and Logan Ryan.
As for the Kenneth Acker comparison, one hopes that Hughes has a better career. Though Acker has started 15 games, 13 of them came in 2015 for a depleted San Francisco 49ers squad. In the last three years, Acker has given up 1028 yards in coverage over 110 targets and a passer rating of 92.5, per Pro Football Focus.
On the other hand, Verner had four very successful seasons in coverage before switching teams to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He earned a Pro Bowl accolade and gave up a 74.4 passer rating when targeted.
The players furthest away from Hughes’ workouts is Trae Waynes, perhaps the weirdest result of this exercise. There are no players that are even as close to Waynes in that regard, either.
Brian O’Neill: Taylor Decker
|Measure||Brian O’Neill||Taylor Decker|
|Arm Length||34″||33 3/4″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.8||5.21|
|20 Yard Split||2.83||3.01|
|10 Yard Split||1.7||1.8|
Taylor Decker is the best match for Brian O’Neill among consistent starters, though there are three other tackles that fit a bit better but don’t start: John Theus, Emmett Cleary and Alex Lewis.
It’s difficult to find that many close matches to O’Neill because his three-cone and 40-yard dash times are in the 98th percentile of his position. That’s why the timed running positions look so far off — because the only tackles remotely close (who, interestingly enough, include J’Marcus Webb and Alex Boone) in those categories are off in their size, broad jump or ten-yard split.
Decker had a rocky, injury-shortened 2017 but ranked 13th among all left tackles in PFF’s grading system.
The furthest starter away from Brian O’Neill athletically is Terron Armstead. Also far away are Lane Johnson and Joe Staley.
Jalyn Holmes: Corey Liuget
|Measure||Jalyn Holmes||Corey Liuget|
|Arm Length||34″||33 1/4″|
|Height||6’4 7/8″||6’2 1/8″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.82||4.97|
|20 Yard Split||2.7||2.86|
|10 Yard Split||1.67||1.73|
Holmes has a number of close comparables — Devon Still, Justin Jones, Vincent Taylor and so on — but no one who starts. As a result, Liuget is the closest we have to an interior defender with Holmes’ athletic profile.
The Vikings defensive tackle has better explosion scores but worse agility scores and may be able to make up for it with his length. His quick 10-yard split might be the basis for his game. The reason it is difficult to find a very good athletic comp for Holmes is because underweight defensive tackles don’t tend to be tall or long and also generally have better agility scores, as agility is how three-technique tackles often win.
Liuget finished 2017 as PFF’s 31st-ranked interior defender of 124 but for most of his career has been a one-dimensional player with much better pass-rush than run defense, ending five of his seven years in the NFL with a net negative PFF grade.
The best successful example of a player closest to Holmes’ physical profile is Leonard Williams, who has played on the inside, outside and as a two-gapping defensive lineman. He’s accumulated 12.5 career sacks and has the second-highest PFF grade over those three years among 3-4 defensive ends and 11th-highest among all interior defenders.
The players furthest away from Holmes are J.J. Watt, Terrence Cody, and Dontari Poe.
Tyler Conklin: Hunter Henry
|Measure||Tyler Conklin||Hunter Henry|
|Arm Length||33″||32 3/4″|
|Hands||9 1/2″||9 1/4″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.71||4.68|
|20 Yard Split||2.78||2.74|
|10 Yard Split||1.66||1.6|
Conklin and Henry are nearly clones from a size and straight-line speed perspective, and they do have similar agility scores. Where they differ — explosiveness — is very important for tight ends, but also a reason it’s difficult to find a comp for Conklin. Generally, those that have excellent explosion scores and good agility scores tend to have faster 40-yard dash times.
Conklin’s isn’t slow — he ran nearly a tenth of a second faster than average at his position — but tight ends with his vertical also ran, on average, a tenth of a second faster than he did. As a fairly unique athlete, Conklin therefore doesn’t have 1:1 workout comps among starters, though former Broncos backup tight end Steven Scheu is the closest.
Henry is about to have his first season without Antonio Gates on the roster, but even splitting time with the future Hall-of-Famer yielded results — he finished second overall in PFF’s grading (to Rob Gronkowski) and ranked tenth in total receiving yardage. He ranked second overall in yards per receiving route run.
Conklin is further away from Vernon Davis than any other player by a good margin, with Chris Cooley and Rob Housler rounding out the least-comparable players.
Colby Gossett: Jeff Allen
|Measure||Colby Gossett||Jeff Allen|
|Arm Length||33 7/8″||33 1/2″|
|Height||6’4 7/8″||6’3 7/8″|
|40 Yard Dash||5.21||5.17|
|20 Yard Split||3.07||2.97|
|10 Yard Split||1.85||1.8|
Aside from their three-cone and bench press scores, Allen and Gossett are incredibly close athletically. Gossett was also close to the Chargers’ Dan Feeney, but was closer to Allen by just enough of a margin to earn the Allen comp.
Allen has started in five of his six years in the NFL, but his last two years — both in Houston — have been very poor. If Gossett starts quickly for the Vikings, they might rather hope he replicates his career in Kansas City, where he played excellently in 2015.
Not too far away from Allen and Gossett is Ben Grubbs, an elite guard who retired in 2015 and put together five high-quality seasons between 2009 and 2014, finishing with the sixth-best PFF grade of every guard in that timespan.
Compared to players who have started multiples seasons, Gossett is furthest away athletically from super-athlete Evan Mathis, along with the player that sort of replaced him in Philadelphia, Brandon Brooks. Among non-starters, Will Hernandez is notable for being even further away from Gossett than Brooks and Mathis.
Ade Aruna: Aldon Smith
|Measure||Ade Aruna||Aldon Smith|
|Arm Length||34″||35 3/8″|
|Hands||10 5/8″||9 3/4″|
|Height||6’4 5/8″||6’4 1/4″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.61||4.74|
|20 Yard Split||2.71||2.79|
|10 Yard Split||1.59||1.66|
This might be the most exciting comparison in the set, though Ade Aruna compares better to current professional players than any other Vikings draft pick does to their professional peers. Aruna’s combine matches most closely to Aldon Smith, though there are perhaps some legitimate questions about whether or not recovery from a broken leg in his final season impacted his combine numbers.
If not Smith, who racked up 42 sacks in his first three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, then Aruna compares most closely to Bjoern Werner, a first-round bust for the Indianapolis Colts. If ignoring those who have started a good chunk of games, Aruna compares very closely to former Vikings Justin Trattou and Zach Moore.
|Measure||Ade Aruna||Zach Moore|
|Arm Length||34″||33 3/4″|
|Hands||10 5/8″||9 5/8″|
|Height||6’4 5/8″||6’5 1/2″|
|40 Yard Dash||4.61||4.79|
|20 Yard Split||2.71||2.8|
|10 Yard Split||1.59||1.67|
Smith’s on-field career has been excellent, even if his off-field concerns have rendered him an afterthought in contemporary conversations among edge defenders. Werner, on the other hand, has generated 6.5 sacks in his four years in the NFL and did not play a snap in 2016 or 2017 despite being drafted in 2013.
Players with slow three-cone scores and excellent explosion scores have a somewhat mixed history in the NFL, but they tend to boom or bust.
Aruna is furthest away from Nick Perry, Mario Williams, Myles Garrett and Cameron Wake. He’s also very far away from some edge defenders with similar profiles as explosive-but-not-agile combine testers: Bud Dupree and Margus Hunt.