Vikings NFL Scouting Combine Primer
With the NFL Scouting Combine underway in Indianapolis this week, it's time for a preview of that event while also getting caught up on where the Vikings stand six weeks into a critical offseason.
The early portion of the Vikings' offseason has been all about changes to the coaching staff. In an effort to get over the hump next season, the Vikings have brought in new faces in certain areas and prioritized continuity in others. Here's a rundown of the changes:
- Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski left to become the Browns' head coach. After taking some time to think about it, offensive advisor Gary Kubiak agreed to step into the vacated OC role, where he'll call plays for the first time in several years.
- With George Edwards's contract expiring, the team decided to move on. Defensive line coach Andre Patterson and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer were named co-defensive coordinators for 2020. Both will maintain their position-specific focuses with added responsibilities.
- The Vikings parted ways with defensive backs coach Jerry Gray, who, like Edwards, had been on Mike Zimmer's staff since he got the job in 2014. Daronte Jones, who has spent the last four years with the Dolphins and Bengals, was hired to replace Gray and take over a DB position group that is in a state of flux.
- Assistant offensive line coach Andrew Janocko was promoted to wide receivers coach to replace Drew Petzing, who followed Stefanski to Cleveland. Phil Rauscher was hired from the Redskins to take the assistant o-line role. Rauscher, Kubiak, o-line coach Rick Dennison, and tight ends coach Brian Pariani all worked together with the Broncos when they won Super Bowl 50.
- Former Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers was brought in as a defensive assistant to help share his perspective and ideas from nearly 50 years in coaching.
- Imarjaye Albury and Roy Anderson were brought in from SEC schools as assistant position coaches on the defensive side.
Got all that? It's been a busy six weeks for Zimmer and the Vikings on the coaching front. Bringing in five new coaches from outside of the organization, most notably Capers and Jones, should breathe some new life into the team going forward. But it's also important to note that the Vikings are keeping the same offense under Kubiak, and also chose continuity by promoting Patterson and the younger Zimmer on the defensive side of the ball.
With the coaching staff finalized, the focus of the rest of the offseason becomes personnel. Vikings coaches, scouts, and front office decision-makers have descended on Indianapolis to prepare for the NFL Draft in April, but also to have conversations with other teams about potential trades (no, they're not going to trade Stefon Diggs). And the salary cap-troubled Vikings need to constantly be thinking about clearing cap space and how they'll approach the upcoming free agency period. Everson Griffen opting out of his deal was the first domino to fall, but there are still many more moves to be made.
2019 Season in Review
The Vikings bounced back from a disappointing 2018 season by going 10-6 and making the playoffs in year two of the Kirk Cousins era. Behind a Stefanski-Kubiak offense that focused on running the ball and generating explosive passes from play-action, the Vikings finished eighth in scoring offense (25.4 points per game) and tenth in offensive DVOA. Cousins, Diggs, and Dalvin Cook had career years to overcome an inconsistent offensive line and a hamstring injury that forced Adam Thielen to miss half the season. On defense, the Vikings were led by Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and a league-best safety tandem. They finished tied for fifth in scoring defense (18.9 ppg) and were seventh in defensive DVOA. The Vikings shocked the world by taking down the Saints in the wild-card round, but their shortcomings were on full display in a divisional-round loss to the NFC Champion 49ers.
2020 Draft Position
The Vikings have the No. 25 pick in the first round, as well as a second, a third, a fourth, a sixth, and two seventh-round picks. Their fifth-rounder was sent to Baltimore in the unsuccessful Kaare Vedvik trade. The Vikings are also expected to receive a fourth-round conditional pick and two more seventh-rounders, bringing their total number of picks to ten. They've averaged 9.7 total picks in the eight drafts since Rick Spielman took over as GM, after averaging 7.1 picks per draft in the previous eight years. Given Spielman's history, don't be surprised to see the Vikings move around via trade at least once. Trading back out of the first round seems more likely than trading up in the first.
Help Wanted, Help Needed
The Vikings' three biggest needs to address early in the draft are cornerback, defensive tackle, and offensive line (both tackle and guard). There are a number of corners that would be a good value at No. 25, so if someone they covet is still on the board, that could be the direction the Vikings go in the first round. But this is a deep corner class, so they could also look to address the offensive or defensive line in the first round and take a corner in the second. Two defensive tackles (Derrick Brown and Javon Kinlaw) and four offensive tackles (Jedrick Wills, Tristan Wirfs, Andrew Thomas, and Mekhi Becton) will almost certainly be selected prior to the Vikings' pick. Will they see enough value in someone like Ross Blacklock or Josh Jones to take them in the first round? Other needs for the Vikings to address are safety (depending on if they re-sign Anthony Harris), wide receiver, and edge rusher.
Five Players the Vikings Must Watch at the Combine
- Josh Jones, OT, Houston – Jones may wind up being a perfect match of need and value late in the first round. If he tests well at the combine, as is expected, it's not hard to imagine the Vikings falling in love with his size and athleticism. Jones has the movement ability to be a perfect fit in Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme, and could be the Vikings' left tackle of the future.
- Jeff Gladney, CB, TCU – After Ohio State's Jeff Okudah, who is a virtual lock to go in the top ten, there is a pretty big second tier of corners, several of which could be taken in the first round. Gladney might be the best of the bunch. He's very fluid in coverage and is a willing and able tackler, as well. Gladney has all the traits to become a No. 1 corner in the NFL.
- CJ Henderson, CB, Florida – Another player in Gladney's tier is Henderson, who is expected to post an impressive number in the 40-yard-dash. He's a little bit lankier than Gladney, but there are questions about his tackling ability. Gladney, Henderson, and LSU's Kristian Fulton seem like the three most likely first-round corner targets for the Vikings.
- Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU – If the Vikings want to upgrade their defensive line early in the draft, Blacklock is someone to watch. He's got exciting upside as an interior pass-rusher and could vault himself into the first round with a strong combine performance.
- Neville Gallimore, DT, Oklahoma – Like Blacklock, Gallimore could find himself being talked about as a late first-round pick if he tests well. Gallimore is an athletic freak, but his technique needs some refinement.
Who Makes The Call/Recent Draft Hits and Misses
Many voices are considered in the Vikings' draft war room, and Zimmer's certainly carries significant weight, but the final decisions are made by Spielman. He has had some outstanding drafts in his eight years and some less impressive ones, but overall has succeeded in consistently raising the talent level of the roster. The 2015 draft was his best; Spielman took Kendricks and Hunter on Day 2 and got a steal with Diggs in the fifth round. Matt Kalil and Laquon Treadwell are two notable first-round picks under Spielman that didn't pan out, but his full body of work should inspire confidence that the Vikings will do well in April's draft.
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