It’s an Important Draft for the Minnesota Vikings
The defining trait of Bill Belichick’s career is self-evaluation. Belichick understands what he’s got better than any other coach on the league. It’s what enables him to move on from players at the right time so often, but it’s also what allows him to get the most out of less-talented players on the field.
What Belichick does is fit players into situations that highlight their strengths and mask their flaws. Other coaches and teams do this too, but Belichick is at the pinnacle.
By bringing in Mike Zimmer to be their head coach two years ago, the Vikings gave themselves a head coach who could have a similar impact on their defense. Zimmer proved himself over a five-year spell as he repeatedly recognized the right roles for his personnel while improving their individual technique. Zimmer has brought that kind of coaching to the defense in Minnesota.
As the defense thrives, the offense falters.
During Zimmer’s first year in charge of the Vikings, they drafted Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater wasn’t put in the starting lineup initially, but was forced onto the field because of an injury to Matt Cassell early in the year. Bridgewater was supposed to have Adrian Peterson on the field to rely on but the running back was sidelined by controversy at the time. Peterson’s absence forced offensive coordinator Norv Turner to craft his scheme around the young quarterback.
Bridgewater isn’t a strong-armed quarterback. He struggles to hit vertical routes but can thrive throwing to short and intermediate routes. In shotgun formations, Bridgewater could read the defense pre-snap to get rid of the ball or adjust afterwards to pick apart the short and intermediate levels of the coverage. The young quarterback excelled in that scheme and the offense around him over-achieved because of him.
In year two, last season, Peterson was available to Turner and the offensive coordinator prioritized him over his quarterback.
The Vikings offense relied on seven-step drops and play action from under center to accommodate Peterson’s running style. Peterson isn’t a receiving option and struggles to run from shotgun alignments. In this scheme, Bridgewater needed to be able to throw accurately to vertical routes, something he can’t do, the offensive line was further stressed in pass protection, stress it couldn’t take, and the receivers needed to show greater proficiency at getting open on deep routes, something they couldn’t do.
Everything about the Vikings offense last season worked in Peterson’s favor but against the other 10 players on the field.
Nobody knows what direction Turner will take the offense in this season, but the signings of Andre Smith and Alex Boone suggest they will continue to prioritize Peterson. Smith and Boone, along with Phil Loadholt, should solidify the right side of the offensive line. John Sullivan’s return at center will give the Vikings another starter who wasn’t in the lineup last year. Even though the offensive line was a travesty last season, their offseason moves should mean that the only possible addition there in the first round of the draft is at left tackle.
Taylor Decker could be a perfect fit in Turner’s scheme. He is a balanced tackle, someone who has the foot frequency and balance to excel as a pass protector with the power and control to move big bodies as a run blocker. Decker may not make it as far as the Vikings’ 23rd overall pick.
The most popular pick for the Vikings is a wide receiver. Whether it’s Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson, Michael Thomas, Corey Coleman or Sterling Shepard, any of the top receivers in this class would immediately start for the Vikings. Will Fuller has also been linked to the Vikings but he has Mike Wallace’s skill set. He wouldn’t fit with what Bridgewater needs.
Of those receivers, it’s clear that Doctson is not only the best fit for the Vikings but the best receiver of the group.
Doctson doesn’t need to be fit into a specific offense or put with a specific quarterback. He is an accuracy-erasing receiver who can move comfortably in the open field. If you need a receiver to work underneath, he has those traits. If you need a receiver to work intermediate routes, he has that body control. If you need a receiver to stretch the field, Doctson can not only do that but he can do that before adjusting so that the pass doesn’t need to be precise, it just needs to be catchable.
In short, Doctson would give the Vikings mismatch receiver that they don’t currently have.
With Doctson, Turner’s 2014 offense would get better because of the explosiveness he could add to it. Turner’s 2015 offense would get better because Bridgewater’s vertical throws would be much easier as he offers a greater margin for error at the catch point. There is no downside to draft Doctson.
The concern about picking Doctson is that he’s not likely to fall to the Vikings. If they really want him, they may need to prove that with a trade.
If it’s not Doctson, then the Vikings will be smart to look at Michael Thomas or Sterling Shepard after a trade down instead of taking Laquon Treadwell. Treadwell is a flashy player who looked like he was going to be a top five pick before breaking his ankle two years ago. That ankle injury appears to have sapped his athleticism to the point that he won’t be able to separate in the NFL. That will make him a one-dimensional receiver who has to win more consistently than anyone else at the catch point to be valuable.
That type of receiver can be valuable, look at old Anquan Boldin, but it’s not going to alter the identity of your offense or offer you enough versatility to justify such a lofty selection.
Most draft classes offer more options on the offensive side than this class does. If Decker and Doctson are off the board in the first round, the Vikings will be tempted to add another piece to their defense. This sounds insane considering all they didn’t pick an offensive player until the fourth round in last year’s draft and that was T.J. Clemmings, a tackle who is now behind Andre Smith and Phil Loadholt on the depth chart.
Nose tackle Andrew Billings has been linked with the Vikings a lot. Billings doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface but the nose tackle is a phenomenal talent who could prove to be too attractive for Zimmer to pass on. Linebackers Leonard Floyd and Darron Lee could appeal to the Zimmer’s confidence in his coaching ability. Zimmer has helped Anthony Barr develop into a star and Floyd has drawn some comparisons to the former UCLA prospect.
If the Vikings do take a defensive player in the first round of the draft, a safety makes the most sense.
This is a strong safety class and the Vikings are in need of someone to pair with Harrison Smith. Having seemingly passed on George Iloka, the Vikings could add similarly versatile options in Karl Joseph or Darian Thompson. Thompson could be available for the Vikings when they pick in the second round and Joseph could fall to the early stages of the second round because of a previously torn ACL. So again, if the Vikings go in this route they would be strong candidates to trade down a few spots.
Drafting Doctson in the first round would give the Vikings freedom with the rest of their draft. If they pass on a receiver or take one of the lesser options available, the position must be addressed after that point. A Sterling Shepard-Charone Peake combination in the second and third rounds could solidify the Vikings’ receiving corps along with Stefon Diggs. Latter round options with huge upside would be Demarcus Robinson of Florida, a very impressive talent with off-field issues, and Michael Thomas of Southern Miss.
In truth, the Vikings have picked the wrong offseason to find offensive pieces. This class lacks talent at the skill positions, especially compared to the past two years, and the main strength comes at running back where they are committed to Peterson.