Your way-too-early 2042 Vikings mock draft

2042draftThe 2017 NFL Draft just ended, which naturally means it’s time to start fixating about future drafts. If you haven’t already read — or ignored — a mock draft projecting which players will be chosen in the 2018 draft, which is a mere 360-some days away, you will soon.

The obvious question is: do we need all of this? The obvious answer is no.

A less obvious question: why are these mock drafters limiting themselves by only looking one year into the future? The less obvious answer is that it’s about time to fix that.

Why not go 25 years into the future in an attempt to predict the future of the Vikings’ draft. The chances of being correct are about the same as they are for the 2018 version. Here, then, is your “way-too-early” 2042 Vikings mock draft. We’ll assume for the sake of simplicity that it’s still a seven-round draft and that the NFL still exists.

First round: The organization’s search for a franchise quarterback will continue when they select one with their top pick. The Vikings will say they are certain this quarterback will succeed, finally breaking a cycle that has seen them choose quarterbacks in the first round in 2011, 2014, 2019, 2025, 2031 and 2036 without a Super Bowl title to show for it.

Second round: Taking advantage of new NFL rules finally designed to help defenses — in response to the 2041 season, which will see seven different quarterbacks top 10,000 yards passing — the Vikings will select a speedy cornerback.

Third round: In a trade with the 2041 Super Bowl champions from London, the Vikings will be able to grab a promising young running back. Most draft experts had him graded in the first or second round, but a virtual reality scandal caused him to tumble. The Vikings will say they have no concerns about character issues going forward.

Fourth round: Blown away by a performance they saw at the NFL Combine — which now takes three weeks — the Vikings will pick a defensive lineman. This prospect was particularly impressive in the combine’s new 87-cone drill.

Fifth round: On a constant quest for more team speed and hoping to give their new quarterback a fresh young target, the Vikings will choose a swift wide receiver with this pick. Experts are divided on his upside, but the young man declares himself the steal of the draft. Yes, some things never change.

Sixth round: The Vikings, who are preparing to move into their new outdoor stadium to replace the obsolete U.S. Bank Stadium, decide here to draft a college placekicker used to kicking in the elements.

Seventh round: In a stunning tribute to former general manager Rick Spielman, the Vikings manage to acquire via trades every single draft pick in the seventh round. A teary-eyed Spielman, now 79 and retired, declares it a masterpiece. The Vikings use their 32 picks on 13 offensive linemen, seven defensive backs, five defensive linemen, three wide receivers, two linebackers and two punters.

With 2017 draft underway, don’t forget quiet 2016 Vikings’ picks

treadwellAs you frantically research the Vikings’ options in the second round and beyond at this year’s NFL draft — Andrew Krammer gives you a good start with 10 players still available entering Day 2 — it’s also important to keep some perspective and realize a lot of these players won’t be immediate contributors (if they contribute at all).

You could argue the player the Vikings get at No. 48 overall should be able to help right away. Beyond that? It’s hit-or-miss.

Of at least equal importance (and likely more importance) will be the continued development of the players who were picked a year ago — a 2016 draft class that barely gave the Vikings anything on offense or defense and was exceedingly quiet when compared to previous Vikings draft classes and the rest of the NFL as a whole.

Vikings rookies in 2016 played just 301 combined offensive and defensive snaps. That was the lowest total in the NFL and was uncharacteristic for the Vikings. Between 2012 and 2015, Vikings rookies had averaged more than 2,500 offensive and defensive snaps per season.

The lack of production from last year’s rookies showed up in a lack of depth in some cases and contributed, at least in part, to the team’s fall from a 5-0 start to an 8-8 finish. Getting virtually nothing from first-round wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (one catch) and fourth-round offensive lineman Willie Beavers (didn’t make the 53-man roster out of camp and played just 11 snaps all year for a team that desperately needed O-line help) was particularly damaging.

Second-round pick Mackensie Alexander was caught more in a numbers game than anything, stuck behind experienced defensive backs. Among the rest of the picks — Kentrell Brothers, Moritz Boehringer, David Morgan, Stephen Weatherly and Jayron Kearse — there were some special teams contributions, but that’s about it. The Vikings didn’t need to rush those players last year because they have a lot of productive recent picks still on the roster.

This year, thanks to the departures of several free agents and other factors, there is somewhere between opportunity and flat-out need for a lot of those guys. Treadwell could give the Vikings a big target to go with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Without his emergence or a dip into free agency, there are big questions at that position. Alexander could fill departed corner Captain Munnerlyn’s role in the slot. Beavers could provide much-needed depth. Brothers could get more playing time with the retirement of Chad Greenway. Morgan could fill the role departed TE Rhett Ellison held.

If the 2016 class continues to stall, though, the Vikings’ depth will be seriously challenged. And it will put even more pressure on the players about to be chosen Friday and Saturday.

Vikings’ all-time greatest draft steals: we’re into the top 10

stevejordanThis week, I’ll be counting down the 25 biggest draft “steals” in Vikings history. This list encompasses several different eras of the draft and goes all the way back to the Vikings’ first draft in 1961. Undrafted free agents weren’t considered (sorry, John Randle).

The series kicked off Monday with Nos. 21-25.

The list continued with Nos. 16-20 on Tuesday and then Nos. 11-15 Wednesday.

So who’s left in the top 10? Let’s get through five of them right now:

10. Bobby Bell (2nd round, 1963): Oh, what could have been. Bell was drafted by the Vikings in the second round in 1963. But instead of playing for Minnesota, he opted to go to the rival AFL and play for the Chiefs — where he went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Still, the Vikings knew what they were doing when they drafted him.

9. Alan Page (1st round, 15th overall, 1967): Exactly 50 years ago, the Vikings had three first-round draft picks. The first two were fine choices (Clint Jones and Gene Washington), but the third ended up being Hall of Fame defensive lineman Alan Page — one of the greatest and most fascinating Vikings to ever play the game.

8. Ed McDaniel (5th round, 1992): He was a classic, run-stopping linebacker who started 109 career games for the Vikings (and nearly 100 consecutive in the mid-to-late 1990s). McDaniel was on some awfully good Vikings teams, as evidenced by his appearance in 11 career playoff games.

7. Everson Griffen (4th round, 2010): Griffen had off-field questions coming out of college, but he has emerged on and off the field since then. He has 30.5 combined sacks over the past three seasons playing for Mike Zimmer and has been named to the Pro Bowl each of the last two years. Last season he had two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries as well.

6. Steve Jordan (7th round, 1982): I believe we are talking right now about one of the most underrated players in Vikings history. Here’s a guy who played in 176 career games and made 149 starts over 13 seasons, all with the Vikings. He caught 498 career passes as a tight end and averaged close to 50 per year from 1985-93.

Draft fans in Philadelphia already trolling Vikings for Bradford trade

bradfordPhiladelphia hasn’t hosted the NFL Draft since 1961, which ended a 13-year run for the draft in that city. New York took over the event on a permanent basis for 50 years shortly thereafter, from 1965-2014, before the event started to rotate. It’s back in Philadelphia this year, for the first time in 56 years.

Philadelphia’s beloved Eagles have never won a Super Bowl. Their last NFL title came in 1960, the year before that final draft before this one.

The confluence of a fan base known for being salty after enduring 50+ years of frustration and the hosting of the 2017 draft should make for an interesting three days in the City of Brotherly Love.

With the start of the draft still several hours away, in fact, the festivities are already heating up. And it appears the Vikings might take the brunt of the trolling from Eagles fans Thursday night.

Minnesota, of course, does not have a first-round pick this year after dealing that choice to the Eagles late in the preseason a year ago in exchange for quarterback Sam Bradford. The Vikings got off to a 5-0 start and it seemed for a while like the pick they dealt would be a low first-rounder. Instead, Minnesota finished 8-8 — a slide that started, remember, with a loss to the Eagles — and Philly ended up with the No. 14 pick via the Vikings.

The Eagles had already dealt their 2017 first-round pick to the Browns in the deal for QB Carson Wentz (a pick that ended up being No. 12 overall), so this draft could have unfolded without the host city’s team having a first-round pick.

Instead? Eagles fans are giddy. SB Nation’s Bleeding Green Nation blog explains:

So here’s a toast to Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles for trading Sam Bradford — Sam Bradford! — for a first round pick. It’s still so hard to believe they pulled that deal off. … Because without the Bradford trade, this night would have been a lot less exciting than it projects to be.

The Vikings, it should be noted, are also pretty OK with the way the Bradford trade worked out, in spite of last year’s tumble. Their QB picture would have been an utter mess last year and this year without it. A first-round pick was a steep price to pay, but in the end it was a win-win deal.

This weekend, though, Eagles fans won’t be shy about reminding everyone about their part of the win. When victories are few and far between, you need to take them where you can get them.

Joe Mixon in NFL draft will test sliding scale of morality

mixonGive Vikings general manager Rick Spielman for his honesty. When asked this week about character risks and how the Vikings assess them heading into the start of the NFL draft tonight, he said (in part) this:

“Whether it’s fair or not, the less talented [a player is] and the more red flags [he has] probably the more likely [he is] going to get a red dot because is [his] talent worth the headache? The higher [a player goes] up the draft board, you’re really going to do your diligence because you’re saying those guys are potential difference-makers on your team. They can help you win or lose games.”

That quote was part of Mark Craig’s excellent look at the issue in general and one player specifically: Joe Mixon, the Oklahoma running back who broke four bones in a woman’s face when he punched her. Mixon was suspended for the 2014 season. Video later surfaced of the awful incident.

Teams are trying to decide where Mixon lands on their sliding scale of morality — the somewhat ugly but realistic general philosophy that the more talented a player is, the more a team is willing to put up with. Players who get a “red dot” from the Vikings are considered undraftable.

We all make risk-reward decisions in our lives. The Vikings have made risk-reward decisions in the draft that have paid off big-time: taking Randy Moss in 1998 and (to a lesser degree) Percy Harvin in 2009. Everson Griffen, a fourth-round pick in 2010, was a great example of a player who had off-field troubles and fell in the draft as a result. Griffen was even arrested in the offseason following his rookie year. But he has used his second chance to become a great player and a leader, while avoiding trouble for several years.

Are the Vikings really willing to take on another former Oklahoma running back with incredible off-field baggage just as they shed their roster of another? (Fittingly, Mixon and Adrian Peterson are pictured together above at Oklahoma’s spring game earlier this month).

Maybe they are. That said: the sliding scale of morality shouldn’t apply to Mixon — an idea we also discussed on this week’s Access Vikings podcast. We’re not talking about a player with a questionable work ethic or attitude. We’re not even talking about Laremy Tunsil’s bong video from last year. With Mixon, we’re talking about indisputable video evidence that he punched a woman in the face.

That’s not to say there is no such thing as a second chance. It is, however, to say this: you can’t decide you won’t take Mixon in Round X but decide you would take him in Round Y if he starts to fall. You either somehow make peace with what he did, or you don’t.

The biggest Vikings draft steals countdown: we have a Brad Johnson sighting

bradjohnsonThis week, I’ll be counting down the 25 biggest draft “steals” in Vikings history. This list encompasses several different eras of the draft and goes all the way back to the Vikings’ first draft in 1961. Undrafted free agents weren’t considered (sorry, John Randle).

The series kicked off Monday with Nos. 21-25.

The list continued with Nos. 16-20 on Tuesday.

Now let’s get on with the show as we inch toward the top 10.

15. John Sullivan (sixth round, 2008): He was the Vikings’ center between 2009 and 2014, starting 93 of a possible 96 regular-season games in that span. He had the tough task of replacing Matt Birk, but Sullivan did so admirably before injuries derailed his career. It’s no coincidence that the Vikings’ offensive line began to fall apart when Sullivan’s health started to fail him. The only problem is he might have convinced the Vikings they could find all of their offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft — a theory that has been proven to be false.

14. Brian Robison (fourth round, 2007): With the retirement of Chad Greenway and departure of Adrian Peterson, Robison is the longest-tenured Vikings player. It’s been a very nice run for Robison, who became a full-time starter in 2011 and has since started 95 of 96 regular-season games at defensive end. He has 56 career sacks and 13 career forced fumbles.

13. Brad Johnson (ninth round, 1992): Here’s a pretty remarkable career. Johnson was drafted in the ninth round in 1992, the last year that round existed (it was a 12-round draft before being pared down to seven rounds in 1993). He was in his prime in 1998 when he was actually the opening day starting quarterback on the 15-1 juggernaut before an early injury thrust Randall Cunningham into the starting role. He was good enough to be traded in 1999 for a first-round pick and a third-round pick. And in 2005, in his second stint with the Vikings, he took over for the injured Daunte Culpepper not long after the Love Boat scandal broke. For his Vikings career, he was 28-18 as a starter.

12. Terry Allen (ninth round, 1990): Allen tore his ACL in college, got drafted by the Vikings in the ninth round, ran for 1,200 yards and 13 TDs in 1992, tore his other ACL in training camp in 1993 and came back as a 1,000-yard rusher in 1994. This was back when ACL recovery was not routine. That is quite a feat. He went on to do great things in Washington as well, scoring 21 touchdowns in one season.

11. Carl Lee (seventh round, 1983): It’s really a shame that the Vikings of the mid-to-late-1980s couldn’t always get their act together on offense because they sure could play some defense. The fewest points allowed by a Mike Zimmer defense in his three years here is 302. The 1988 Vikings allowed 233! Cornerback Carl Lee played a big role on those defenses, including 1988 when he picked off eight passes (returning two for TDs) and was a first-team All-Pro. He finished with 29 interceptions in a Vikings career that spanned 144 starts.

Massive layoffs at ESPN include Ed Werder, several other big names

edwerderThe cuts that reportedly were coming for months at ESPN started happening Wednesday, with several big names with many years of experience at the sports media behemoth getting calls and being told they are now out of a job.

Among the biggest names: NFL reporter Ed Werder, who had been with ESPN for 17 years.

James Miller, who wrote the definitive ESPN book “Those Guys Have All The Fun,” tweeted that more big names are on the horizon.

Indeed, the cuts also include NHL talent Scott Burnside, Joe McDonald and Pierre LeBrun. MLB insider Jim Bowden and college basketball reporter Dana O’Neil are also part of the layoffs for ESPN, which is facing budget deficits stemming from the increased cost of securing rights fees for major sports combined with a decline in subscriber revenue as more consumers “cut the cord” and ditch cable/satellite TV.

Awful Announcing is constantly updating the layoffs as more happen. You can follow along here on what really is a sad day. No matter what you think of ESPN, good people losing jobs is nothing to celebrate.

Ervin Santana pitching like the ace Twins haven’t had in a decade

santanaFrom 2004-07, former Twins pitcher Johan Santana won 70 games, led the American League in strikeouts three times and took home two AL Cy Young Awards. Nobody had to ask if Santana was the ace of the Twins’ staff. He would have been the ace of any staff.

In the 2007 offseason, a confluence of contract considerations and the new Bill Smith regime led the Twins to trade Santana to the Mets for a package of players. Most notable among them was Carlos Gomez, the talented but erratic outfielder.

There are no more remnants of that trade left on the Twins’ roster unless we’re talking about an idea instead of a player: since trading Santana a decade ago, the Twins haven’t had a true ace on their pitching staff.

Francisco Liriano was capable of pitching like one and came close in 2010, but he was still inconsistent. His ERAs surrounding that 2010 season in which he posted a 3.62 figure: 5.80 in 2009 … 5.09 in 2011 and 5.34 in 2012.

Carl Pavano was a bulldog and a key member of the Twins’ rotation for a couple years in there. But an ace? Nah.

Scott Baker was underrated from 2008-11 and might have become an ace if not for injuries. But he didn’t get there.

Phil Hughes was outstanding in 2014. Had he followed that season with another just like it, we might be calling him an ace right now. But injuries slowed him down as well.

But a decade removed from the last time the Twins had an ace in Santana, we are getting closer to declaring they have another ace named Santana — this time with a first name of Ervin, though his actual first name is also Johan.

He’s a righty instead of a lefty and he doesn’t strike out hitters at the same rate as the Santana of a decade ago, but Erv is pitching awfully well. On June 14 last year, Ervin Santana had a 5.10 ERA. For the rest of last season, 18 starts, he posted a 2.41 mark. This year, of course, he’s been even better: a 4-0 record in five starts with an otherworldly 0.77 ERA.

He’s pitched 35 innings and allowed three earned runs. His peripheral numbers — 10 walks, 26 strikeouts — suggest he will come back to earth a bit, but Santana inspires this quality: every time he pitches, you think the Twins have a pretty good chance to win. Lately, that feeling has been upgraded to a very good chance — the same way you felt with Johan Santana a decade ago.

Fittingly, Ervin Santana joined Johan Santana in some rare territory Tuesday with his seven inning, one run outing in Texas. Per the Twins, those two are the only pitchers in team history to allow either 0 or 1 runs in five consecutive starts at any point in a season. And fittingly, Gomez was one of the hitless victims in the Texas lineup last night.

It’s probably too soon to declare Erv an ace, but he’s getting close. We’ll know he’s there when we no longer have to ask if he is or if he isn’t. That’s the best definition of an ace that I know of.

Inside the numbers: how walks are saving the Twins this year

twinswalksStymied on offense through four innings Monday night, the Twins once again returned to a lesson that has served them well this young season: before they can get a run, they must walk.

Kennys Vargas and Chris Gimenez drew back-to-back one-out walks. Eddie Rosario struck out, but the struggling Byron Buxton pieced together a nice at bat and he, too, walked to load the bases with two outs for Brian Dozier. The Twins second baseman unloaded the bases with a three-run double, putting Minnesota ahead 3-2 — a score that would hold up as the final.

It was another example of the Twins’ patient approach this season — and how it’s helping them scratch out some runs even while many bats in the lineup remain cold.

The Twins this season have drawn an MLB-leading 85 walks. As a result, even though they’re just 24th in the majors in batting average (.229), they’re 10th in on-base percentage (.323). Miguel Sano leads the way with 17 walks, while Robbie Grossman has 15. (Somewhat surprisingly, Joe Mauer has just four walks to go with just five strikeouts in 71 plate appearances).

Walks have fueled several big innings this season: the first two games of the season against Kansas City, a recent rally against Detroit’s Justin Verlander and Monday night against Texas are prime examples.

Add it up and there are some pretty fascinating numbers for the Twins, who are 9-10 overall:

*In five different games this season, the Twins have had at least three players score runs who got on base via a walk. Minnesota has won each of those games.

*In games when the Twins don’t have any players score runs who reached base via a walk, they are 2-7.

*Overall, the Twins have scored 77 runs this season. A whopping 22 of those runners who crossed the plate reached base via a walk. There were other instances where a walk helped an inning along by advancing other runners who later scored or when a player who walked was erased on a fielder’s choice but led to a run when that runner later scored.

While I can’t find any good stats on a league-wide percentage of players who walk coming around to score, the Twins’ number seems quite high (28.6 percent so far this year).

For a quick comparison, I looked at last year’s Twins, who at this point in the season had scored 62 runs in 19 games while drawing 66 walks. Their record was 5-14. The result: only eight of those 62 runs had been scored via players who walked last season (12.9 percent).

So the Twins this season have been prolific in both drawing walks, as their league-leading total tells us, and in converting those walks into runs, as the comparison to last year suggests.

The former seems to be a point of emphasis of new hitting coach James Rowson, who replaced Tom Brunansky this past offseason. The latter is a function of timely hitting, good fortune and sheer volume of opportunities.

The Twins rank just 19th in the majors in runs scored, but without those walks they would be truly dismal — and maybe staring at the same type of 5-14 record in spite of vastly improved pitching so far this season (3.51 team ERA, sixth in MLB).

The 25 biggest draft steals in Vikings history (Nos. 16-20)

randallThis week, I’ll be counting down the 25 biggest draft “steals” in Vikings history. This list encompasses several different eras of the draft and goes all the way back to the Vikings’ first draft in 1961.  Undrafted free agents weren’t considered (sorry, John Randle).

The series kicked off Monday with Nos. 21-25.

The list continues with Nos. 16-20:

20. Randall McDaniel (first round, 19th overall, 1988): In a draft class that ended up producing five Hall of Famers, McDaniel was probably the best of the bunch. The left guard made 220 career starts — 188 for the Vikings — and anchored some very good offensive lines. He made seven All-Pro teams and 12 Pro Bowls. Any first-round pick has the potential to be great, but this level of production was certainly a steal for the Vikings.

19. Ray Edwards (fourth round, 2006): The first of three pass rushers on this list to have a big impact as a fourth-round pick, Edwards was a solid player for the Vikings in the latter part of 2000s. His best season was probably 2009, when he had 8.5 sacks from his defensive end spot.

18. Stefon Diggs (fifth round, 2015): Diggs cooled off as the Vikings did in 2016, but the second-year wide receiver still finished the season with 84 catches and continued to emerge as a legitimate offensive threat. Like Danielle Hunter (No. 21 on this list), Diggs could be much higher if we do a new version in 5-10 years.

17. Henry Thomas (third round, 1987): Thomas was a mainstay on some of the earliest Vikings teams I really remember watching. As a defensive tackle who could rush the passer (93.5 career sacks, including 56 in his eight seasons with the Vikings) and also held up really well against the run, Thomas was invaluable. He might have been overshadowed on some great defenses by the likes of Chris Doleman and Keith Millard, but if you plopped a modern day Thomas next to Linval Joseph right now, the Vikings’ front four next season would be off the charts.

16. Tim Irwin (third round, 1981): Irwin took over as the starting right tackle in the middle of the 1982 season and didn’t miss a start for the rest of his Vikings career through 1993 — a span of almost 200 games. That kind of dependability and toughness is a gift to coaches and made him a Vikings fan favorite. I don’t know how much the Vikings would be willing to pay for a modern version of Irwin, but I’d venture to say it’s a lot.