Sunday slant: Damn the stopwatch, Minnesota Vikings draft production

Moritz Boehringer stole the stopwatch show, but the Vikings found valued production from other guys who didn’t win the Scouting Combine but simply know how to play the game.

Outside of Winter Park, there are likely going to be some mixed reviews of the Minnesota Vikings 2016 draft. From the first pick to the last, there will be some controversy and differences of opinion as to whether the Vikings made out like bandits or missed the boat on the Class of 2016.

One of the recurring themes was that players with high rankings and solid game pedigrees were available at a time when it was thought by most pre-draft position rankings that they should have been off the board by the time the Vikings picked.

Minnesota’s first pick – wide receiver Laquon Treadwell – was the fourth wide receiver taken in the draft. The reason? League scouting analysts pointed to his slow 40-yard dash time.

The fifth-round pick – linebacker Kentrell Brothers was a tackling machine in the SEC, yet fell to the 160th pick. Why? A slow 40 time.

One of the sixth-round picks – tight end David Morgan – received All-America notices for his level of play. Why was he available in the sixth round? A singular lack of speed and deep-threat ability.

The final pick – safety Jayron Kearse – proclaimed when he went undrafted Friday through three rounds that he was going to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Why didn’t he go until the seventh round? More than likely a slower-than-expected 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine.

The only draftee who had a lights-out 40 time? He’s a guy from Germany (wide receiver/midfielder Moritz Boehringer) whose only viewable game tape won’t be found on the SEC Network or the Big Ten Network. It will be found on YouTube.

General manager Rick Spielman felt blessed that other teams put a higher priority on what a player does in his 40 time when he’s wearing shorts and a t-shirt. At his post-draft press conference, Spielman was asked what he sees as the fundamental difference between playing speed on game day and stopwatch speed running in a straight line for 40 yards.

“That is the first thing that we ask,” Spielman said. “I know we want speed – and talked a little about it last night – is that they have to play fast on tape,” Spielman said. “You do put an emphasis on speed, but if they play fast, then you are going to say that this guy plays a lot faster than that speed. At the same time, I see guys that go to the Combine that run 4.35 or 4.4 40-yard dash times and I estimate that guy is going to play at 4.65 or 4.7 speed by how he plays. A lot of these guys know how to play. They play at a high level and they play to a higher speed than they probably time.”

When it came to Brothers, who led all of college football in tackles with 152 last season, to see him is to be impressed. Viking Update had a correspondent in attendance that saw Brothers play during the Vikings’ bye week. He was surprised Brothers had 15 tackles in a game where Missouri’s offense scored a field goal on the opening drive and didn’t get anywhere close to scoring position after that.

Why was it surprising? He thought Brothers had at least 20 tackles. If your eye followed the ball, when a Gator went down, Brothers was in very close proximity, if not at Ground Zero.

That is what perked up the ears of Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer. What makes Brothers special … aside from tackling the guy with the ball more times than anyone else playing high-level college football in the United States during the autumn of 2015?

“It’s that he’s one heck of a football player,” Spielman said. “I know at the middle linebacker, to us the most important thing is instincts. I was at his game against Mississippi State in the pouring-down rain on a Thursday night. I charted his tackles and he had double-digit tackles. He had a blocked kick. He just made plays all over the field. The number one thing from a linebacker standpoint is that guys sometimes are a little slower in a 40. I have a sibling that was probably a little slower in the 40 than he even wanted to admit, but I’ve never seen that guy get beat to the sideline. I’ve seen the range that the kid plays with. He plays a lot faster, because he is so instinctive and gets a jump on the ball. Then (the coaching staff) watched him at the Senior Bowl, you watch him at practice, and as you sit there and chart and as I’m watching all of the Senior Bowl game tape, again he’s one of the most, if not the most, productive linebackers in that game. Every time that I have watched him or our scouts or coaches have watched him, he’s just producing. I think those are the things that you have to take into account, that they’re just one heck of a football player.”

As for Morgan, just about anyone who saw him play knows that he is not going to be the reincarnation of Tony Gonzalez. Pretty much any scouting evaluation that used the term “weaknesses” clearly noted his lack of burst or deep speed.

Spielman’s crew knew the same thing. That wasn’t the point. Morgan was brought in because of his ability to be a bulldozing blocker. The fact he has the hands of a pass-catching tight end is a plus, but not a selling point.

What were his selling points?

“A couple things,” Spielman said. “Number one is we felt that he was the best blocking tight end in this draft. His ability to make plays in the passing game, especially on underneath routes. The other thing is with Rhett Ellison still coming off that significant injury, we are going to have to wait and see where he is at. Hopefully, he will be healthy and ready to go for training camp. We wanted to make sure. He is something different than we drafted last year. This guy is more of a true Y, on-the-line type tight end. We felt that even though they did split him out some, when we watch the game tape, they split him out wide and threw him the ball on slants because he is so big and has such great hands. We tried to find something a little different than we currently have. We definitely thought that he fit that bill.”

As for Curse … er, ah … Kearse, Spielman didn’t think he would still be on the board when the countdown to Mr. Irrelevant was underway.

The one thing that seventh-round draft picks are known for is that they had better show up with a chip on the shoulder looking to stand out.

Kearse doesn’t have a chip. He has a cinder block on his shoulder.

His game needs refining, but the scouting staff is giving Zimmer a big safety who is pissed off. Where’s the problem in his game that caused his drop?

“I think a little bit because of some of the inconsistencies that he has shown,” Spielman said. “But he has such unique length and he moves well and can drop his hips for that kind of size and height. His stride covers a lot of ground when you watch him on tape. Does he have to get cleaned up technically? Sure he does. You see some times when he comes up and explodes into hits and other times when he gets a little out of control and will miss some tackles. But all of those things as we sit there and watch with our coaches, is it something that is correctable or not correctable? A lot of times these guys that we are taking may have technical issues on tape. I want to know if our coaches feel strongly enough if they can get those corrected. I can say, even with a lot of these later round guys, they have some unique traits to them, but a lot of things that are correctable with coaching.”

At first blush, Vikings draft haters have been supplied enough ammunition to make an argument that an indoor team (for the foreseeable future) selected too many guys whose main detriment isn’t running fast in February indoors.

For those who wear shoulder pads and are on a nickname basis with the head athletic trainer from Week 7 until the season ends due to their daily familiarity, who cares about Indianapolis? Let’s see what they do on Sundays (or Thursdays or Mondays).


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