There is no debating that the selection of Moritz Boehringer was the feel-good story of the draft. Earlier last month, Viking Update had detailed the strange odyssey that brought the native of Aalen, Germany to the NFL.
At the time, the only question we had was why the Minnesota Vikings couldn’t simply sign Boehringer instead of drafting him because there was a precedent involved. This isn’t the first time the Minnesota Vikings have brought in a player with no college preparatory work in football on his résumé.
In fact, it will be the fourth time.
In 2004, WWE wrestling champion Brock Lesnar wanted to live out a similar dream as Boehringer’s. Lesnar hadn’t played football since high school, but his foray into pro football was taken seriously. A four-time wrestling All-America at the University of Minnesota, Lesnar went on to make millions of dollars in the WWE, but became disenchanted with the exhausting work and travel schedule. A small-town boy at heart who owned property near Alexandria, Minn., it was a dream of his to, at a minimum, give the NFL a try and see if he had what it took to play at the highest level.
He was almost immediately miscast as a defensive tackle.
Playing the defensive line is almost entirely about technique and repetition, creating a variety of pass-rush moves and getting leverage on offensive linemen. Trying him at guard, where his strength and natural wrestling skills to gain leverage points in small, confined space would have made much more sense. Any linebacker in the world would have second thoughts seeing Lesnar pulling at full speed leading a running back to the edge.
To his credit, Lesnar made it until the final cuts, which was different than it is now. There were three cut-down dates at that time and, if he didn’t have a legitimate chance to make the 53-man roster, he likely would have been in one of the first two batches of cuts (or maybe the Vikings were simply trying to hold onto the publicity generator).
Three years later, the Vikings were at it again. In 2007, there was a kid named Todd Lowber who caught their eye. Shortly before the 2007 draft (April 18), the Vikings signed Lowber as an unrestricted free agent. A football version of Sidd Finch, Lowber had never played college football. He was a basketball player at obscure Richard Stockton College and Ramapo College in New Jersey who played basketball and was a Division III high jump champion.
Why would the Vikings – or anyone else for that matter – be interested in a 6-foot-3, 190-pound basketball guard and track athlete?
While any 40-yard dash timed at or below 4.4 seconds is viewed as elite, every tenth of a second faster than 4.35 seconds is looked upon like the Richter Scale, where every point means a factor of 10 – a 5.0 earthquake is 10 times stronger than a 4.0 quake.
To run a 4.30 40 is deemed much more impressive than a 4.40. A 4.20 is unheard of.
Lowber? He ran a 4.11 40. To say that caught the attention of NFL decision-makers is an understatement.
The problem with Lowber was that he didn’t have the route-running ability, the ability to block on running plays or the experience of taking hits from defenders. Those would derail his career, but not immediately.
Lowber was cut by the Vikings on Aug. 27, 2007, but that wasn’t the end of the story. Lowber was signed to the Giants practice squad and was on the team that won Super Bowl XLII, so presumably he owns a Super Bowl ring. He was cut in June 2008 and, finding no more NFL suitors, he signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL. Six days later, Jerry Jones came calling and he left the Argos to play for the Dallas Cowboys. He was released among the final cuts. In November 2008, he was signed to the Miami Dolphins practice squad but never saw action. He went back to Toronto to be a kick returner, but suffered a concussion severe enough he lay on the field for 15 minutes before being taken to a hospital. It was the last the sports world saw of him.
In 2015, the Vikings went to Europe find a prospect – 27-year old offensive tackle Babatunde Aiyegbusi.
The native of Olesnica, Poland, Aiyegbusi was given Jared Allen’s number in a much larger jersey size. At 6-9, 331 pounds, he wasn’t a fish out of water, he was a whale out of water. NFL players, much less offensive linemen, are used to being much larger than the average human male. Phil Loadholt can’t fly coach without using his knees as a tray table. But even the Vikings’ guys in the trenches had to look up to Aiyegbusi … literally.
A veteran of the Polish football leagues, his goal was to jump to the biggest pond of them all and play NFL football. It wasn’t meant to be, but nobody was more popular down at training camp than Big Babs. Fans ran past Adrian Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater to get to Babs for a photo op. Normal-sized adult women came up to the level of his fifth rib. Children were thigh-high. A 6-foot man was dwarfed. It was a happening.
Boehringer is the latest non-college stud athlete to be brought into the fold by the Vikings. He has good size, great speed, but no tangible experience. There were SEC receivers that went undrafted that shake their heads and wonder if the NFL has some sort of healthy adult Make-A-Wish Foundation gig going on.
Boehringer is a feel-good story of an athlete chasing down a dream. He is going to have a hard time making the final roster because his competition has a lot more experience and savvy of the nuances of the game that are lost on novices. The worst NFL player is a dang good football player. Boehringer is a decade or more behind those that were dominant high school and college football players.
Some may argue that the Vikings and Mike Mayock concocted the story – it does seem convenient that after Mayock identified the camera he could stare into and insisted the Vikings take Boehringer that scant minutes later they did. For conspiracy theorists, it would seem that the fix was in. They will contend it was a made-for-TV extemporaneous plea. They will believe Mayock knew before he started talking that Boehringer was slotted with the pick coming up and nobody in front of the Viking at the time.
There is the line of thinking that the Vikings are taking an improbable swing on greatness. Given how much Spielman values draft picks, he wouldn’t waste one on a player he is convinced at least has a chance to get the job done. But, to date, the Vikings are 0-for-3 on taking such gambles.
Will the fourth time be the charm?
Get your Wienerschnitzel ready.