With those disclaimers and lack of responsibility, we present a compilation of what we know, and what we think we might know if we're not insane.
KNOWN (OR FEIGNED) INTERESTS
The Vikings have shown an interest in many players throughout this process. In the words of Scott Studwell, their director of college scouting, they have probably scouted more players that won't be drafted than those they will place on their draft board.
Like each NFL team, the Vikings are allowed to formally interview 60 players at the combine. They are allowed to schedule formal visits in the weeks preceding the draft with 20 prospects, but those visits cannot include workouts.
They are also allowed to attend pro days.
Through a variety of sources — talks with players, agents, college contacts and published reports — we have been able to ascertain their interest (however intense or fleeting) in dozens of players. Mind you, there are hundreds more that have made their draft board, but this is what we've learned.
For personal visits, the team brought to Winter Park Auburn running back Carnell Williams, Southern Illinois running back Brandon Jacobs, Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Notre Dame defensive end Justin Tuck, Wisconsin defensive end Erasmus James and West Virginia cornerback Adam Jones.
How likely is it that the Vikings would actually select one of these players? Consider that defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy is thought to be the only draft prospect the team brought in for a visit two years ago. The Vikings then selected defensive tackle Kevin Williams and let Kennedy slide to St. Louis. It turned out to be the right move.
The most likely of the Vikings visitors to be drafted is Cadillac Williams, the Auburn running back. The Vikings are on record as saying they want to have a featured back for 2005 instead of the rotation of Michael Bennett, Mewelde Moore and Onterrio Smith they employed in 2004. At least two-thirds of that trio will still be around in 2005, but Smith is one positive drug test away from a one-year vacation and Bennett and Moore both have health issues. Bennett has also been the subject of persistent trade rumors.
Williams or Texas running back Cedric Benson might be around with the Vikings' pick at No. 7, but considering the trouble the Vikings have had with Smith, Benson's comparisons to Ricky Williams could steer the Vikings clear of Benson.
While Edwards would be a nice deep-threat addition, he isn't likely to be available with the seventh pick, and Williams would be a safer pick, as Edwards has been tagged as having some ego issues and sustained concentration issues. Williams isn't the deep threat provided by Edwards, but he is a big red-zone target. The Vikings might have to trade up a few spots to have the chance at selecting either of them.
James or Tuck, both defensive ends, could be possibilities with the 18th pick, but James might not make it that far and Tuck might not be good value there.
Jacobs, the Southern Illinois product, could be used as a running back or H-back.
At the combine in February, the following players told Viking Update that the Vikings had shown an interest in them:
ACCORDING TO PUBLISHED REPORTS …
… The Vikings also spent time with junior wide receiver Troy Williamson after his South Carolina pro day. He is a deep threat that is considered good value at No. 18, but he wasn't used as often in college as a No. 1 receiver would be in the NFL, so the jury is still somewhat out on him.
… UNLV linebacker Adam Seward has also drawn interest from the Vikings, according to published reports.
… The Vikings were one of only four teams on hand for the workout of Pearl River Community College wide receiver Larry Brackins, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder.
… Jackson State wide receiver Chris Jones also garnered the interest of the Vikings at his workouts. A 6-foot-2, 211-pounder, Jones runs about a 4.45 in the 40.
… A pair of Connecticut prospects have caught the Vikings' attention in addition to Fincher. They are defensive end Tyler King and wide receiver/safety Keron Henry.
… Florida State cornerback Bryant McFadden drew the interest of the Vikings at his pro day.
… Offensive tackle Frank Omiyale of Tennessee Tech had a private workout for the Vikings.
… A potential rookie free-agent signing after the draft could be Sam Houston State quarterback Dustin Long, who had a private workout with the Vikings.
… Vikings quarterback coach Rich Olson was on hand for the pro day of Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton.
… The Vikings might consider a late-round pick for Akron quarterback Charlie Frye. The team attended his pro day and spent extra time with him. If they do end up with Frye, he would likely challenge Shaun Hill for the third spot behind Daunte Culpepper and Brad Johnson.
SAFETIES OF THE OLD CENTRAL
The Vikings paid $4 million in bonuses to sign Sharper. Comparatively, the Detroit Lions gave Denver safety Kenoy Kennedy $4.4 million to sign.
In response, the Packers signed Arturo Freeman, who played for Jim Bates in Miami.
Russell takes over as the starting free safety from Earl Little, who was released April 1 after six seasons with the Browns.
Russell got on Viking coach Mike Tice's bad side last winter when he skipped the first month of the team's offseason program to attend classes at San Diego State and get married. Ironically, he trained with Robert Griffith, who at the time was the Browns starting strong safety. Griffith, also a former Viking, signed with the Cardinals last month after being released by the Browns.
Despite nine interceptions in 2003, the Vikings signed Russell to the NFL minimum of $380,000 for third-year players last year, an indication they were not totally sold on the 6-2, 204-pounder despite the nine picks. They signed him to the minimum tender of $656,000 this year to retain his rights in 2005, but he became a non-factor when the Vikings signed Sharper in free agency. Since Russell began his career as an undrafted rookie, the Browns did not have to compensate the Vikings with a draft choice.
Russell made 81 tackles last season while playing in all 16 games. He has not missed a game in three NFL seasons and started every game the last two years.
Safety is regarded as the weakest area on the Browns. As of now, the starters would be Sean Jones, who has not played an NFL game, and Russell. Chris Crocker, who has had limited starts in two seasons, would be the backup free safety.