Where The Rookies Fit In

The Vikings drafted seven players and added more than a dozen rookie free agents this weekend. Where do they fit in and how will they be used? We summarize the weekend with insight from Mike Tice and Scott Studwell.


WR Troy Williamson: The obvious comparison to Randy Moss and Mike Williams will likely dog Williamson until he turns the potential the Vikings believe he has into production on the pro level. That may take more time than any of the other top three receivers taken (Braylon Edwards, Williams and Mark Clayton), but the Vikings liked his speed and his ability to gain yards after the catch. That second factor was a major selling point in his selection. Even so, receivers coach Wes Chandler's first order of business is to work on Williamson becoming better in and out of the breaks in his patterns.

He could see action early on in the return game, especially since the team wasn't able to upgrade in that area during the rest of the weekend.

"We'll look at the rook (Williamson in the return game). He's done some of it, but he hasn't done a whole lot of it," head coach Mike Tice said. "We'll see how he does at both – kickoff returns and punt returns. As things progress, we'll probably move him up the ladder some. We'd like to get Nate out of all of that."

Even if Williamson would turn into a starter at wide receiver, he might still be a return man as well, but ...

"I don't see him coming out of training camp starting," Tice said. "That's not any kind of pressure I want to put on the young man. I want him to come out of training camp with some type of role for us on game day with us gaining some type of confidence in what he can do."

Despite fans' potential irritation with that statement, remember, Randy Moss wasn't an immediate starter for the Vikings either.

DE Erasmus James: The comparisons with James have been very favorable to Vikings fans, so much so that he drew the company of Chris Doleman in one conversation over the weekend. The Wisconsin defensive end is expected to push Darrion Scott, last year's third-rounder, for playing time.

"We really don't have a great pass-rushing base end, down (end)," Tice said. "To be able to bring in Erasmus in to compete with Darrion, if he wins the job we've got a very good pass-rushing defensive end on base defense. We haven't had that since Doleman left."

Georgia's David Pollack would have been another consideration with the 18th selection, but he was taken just before the Vikings selected.

OL Marcus Johnson: The big offensive lineman from Ole Miss was one of Tice's favorite picks of the weekend.

"He was the cleanest player left on our board. We had first-round grades on him," Tice said.

The Vikings talked about selecting a kicker – specifically Mike Nugent – in the second round for more than an hour, Tice said, but they were never forced to make that decision.

"Certainly we're going to do everything in our power to shy away from keeping two guys," Tice said of the kicking situation. "Coverage-wise, you're eliminating one guy from coverage (with two kickers and limitations on game-day activations). That one guy could be your leading tackler."

Ohio State's Nugent was the kicking consideration before the New York Jets jumped up and grabbed him before the Vikings had a chance to use their second-rounder on him. Director of college scouting Scott Studwell said Nugent was "head and shoulders" above the other rookie kickers.

With Nugent off the board, the Vikings attention turned to Johnson, who will compete for the starting spot at left guard. Ahead of him on the depth chart are Adam Goldberg and Anthony Herrera.

"It just so happens that he was sitting there in the second round with first-round grades, we had to take him," Tice said. "It's hard to pass up a guy that big with no letters (demotions on the Vikings' draft board) or character issues."

DB Dustin Fox: The selection of Dustin Fox will have Ken Irvin moving back out to cornerback, as the Ohio State coaches told the Vikings they project Fox as an NFL safety.

"He's smart. He's very athletic. ... He was the most excited of all the players I called," Tice said. "He can line up and cover the slot if he has to."

Tice compared Fox's energy to that of former Viking Chris Walsh.

Ciatrick Fason: Because of the running back numbers on the roster, the Vikings were planning to bring in one running back, so Fason is expected to begin his career behind – in order – Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore. Smith is just one positive drug test away from a one-year suspension, so the Vikings may have needed more insurance behind injury concerns in Bennett and Moore.

"The only thing Michael did wrong last year was get hurt, so why should he not go in as the favorite," Tice said. They all will get extensive preseason action, but Tice wants to have a workhorse once the regular season starts.

The Vikings also considered other running backs with more return ability, but they were also looking at some rookie free agents who might also make the team strictly as return men.

Fason ranked in the second part of the second round on the Vikings' draft board. The Vikings talked with "seven or eight teams" about moving up to get Fason, Tice said.

Eventually, they gave up their fourth-round pick eight slots later and their fifth-rounder to move up and get Fason.

The Vikings really like his maturity level. He is married with two children.

"There is not going to be a lot of pressure on him," Tice said, referring to the Vikings' depth at running back. "Yeah, we do have a lot of depth. But at the end of the year Michael's a free agent, we all understand the Onterrio situation, and Moe is 30-something. We have a lot of depth now. ... You also have to look at building your team."

He will be thrown into the mix with Kelly Campbell and Mewelde Moore in the battle for a kick returner.

Fason had a "horrible" workout at his pro day, according to Tice, because of nerves and bad weather.

DT C.J. Mosley: The Missouri nose tackle is another player the Vikings had been tracking since the start of the offseason. He privately worked out for line coach Brian Baker and said Baker "kicked his butt," Mosley said.

That may have been the Vikings' test to see if they thought he could turn in a consistent effort, which was the knock on him coming out after his junior year.

"He's got to learn how to play hard every down. He's got some holes in him," Studwell said.

CB Adrian Ward: Ward wasn't on many of the draft boards from the draft gurus outside of NFL teams, but the Vikings were impressed with his coverage skills, Studwell said. He hasn't proved to be a very physical player, and he'll have to improve in that area if he has a legitimate shot to make the final roster.

That final roster has been dramatically improved over the last few years, and especially through the 2005 free agency. Players that likely would have easily made the roster in years past may have a difficult time finding a role among better and more experienced talent.

"It's going to be hard for anyone else we bring in to make our football team," Tice said after the first day of picking. "Because of where we're at with our football team, that's a good thing. Injuries play into it, so does someone having a (crappy) preseason and someone getting in trouble plays into it."


After the Vikings lost out on Nugent in the second round, they decided to wait until free agency to sign one.

"We felt there were two teams we were competing with for the kicker, the Jets and Tampa. There had been some leakage that Tampa was going to pick at the top of the third round a kicker, so that's the only time that the second-round pick came into play in conversation," Tice said. "Up to that point, we were going to try to trade up in the third round ahead of Tampa to get him."

The Vikings considered taking him before they had him rated – something they've never done in Tice's era of head coaching, he said – but the Jets beat them to it.

They ended up signing kicker Jonathan Nichols as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Other rookie free agents signed: QB John Bowenkamp (North Dakota), CB Dovonte Edwards (North Carolina State), LB Sarth Benoit (S. Connecticut State), LB Heath Farwell San Diego State), WR Christopher Jones (Jackson State), OT Rian Melander (Minnesota), TE Matt Ross (Texas Lutheran), OC Kyle Schmitt (Maryland), LB Ira Cooper (Nebraska), DB Ukee Dozier (Minnesota), DB Justin Fraley (Minnesota), KR Mike Nordyke (Bemidji State).


Other possibilities the Vikings looked at throughout the later stages of the draft:

Special teams coach Rusty Tillman's top return guy had a free-agent grade and Tice's top return guy – Oklahoma defensive back Antonio Perkins – was taken early in the fourth round. Tillman's target turned down the Vikings' offer for a better opportunity to make another roster. Virginia's Alvin Pearman was another consideration, but he had issues. Tice said during the fourth round that if Tillman's return man was still available after the draft they'd pay seventh-round-type money to acquire him as a free agent.

Tice also like Central Michigan center Eric Ghiaciuc, who was selected in the fourth round. The Vikings had a late-round grade on him. Also a consideration was Geoff Hangartner, a center from Texas A&M that was selected in the sixth round.


The Vikings' first three picks all had first-round grades. Williamson was either the second- or third-rated player on the Vikings' overall draft board. It sounded like Ronnie Brown was a the top and Carnell Williams was second.

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