Minnesota Vikings: Anthony Barr

MOBILE, Ala. -- After the Minnesota Vikings took linebacker Anthony Barr with the ninth overall pick in the 2014 draft and followed with nine other picks that appeared largely comprised of long-term projects, ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. gave the draft a B-, wondering how much the Vikings' rookie could contribute right away.

After reviewing the class a year later, Kiper has nudged the Vikings' 2014 draft grade up a couple of notches to a B+. You can read more of his analysis here.

Kiper's initial concern with the Vikings' draft was Barr's ability to step in as a pass-rusher after just two years as a linebacker at UCLA. But by the middle of training camp, Barr had shown how quickly he was picking up the Vikings' defense, and it was clear Mike Zimmer wasn't going to be shy about using him in a number of roles. The Vikings eventually moved away from using Barr as a defensive end on third downs, keeping him in a two-point stance to rush the passer on third downs when their double-A gap blitz package started working so well. Barr finished his rookie year with four sacks and two forced fumbles, before he was slowed by a knee injury, and there's a sense that the Vikings will have an even more diverse role in store for him in 2015.

The success of the Vikings' 2014 draft will ultimately lie with the futures of Barr and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, both of whom the Vikings drafted to be foundational players for their future. Do both players have to turn into stars for the first-round picks to be worth it? Given where the Vikings selected Barr, that might be more important for him -- and draft grades aside, there's no more important task for the team than solving its quarterback issue.

But both players looked ahead of the curve in 2014, and the Vikings got more than expected from third-round running back Jerick McKinnon and seventh-round defensive tackle Shamar Stephen. Injuries -- and the absence of Adrian Peterson -- forced a group of unproven players to take on more work than expected in 2014, and the early returns were positive. If players like third-round defensive end Scott Crichton and fifth-round guard David Yankey develop after what amounted to redshirt years in 2014, the Vikings' 2014 draft class could look even better in time.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good afternoon, everyone. Hope you're enjoying your Friday. We'll get started here. With Kyle Rudolph, I'm not sure it's fair to disqualify the injury from the evaluation. He had a sports hernia in Week 3, and probably wasn't going to be 100 percent at all this season. He didn't get that much playing time with Teddy Bridgewater before the season, and the Vikings eased him back into his starting role once he returned in Week 11. Rudolph started to look more like himself against the Lions in Week 15, and I think he'll be a nice option for Bridgewater once Rudolph is completely healthy and the two get more time together. Rudolph was deeply grateful to the Vikings for giving him a five-year contract extension in August, and he seems to know what kind of opportunity he has in Norv Turner's offense. It's fair to wonder about his durability a little bit, considering he's missed 15 games in the past two seasons, but if he's healthy, I expect he'll produce.

@GoesslingESPN: Good question, Tony. The Vikings spent a few days last week going through organizational meetings, and as they figure out which players they want to keep for 2015, general manager Rick Spielman said they have a much better idea of what they need to make Mike Zimmer's defense function at a high level. If I were looking at places to upgrade the defense, I think I'd start at linebacker; Zimmer asks his front seven to work somewhat in the manner of a 3-4 defense, where linemen are responsible for engaging blockers and linebackers get room to run. As much as we saw the double-A-gap-blitz look from the Vikings this season, another fast, rangy linebacker to pair with Anthony Barr seems like an obvious item for the shopping list. Can Gerald Hodges turn into that? Perhaps, but if there is a chance to add a good prospect in the draft, it wouldn't surprise me to see the Vikings do it (especially since they still need a plan for the future at middle linebacker). A safety that can line up next to Harrison Smith and cover receivers seems like a possibility, too; the Vikings played Andrew Sendejo instead of Robert Blanton at the end of the season, and you never got the sense Zimmer was completely comfortable with his options next to Smith this season. I think the Vikings have a lot of what they need on defense already; if they could get another strong linebacker, a safety, and possibly another cornerback, they would have the makings of a very good defense. Down the line, I could see adding another defensive end (or hoping for more out of Scott Crichton in 2015), with Brian Robison turning 32 this spring.

@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings are in relatively good shape when it comes to free agency; many of their players, like Christian Ponder and Jerome Felton, have effectively said they are going to be elsewhere, and there aren't many players the Vikings would absolutely have to keep. The player I think is most likely to get a new contract is defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who proved to be an effective pass-rusher in the team's nickel package and could be in line for a modest multi-year deal. Jasper Brinkley would be cheap to re-sign as a backup, but the Vikings might try to look for an upgrade at middle linebacker. I could see the team bringing back Joe Berger again, after he provided some insurance on the offensive line this season. Overall, though, there is not a glaring need or a big investment looming this offseason. The thing I'd expect the Vikings to do at some point, though, is pursue a contract extension for safety Harrison Smith; he'll be in his fourth year this season, and it seems likely the Vikings will pick up their fifth-year option on him, but it would make sense to lock him up long-term, and it would follow the approach the Vikings have taken with their key young players at this juncture of their careers.

@GoesslingESPN: I sure wouldn't rule it out. Josh Gordon obviously had his breakout season with Norv Turner as his offensive coordinator in Cleveland, and though there is reason to be apprehensive about Gordon's off-field troubles, he's a 6-foot-4 receiver who only turns 24 in April. If you can get a player like that, I'd think seriously about it, particularly while the Vikings are still waiting on the development of Cordarrelle Patterson. It would depend on what kind of mindset Gordon is bringing in to the Vikings' locker room, but he would have a level of trust with Norv and Scott Turner (who was his position coach in Cleveland), and Zimmer has often said he likes working with players who have something to prove. Zimmer, after all, was the guy who helped Pacman Jones turn things around in Cincinnati. If Gordon did hit the open market, I'd think Minnesota would be one of the places he would be considering..

That'll do it for this edition of the mailbag. Enjoy the conference championship games on Sunday, everyone, and have a great weekend. Talk to you on Monday.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater figures to collect his fair share of postseason awards this month for his impressive rookie season, and the first of those arrived today.

The Pro Football Writers of America named Bridgewater the quarterback on its 2014 All-Rookie team, recognizing him for a season that saw Bridgewater post the third-highest completion percentage (64.4) by a rookie in NFL history. Bridgewater did not win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors from the PFWA, losing out to New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., but he became the only Vikings player named to the team.

Bridgewater will be competing against Beckham and others for the Pepsi Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which is voted on by fans, as well as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award (considered to be the most significant of the postseason rookie honors). He'll have a tough time winning out over the Giants receiver, who posted 1,305 yards, scored 12 touchdowns and garnered national attention for his sensational one-handed touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 23. But Bridgewater might have a case based on how well he played with a depleted offense; the Vikings were missing Adrian Peterson, of course, and lost three of their five offensive line starters to injury.

Linebacker Anthony Barr's knee injury kept him from earning a spot in a talented group of rookie linebackers; the ninth overall pick in the draft was beat out by Baltimore's C.J. Mosley, Oakland's Khalil Mack and San Francisco's Chris Borland. Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon -- who might have been another contender for postseason rookie honors if not for a low back injury -- also missed out on making the team, which included Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill and and St. Louis' Tre Mason as its running backs.
MINNEAPOLIS -- We're continuing our look at the 10 plays that defined the Minnesota Vikings' 2014 season. Today, we'll look at the first of the Vikings' two walk-off touchdowns this year: Anthony Barr's fumble return for a TD in Tampa.

WHEN: Oct. 26, 2014

WHERE: A 19-13 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsTeammates celebrate with Anthony Barr after the rookie's game-winning touchdown against the Bucs.
THE PLAY: Barr's 27-yard fumble return for a game-winning touchdown in overtime.

WIN PROBABILITY ADDED: 31.8 percent (Vikings went from a 48.1 percent chance of winning to 79.9 percent).

WHAT THEY SAID: Linebacker Chad Greenway: "He knew he had help coming. You could see him. He knew the carrier was going to go down. I don't think he was concerned about that. He just made the play; it was exactly how you'd draw it up. Sometimes it's hard to get in there, but sometimes your hand just falls right."

HOW IT HAPPENED: With the Buccaneers starting overtime from their own 17, Barr was lined up in man coverage with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had beaten him for a touchdown near the end of regulation. Seferian-Jenkins ran a route toward the sideline, and Barr initially was too far inside to prevent his fellow rookie from catching the ball. That's something we saw Barr do in coverage at different times this season, but in this case, it turned out to be fortuitous. Barr saw he had safety Harrison Smith coming to help make a tackle, so he clawed the ball out of Seferian-Jenkins' grasp with his left hand, picked it up and ran down the left sideline for a game-winning score.

IMPACT OF THE PLAY: Barr was slowed by a knee injury at the end of his rookie season, but he gave the Vikings numerous glimpses of what a force he can be on defense. This play was one of the prime examples of that, and the Vikings have lofty expectations for the strongside linebacker in his second season. Coach Mike Zimmer has already talked about how optimistic he is for the Vikings' future, when Barr and Teddy Bridgewater are the team's leaders, and it's implied that Barr would be one of the team's top players if he were to hold such influence in the locker room. Much of what happened during his rookie season -- including his splashiest play of the year -- suggested the linebacker is on the right track.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone, and a happy New Year to all of you. We'll get started here. Jon, I don't think the Vikings' linebacker situation will be solved completely with the players who were on this year's roster. I like Audie Cole, and he's done some good things when he's played -- he had a fantastic day against the Chicago Bears in the season finale, and I thought he played well at middle linebacker at the end of 2013. But it's worth noting that he didn't get much of a look at middle linebacker this season, and I still think the Vikings need to find a long-term answer there (it feels like we've been saying that for a while, doesn't it?).

I still think it's in the Vikings' best interests to pursue a young middle linebacker, and they could take a look at Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga, who played the middle for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati. Maualuga will be a free agent this March and only turns 28 later this month. I still think there's a window for Greenway to return at the right price, but the Vikings need to figure out their future at the weak-side linebacker spot, too, whether that's Hodges or someone else. In the end, there's still a need to upgrade that position this offseason, and I believe you'll see changes to the group before training camp.

@GoesslingESPN: Vikings assistant general manager George Paton plans to stay with the team for 2015, even though he's drawn interest in another round of general manager openings this week. Paton was believed to be a candidate for the New York Jets' opening, and he could have returned to the Chicago Bears, where he worked earlier in his career with Vikings GM Rick Spielman. He also took his name out of the running for the Miami Dolphins' GM opening last winter, and decided to stay in Minnesota after he was a finalist for the St. Louis Rams' job in 2012.

There are a couple things to consider here: First, Paton has to think about the same things that anyone has to weigh when they're looking at a different job -- is this organization going to be a good fit for me? What am I giving up if I leave my current employer? -- and as a well-respected personnel man, he's smart to be picky about his options. For the most part, GM openings only come about because something went wrong or because someone's retiring, and there'd be plenty about this winter's round of openings that would give me pause, whether it's the leadership structure in New York or the QB situation in Chicago. Second, if Paton is staying put, the Vikings are probably making it worth his while to do so. He's been Spielman's right-hand man for a long time, and he's been a key player in the Vikings' aggressive draft strategy in recent years. If he's in a stable, well-compensated position, he might not have an itch to leave.

@GoesslingESPN: I think there's a good chance Tom Johnson will be back in a Vikings uniform next season. His agent, Bardia Ghahremani, thought Johnson would surprise some people in Minnesota this season, and he was right; the 30-year-old finished with 6 1/2 sacks and proved to be a slippery pass rusher in the Vikings' nickel package. The Vikings have talked with Johnson's camp about a new contract, and though there hasn't been any substantive progress yet, I could see him getting a moderately-priced two-year deal in March. Johnson is facing three misdemeanor charges stemming from his Oct. 5 arrest outside a Minneapolis steakhouse, and will be in court on March 30, but his side has contended he was treated unfairly by Minneapolis police. I had high hopes for the Corey Wootton signing -- he had 7 1/2 sacks in 2012, and seemed healthy after hip surgery last offseason, but had just one sack in 2014. The Vikings might try to look elsewhere for another defensive end, while hoping third-round pick Scott Crichton shows more in Year 2.

@GoesslingESPN: That's the big question -- or at least the one most pertinent to Mike Zimmer's support of Adrian Peterson during his season-ending news conference on Tuesday. From what I understand, the Vikings' football operation wants Peterson back, but I think the phrase "at the right price" has to be applied there, and it remains to be seen how willing Peterson will be to restructure his contract with the Vikings; in my conversation with him last month, he said he didn't think he needed to take a pay cut. Though there are ways to restructure his contract so he gets all of his money in 2015, none of them result in Peterson getting as much cash over the life of his deal as was originally promised to him.

There's definitely some work to be done if the Vikings want to mend their relationship with Peterson; they were still leery this season about the business and PR effects of a Peterson return. While time might assuage the team's concerns, Peterson could be reluctant to redo his deal if he still feels miffed by how the Vikings handled him. He said he knows players and coaches supported him -- will he need to hear more from decision-makers? There are plenty of rumors in league circles about how he could wind up in Dallas or Houston next season, and I still continue to think it's more likely he plays somewhere else than returns to the Vikings. Between the NFLPA's lawsuit over how the NFL handled Peterson's appeal, the reinstatement process and the Vikings' ultimate decision on his future, there'll be plenty to talk about as it pertains to the 2012 NFL MVP in the next few months.

That'll do it for this edition, but since you guys (figuratively) busted the mailbag this week, we'll be back with another edition on Monday. Enjoy the wild-card games, and we'll talk to you next week.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Next season will be Chad Greenway's 10th in the NFL, and he plans to spend it on a football field somewhere -- not watching from a sideline or taking it in from the couch during his first year of retirement.

"That would be awesome," Greenway said. "I've accomplished a lot of goals in my life and that's one I have left."

Greenway said again on Monday that he wants to stay in Minnesota, echoing the sentiment he's put forth over the last few weeks and indicating he'd be open to restructuring his contract to make that happen. The future of the Vikings' elder statesman on defense is unclear, though, and like Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen and Kevin Williams before him, Greenway could find himself saying goodbye to a team that hasn't kept many of its long-tenured defenders in recent years.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges played well in a spot role this season and could be the heir apparent to Greenway at the weakside linebacker position. It also wouldn't be surprising to see the Vikings target another linebacker in the draft to pair with rookie Anthony Barr. Greenway, in all likelihood, will have to wait a couple months to see where his relationship with the Vikings goes next.

"[It's been a] pretty good relationship for the most part," he said. "You hope that you can make that work. Being a loyal guy myself, I just want to be able to do that. At the same point, you understand that it’s a business and you have to make the correct decision when it comes up.”

With his three daughters settled in Minnesota, Greenway said he'll talk through his options with his wife and base any decision on what's best for his family. "My daughters are big-time Vikings fans. It'd be a change if that happened," he said. "We make every decision based on our family. It won't simply come down to money or business."

Greenway said the knee injury that kept him out of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears won't require surgery, but said on Sunday he wasn't able to do anything beyond a few individual reps in practice. The ailment, however, came at the end of a season when Greenway dealt with a broken hand and broken ribs, missing four games and sitting out for the first time since he tore his ACL as a rookie.

"The rib injury was really kind of a fluky deal and obviously this knee thing would have put anybody out," Greenway said. "You play a lot of football and the rib injury could have happened 10 times over. I don't feel like I've become injury-prone or my age has caught up to me any way. That can happen to anybody at any point.

"I feel like I can continue to play somewhere. Hopefully here."

Vikings appear thin at LB for Sunday

December, 26, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings are in the middle of their final full-team practice of the 2014 season, and it's looking as though they'll have to do something about their linebacker depth between now and Sunday's season finale against the Chicago Bears.

Chad Greenway and Brandon Watts were both absent from the practice field as the Vikings worked outside on Friday, suggesting that neither will be available for Sunday's game. The Vikings already had ruled Anthony Barr out for the rest of the season; Greenway and Watts could join Barr on the sidelines with knee and hamstring injuries, respectively.

At the moment, the Vikings have just three healthy linebackers on their active roster. Audie Cole and Gerald Hodges were taking first-team snaps in nickel situations while the Vikings practiced on Friday, and it stands to reason that Cole would start at strongside linebacker, with Jasper Brinkley in the middle and Hodges on the weak side if Greenway is unable to go.

The Vikings signed linebacker Justin Anderson to their practice squad earlier this week, and they also have Josh Kaddu on their practice squad. One or both of those players could get added to the active roster before Sunday for linebacker depth; if the Vikings aren't going to use some of their injured linebackers on Sunday, it'd be easy enough to put them on injured reserve to clear roster space for additions from the practice squad.

Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who hasn't participated in a practice all week, was on the field on Friday, indicating he'll have a shot to return from an ankle injury on Sunday. Wide receiver Jarius Wright also returned from a low back injury for the open portion of Friday's practice.
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Facing a team that had allowed 10 sacks in its previous two games, the Minnesota Vikings' pass-rushers seemed ready for a productive day on Sunday in Miami. But a week after the team failed to sack Matthew Stafford on the road in Detroit, the Vikings didn't find much more success getting to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

The Vikings brought Tannehill down just twice, with the first sack coming after the Dolphins' offensive line appeared to be confused on the snap count. For the day, the Vikings pressured Tannehill on only 13 of his 49 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and when they brought standard pressure, the third-year quarterback shredded them. He was 27-of-33 for 323 yards and four touchdowns when the Vikings sent four or fewer pass-rushers, and the Vikings' lack of pressure helped him go 9-for-13 -- for 217 yards -- on throws that went at least 10 yards.

"We couldn't cover anybody," coach Mike Zimmer told reporters in Miami. "We didn't rush and we didn't cover. That's a pretty hard combination."

It's difficult to know what kind of an effort the Vikings will get next week from their opponents -- the Chicago Bears haven't won in a month, and have been awash in locker room drama lately -- but it's worth recalling the game plan the Bears used on Nov. 16, dialing up a series of short passes that kept the Vikings from getting to Jay Cutler. It stands to reason the Bears will try to get the ball out quickly quickly, especially if Jimmy Clausen is at quarterback again. The Vikings are likely also feeling the loss of linebacker Anthony Barr, who commanded plenty of attention in the team's double-A gap blitz look. Whatever the reason, they got burned on Sunday when Tannehill had plenty of time to throw.

"Our biggest thing: Defense has got to come out and play way better than we did," defensive end Everson Griffen said. "Offense, they came out, they scored 35 points. That's what you'd ask for. It's up to us to maintain the drive and help them out and that's what we didn't do today."

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Good morning from the Twin Cities, where, as the eagle-eyed followers among you will note, the Minnesota Vikings are not playing Sunday. They're down in Miami, taking on the Dolphins at 1 p.m. ET, but I'm just getting back into the swing of things Sunday after some time off following the birth of my daughter, Greta, last Tuesday morning. Mom and baby are doing well, but I'll be covering the game remotely Sunday before returning to the grind on Monday. No doubt you enjoyed the return of the esteemed Kevin Seifert to the NFC North hinterlands last week; as I offer a heartfelt thanks to him for filling in while I was gone, I'll try to take the baton and get back to full speed.

Now with that out of the way, let's move on to what you really care about: The Vikings and Dolphins kick off in less than an hour, and the Vikings will, of course, be without linebacker Anthony Barr, who will miss the rest of the season with the knee injury that's bothered him since November. Gerald Hodges will start in Barr's place, and the Vikings will have Chad Greenway lining up next to Hodges in nickel situations.

Greenway, though, will be playing with a heavy heart; his father, Alan, passed away at age 56 on Friday after a two-year battle with leukemia. Chad had spent more time helping out at his family's farm in South Dakota in recent years, and he held a deep admiration for his dad, whom he credited for teaching him the work ethic necessary to succeed as a farmer and a football player. He'll look to honor his father with a big game Sunday.

Safety Robert Blanton will be in the lineup, though the Vikings listed Andrew Sendejo as the starter next to Harrison Smith while Blanton returns from a leg injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also active Sunday after being listed as probable with his lingering knee bruise.

Lastly, tight end Kyle Rudolph won't play after being listed as doubtful with ankle and knee injuries. It's been a frustrating season for Rudolph, who came in expecting to have a big role in Norv Turner's offense but will miss his seventh game of the season because of injury on Sunday. Rudolph only played eight games last year, too, and he'll have to stay healthy next season to maximize the value of the five-year contract extension he signed during training camp.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives for Sunday:
The Minnesota Vikings won't have guard Charlie Johnson nor linebacker Anthony Barr for Sunday's game at the Miami Dolphins.

Barr won't play in the Week 17 season finale, either. The team decided to shut him down so that he could undergo what coach Mike Zimmer told reporters was a "very minor" procedure on his knee.

Barr, the No. 9 overall pick in the 2014 draft, originally suffered the injury in Week 11 and hasn't played since Week 14. Prior to the injury, Barr showed promise as a playmaker -- recording four sacks, forcing two fumbles and returning one for a game-winning touchdown -- and also was among the Vikings' leading tacklers with 70 in the first 12 games.

Meanwhile, tight end Kyle Rudolph returned to practice Friday to test his injured knee and ankle but is listed as doubtful to play on the final injury report of the week. Safety Robert Blanton (ankle), who also returned to practice, is listed as questionable.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Thanks to all of you who submitted questions for this week's Minnesota Vikings mailbag. You can submit them at any point during the week on Twitter, using the hashtag #VikingsMail.

@GoesslingESPN: Good morning, everyone. Hope your Saturday is off to a good start. We'll kick things off here, with a question that is a bit tricky to answer. It's too early to tell if either Matt Kalil or Cordarrelle Patterson is going to rebound from this season to get back to the level they reached as rookies -- and with Kalil, it's certainly concerning that has now had two off years (at a position where consistency is typically easier to achieve than at receiver). But I'd still say Kalil has a better chance to be a consistent Pro Bowl-caliber player, simply because we already have one example of him performing the whole season at a high level. We've seen Patterson perform at an elite level as a kick returner, and when the Vikings are designing plays with an effort to get the ball in his hands, but there is no evidence yet of him handling all that the receiver position entails. Receiver is intrinsically a harder position to stand out than offensive tackle, simply because of how many variables are involved for wideouts, and plenty of receivers start to break out in Year 3. It's still possible for Patterson, but at this point, I'm slightly more confident in the ceiling for Kalil.

@GoesslingESPN: I don't think they will have one -- Mike Priefer vouched for Jeff Locke in the 2013 draft, and has stood by the punter he effectively hand-picked. The Vikings have a great deal of respect for Priefer's opinion on special teams matters, and unless there is a big push from others in the organization to make a change there, I believe Locke will be back in 2015. But it might not be a bad idea to bring in some competition for him in training camp. Locke has essentially had the job to himself since rookie camp last year, and the things about Locke that excited the Vikings -- chiefly, his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory -- haven't been on display. Locke's net average of 39.36 yards is 21st in the league, and according to ESPN Stats and Information, he's 28th in the league in the percentage of punts he's put inside both the 10- and 5-yard line (though he dropped a punt at the 5 last week and has been better in recent weeks). I doubt they will go in another direction next year, but it can't hurt to bring in some competition.

@GoesslingESPN: The Vikings haven't used guard David Yankey yet this season, and the reasoning is simple; coach Mike Zimmer has consistently said Yankey needs to get stronger before he sees the field, and added this week that Yankey is "still a ways away." He was one of the Vikings' three draft picks who joined the team late after attending a college on the quarters system, and he will benefit from an offseason of strength training before he returns to the Vikings. Next year, though, Yankey could be a bigger factor in the Vikings' plans, particularly if they look to make a change at left guard. He was regarded as a steal when the Vikings took him in the fifth round, and with Charlie Johnson struggling this season, Yankey could get the opportunity to compete for that job.

@GoesslingESPN: It's too early to have a complete handle on the draft (and as a public service announcement, we will wait a while before we do a deep dive into draft questions in this mailbag), but we can definitely take a look at some positions of need at this point. I'd put linebacker at or near the top of that list; the Vikings would benefit from a fast, physical middle linebacker who could play next to Anthony Barr, and if they feel like Gerald Hodges is the future on the weak side, they would have a nice young group at the position if they added another player to the group. I'd also look at a versatile safety who can play next to Harrison Smith, another big cornerback and offensive line help (though I think a veteran pickup is more likely than a high draft pick at tackle). Running back could be a consideration, too, depending on what happens with Adrian Peterson; this is such a deep running back draft that the Vikings might find a player that intrigues them as part of a possible pairing with Jerick McKinnon. I'd see defensive end and wide receiver depth as lower-level needs. My sense of it is, the Vikings believe they could have a top-tier defense with a couple more impact moves, and I expect them to use plenty of resources this offseason to get that unit where Zimmer wants it..

That will do it for this edition of the mailbag. Thanks for the great questions, everyone. Hope you enjoy your Saturday. One programming notice: Your old buddy and NFC North blogger emeritus Kevin Seifert will be with you in Detroit tomorrow, as I stay home with my wife and await the birth of our second child. You will be in good hands with him, of course, and I'll talk to you soon.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will be without three defensive starters and an offensive lineman on Sunday in Detroit, and Cordarrelle Patterson's status is uncertain.

The Vikings listed linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) as out for Sunday's game against the Lions. Patterson, who showed up on the injury report for the first time on Friday, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Patterson was returning kickoffs during the open portion of practice, which means he could have tweaked his hamstring later in the session once it was closed to reporters. He played only one offensive snap last week against the New York Jets and lost a fumble on the opening kickoff in the second half.

The loss of Barr and Floyd, in particular, might hinder the Vikings as they face the 9-4 Lions on Sunday afternoon. Detroit's offense thrives when Matthew Stafford has time to throw downfield to Calvin Johnson, and though the Lions beat the Vikings with quick passes in Week 6, Johnson wasn't on the field for that game. Stafford has been sacked 39 times this year; the Vikings can hope for another big day from Everson Griffen, but having Barr and Floyd would certainly help them generate a pass rush.

With Blanton out, Andrew Sendejo figures to start at safety next to Harrison Smith. Vlad Ducasse will likely start at left guard with Johnson sidelined, meaning the Vikings will have just two of their five preferred linemen (Matt Kalil and John Sullivan) on the field against a Lions pass rush that took Teddy Bridgewater down eight times on Oct. 12.
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He's gone through a disappointing second season as a receiver, and Cordarrelle Patterson has seen his kick return performance slip from the league-leading numbers he posted on his way to an All-Pro selection as a rookie. After averaging 32.4 yards per kick return as a rookie and scoring two touchdowns, Patterson has seen his average drop to 25 yards this season. His long return is 49 yards, and on Sunday, he struggled with ball security, fumbling one kickoff, muffing another and losing the handle on a third after he was ruled down.

Patterson ditched the bright yellow gloves he was wearing after his second fumble, but he wouldn't blame the gloves for his troubles hanging onto the ball on Sunday. "It was me. It wasn't the gloves," Patterson said. "It was all me -- lack of focus. I've just got to keep the ball in. If somebody hits me, I've got to make sure I keep the ball in, and don't fumble."

He didn't fumble at all as a rookie, and Patterson said he's never had a fumbling problem. Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, though, made sure he stressed ball security with Patterson after Sunday's game.

"My big coaching point for him on Sunday was, 'Hand the ball to the official. Either celebrate with your teammates in the end zone or hand the ball to the official at the end of the play,'" Priefer said. "He’s got to do a better job with that, quite frankly, the next one, it was close as well, it could have been called a fumble. He’s got to do a better job with that. He knows that. We’ve talked about it, we’ve addressed it."

Patterson hasn't had as many opportunities for big returns as he did a year ago, thanks to teams trying to kick away from him, but Priefer said he still thinks Patterson has "had some solid returns."

"I think he’s 10th in the league in kickoff return average, which is OK," Priefer said. "Not good enough for him, not good enough for us. Our expectations, and I know your expectations for him are so high, that sometimes when he doesn’t meet those, we all get a little bit frustrated. I think at the end of the day, he’s still a very, very good returner, probably one of the best in the league when the ball is in his hands and he gets the seam that he needs."

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Vikings: Four miss Thursday's practice

December, 11, 2014
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without four players -- safety Robert Blanton, guard Charlie Johnson, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, and linebacker Anthony Barr -- again on Thursday, and the availability of all four for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions figures to be dictated in part by what they can do during Friday's practice.

Andrew Sendejo has been doing first-team work at safety in the portion of practice open to reporters, and Sendejo filled in for Blanton on Sunday against the New York Jets. He figures to get the start alongside Harrison Smith if Blanton, who injured his ankle and his knee in overtime on Sunday, isn't able to play.

Fullback Jerome Felton, who didn't practice because of a neck injury on Wednesday, was back on a limited basis on Thursday; Smith (shoulder) and defensive end Everson Griffen (low back) returned to full participation.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got back to work on Wednesday with a fairly extensive group of players missing from practice. Linebacker Anthony Barr and Sharrif Floyd were still out with the knee injuries that kept them out of Sunday's game, and safety Robert Blanton joined them on the injury report after sustaining ankle and knee injuries in overtime against the New York Jets.

Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that Barr was feeling better, but still wasn't sure about the rookie's status for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

In addition to Barr, Floyd and Blanton, guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) and fullback Jerome Felton (neck) missed practice. X-rays on Johnson's sprained ankle were negative on Sunday, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be healthy enough to play on Sunday.

Safety Harrison Smith was limited with the shoulder injury that's bothered him for several weeks, and defensive end Everson Griffen also was limited with a low back injury. It's the first time Griffen has been on the injury report for his back, and we'll have to see if it affects his practice time through the rest of the week before Sunday.

Cornerback Jabari Price, who has dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, returned to full participation.