NFC North: Jimmy Garoppolo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Julius Peppers ought to serve as an inspiration to the handful of veteran Chicago Bears defensive ends who are expected to switch roles and become 3-4 outside linebackers/edge rushers.

One of the most feared 4-3 pass-rushers of his generation, Peppers' decision to sign with rival Green Bay last offseason forced the 13-year veteran to transition from his customary defensive spot to outside linebacker, where Peppers primarily operated out of a two-point stance.

The results speak for themselves.

Peppers started all 16 games for the Packers, registering 44 tackles, seven sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, 11 passes defensed and two defensive touchdowns.

In two playoff games, Peppers tallied 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

That type of productivity convinced Green Bay to bring back the 35-year-old, eight-time Pro Bowl selection for another season, even though Peppers is scheduled to earn $9.5 million ($8.5 million base salary, $500,000 roster bonus and $500,000 workout bonus) in 2015.

“I’m still the only one who doesn’t understand why this question comes up,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “Yes, he’ll be back. He looked very comfortable and had a great year. He made an impact both on the field and in the locker room. It was unique to get to know Julius throughout the process once he signed as a free agent.

I think he looks great in green and gold.”

Bears head coach John Fox, who coincidentally coached Peppers for eight years in Carolina, is hopeful Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young can enjoy similar success in the Bears’ new 3-4 hybrid look on defense.

However, there are no guarantees the Bears’ trio of pass-rushers will be able to accomplish the feat.

Young had a terrific first season in Chicago with a career-high 10 sacks in 15 games, but Allen and Houston both failed to live up to expectations. Although Allen held up OK versus the run with 64 tackles, he finished 2014 with a disappointing 5.5 sacks. Meanwhile, Houston’s lone sack of the season came against New England reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the Bears’ humiliating 51-23 loss to the Patriots in Week 8. Houston celebrated the sack (the game was over at that point) by tearing his ACL.

“We’ll line them up there, what they become is up to them,” Fox said. “In Willie’s case he’s coming off an Achilles surgery, you know same thing with Lamar Houston, he’s coming off an ACL. You know I had two guys a year ago, Chris Harris and Von Miller were coming off ACLs and they both had Pro Bowl seasons. So again, that’s all part of the process, you know, getting guys healthy, medically, and getting them ready to play. We’re working on that as we speak daily.

I haven’t seen Allen, so it’d be hard for me to evaluate until we get him out there. But he’s a good football player, he’s got good instincts. My experience has been that works in a two-point or a three-point stance.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- Well, we've reached draft day at last, which means our series looking at the Vikings' quarterback possibilities comes to a conclusion today. This post will be a quick-hit look at some of the other options in the class. Several of them, like Alabama's AJ McCarron, could be viable possibilities for the Vikings in this draft, so we'll spend more time on some quarterbacks than others in this post, but this is meant to wrap up the series with some final words from our resident experts: ESPN NFL analyst Louis Riddick (a former pro personnel director for the Philadelphia Eagles) and ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson (who used to be a college and pro scout for the Cleveland Browns):

AJ McCarron, Alabama

2013 stats: 67.3 completion percentage, 3,063 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, 31 1/2-inch arm length, 10-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "I don't like McCarron at all, especially not for them. I think he's vastly overrated as a player, and certainly as a passer."

Riddick's take: "I'm not someone who dings players for playing with other good players. AJ has shown more than enough, as far as executing the things you need to see a college quarterback execute, regardless of who he's playing with, to say he projects as being a good pro in the right context. Knowing his background, he's another guy that, despite playing in that pro style, can really benefit from going to a place where footwork, mechanics, progression reading, essentially staying within the structure of the offense and not being given any slack will benefit him greatly. A place like Kansas City -- and I say Kansas City because of Andy Reid -- is the kind of place he really needs to go. I like him a lot."

Aaron Murray, Georgia

2013 stats: 64.8 completion percentage, 3,075 yards, 26 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-1, 207 pounds, 30 5/8-inch arm length, 9 1/8-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "I've talked to people who say, 'Slow down (on his return from a torn ACL).' If you're going to draft him high, understand that it's probably best for him to sit a year, whether that be starting off on the PUP (physically unable to perform list). If it weren't for the knee, and how much it would benefit him to have a quote-unquote 'redshirt' year, and not have to be rushed into action, the only thing you would be noticing about Aaron Murray is the same thing you were noticing about Russell Wilson when he came out. It was just, 'But he's not 6-5.' That's the only thing you would be able to say, because the kid ran an offense that was as multiple as any in college football, and probably as multiple as many in the National Football League. He executed from the pocket, from the shotgun, he executed situational football brilliantly. He made big plays with his feet, he threw on the run. He did every single thing. This past year, he lost his top three receivers, his top two running backs, and was still balling. If it wasn't for the knee, there would be no other reason besides our preconceived notions (to keep him from) being a top-level pick. What else are you going to say? I like Aaron Murray a whole, whole lot."

Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois

2013 stats: 66.0 completion percentage, 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns, nine interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, 31-inch arm length, 9 1/4-inch hand span

Riddick's take: "Of all these guys, he has the longest road to travel before he's ready. His offense was nothing like what he's going to be asked to do in the NFL, unless they're going to take his offense there. He has so much to learn, just from a footwork perspective. He had a lot of yards last year, a lot of short passes, a lot of bubble screens, didn't look very comfortable in the pocket, didn't look comfortable at all under pressure. He seems to be the most green, and has the biggest road to travel as far as development. He's a great kid, very smart and he has a quick release. He doesn't have a great arm. He's never demonstrated pro-style footwork and/or mechanics, and he played at a lower level of competition, although he dominated that level of competition. To me, it's a very vague projection. It's almost more of a guess. When I start thinking in those terms, I'm not going very high for that player."

Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech

2013 stats: 56.6 completion percentage, 2,909 yards, 16 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

NFL combine measurements: 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, 34 1/4-inch arm length, 10 7/8-inch hand span

Williamson's take: "He might be a real good fit for Minnesota's offense. He's got a rocket launcher for a right arm, and he's got unbelievable physical characteristics, but he needs time. He's the type of guy that, if you draft him in the second or third round -- the second's probably a little rich -- you'd hope he doesn't see the field at all in 2014. You groom him, you let Norv (Turner) and (Matt) Cassel take him under their wing. To me, he's got more upside than (Zach) Mettenberger, (Tom) Savage, maybe more than anyone in the draft, to be honest with you. I think he's as gifted, and probably more so, in terms of arm strength, athletic ability, size, he's more gifted than anyone else in the draft."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings are continuing their search for a young quarterback at the end of the week, holding a private workout with Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo today, as ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported. The workout comes after the Vikings met with LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger following his pro day, and before the team plans to fly Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the Twin Cities for a meeting next week.

General manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL scouting combine the Vikings would conduct private workouts with "eight or nine" quarterbacks, so it's no surprise to see them making the rounds with a month to go before the NFL draft. They'd already met with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, and reportedly had a private workout with San Jose State's David Fales. The Vikings also met with South Carolina's Connor Shaw at the NFL scouting combine, and had a scout at his pro day, though Shaw isn't projected to go as high in the draft as the other quarterbacks the Vikings have scouted.

The Vikings are believed to be high on Mettenberger, who threw more than 100 passes at his pro day in an attempt to show the progress he's made since tearing his ACL last fall. The quarterback had dinner with four Vikings officials on Wednesday night, according to a league source, and seemed to click well with offensive coordinator Norv Turner; by the end of Mettenberger's workout, the source said, Turner was calling out the routes he wanted to see Mettenberger throw. The quarterback could be raw in some areas of his game, but he might have one of the stronger arms in the draft, and could be a good fit for Turner's deep passing game.

As we get closer to the draft, though, the Vikings will have to consider plenty of different permutations for the quarterback position. They'll have to decide if they want to take one in the first round, or wait until later in the draft, and they'll have to sift through a deep quarterback class where sure things are thought to be in short supply. And if Spielman has been known for one thing in his career, it's his thoroughness. We're certainly seeing that play out here.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As we get closer to next month's NFL draft, there is probably no Minnesota Vikings question we've discussed more than this one: If the Vikings find themselves with an opportunity to take a quarterback with the eighth overall pick on May 8, should they do it? Or should they address another need, return to the quarterback position later in the draft and take their chances on the players they find there?

That question has been complicated further by the fact that none of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft seems to have asserted himself as a sure thing. ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper said there is a "super seven" group of players at the top of the draft board -- in what many football people have called one of the best drafts in years -- and none of the quarterbacks are in it.

The group, Kiper said, consists of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.

"That’s your super seven," Kiper said. "After that, I don’t see anybody that belongs in that group right now. I don’t think any of the quarterbacks do, and I don’t see any other players jumped up that far. So that’s your sensational seven, if you want to say that. Then you’re getting into the range where the eighth guy could be the 18th guy on some boards. To me, the seven are the consensus seven."

The problem for the Vikings with that group is that three members are offensive tackles. Minnesota is set at that position with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt. Watkins or Evans could be an option, but with Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson already on the roster, the Vikings would probably take another receiver only if they thought stockpiling the position was worth passing on a chance to fill another need. Clowney and Mack seem likely to be gone by the time the Vikings pick.

But if one team above the Vikings takes a quarterback, or drafts another player, one of those seven players would be on the board at No. 8. Even if that group is gone, the Vikings could choose from a number of other players to help their defense. Is it worth passing on a quarterback to go that direction?

"It’s incredible. There are about a dozen quarterbacks that could be starters, and out of those dozen, there are some that argue that all 12 of them will never be a successful starter," Kiper said. "This is a crazy year for quarterbacks. There is a lot of quantity, but how much quality is debatable. But if [Central Florida's Blake] Bortles is there at 8, unless they just don’t like Bortles, it would be tough to pass him up.

"The bottom line with the Vikings -- and I’ve said this for three months -- is, I don’t care who they like or don’t like, they’ve got to get a quarterback. And however they do it, they’ve got to get a lot better at quarterback. You can’t be the fourth team in the division at quarterback by a wide margin and have any chance of being any more than a borderline playoff team at best, and probably in the cellar, more than likely, if things at other positions don’t go your way."

Of the top three quarterbacks in the draft, Kiper said Bortles was "more of a consensus" in the top eight picks than Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel or Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.

If the Vikings did pass on one in the first round, they could come back for someone like Fresno State's Derek Carr, Alabama's AJ McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo or Georgia's Aaron Murray later in the draft. Kiper said some teams feel Carr is better than the top three quarterbacks and assuaged some concerns about Murray's arm strength, saying it's "more than good enough."

"Which quarterback do [the Vikings] like? We don’t know right now. Everybody’s trying to figure that out," Kiper said. "Everybody’s not going to like Bortles, everybody’s not going to like Manziel, Bridgewater, Carr, this whole group. There’s some that really like these guys. There’s some that really don’t like these guys."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' contingent of front office people and coaches is arriving in Indianapolis this week, with plenty of prospects to meet and a glaring hole at quarterback at or near the top of their to-do list. The Vikings have the No. 8 pick in the draft, however, which means they'll likely need to move up or hope for some help if they want to get one of the top quarterbacks.

That's part of the reason we've spent so much time looking at the Vikings' other options for the No. 8 pick, and it's entirely possible the Vikings will still be looking for a young quarterback when their second-round pick (No. 40 overall) comes up on May 9.

Would the Vikings be better off dealing that second-round pick to the Washington Redskins for Kirk Cousins or to the New England Patriots for Ryan Mallett? It's a question they'll certainly have to explore.

According to the Washington Post, the Redskins want a second-round pick for Cousins, and the Patriots reportedly have a similar asking price for Mallett. Both quarterbacks are 25, and would come with some NFL seasoning -- Cousins has started four games the last two seasons for the Redskins, while Mallett has backed up Tom Brady for three seasons -- but they'd carry some risks, too.

Cousins threw seven interceptions while playing in five games (starting three) for the Redskins in 2013, while Mallett hasn't started a NFL game. The Vikings would have evaluated both quarterbacks as they were coming out of the draft -- and in Mallett's case, they would have passed on him when they selected Christian Ponder in 2011. There can be a tendency to over-value the hot backup of the moment (see: Matt Flynn or Matt Schaub), but in the case of Matt Hasselbeck with the Seahawks, trading for a backup can be a viable path to finding a franchise QB.

And if the price were a second-round pick, the Vikings would have to seriously weigh a trade as an option in the event they don't get a quarterback in the first round. They'd have to stack up Cousins or Mallett against QBs like LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Fresno State's Derek Carr or or Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo, and determine if a quarterback with some NFL experience is a better option. They'd have to navigate the financial landscape with two quarterbacks on the back ends of their rookie contracts, and realize they wouldn't get the benefit of starting those quarterbacks in the most affordable years of their careers.

It's certainly an option, though, and as they size up their quarterback prospects, the Vikings will no doubt consider it.

SPONSORED HEADLINES