NFC North: Ryan Mallett

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.
Rick SpielmanAP Photo/Jim MoneThe success of the next Minnesota Vikings quarterback may determine the legacy of general manager Rick Spielman.

MINNEAPOLIS -- In his 17 years as a member of NFL front offices, through a career that's spanned three teams and taken him through two convoluted power structures, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman might never have had more influence over a team than he does right now.

Vikings ownership scrapped its disjointed "triangle of authority" structure in 2012, elevating Spielman from vice president of player personnel to general manager and giving him full control over personnel decisions. The Wilf family decided not to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after a surprising 10-6 season in 2012 and fired him after a 5-10-1 season in 2013. Spielman got to pick his own coach for the first time in his career, hiring well-respected former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and heads into the 2014 draft with four of the top 100 picks, including the No. 8 overall selection.

Spielman could use that pick to take the highest-drafted quarterback in Vikings history. If he does, he could also be making the selection that defines the rest of his tenure as the Vikings' GM.

The biggest hole in Spielman's résumé with the Vikings -- which includes an otherwise commendable record on first-round picks, a shrewd trade for DE Jared Allen, and what appears to be a good return on dealing WR Percy Harvin -- is his inability to find a long-term solution at quarterback. Spielman came to the Vikings shortly after the team had used a second-round pick on Tarvaris Jackson, and didn't have to devote a high pick in the draft to a QB until the end of Brett Favre's two-year run triggered a youth movement in 2011. And now the Vikings appear to be acknowledging that the decision to pick Christian Ponder 12th overall in 2011 was a mistake.

"I haven't got it right yet. We've worked as hard as we could to try to get that right," Spielman said after the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30. "I wish that you could get a quarterback [easily], and it's not. It's maybe the most difficult position to fill, but we're going to do everything and use every resource we can to try to get that corrected."

Spielman will have veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner helping him this time, and the GM might rightly conclude that the best decision is to take a defensive player in the first round, come back to draft a quarterback later and let him develop without the expectations (and guaranteed money) that often drive a first-round pick into action right away. But the Vikings would have to bring Matt Cassel back on a new deal or go another route if they want to have a veteran quarterback on their roster next year, and trading for a player like Kirk Cousins or Ryan Mallett would cost the Vikings at least a midround pick while offering few guarantees. More than ever, it's incumbent upon Spielman to get it right at a position he's struggled to fill since his days in Miami.

During his five seasons with the Dolphins, Spielman initiated the first of his two trades for Sage Rosenfels, a move he'd repeat with the Vikings. Spielman had a hand in the acquisitions of Ray Lucas and Brian Griese, and in 2004 -- his only season as the Dolphins' full-fledged GM -- Spielman dealt a second-round pick to Philadelphia for A.J. Feeley, only to watch the quarterback fail to hold the starting job as the Dolphins slipped from 10-6 to 4-12.

The Dolphins' 2004 season went awry in part because running back Ricky Williams went AWOL before the season, but a clear direction at quarterback might have helped the offense weather the loss of its best player. And for all of the Vikings' defensive issues -- and running back Adrian Peterson's nagging injuries -- along the way in their fall from 10-6 to 5-10-1 in 2013, there's a convincing argument to be made that the team could have won a mediocre NFC North if it had stability at quarterback. Frazier seemed to be making that point on his way out of town, leaving some strong hints that responsibility for the quarterback situation -- and who started games there in 2013 -- should be borne by more people than just him.

Frazier, of course, is gone now, and Spielman got his chance to build a more seamless football department by picking his own coach. He has outlived his gaffe on Ponder, and he has more than $20 million of cap space with which to mold the roster this spring. Ownership seems firmly behind him, and as the Vikings move toward the opening of their new stadium in 2016, their direction is firmly under Spielman's control.

But the stigma of his misses at quarterback still follows him around, and if he can't get the position right this time around -- especially if he makes what turns out to be a bad investment with the eighth overall pick -- he likely won't get another chance to change his reputation. General managers can often survive at least one coaching change, but the best ones extend their careers by finding quarterbacks.

To his credit, Spielman seems to know he needs to fix the position. All that's on the line is all he's built for himself in his time with the Vikings.

"I have confidence we'll get this quarterback situation resolved. I really do," he said on Dec. 30. "What that answer is right now, I'm not going to have those answers until we get the coach in place. And when we sit down and delve into what we have at this position -- what is potentially out there in free agency? What is the draft class? Those answers will all come in time."
As you might remember, we spent some time during the draft run-up reviewing Jon Gruden's QB Camp interviews. Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett and Andy Dalton all got their chances.

Christian Ponder wasn't part of that exercise, but he did participate in ESPN's Sports Science evaluations. In the video below, you can watch as Ponder's improvisational skills are evaluated.

(Don't tell Trent Dilfer.)

We've spent the past few months reviewing the various incarnations of mock drafts produced by ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, so let's take a final look at their latest. Kiper's went live Insider late Wednesday night, and McShay's just posted Insider.

I should also note that one of the country's most respected draft predictors, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, published his mock draft Thursday morning. You need Morning News subscriber access to read it, but he did predict an early run on quarterbacks that would leave the Minnesota Vikings choosing TCU quarterback Andy Dalton at No. 12 overall.

Onward...

Minnesota Vikings
Pick:
No. 12
Kiper: Washington quarterback Jake Locker
McShay: Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo
Seifert comment: McShay's mock illustrates the Vikings' positional problem. By taking Castonzo at No. 12, they miss out on the top seven quarterbacks of the draft. By the time their No. 43 pick arrived in McShay's 7-round effort, the following quarterbacks were all off the board: Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Locker, Dalton, Christian Ponder, Ryan Mallett and Colin Kaepernick.

Detroit Lions
Pick:
No. 13
Kiper: USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith
McShay: Smith
Seifert comment: Conventional wisdom has suggested the Dallas Cowboys will take Smith at No. 9. But if Smith falls to the Lions, they would be getting the player generally considered the top offensive tackle in the draft. There is every reason to believe that general manager Martin Mayhew would make this choice if Smith is his highest-rated player at the time, regardless of need at other positions.

Chicago Bears
Pick:
No. 29
Kiper: Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod
McShay: Sherrod
Seifert comment: Obviously, trades weren't a part of these mocks. Sherrod is the best tackle available in each case, but it's not clear if the Bears value him as a first-rounder or if they would trade down in this scenario.

Green Bay Packers
Pick:
No. 32
Kiper: Baylor guard Danny Watkins
McShay: Texas cornerback Aaron Williams
Seifert comment: It's almost impossible to predict what general manager Ted Thompson will do, given the relative balance of his roster, and it's very reasonable to expect him to consider a trade that would move out of the first round altogether.
In the video below, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay offers a visual illustration for why I "reached" for a quarterback at the No. 12 overall pick of the ESPN.com blogger mock draft.

By McShay's reckoning, the Vikings will have their pick of every quarterback except Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. By the time their second-round pick comes around, Washington's Jake Locker, Florida State's Christian Ponder and TCU's Andy Dalton are all off the board. In that scenario, the Vikings would be left to choose between Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.
DaltonPatrick Green/Icon SMIAndy Dalton probably isn't the 12th best player in this draft, but his position inflates his value.
I was in favor of including trades in ESPN.com's third annual Blog Network mock draft, but the consensus was they would further cloud the muddy snapshot we already have of this draft. After all, with three days remaining until the first round begins, it isn't totally clear who the Carolina Panthers will take with the No. 1 overall pick -- let alone who will follow at No. 2, No. 3 and so on.

As a result, my goal was to make the best pick for each NFC North team regardless of the slot I was drafting in. It left me taking a leap from conventional wisdom for one team but also put me in position to provide the other three teams what would seem to be near-ideal scenarios. My picks, which we made last week, and explanations are below. Some picks took longer to justify than others:

12. Minnesota Vikings
My pick: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton
Simmer down: About five minutes after filing my pick, a colleague called and (jokingly, I think) asked how I felt about taking a third-round player with the No. 12 overall pick. That sentiment helps illustrate my first reason for taking any quarterback, let alone Dalton, at this spot.

The quarterback position has grown to the point where it can't be valued along the same lines as other positions. I don't have an exact formula for the comparison. But to me, having merely an above-average quarterback is more important than having a 10-sack man at defensive end or a 10-year fixture at left tackle. Without competent quarterback play, those 10 sacks and that stability on the line can carry a team only so far.

The Vikings have needs at positions other than quarterback, but they won't move forward as a franchise without beginning the process of building toward a long-term answer at the position. Recent history has shown us that teams in similar situations almost always need to use a first-round pick to ensure themselves a player who has the potential to fill that role. In fact, 20 of the NFL's 32 teams finished last season with a starter acquired via the first round. The Denver Broncos could unveil No. 21 (Tim Tebow) this season.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that Dalton, or any of the other quarterbacks who remained after Auburn's Cam Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert left the board, is the 12th-best player in the draft. I'm saying you throw out conventional rankings when you're in a situation like the Vikings' and recognize that getting a long-term starter at quarterback is worth the No. 12 overall pick.

Trading down was not an option, and I'm not sure I would have done it if it were. The Vikings aren't the only team in this situation, and chances are a team they partner with to trade down will be in search of a quarterback themselves. The Vikings' lack of a third-round pick leaves them with limited value to send in return, and their chances of even a second-tier prospect being available with their second-round pick at No. 43 overall is limited at best.

Why Dalton? I won't pretend to have evaluated his film, or that I would have known what to look for even if I had. I landed on him in part after crossing out a few other options.

We've discussed the accuracy issues of Washington's Jake Locker before. Put it this way: If he improves substantially at the NFL level, he'll be the exception to the rule. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett doesn't strike me as leader material. And in comparison to Florida State's Christian Ponder and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, I thought Dalton had the best chance to excel in an offensive system that will be similar to what the Atlanta Falcons installed with rookie quarterback Matt Ryan in 2008.

To be clear, this is the worst-case scenario to be in. Quarterback is the one position where need has to trump value. For those of you who think the Vikings should wait until next season, you're assuming they'll be in a better draft spot than No. 12 or that the annually limited college supply will somehow be enhanced in 2011. The Vikings have put themselves in this position by willfully ignoring the reality of Brett Favre's impending retirement. To me, they haven't given themselves much choice in the 2011 first round.

13. Detroit Lions
Amukamara
Amukamara
My pick:
Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
Breathe easy: Admittedly, my head was spinning when this pick arrived after all the possibilities we've discussed. Every offensive lineman was available except for USC's Tyron Smith. Unsurprisingly, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers had slipped out of the top 10. Two of the top three cornerbacks, Amukamara and Colorado's Jimmy Smith, were on the board. Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith was gone, but several other defensive ends -- including Bowers, Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and Cal's Cam Jordan -- were still there.

In the end, I did what I imagine Lions general manager Martin Mayhew would do -- take a deep breath and calmly make a defensible decision. I won't begin to tell you that I know for sure that Amukamara is the best player among those remaining, or that the Lions agree with media analysts who suggest he is the second-best cornerback in the draft. But based on the information we have, and the indisputable evidence that cornerback is the Lions' biggest need, it sure seems a logical choice to make.

29. Chicago Bears
Carimi
Carimi
My pick:
Wisconsin offensive Gabe Carimi
Jump for joy: Truth be told, I almost botched this pick. Carimi wasn't among the players I planned on choosing from. To me, this is the value of an eight-person mock as opposed to a single drafter. You have different ideas and different philosophies weaved throughout the round, much like the actual draft.

I don't think there is any doubt the Bears want to upgrade their offensive line, and if their evaluation is anywhere close to that of most media analysts, they'll jump at the chance to get Carimi at No. 29. He would have an excellent chance to start right away, probably at right tackle, and would give the Bears some immediate structure to their cloudy personnel arrangement along the line.

Last year at this time, few media analysts thought Iowa's Bryan Bulaga would fall into the final third of the draft. But he did, and the Green Bay Packers -- who, like the Bears, had an acute need for offensive linemen -- wasted little time turning in their draft card. I see a similar situation should Carimi still be available when the Bears hop on the clock.

32. Green Bay Packers
Sherrod
Sherrod
My pick:
Mississippi State offensive lineman Derek Sherrod
Nod your head: Offensive linemen were slower to go than expected in this mock, leaving two of our teams with opportunities to fill needs here. The Bears would get an immediate starter in Carimi, and the Packers could do the same with Sherrod.

Sherrod would give the Packers a number of short- and long-term options. He could conceivably play left guard if Daryn Colledge doesn't return. In the long run, he could be an option at right tackle if Bulaga eventually moves to the left side.

In either event, don't expect Packers general manager Ted Thompson to pass on a more talented player in order to draft an outside linebacker, where the Packers have a greater short-term need. If Sherrod ranks higher than the remaining linebackers on the board -- and in this draft, UCLA's Akeem Ayers wasn't available -- he could without question draft a player like Sherrod.

NFC North weekend mailbag

April, 16, 2011
4/16/11
12:00
PM ET
No fanfare.

No quotes.

No song lyrics.

(We had our fun a few hours ago.)

Just some hardcore mailbagging.

Access is granted via the mailbag, Facebook and Twitter.

Zac of Sidelionreport.com writes: Interesting factoid I realized today that I don't remember coming up: Matthew Stafford is about the same age as current draft prospects Ryan Mallett, Christian Ponder and Andy Dalton. Hard to argue that his first two years in the NFL have been wastes considering he will go through next season as just a 23-year-old.

Kevin Seifert: Indeed, as Zac noted in his accompanying blog post, Stafford turned 23 on Feb. 7. He's 15 months older than Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, four months older than Arkansas' Mallett, 18 days older than Florida State's Ponder and is actually younger than TCU's Dalton and Nevada's Colin Kaepernick.

Stafford didn't redshirt at Georgia and left after his junior year, making him barely 21 when the Lions drafted him April 2009. His first two seasons have been most notable for the number of injuries he's suffered, but it's comforting to know that his early entrance to the NFL has paid at least one dividend. He's two years ahead in exposure to the NFL game and way of life than he would have been had had spent the maximum five years at Georgia instead of three.

On the other side of the spectrum -- and yes, leave it to me to find a pocket of cynicism -- Stafford is behind some of the quarterbacks he entered the league with as well as some that came after him. If for no other reason than their health, Mark Sanchez (New York Jets), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) have made more of their NFL careers thus far.


Craig of Braintree notes our coverage of the NFL's potential rookie wage scale and writes: I'm for allowing teams to lock rookies in for five years but the pay should be flexible each year. A judge should decide between a team's offer and the player's offer like baseball.

Kevin Seifert: Craig is proposing arbitration for the NFL. Generally speaking, players with at least three accrued seasons (and fewer than six) can file for arbitration by proposing their salary for the following season. The team also proposes a salary. An arbitrator listens to arguments and chooses a "winner" if the sides can't compromise first.

According to the NFL's proposal, only rookies drafted in the first round would be locked in for five years. The league has circulated information suggesting the average career span of a first-round pick is 9.3 years.

But I think Craig's point is a valid one. Traditionally, a player's most lucrative contract is his second. It comes when he still has the projected physical capacity to perform at a high level for several years to come, and generally it comes no later than the fourth year of his career. Locking players in to five years of a rookie deal could diminish the value of their second contracts.

Ultimately, I hope that five-year number is negotiable. I'd prefer to see it lower rather than go to an arbitration system. In baseball, arbitration is an awkward and confrontational process dreaded by both sides.


Daniel of New Mexico notes my request for suggestions should Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson be matched up in the finals of ESPN.com's tournament to determine the cover of 'Madden 12.' Daniel writes: "The "Epicenter of Inanity" has a better ring to it."

Kevin Seifert: NOTHING is inane in a lockout. See for yourself.


Via Twitter, Jdub300C asks if a completely canceled season would push back the expiration of the Vikings' lease at the Metrodome.

Kevin Seifert: The last time I checked on this issue, I was flatly told no. The lease is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2012, whether or not the Vikings play their full slate of games this season. I suppose that an enterprising government attorney could go back and scour the lease for loopholes, but as of now none has been found.


Roy of Hampton, Va., writes: Kevin, as a Packer fan I have been seeing Danny Watkins and Brooks Reed pop up on the radar. The odd thing is that I am seeing them in round 1 and round 2 mocks. Some have them going as high as 25 and as low as 64 for the Pack. Do you see these prospects as round 1 picks or will the be available in round 2.Theve projected all over and I need the official word!

Kevin Seifert: Watkins is a guard from Baylor, while Reed is a defensive end/linebacker from Arizona. For what it's worth, Scouts Inc. has given each player a grade of 89, which by definition is a late first-round grade. Slides occur every year, but if the Packers want to draft either player, they'll need to take him at No. 32 or trade up in the second round. It would seem unlikely either Watkins or Reed would be available at No. 64.


Via Twitter, Packers linebacker Nick Barnett notes the mini-story that emerged when Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen said he was kicked off a high school practice field this week. Writes Barnett: Whats big deal about Greg olsen getting Locked out of a school If that was my kids school I would want the same Don't want no grown man dere.

Kevin Seifert: Yikes. We could go in plenty of directions after that one. But let's just agree that, indeed, this story wasn't that big of a deal.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Other than the lockout-induced dearth of actual news, I couldn't really figure out why it became big news Thursday that a suburban Chicago high school wouldn't allow Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen to do field work on its campus recently. In a tone I would call far less than angry, Olsen told ESPN 1000 that he was "kicked off" the field and hadn't been able to get in contact with anyone for re-entry.

Olsen seemed to agree with my news judgment, taking to Twitter late Thursday in an attempt to squelch the discussion. Here's what he said about his experience at Stevenson High School:
This HS field thing has gotten outa control.Just to get story str8. No class was on field. Met no teachers. Left when asked and called scool [sic]

Asked If I could sign paperwork or use at another time in message which wasn't returned

Also have been to the school to speak to various classes and groups with no issue since moved in district. Blown way out proportion

At a time when NFL owners and players are fighting over hundreds of millions of dollars, engendering scorn from a cross-section of fans, players like Olsen need to be careful with the entitlement talk. I don't think Olsen was suggesting he shouldn't be held to the school's rules, but it's good that he cleared it up regardless.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Rick Telander of the Chicago Sun-Times: "There are now two eras in modern football -- before Dave Duerson and after Dave Duerson. Call them B.D. and A.D., if you will. But things in our grand American sport will never, nor should they ever, be the same."
  • Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com examines the defensive end position from a Bears perspective.
  • Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is hoping to host a record-setting Twitter tweet-up at the Nebraska spring game Saturday, according to the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's throwing appearance at the Georgia spring game will be laid back, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Green Bay Packers' future at receiver is cloudy, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette checks in with a handful of Packers players, including defensive end Mike Neal and tight end Tom Crabtree, who are working out together in Green Bay.
  • Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf made a surprise appearance at the state capitol Thursday and met with two dozen legislators, according to the Star Tribune. He expressed optimism that a stadium financing bill will be approved but offered no details on the team's progress in partnering with a local site.
  • Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb might seek a contract too rich for the Vikings' liking if they ultimately want to acquire him in a trade, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN.com can't find anyone on the record to justify the character questions surrounding Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Gruden QB camp: Ryan Mallett

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
10:00
AM ET
Fact: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett has been hounded by character questions during the run-up to the 2011 draft.

Unknown: The extent to which those questions have merit.

Unfortunate: The cameo of another former Arkansas athlete, the notorious golfer John Daly, during Mallett's turn on Jon Gruden's QB camp.

Whether they have a longstanding friendship or just met, the image of Mallett seated next to Daly won't help reverse any negative assumptions that have been made to this point. To mangle a business term, it was poor product placement.

That said, the clip below gives you a good sense of Mallett's personality. I couldn't help but notice Gruden's skeptical facial expression in the beginning, but it appeared Mallett availed himself well in drawing up the routes for a play on video.

Of the quarterbacks likely to be taken in the first two rounds of this draft, Mallett seems the least likely to end up with the Minnesota Vikings. But stranger things have happened.

Earlier: We have posted video clips of QB camp visits of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton and TCU quarterback Andy Dalton. You can find Newton here and Dalton here.

video

BBAO: Vikings to host 30 prospects

April, 6, 2011
4/06/11
11:00
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

The lockout has allowed the Bears' coaching staff to get a better feel for the prospects in this year's draft class.

In its continuing series on Bears draft steals and busts under GM Jerry Angelo, ESPNChicago.com looks at Charles Tillman and Michael Okwo.

Detroit Lions

The Lions could be eyeing Washington linebacker Mason Foster, who has some ties to the coaching staff, in second round.

The Lions will host UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers on Friday.

Green Bay Packers

Some Packers players have found a silver lining in the lockout: Instead of working out in Green Bay, they are working out closer to home and their families.

Running back Ryan Grant, who missed almost all of last season with a torn ligament, said he currently feels "the best I’ve felt in a long time."

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings will play host to 30 draft prospects this week, including quarterbacks Ryan Mallett and Andy Dalton.

Lobbyists say several big companies have pledged money for advocating the building a new stadium for the Vikings, but the issue remains touchy for business community.
Based on various reports that have surfaced in recent weeks, it appears that Auburn's Cam Newton will be at least the fifth quarterback to spend private time with the Minnesota Vikings when he works out for them Wednesday. At least two more visits are expected, leaving Nevada's Colin Kaepernick as the only player among the generally accepted top eight quarterbacks in this draft publicly unaccounted for.

According to Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post, the Vikings worked out Florida State's Christian Ponder on Tuesday. They also put Iowa's Ricky Stanzi through a private workout this month, Wilson reported.

Also this month, according to Jason La Canfora of NFL.com, the Vikings worked out Washington's Jake Locker. Team officials confirmed they had a private meeting with Missouri's Blaine Gabbert after his March 17 pro day. Visits are upcoming with Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and TCU's Andy Dalton, most likely at their upcoming Top-30 day at their Winter Park practice facility, according to Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com.

I'm not sure where this leaves Kaepernick. Trying to interpret a team's draft strategy based on publicized workouts, or any other available information, is usually a waste of time in this period of misinformation. Is he their secret target? Have they ruled him out? We should have an answer in about five weeks.
Cam NewtonAP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstDoes Cam Newton possess the leadership skills the Vikings are seeking in a franchise quarterback?
NEW ORLEANS -- As Minnesota Vikings officials arrived Sunday to the NFL owners meeting, they found themselves at about the midway point of their offseason project to draft a franchise quarterback. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman suggested the team will devote multiple visits to at least six quarterbacks, and coach Leslie Frazier said he is starting to get "a feel" for how the team will stack its draft board.

Through various reports, five of those quarterbacks have been revealed: Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, Auburn's Cam Newton, TCU's Andy Dalton, Washington's Jake Locker and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.

"I'm trying to be open minded until we finish some of these private workouts," Frazier said. "But it's hard not to [get enamored midway through the process] when you watch a certain tape and go, 'Oh man, this is the guy.' Then you put on another tape and go, 'Wait a minute. This guy...' So you have to be careful and just go through the process. But each one of them, they all have good qualities of some kind. I do have to catch myself sometimes not getting biased before we finish this process."

The Vikings are using the private workouts mostly to make social observations and to give Frazier and other coaches a chance for more personal conversation that can reveal character and leadership insights. To understand how important that facet of the scouting process is, look no further than the Vikings' experience over the past four years with quarterback Tarvaris Jackson -- an excellent athlete with a rocket arm who was more comfortable in a secondary locker-room role than as a leader.

"For me," Frazier said, "the communication and getting to know them -- sometimes in their environment, sometimes if it's at the combine or if we're going to bring them to our facility -- that to me is as important as the mechanics and so on. I think we've got good people that are going to help them [in] their fundamentals and get them from a technique standpoint. But I've got to feel good that they've got the leadership qualities and can mesh with some of my thoughts on the quarterback position. My one-on-one time with them, and just being around them is as important to me as what they can do from a pro day or workouts.

"Sometimes you have to be careful about being too enamored with a pro day or that combine workout. ... So I have to have a good feel for that person. The quarterback position is unlike any other person on the team. That guy, his mental is as important as his athletic ability. More important, in a lot of ways. Good athletes at quarterback don't always become franchise quarterbacks. For us, we're looking and hoping to find a franchise quarterback. For us, that's what we're looking to find. So my time with him is as important or more important than what we see on tape."

I'm not sure if there is much to read into Frazier's comments, although it might help explain why neither he nor Spielman attended Newton's pro day. There aren't many questions about Newton's ability to throw or run; it's his football savvy and leadership abilities that the Vikings no doubt want to investigate further.

My thoughts on this situation haven't changed much since last week, when I suggested the Vikings aren't likely to have either Newton or Gabbert available to them at No. 12 overall. They'll have to decide whether they want to pay a steep price to trade up for one of them, or if they feel comfortable taking Locker at No. 12 or if they will target another quarterback lower in the draft.

I asked Frazier if he was far enough in the process to feel confident the Vikings will be able to draft one of the quarterbacks they like in this draft.

"I have a feel for it," he said. "You're guessing a little bit on what people ahead of you are going to do so you think you have a feel. But ... you know [things] can change in a hurry. All of a sudden somebody you think wasn't looking at quarterbacks jumps up to a spot and you go like, 'Uh, oh.'"

The Vikings' goal over the next five weeks? Ensuring that "uh-oh" never gets uttered in their draft room.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay's latest mock draft Insider carries an added bonus for lockout-weary readers: Second-round projections! You'll need a subscription to see all 64 picks, but I'm authorized to provide you with the NFC North-related scraps. Let's get to it:

Minnesota Vikings
McShay's pick at No. 12:
Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo
McShay's pick at No. 43: TCU quarterback Andy Dalton
Seifert comment: In this scenario, McShay has the Vikings passing on Washington quarterback Jake Locker and grabbing a quarterback in the second round. The Vikings are one of the teams that have scheduled a private workout with Dalton; and in this mock, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Florida State's Christian Ponder were already off the board by the No. 43 pick. Castonzo would be the second offensive lineman chosen and could compete with right tackle Phil Loadholt for a starting job immediately.

Detroit Lions
McShay's pick at No. 13: Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara
McShay's pick at No. 44: Baylor guard Danny Watkins
Seifert comment: Even McShay acknowledges that having Amukamara slip to No. 13 would be a "dream scenario." You wouldn't find many people who would pass him up at No. 13, and if this somehow happens, consider it a coup for the Lions. He would be an immediate starter and a huge upgrade. But I have my doubts about an elite cover cornerback with 4.37 speed getting out of the top 10 of the draft.

Chicago Bears
McShay's pick at No. 29:
Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod
McShay's pick at No. 62: North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin
Seifert comment: At this point in the mock, five offensive linemen were already off the board. That would put the Bears in a tough spot if they were determined to draft one with their top pick. Sherrod would be next in line, but maybe not worth a first-round positioning. It's an interesting scenario.

Green Bay Packers
McShay's pick at No. 32:
Arizona defensive end/linebacker Brooks Reed
McShay's pick at No. 64: Miami (Fla.) defensive end Allen Bailey
Seifert comment: McShay is joining colleague Mel Kiper Jr. in suggesting Reed as the Packers' top pick, a player who conceivably would fill the need for a consistent starter opposite Clay Matthews. Meanwhile, Bailey would give the Packers some added insurance against the expected loss of veteran free agent Cullen Jenkins.
As promised, the Minnesota Vikings are working through the process of privately working out the top quarterbacks of the 2011 draft. They've scheduled a session with Auburn's Cam Newton and TCU's Andy Dalton, among others, and on Tuesday they were planning to hit the field with Washington's Jake Locker. (Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post has the news.)

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Vikings could consider Washington quarterback Jake Locker with the No. 12 pick in the April draft.
We introduced you to Locker last month during the NFL scouting combine, but since then we've focused more on Newton and Arkansas's Ryan Mallett as the Vikings sift through their possibilities. In the end, however, Locker could well be the fulcrum point of the Vikings' decision. Here's how I see it:

Locker, who might have been the top pick of the 2010 draft if he had declared a year earlier, seems likely to be available at the Vikings' No. 12 overall pick next month. Concerns about his accuracy have dropped him to at least the third spot among quarterbacks in this draft, behind Newton and Missouri's Blaine Gabbert; ESPN analyst Mel Kiper's most recent mock draft Insider had Locker going to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 25 overall.

So in many ways, Locker will represent the first domino in the Vikings' decision-making process. (Call it a decision tree if you will.) Do they think he can be their quarterback of the future? If yes, is he a value pick at No. 12 or should they trade down to get him? If no, should they trade up for Newton or Gabbert, presuming they like both of them?

If the answer is no to all of those questions, should the Vikings select another player at No. 12 and target a quarterback in the second round or later? Possibilities include Mallett, Dalton, Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, Florida State's Christian Ponder and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi. (There you go, Ben from Denver.)

I'm sure we will hit this issue in more detail in the weeks ahead, but here's the bottom line on Locker's accuracy: He completed 55.4 percent of his passes as a senior and never managed a completion percentage better than 58.2 percent in his career. The general rule for college quarterbacks is that their accuracy doesn't improve significantly when they move to the professional level, and statistical research has shown that any college quarterback with a career completion percentage below 60 percent is likely to have trouble in the transition.

With that said, scouts and media analysts alike have raved about Locker's leadership, competitiveness and presence. Last month, ESPN's Todd McShay said: "Love, love Jake Locker the competitor. Love the physical tools. Tremendous athlete, obviously. He wants it. He makes accurate throws at times. He just hasn't put it together."

And at a time when many observers are wringing their hands about the proliferation of the college spread offense, one that rarely asks quarterbacks to drop back from under center, Locker is an exception. As the chart shows, Locker made more throws after taking the snap from under center than Gabbert, Newton or Mallett last season.

The draft is six weeks (!) from Thursday, and there is much left to be decided and debated. But as the Vikings move through the process, it seems clear that Locker is their first big decision.
Tuesday's SportsNation chat turned into an interesting discussion on the importance of speed for quarterbacks and how closely it relates to mobility.

(Yes, we can be football geeks around here.)

At issue was the 40 time posted Tuesday by Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who ran a 5.37. As ESPN analyst Todd McShay pointed out in an interview at the scouting combine, there already was some concern that Mallett -- who is 6-foot-6 3/4ths and 253 pounds -- would be a sitting duck in the pocket against NFL pass-rushers. A slow 40 time only adds to that perception, and it was with that background that I volleyed with a few of you.

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
AP Photo/Darron CummingsRyan Mallett's slow 40 time reinforced the notion that he will likely be a strong-armed statue in the pocket.
A sampling:
Matt P (Berkshire, NY)

Did Ryan Mallet hurt his draft stock by running 5.37? Do you think the Vikings have a chance at him in the 2nd round now?

Kevin Seifert (2:16 PM)

It probably just reinforced the notion that he could be a strong-armed statute in the pocket. Drew Bledsoe had a pretty decent career in that mold. Before today and after, Mallett is a second-round pick that could climb into the first round if one particular team really likes him.

Corey (D.C.)

Do people even realize the difference between a 4.6 and 5.3 40-time? Its bang-bang. Its not quite a photo finish but its close to one. For a QB, that is almost totally irrelevant. Oh I forgot, Joe Montana and Dan Marino ran 4.3's. Give me a break.

Kevin Seifert (2:26 PM)

Referring to Mallett. Agreed that sometimes these things are silly. But if there are already concerns about a player's mobility, and then he runs a time that is relatively significantly slower than most players at his position, it's at least another piece of evidence.

Mike (Ohio)

Re: Mallett's 40 time. Peyton Manning ran like a 12.8. My point is, it's irrelevant to how well or how poorly of an NFL QB Mallett will be.

Kevin Seifert (2:27 PM)

But Manning has a deadly quick release that serves as his answer to the pass rush. Does Mallett have that, or have some other kind of intangible that will render his speed moot? That's yet to be determined.

Corey (D.C.)

RE: Mallet. I am not a fan of his and would never draft him, but the top QBs of all time represent a laundry list of those with little to no mobility. On the flip side, the one thing in common with the most mobile QBs of all time- no rings! None, zilch, nada. Barely even a conference title game on their resume.

Kevin Seifert (2:34 PM)

This is not a discussion about quarterbacks like Michael Vick or Randall Cunningham. It's about a quarterback having the skills, whether it's Matt Ryan or Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler, to move in the pocket, re-set and throw. It doesn't mean running for a first down. It means not getting sacked the moment a pass rusher gets into the backfield.

Corey (D.C.)

RE: Mallet. You proved my point, so thank you. Its not about running a 4.6, it's about maneuvering yourself just enough to be able to continue with your reads and make a throw. Mallet is no more immobile than so many elite QBs before him.

Kevin Seifert (2:41 PM)

I think there is more nuance there. What I'm saying is he already has a reputation for being immobile. A slow 40 time adds to that reputation. Do you believe he has the ability to maneuver and continue with his reads and make a throw?

Corey (D.C.)

RE: Mallet. No, in all honesty I do not think he has that ability. You are probably right. But in general there seem to be no more "splitting hairs" these days. If you run a 4.4.9 you are a speedster, but a 4.51 and you are a slow and worthless. Mallet may not quite have it, but its not like he will be a sumo wrestler back there either. Btw I love your work.

Kevin Seifert (2:45 PM)

Fair enough

The point of posting that exchange was not to sneak in Corey's final line. (Although I appreciated it.) It was to replicate what I think many football people are mulling in their evaluation of Mallett.

From most accounts, Mallett wowed scouts with his arm strength and touch during Tuesday's Arkansas pro day. NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks, who attended the workout, wrote Mallett was "absolutely sensational" and that "his natural talent is unrivaled in this year's draft." The real question on Mallett, Brooks acknowledged, is whether he can reset his feet and throw accurately after avoiding a pass rush. Brooks: "He didn't really get a chance to showcase those skills in this controlled workout, but he will need to show those skills in private workouts."

I don't write off a player like Mallett because he ran a 5.37, and I wouldn't go wild over him if he recorded a 4.5. The 40-time is simply one piece of information that, combined with other pieces, can help us paint the picture of a prospect.

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