NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

NFL Nation: Jerick McKinnon

MANKATO, Minn. -- The biggest question surrounding the Minnesota Vikings when Mike Zimmer took over as head coach in January was the team's future at quarterback. The tallest task facing Zimmer when he accepted the job on Jan. 15 might have been remaking the Vikings' defense.

Zimmer's résumé as a defensive coordinator earned him the chance to work with a group that allowed more points than any in the NFL last season, and more than all but one defense in the Vikings' 53-season history. The coach began a detailed remodeling process almost as soon as he got the job, walking scouts and front-office members through what he'd need to succeed, and the trademark of his on-field work with players over the past two months has been an exacting adherence to details. The first concrete signs of progress came in the Vikings' preseason opener last Friday night, when the first-team defense forced a pair of three-and-outs against the Oakland Raiders. When he watched the film the next day, Zimmer saw some semblance of what he'd outlined for Vikings decision-makers months ago.

"It was a little bit like I envisioned this football team to look like. We didn’t make many mistakes on defense until later on in the ball game. We competed very well; we got up in people’s face on defense," Zimmer said. "I think that we are starting to develop a physical mindset with this football team. I like how we practice and the way we practice is showing up when the lights come on and we get ready to go play. We need to continue to practice at the same tempo, we need to continue to improve on the mistakes and we've still got a long way to go."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

1. If Matt Cassel (or Teddy Bridgewater) can help the Vikings move beyond the quarterback turmoil of 2013, the team has enough weapons to catch up to the prolific offenses in the NFC North. Cordarrelle Patterson could be in for a breakout season in Year 2, Greg Jennings worked well with Cassel last season and Kyle Rudolph dropped 15 pounds in an effort to adjust his game to offensive coordinator Norv Turner's downfield passing game. The Vikings, of course, still have Adrian Peterson, and they're excited about the potential of third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, who could be the change-of-pace back Turner has typically had in his offenses.

[+] EnlargeMinnesota's Anthony Barr
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, though the Vikings night unveil some creative packages for the rookie.
2. First-round pick Anthony Barr should start at strongside linebacker, where he'll be featured as part of a defense that should be more aggressive than recent Vikings teams. While he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Zimmer sent five or more pass-rushers just 172 times last season (the seventh-fewest in the league), according to ESPN Stats & Information, but he'll bring pressure from more places than the Vikings did under Leslie Frazier. The Bengals, for example, blitzed a defensive back on 30 more snaps than the Vikings did last season.

3. General manager Rick Spielman has picked seven players in the first round of the past three drafts, assembling a core of young talent that could help the Vikings improve as quickly as it can develop. Third-year safety Harrison Smith is back from a turf toe injury that cost him half the season, second-year cornerback Xavier Rhodes is a good fit with Zimmer's press coverage scheme and Sharrif Floyd could become the Vikings' answer to Geno Atkins, the outstanding three-technique tackle Zimmer had in Cincinnati.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. The Vikings will be counting on better depth in the secondary than they had last season, which means a number of unproven players will have to fill large roles. After the Vikings' experiment with Josh Robinson at slot cornerback backfired last season, he should be more comfortable on the outside, where he could start or play in the Vikings' nickel package once Captain Munnerlyn moves inside. But Robinson hasn't been asked to play much man coverage in his career, and the Vikings will need Rhodes to be their top cover corner in Year 2. They'll also need a starting safety to emerge alongside Smith, though the signing of 34-year-old Chris Crocker could help there.

2. There's little set at the linebacker position, where Chad Greenway is trying to rebound from the worst season of his career, Barr is developing as a rookie and Jasper Brinkley, in his second tour with the Vikings, is trying to hold off third-year man Audie Cole for the middle-linebacker job. In a scheme that leans on active linebackers, the position is one of the most unsettled on the roster.

3. Of course, there's the quarterback position. Cassel performed respectably at the end of last season, and seems comfortable in Turner's offense, but probably hasn't been among the top half of the league's quarterbacks since 2010. If he isn't faring well at the beginning of the season -- and the Vikings get off to a rough start against a schedule that includes dates with Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers by Oct. 2 -- how soon do the Vikings turn things over to Bridgewater? Whether they're counting on a veteran whom they signed last season as a backup or a rookie, the Vikings again begin the season as the only NFC North team with uncertainty about its starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIf Matt Cassel struggles, how quickly will the Vikings turn to Teddy Bridgewater?
OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Vikings have used Barr as a defensive end in pass-rushing situations and could unveil more creative packages for the rookie this week. Zimmer has plenty of flexibility with his defensive fronts, considering Everson Griffen has played defensive tackle in the nickel package and Corey Wootton and rookie Scott Crichton have rushed from the inside. The Vikings have also toyed with dropping defensive end Brian Robison -- who began his college career as a linebacker -- into coverage in their nickel package.

  • Zimmer wants safeties who can hold up in coverage, and he has unveiled a few nickel packages that feature three safeties and two corners. Considering how much time teams spend in nickel packages, safeties who can cover slot receivers and hold up against the run provide some additional flexibility. That's why Crocker -- who has played the past seven seasons for Zimmer in Atlanta or Cincinnati -- is back with him again.

  • Depth at tight end could be a concern, especially early in the season; Chase Ford looked like he could be a solid receiving option behind Rudolph until he broke his foot before the start of training camp, and the Vikings cut promising undrafted free agent AC Leonard last week. Rhett Ellison has mostly worked as a run blocker so far in his career. Especially if Ford starts on the physically unable to perform list, the Vikings will have to hope Rudolph stays healthy a year after missing half the season with a broken foot.

  • Running back Matt Asiata could carve out a role for himself in the Vikings' offense, especially now that Toby Gerhart is gone to Jacksonville and the Vikings need another running back who can hold up in pass protection. Asiata ran for 115 yards in the Vikings' final game of the 2013 season and has shown some ability as a downhill runner between the tackles.

  • With punt returner Marcus Sherels nursing a hamstring injury, second-year receiver Adam Thielen has shown he can be a solid No. 2 option, returning three punts for 53 yards in the Vikings' preseason opener. As a receiver, Thielen has been one of the big stories in Vikings camp, displaying sure hands over the middle of the field and working well with Bridgewater in front of the same fans who cheered him at Division II Minnesota State, which hosts Vikings training camp.
MINNEAPOLIS -- After two weeks of training camp showed how much command Teddy Bridgewater already has of the Minnesota Vikings' offense, his preseason debut with the team served as a reminder he's still a rookie.

The quarterback completed six of his 13 passes for 49 yards in the Vikings' 10-6 win over the Oakland Raiders and was also sacked twice. He had a 21-yard pass to Greg Jennings wiped out by an illegal formation on his first play but also had a fumble recovered by tackle Matt Kalil at the Raiders' 20, allowing the Vikings to keep Bridgewater's opening drive alive for a field goal. It was an uneven performance by the first-round pick, but at this point those should be expected.

Here are some other thoughts on the Vikings' first game of the year:
  • Jerick McKinnon had an impressive night in his first game at running back -- in several facets. He carried 12 times for 45 yards, gaining 36 of them on his first six carries, held up well in pass protection against a couple of rushing defensive linemen and laid out a Raiders defensive back with a downfield block on Cordarrelle Patterson's 13-yard reception in the first quarter.
  • The Vikings' secondary looked depleted at the beginning of the night, with Robert Blanton (hamstring) and Jamarca Sanford (back spasms) among the players who didn't dress. But Marcus Sherels, who missed practice Wednesday, also sat out, and Mistral Raymond left with a concussion early in the game. The losses at safety, in particular, opened up room for Kurt Coleman, who started the game at free safety alongside Harrison Smith and intercepted a pass along the sideline after Derek Carr's off-balance screen bounced off the hands of running back Jamize Olawale.
  • Anthony Barr played into the second half at linebacker and wound up with a half-sack in the first half, after Tom Johnson flushed Matt Schaub up in the pocket. Barr worked to shed his blocker and met Johnson at the quarterback late in the down.
  • Adam Thielen continued to build on an impressive training camp, particularly on special teams. He returned three punts for 52 yards and tackled Denarius Moore for a 4-yard loss on a punt return to end the first half. He caught one pass for 15 yards on an out route and dropped another, but his work on special teams allowed him to distinguish himself again.
  • Speaking of special teams, Gerald Hodges helped himself there in the fourth quarter, blocking a 44-yard Raiders field goal a series before he notched a tackle for a 2-yard loss. The poor Raiders kicker whose kick Hodges deflected, who became the first NFL kicker to have a field goal blocked at TCF Bank Stadium? That would be the free agent they signed this week, by the name of Kevin Goessling. Oh, the indignity.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
7:40
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • For the first time in Vikings training camp, we've seen an interception in full-team drills. Actually, there were two of them on Thursday, both coming off rookie Teddy Bridgewater. First, Audie Cole made what might have been the play of the day, jumping in front of a pass to the flat and picking it off with what would have been a clear lane to the end zone. Then, Derek Cox snatched away a short pass intended for Adam Thielen in a 2-minute drill. Matt Cassel was nearly picked off, as well, when Xavier Rhodes made a nice play to drive on a sideline throw intended for Jerome Simpson. He got his hands on the pass, but couldn't bring down the interception.
  • Captain Munnerlyn returned to team drills on Thursday, and got some work in the Vikings' base defense opposite Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings will need to see if Munnerlyn can play in their base defense, as opposed to only the nickel package, but they were treating him like a member of their top base defense on Thursday. Cornerback Josh Robinson had also returned from a minor hamstring injury that caused him to leave early on Wednesday. Tight end AC Leonard, who left Wednesday's practice with a headache, did not return on Thursday.
  • Adrian Peterson got most of the day off, with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon getting most of the first-team work at running back. Asiata, to me, looks quicker through the holes than he was last year, when he averaged 3.8 yards on 44 carries. He could get some carries in relief of Peterson this year, and he's big enough to be a forceful downhill runner if he can do a better job of getting through the line with some speed this season.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson got his first work of camp on kick returns, after sitting out the first four practices with a minor foot injury. The Vikings have worked a number of other return men in his place -- Marcus Sherels, Thielen, Jarius Wright and McKinnon among them -- as they try to figure out who can take over if Patterson has a bigger role in the offense. But once he got back in his familiar position on Thursday, Patterson gave a brief reminder of what made him an All-Pro return man last year: He hit a hole on the left side of the Vikings' wall and surged down the sideline for a nice return.
  • Referee Carl Cheffers and his crew were in town for their first day of work with the Vikings on Thursday. They met with the media to outline rule changes this season and were scheduled to meet with the Vikings on Thursday night before doing some more work with the team on the practice field the rest of the week. In his presentation to the media, Cheffers spent a good deal of time covering the NFL's 2014 officiating points of emphasis: Cracking down on illegal hands to the face and taking a stricter view of contact between cornerbacks and receivers. He also covered the league's new replay policy, which will involved NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino in reviews. Officials will now be able to talk to the league office in New York, as well as other members of the officiating crew, via a "Janet Jackson headset," as Cheffers called it. Referees will still wear stadium microphones on their lapels, and both microphones will need battery packs. Of course, they'll carry a flag and a bean bag, and -- as everyone does in 2014 -- they'll carry a pager.

Vikings Camp Report: Day 5

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
8:35
PM ET
MANKATO, Minn. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Minnesota Vikings training camp:
  • It was just for a series, but Teddy Bridgewater saw first-team snaps for the first time in training camp. He threw on three of his four plays with the first-team offense, handing off to Adrian Peterson once, and spent the rest of the day working with the second team. Bridgewater finished the day 12-for-15 in full-team work, though many of his passes were checkdowns to the running backs, and coach Mike Zimmer wasn't as happy with his accuracy as he's been on other days. Matt Cassel was 8-for-13, getting a pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and another one nearly intercepted by Xavier Rhodes. Christian Ponder threw just one pass in 11-on-11 work, completing it to Joe Banyard.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr also saw his first action with the Vikings' top defensive unit, working much of the day at linebacker. He hurried Bridgewater on one blitz, and was used as a pass rusher in sub packages, but Zimmer's report on him wasn't exactly glowing. "The only time I noticed him, he was late on a blitz," Zimmer said. "We talked about that."
  • Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd had one of his more impressive days in camp, batting down a pass from Bridgewater and rushing off the edge to hurry Cassel on a throw to Cordarrelle Patterson. Cassel had to step up in the pocket and lofted a pass too close to the sideline for Patterson to catch with both feet in bounds.
  • With Robert Blanton out because of a hamstring injury, competition for the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith is wide open. Mistral Raymond got most of the work with the first team, and Kurt Coleman also saw some snaps with the top defense. Blanton could miss several weeks, which would give others a chance to win the spot. It's telling, though, that safety Jamarca Sanford hasn't gotten a chance to work with the first team; Zimmer on Wednesday cited the injury that Sanford had during OTAs and minicamp, but the safety has been participating in practice since the start of training camp. Whatever the reason, it seems Sanford is behind several players at the moment.
  • The Vikings ran a large number of screen passes on Wednesday as they worked on installing their offense, and running back Jerick McKinnon was particularly impressive; he caught four passes from Bridgewater, and surged down the right sideline on one pass after cornerback Kendall James took a bad angle on him. McKinnon ran a 4.41 40 at the NFL scouting combine and has looked smooth as a receiver during training camp. He'll be fun to watch if he gets a chance to work in the open field during the preseason.
MINNEAPOLIS -- For at least one more year, Adrian Peterson has one-upped LeSean McCoy. Or at least the virtual version of him has.

Peterson is the top-rated running back in 'Madden NFL 15,' with an overall rating of 98. EA Sports released its running back ratings for this year's version of the game on Wednesday, and Peterson edged McCoy and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles by a point, a year after carrying a 99 rating and gracing the cover of the next-generation console version of 'Madden NFL 25.' Chicago's Matt Forte and Seattle's Marshawn Lynch are the next-best running backs in the game, with overall ratings of 95 each.

Peterson
Peterson
We got a chance to talk with Donny Moore, who carries the title of "Madden NFL Live Content Producer and Ratings Czar" -- and who might have one of the only jobs in the world we'd think is cooler than ours -- about the process of rating players for the game. Essentially, Moore and his team spend countless hours dissecting proprietary NFL film, reading updates on players and digesting advanced stats in a meticulous (and in the days of week-to-week online updates, continual) effort to make the game as realistic as possible. Their job is to distill all of that information into a player profile, rating each player in the NFL across more than three dozen categories to make his digital doppelganger behave like the real thing.

"The ratings pipe right back into the gameplay," Moore said. "We get so many requests and expectations for game play; it's got to be fun, but it's got to be authentic."

Peterson, Moore said, slipped a point for several reasons: His yards per carry dropped from an otherworldly 6.0 in 2012 to 4.5 last season, he fumbled five times (his most since 2009) and he was hampered by injuries for much of last season. Still, there's no one in the game with the combination of speed and power that Peterson has.

"Everybody says, 'What? How is he the top guy? He certainly didn’t have the 2,000-yard season (in 2013), but the overall rating is still a calculation of their attributes," Moore said. "He's a 97 across the board in the three physical categories that matter the most. I don’t think there’s anyone that has that collection of ratings. He's a 93 (in) trucking, 95 (in) elusiveness. When he’s out in the open, he’s not going to be caught. In contact situations, he'll still succeed better than any running back."

Moore said the most time-consuming part of his job is creating rookies for 'Madden,' since the game developers don't rely much on the corresponding characters in EA's college football games (which were discontinued after last season). The college game was more favorable to players, Moore said, than 'Madden' aims to be, so rookie creation means starting almost from scratch.

Vikings rookie running back Jerick McKinnon, Moore said, was "pretty fun to create," in large part because of McKinnon's eye-popping numbers at the NFL scouting combine. The Georgia Southern product bench pressed 225 pounds 32 times, ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash, flashed a 40 1/2-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump. "It's easy to rate his physical attributes very well because of how he timed (at the combine)," Moore said. "How he rates on his trucking or his elusiveness remains to be seen, but between his speed, his agility, his acceleration and his jumping, that's pretty nice for a guy from Georgia Southern."

One more Vikings-related note on this year's game, which will be released on August 26: Teddy Bridgewater -- an avid 'Madden' player who reacted with mock indignation to his rating in this year's game -- is the second-best quarterback on the Vikings' roster, a point behind Matt Cassel. Moore said Cassel, Bridgewater and Christian Ponder are "all bunched up in the high 70s," and while Bridgewater was slated to be the top rookie QB in the game when Moore started putting his ratings together, his stock slipped because of his now-famous pro day, just like it did in real life.

"I had to knock his throw power down a point or two," Moore said. "I had him at an 89, and now it's an 87. I think he has the top short accuracy of all the rookie quarterbacks, and his overall accuracy is pretty stellar. His deep accuracy needs to improve. His speed rating is in the low 80s, which puts him in the Aaron Rodgers category (for quarterbacks).
Georgia Southern Eagles Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAs a 5-9 option quarterback at Georgia Southern, Vikings draft pick Jerick McKinnon -- who will be used as a running back -- didn't exactly pick up pass protection.


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The more film Kirby Wilson watched of the 5-foot-9 option quarterback from the fifth-largest school in Georgia, the more convinced he was that Jerick McKinnon could be a NFL running back, after all.

Yes, McKinnon was inexperienced, and yes, he would be coming to the NFL from a scheme that resemebles nothing like what professional teams run, but there was enough on tape of McKinnon to reward those willing to extrapolate.

There he was slicing through the middle of Georgia's defense in 2012. There he was banging into defenders as a blocker, lining up as a slot receiver and taking pitches in a win over Florida in 2013. Each clip led Wilson a little closer to the conclusion that putting McKinnon at running back might be a risk worth taking.

"At the end of the day, after reviewing every game and every snap, you came away convinced that if he fits character-wise and things check out, and he's capable of learning, he's got a chance," said Wilson, the Minnesota Vikings' running backs coach. "All those things just started adding up."

The sum total was enough to convince the Vikings to use the 96th pick in the draft on McKinnon, whom they hope can spell Adrian Peterson and add a dynamic element to the Vikings' offense that some of coordinator Norv Turner's best attacks have had: the diminutive, do-it-all running back who can hurt a defense in a number of different ways.

"The change-of-pace backs like LT [LaDainian Tomlinson] and [Darren] Sproles? Similar, very similar," coach Mike Zimmer said. "You'd have to ask Norv this, but from our conversations, he's been thinking a lot about ways we can use him."

If the Vikings intend to turn McKinnon into their version of Sproles -- who first blossomed as a return man and receiver for Turner in San Diego -- or Brian Mitchell (who became one of the league's great all-purpose threats while Turner was the Washington Redskins' head coach), they'll have to teach him plenty of new things. The first item on that list, Wilson said, would be pass protection; McKinnon got some work picking up blitzes at the Senior Bowl, but as a quarterback for a team that barely threw the ball in college, he wasn't in an ideal situation to learn it at Georgia Southern.

Still, Wilson saw McKinnon get better at blocking blitzers during his week at the Senior Bowl, and he recalled how willing he was to take on contact.

"You saw him improve every day, which was amazing," Wilson said. "You don't see that kind of progress unless you've got a guy who is detail-oriented, and has the physical tools to improve. If the heart is there, the rest can be added on. He showed an extremely high willingness to stick his face in there and block somebody."

Asked for the names of the running backs he'd like to emulate, McKinnon mentioned LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles, before name-checking Tomlinson and Sproles, almost like a young guitarist mentioning Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan for credibility. The Vikings drafted him, though, because they believe he can be the newest utility knife in Turner's offense, and if their projection is right, it's possible McKinnon can follow Mitchell's and Sproles' lineage.

"I got a chance to practice it at the Senior Bowl, so I'm kind of a little bit comfortable with it," McKinnon said of playing a traditional running back role. "Only thing that's a little bit different is the pass protection. I really hadn't had any technique on it or coached on it. So I'm really just looking to get with Coach Wilson and learn from the older guys the techniques and practicing on it."
» NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South


EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A wrap-up of the Minnesota Vikings' draft. Click here for a full list of Vikings draftees.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesQuarterback Teddy Bridgewater should have an opportunity to develop behind Matt Cassel in Minnesota's system.
Best move: Getting Teddy Bridgewater at the end of the first round could turn out to be a coup for the Vikings. Minnesota gets a player who was projected as the No. 1 overall pick at one point, and they'll have extra time to work with him, thanks to the fifth-year option automatically added to his contract. Bridgewater will get a chance to develop, with Matt Cassel likely to start, and there won't be the same pressure to put him on the field as if he'd been a top-10 pick. The move could turn out to be a steal for the Vikings.

Riskiest move: The Vikings' Day 2 selection of Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon represents something of a gamble. McKinnon was a triple-option quarterback in college after starting his career as a cornerback and will need to learn the techniques of the running back position in the NFL. He drew comparisons to Brian Mitchell and Darren Sproles -- two diminutive weapons from offensive coordinator Norv Turner's past -- and his impressive athletic ability could make the Vikings' use of a third-round pick worthwhile.

Most surprising move: The Vikings were still in need of more help at the cornerback position but didn't address it until the third day of the draft, on which they took three players -- Virginia Tech safety Antone Exum, Maine cornerback Kendall James and North Carolina cornerback Jabari Price -- in the sixth and seventh rounds. Those players will get a chance to compete for playing time, but the Vikings are still short on proven cornerbacks behind Captain Munnerlyn and promising second-year corner Xavier Rhodes.

File it away: Stanford guard David Yankey was projected to go in the first three rounds of the draft but was still there for the Vikings in the fifth round. He'd been on the radar of Vikings offensive line coach Jeff Davidson for years after playing in college with Davidson's son, Nick, and could push Charlie Johnson for playing time at left guard. The Vikings' scouting report on Yankey describes him as a "classic mauler-type, typically taking big arm swipes to wear down and batter his opponent." He could eventually give the Vikings another good run-blocker to play next to John Sullivan and Brandon Fusco.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings made four picks on the first two days of the NFL draft. Their first one was a running back who posted 13.5 sacks in just his second year as a defensive end, and their last one was a cornerback-turned-triple-option-quarterback who will try his hand at running back in the NFL. Their third pick of the draft added a versatile, energetic pass rusher to a defensive line that already has several of those, and their second pick staked the future of their franchise on a 22-year-old quarterback who slid from the top of the first round to the bottom of it.

If the Vikings had entered the 2014 draft merely with the idea of patching holes on their roster after a 5-10-1 season, this wouldn't necessarily have been the way to go about it. But what has been clear in the first two days of the draft is that the Vikings are after something else: a group full of young, athletically-gifted players who only need a coaching staff to unlock the potential. This draft has been a bet on the ability of Mike Zimmer's coaching staff to develop talent, as much as defensive end Everson Griffen's contract represented a $20 million wager on the same idea, and the Vikings seem plenty confident in what their new coaches will be able to get out of the group.

"That kind of really excites me anyway," Zimmer said. "I love taking guys with talent and coaching that, because those kind of guys you can take them a lot further. The guys who don’t have as much talent and are good you can make them better players. But these kind of guys [like first-round pick Anthony Barr], you know, he played two years at running back and then moved over to linebacker and had a really good year the year before and then a good year again this year. He is still learning a lot of different things and we will be able to teach him a lot."

The shift has been particularly evident on defense, where Zimmer has had the biggest impact and where the Vikings plan to shift to a more aggressive style of play. But it hasn't been confined to that side of the ball. Third-round pick Jerick McKinnon, the Georgia Southern quarterback, wowed teams at the NFL scouting combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 bench press repetitions at 225 pounds (or more than twice as many as Barr did). Then he performed what Spielman called one of the longest and most interesting workouts he'd ever seen, working as a running back, a punt returner and a cornerback at Georgia Southern. Spielman said offensive coordinator Norv Turner compared the 5-foot-9 McKinnon to dynamos like Brian Mitchell and Darren Sproles, and while the Vikings certainly aren't looking for someone to supplant Adrian Peterson, McKinnon could give them something they haven't had in a long time.

The Vikings' draft strategy so far has been full of gambles -- and as impressive as Teddy Bridgewater's college resume is, taking a quarterback in the first round always carries considerable risk. But on the first two days of the draft, the Vikings haven't been confined by position or convention, and the payoff could be a roster full of unique players.

"I get really intrigued if they are great kids and hard workers, but if they have athletic ability and if they're great athletes, that just intrigues me," Spielman said. "And I know it intrigues the coaches, because they love to work with guys like that."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The pick: Jerick McKinnon, running back, Georgia Southern

My take: With their final pick (96th overall) in the third round, the Minnesota Vikings took a backup for Adrian Peterson. They needed one after Toby Gerhart signed with Jacksonville in the offseason. McKinnon will give them something different than they've had in the past. He began his college career as a cornerback, shifting to quarterback in Georgia Southern's triple-option offense. He's only 5-foot-9, but had quite the set of numbers at the NFL scouting combine (a 4.41 40, a 40 1/2-inch vertical and 32 repetitions at 225 pounds in the bench press). The Vikings' scouting report lists him as a "tailback/quarterback/strong safety," but if he stays at running back, he'd be an interesting change of pace from Peterson.

Plenty of versatility: McKinnon will have plenty to learn about playing running back at the NFL level, but he could be the kind of player the Vikings can use all over their offense. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner helped put jack-of-all-trades running back Darren Sproles on the map in San Diego, and though McKinnon was throwing more passes than catching them in college, he could be the kind of versatile, elusive back that Sproles has been. The Vikings aren't in need of a kick returner, but McKinnon could give them another option there if anything were to happen to Cordarrelle Patterson.

What's next: The Vikings don't have a fourth-round pick, but are scheduled to make four selections on the final day of the draft -- two in the fifth round, one in the sixth and one in the seventh.
PITTSBURGH -- A highly regarded pass-rusher and one of the top performers at the NFL scouting combine are among the players visiting the Steelers today.

Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, a projected second-round pick, and Georgia Southern running back Jerick McKinnon are the Steelers’ latest pre-draft visitors.

Lawrence led the Mountain West last season in both sacks (10 1/2 ) and tackles for losses (20 ˝), and the 6-foot-3, 251-pounder projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. ranks Lawrence as the 44th-best player in the draft and there is a possibility he could get taken late in the first round.

The Steelers have hosted a handful of outside linebacker prospects, including UCLA’s Anthony Barr, a projected first-round pick.

McKinnon is the second running back to visit the Steelers, and he is an intriguing prospect for several reasons. The 5-9, 209-pounder rushed for 3,899 career yards and he gained most of those as an option quarterback.

McKinnon, who led Georgia Southern to a 26-20 upset at Florida last season, played running back in the Senior Bowl and really turned heads at the combine two months ago.

He tested as well as anyone in Indianapolis, running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds and notching 32 repetitions in the 225-pound bench press, tops among all running backs. Both speedy and shifty, McKinnon fits the profile of the kind of back the Steelers may be seeking to complement Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

McKinnon has been projected as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Teams are allowed to host 30 out of area prospects for visits prior to the draft. Sunday is the last day for pre-draft visits.
With the NFL combine starting Wednesday, here's a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars' positions of need on offense and which prospects the team might be looking to take a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance. A look at the defense comes Tuesday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars have a lot of holes to fill on the roster and the next part in the process comes this week when general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley evaluate, watch and interview prospects at the NFL combine.

Here's a breakdown of what the Jaguars need, in order, on offense and some potential targets:

Quarterback: There's no question this is the Jaguars' top need, although pass-rusher is only slightly behind. Caldwell wants to re-sign Chad Henne before free agency begins next month, but Henne is a bridge player or someone who can mentor a young quarterback and begin the season as the starter if the rookie isn't ready. The Jaguars haven't completely given up on Blaine Gabbert, either, but he's entering the final year of his contract and it would be surprising if he were re-signed after 2014.

Potential targets: Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Jimmy Garoppolo, Derek Carr, Aaron Murray.

Interior offensive line: The Jaguars have to find a center to replace the retired Brad Meester and a left guard to upgrade from Will Rackley. The Jaguars will address this area in free agency as well but the team also wants to add some young talent. The Jaguars appear set at both tackles (Luke Joeckel and Austin Pasztor) and right guard Uche Nwaneri has two more years remaining on his contract. He's scheduled to make $4.775 million in each year, though, and could be a cap casualty after 2014. Mike Brewster and Jacques McClendon can play guard and center but neither appears, now anyway, to be the long-term answer. It wouldn't be surprising if the team took an interior offensive lineman in the third round, especially if the Jaguars took a quarterback earlier.

Potential targets: G Gabe Jackson, G David Yankey, G Brandon Thomas, C Marcus Martin, C Weston Richburg, C Russell Bodine.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
Stephen Morton/AP PhotoThe Jaguars need to find a feature back in the event they do not re-sign Maurice Jones-Drew.
Running back: The Jaguars are more than likely going to lose Maurice Jones-Drew in free agency, which leaves them with Jordan Todman, Denard Robinson, Delone Carter, and Justin Forsett on the roster. Forsett is likely going to be cut, but even if he's retained none of those players is a feature back. The Jaguars don't need to invest a high pick at this spot because good backs can be found in the later middle rounds.

Potential targets: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Jerick McKinnon, Tre Mason, Lache Seastrunk, Dri Archer, Andre Williams.

Receiver: The Jaguars aren't planning on getting anything from Justin Blackmon in 2014 because they don't yet know his status, which is the correct way to approach his situation. Cecil Shorts is entering a contract year but has yet to stay healthy for a full season. Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Kerry Taylor, Lamar Thomas, and Stephen Burton are complementary players. The Jaguars need to find a bigger, physical receiver. If they do that in free agency, this area drops to the bottom of the offensive needs list.

Potential targets: Josh Huff, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams.

Tight end: Marcedes Lewis came on strong at the end of the season and he should be a 50-catch player in Jedd Fisch's offense if he stays healthy. After Lewis, though, there isn't much. Clay Harbor is a flex tight end but he's a free agent and the Jaguars will have to decide if they want to re-sign him. Danny Noble is raw and needs more work. The Jaguars want a bigger tight end who can line up next to Lewis in two-tight-end formations.

Potential targets: Marcel Jensen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Crockett Gilmore, Jake Murphy.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider