In case you missed it, the Vikings drafted 10 players over the weekend, keeping me busy.
I probably should have taken the afternoon off so I could stop thinking about football for a day and instead sip on a cold adult beverage or two outside in this beautiful weather. Alas, I have a serious football addiction, so I figured today was a great day for a mailbag. After all, Vikings fans have questions about how these new rookies fit in and where the team will go from here.
So let’s get to five of the best ones, and then I’ll go unplug for the rest of this lovely day.
@mattvensel Other than Waynes/Kendrick, which #Vikings draftee has a chance to contribute this year more than just on special teams?
— Terry Anderson (@nater79a) May 4, 2015
With neither me nor the team having seen these guys on the field yet, I really only see two draft picks, on paper, competing for starting jobs and it’s the two kids you just mentioned. I think Kendricks is the best bet to start given who is ahead of him on the depth chart. Waynes is going to start at some point, too, but he will have to beat out Terence Newman, Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Robinson to do it in Week 1. Danielle Hunter, a third-round pick, might be able to give the Vikings something as a situational pass rusher, but the team readily admitted that he is going to be a project. To answer your question, the two players I think have a chance to make an impact in 2015 are offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings and wide receiver Stefon Diggs. The Vikings said that Clemmings could play either tackle spot, and if Matt Kalil or Phil Loadholt struggles or gets hurt, Clemmings could get a chance there. Diggs could make an impact right away as a returner, and as a receiver he should have the ability to line up at multiple positions. With all the uncertainty at that position, maybe Diggs gets an opportunity and runs with it.
@mattvensel In regards to the draft, where you surprised by any positional needs that were not addressed by the Vikings?
— Matthew Krier (@matthewkrier) May 4, 2015
I got into this topic a little in my Vikings Insider column in today’s paper. The Vikings had several needs and they had to pick and choose when to attack them, but I thought the wide receiver position was one they should have tried to address earlier (Diggs was the 20th receiver selected this year). They put off drafting offensive linemen, too, but they did well to pick up a pair of intriguing tackle prospects in Clemmings and Tyrus Thompson. There were two positions they totally ignored, though. Running back is not a need with Adrian Peterson still on the roster so it’s not like this is a big deal, but it was a deep class of ball-carriers and I thought for sure the Vikings would take a flyer on one. The other position was safety. General Manager Rick Spielman is excited about rookie free agent Anthony Harris. Maybe he can compete for a job this year. But the strong safety spot was a weakness last season and could be again in 2015.
@mattvensel Right now, who do you see starting next to Harrison Smith?
— Ethan Price (@Price3Ethan) May 4, 2015
Speaking of that safety position, Robert Blanton and Andrew Sendejo, the two players who started there in 2014, are back. Blanton lost his starting job to Sendejo late in the season and couldn’t reclaim it. The Vikings signed free agent Taylor Mays, who played for head coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, but I expect he will resume that nickel linebacker role he handled for the Bengals and not seriously compete to start. The X-factor here is 2014 sixth-round pick Antone Exum, whom the Vikings converted back to safety from cornerback as a rookie. Spielman brought him up out of nowhere Saturday at his post-draft press conference and also said the team pretty much knows who Blanton and Sendejo are at this point, and I don’t think that is an argument in their favor. It sounds like the Vikings are hoping Exum seizes the job this summer.
@skh0516: @mattvensel Do you think the starting left guard is on the current roster? If so, who has the edge?
— Steve Hagen (@skh0516) May 4, 2015
That left guard is on the roster right now, but I have no idea who it will be. Veteran Joe Berger would probably start there if the Vikings had to play today, but ideally someone else steps up so he can slot back into his super-sub role. Spielman was complimentary of 2014 fifth-round pick David Yankey, who was not physically strong enough to compete for playing time as a rookie. He will be a player we will keep an eye on this spring. Austin Shepherd, the seventh-round pick, is going to start off as a guard and maybe they move Clemmings inside once they get a closer look at him. But right now, it looks like it is going to be a battle between Berger and Yankey for the starting job unless a capable veteran guard gets released by another team after the draft.
@mattvensel how likely is AP to holdout as it appears this is a money issue? Will the Vikings be willing to restructure his deal?
— Matt Pitcher (@MattPitcher3) May 4, 2015
What’s a mailbag without an Peterson question? Peterson is still on the team after the draft, which over the past two months we have been saying was the most likely scenario. Now the question becomes whether Peterson will hold out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he skips the three-day mandatory minicamp in June to send a message. But I doubt any holdout would last deep into training camp. Peterson cares about his on-field legacy and records, and he knows he can’t afford to willingly sit out another season. As for the contract, the Vikings have absolutely no obligation to give Peterson a new deal. They already gave him a boatload of bonus money in the past and value him enough to pay him $12.75 million this season. But if the two sides can put aside their differences, it does make sense for them to redo his deal. He can get the guaranteed money in 2016 that he wants and the Vikings would avoid being right back in this situation eight months from now.
The Vikings announced this afternoon that they have picked up the fifth-year options for both of their 2012 first-round draft picks, left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith.
The options, which can only be applied to first-round picks, keep both players under team control through 2016. The options are only guaranteed for major injury, though, so hypothetically, if one or both struggles on the field, the Vikings could just cut them after the 2015 season with no penalty.
Kalil’s option for 2016 is for $11.1 million because he plays offensive tackle and because he was picked in the top 10 selections in 2012. Smith’s option will cost $5.3 million because he is a safety and he was selected after the 10th pick in the first round.
Kalil was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2012 but his level of play has plummeted the past two years.
Smith has become one of the NFL’s best young safeties and was a Pro Bowl candidate in 2014.
Last year, the first time that fifth-year options came into play under the CBA negotiated in 2011, the Vikings declined to pick up their fifth-year option on 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder. The quarterback became a free agent after the season and signed with the Raiders in March.
Over the weekend, I learned that Fox Sports was doing away with its “Fox Sports Girls” program. It started as a tip on Friday; on Saturday, a spokesperson for FSN confirmed it with a statement that read:
FOX Sports is constantly evaluating our marketing programs in an effort to keep them fresh and provide the most engaging experience for our viewers. As a result, we have decided to end the FOX Sports Girls program to focus on other projects that serve our fans.
Since Fox Sports launched the “Girls” program in 2011, it’s been met with mixed reviews. The same could be said for the comments that followed this weekend after it was disbanded. Fans dislike the concept and like the concept for roughly the same reasons: there are pretty women on TV and at events.
“What’s not to like about that?” some fans say.
“It’s a sexist and demeaning concept,” others say.
I’ve always come down more on the side of the latter group, and I’m guessing there were enough viewers (many of them female, including my wife) who felt alienated by the concept that Fox was compelled for that reason to pull the plug.
In 2015, in my mind, the Fox Sports Girls — they had them for all the regional networks, just FSN, and all of them are going away — to be an antiquated concept that opened itself up to more criticism by calling the participants “girls” and by only referring to them by first name. They were somewhere between sideline reporters and cheerleaders — nice people caught in a strange assignment.
I have not, however, ever BEEN a Fox Sports Girl. But I did interview one of the original FSN Girls, Jenny Taft, for a 2013 story (when she was just “Jenny”). Back then, she encouraged me to replace “Girls” with “Ambassadors” when thinking of the role she and others played. That helped to a degree.
“We are trying to be a connection between fans and athletes,” Taft said back then, “and trying to get an inside look at teams and athletes from a fan’s perspective.”
Taft, who played hockey in high school at Edina and lacrosse at Boston University (where she also studied journalism), was able to parlay her FSN Girls gig into a job with Fox Sports One as a reporter and host.
Reached Sunday, Taft (pictured above as both an FSN Girl and in her current job) said she had heard about the FS Girls program disbanding, though she had not heard an explanation as to why. But she did offer her own perspective on what it had meant to her.
“I enjoyed the job and I was very proud of the Fox Sports North Girls concept,” she said. “I worked with great people who were supportive and I believed in the concept. It also helped me start my career, so I was very lucky to be a part of it.”
Maybe Taft, who was given more on-camera responsibility by FSN as her time there continued, would have risen to her position at FS1 regardless, but so much of breaking into any industry, particularly in the media, is getting a foot in the door.
Maybe that foot in the door shouldn’t have had to come in a role that some would consider degrading, but Taft took it at face value. If the person doing the work doesn’t feel degraded, how do we ultimately judge it? That’s a bigger question that would require thousands of words to even begin to explain, but let’s end here:
Maybe Taft is an example, at least, of something good that came out of something many considered flawed?
You’ve probably done plenty of research on the Vikings draft class as players, whether you read the scouting reports or watched their highlights. But you might not know much about them as people.
While covering the NFL draft at Winter Park, the Twin Cities media got to chat with all 10 picks on conference calls and we got handed a tall stack of papers with information on each of the players.
Here is a fun factoid for each of the team’s draft picks, starting with top selection Trae Waynes:
— I wrote about this in my story on Waynes for Saturday, but I’ll share it again. The cornerback broke his fibula and ankle and tore three ligaments during his senior football season in high school. But Waynes rehabbed quickly enough to finish third in the state in the 100-meter dash that spring.
— Second-round pick Eric Kendricks is a leap year baby. Asked on a conference call about being the NFL’s youngest player, the linebacker quipped, “Being five and being in the pros is definitely an accomplishment of mine. I’ve dreamt about this since I was three years old.” Good one, rookie.
— Defensive end Danielle Hunter, the team’s third-round pick, got into the sport in a strange way. In fifth grade, he decided to try to chase down a friend on roller skates. He caught the kid, whose dad happened to be a football coach. That coach soon had Hunter, who is from Jamaica, in pads.
— Fourth-round pick T.J. Clemmings, a tackle, was a pretty good hoops player, enough that he got interest at the college level in that sport, too. One school offered him a chance to play football and basketball: Duke. But he chose to focus on football and signed on to play at Pittsburgh.
— MyCole Pruitt, named after his mother Colette, didn’t receive a single scholarship offer from an FBS school, perhaps because he didn’t start playing football until his freshman year of high school. The tight end wound up at Southern Illinois, where he was a two-time FCS first-team all-American.
— Wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who was selected in the fifth round a few picks after Pruitt, suffered a lacerated kidney in Maryland’s win over Penn State last fall. After a brief absence, Diggs, who was one of the NCAA’s top prospects in 2012, returned to that game and nearly scored a touchdown.
— Offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson, a sixth-round pick, is 23 but already a family man. Thompson got married his redshirt sophomore year at Oklahoma and now has two children. He and his wife both come from a military background. His mother-in-law used to be a sniper in the U.S. military.
— B.J. Dubose is a 284-pound defensive tackle, but the sixth-round pick used to snag passes from Teddy Bridgewater. The Florida natives played on a 7-on-7 team together as teenagers and Dubose was a tight end. They ended up being teammates at Louisville, too, but Dubose moved to defense.
— Seventh-round pick Austin Shepherd, the former Alabama offensive tackle who still start off as a guard here, started the Austin Shepherd Foundation in 2012. Founded in memory of his girlfriend’s brother, who died of bone cancer, the foundation helps support children battling the disease.
— Outside linebacker Edmond Robinson was the first player from tiny Newberry College to ever be invited to the scouting combine. The South Carolina private liberal arts college, which plays at the Div. II level, has fewer than 1,100 students. “Everyone knows everyone,” the seventh-rounder said.