Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke was among 10 undrafted free agents signed by the Vikings as they prepare for this weekend’s rookie minicamp.
The other are Virginia safety Anthony Harris, Notre Dame receiver DaVaris Daniels, Brigham Young receiver Jordan Leslie, Tennessee cornerback Justin Coleman, Iowa State center Tom Farniok, Pittsburg State receiver Gavin Lutman, Boise State fullback Blake Renaud, Saginaw Valley State guard Jesse Somsel and Boston College guard Bobby Vardaro.
Heinicke told the Virginian-Pilot that he was with his family in Atlanta on Saturday, watching the draft, when the Vikings called in the seventh round to say they hoped to sign him as a priority free agent. Heinicke’s contract is not guaranteed, but would be worth $1.3 million over three seasons if he sticks with the team.
Heinicke, 6-1 and 214 pounds, passed for 14,959 yards, sixth most in Division I history, and 132 touchdowns. Teddy Bridgewater, Sean Hill and Mike Kafka are the other quarterbacks on the Vikings roster.
“I can say I’m an NFL quarterback,” Heinicke told the Virginian-Pilot. “Now I have to go out and prove it.”
Harris missed the Senior Bowl because of a shoulder injury, but ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. The 6-1, 185-pounder had 11 interceptions at Virginia.
Daniels, 6-2 and 203, sat out last season at Notre Dame because of academic issues. He had 49 catches for 745 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013. He is the son of former NFL defensive lineman Phillip Daniels.
Leslie, who started his college career at Texas-El Paso, had 55 catches for 779 yards for BYU last season. The 6-3 Leslie led UTEP in receptions in 2013, and got his degree in electrical engineering there before playing for BYU as a grad student.
Coleman, 5-10 and 183, started 38 games and had five interceptions during his career at Tennessee. Farniok, 6-3 and 301, started 47 games for Iowa State and was considered one of the nation’s top centers.
Lutman, 6-4 and 210, caught 13 touchdowns passes for Pittsburg, which lost to Minnesota State Mankato in the Division II playoffs, last season.
Renaud, 6-2 and 255, was the ninth-leading tackler for Boise State last season, but the Vikings project him as a fullback.
Somsel, 6-4 and 315, started three seasons for Saginaw Valley. Vardaro, 6-5 and 310, had 43 career starts for BC.
The Vikings didn’t select a wide receiver in the first round of the NFL Draft, passing on someone like Louisville’s DeVante Parker on Thursday. They didn’t pick one on Day 2 either, as names like Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong and Georgia’s Chris Conley came off the board on Friday.
Instead they waited until the fifth round, with the 146th overall pick, to add depth to the position on Saturday. The team’s patience paid off with the selection of Maryland’s Stefon Diggs.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman wants competition at every position on the roster, and it’ll be hard to find another position as competitive as wide receiver heading into Phase 2 of the NFL offseason this summer.
“[Diggs] was a guy, that when we got there at that point, he can do so many things,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “He’s played outside, he’s played in the slot, he’s done some return stuff but probably had a little bit of a year that was down for him and his standards. The multiple things that he can do, and again, any time we see an athlete and ability to develop these guys, and we felt that he’d fit right in that mold.”
The Vikings now have Mike Wallace, who they acquired from the Dolphins this offseason, Charles Johnson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, Adam Thielen and Diggs at wide receiver. They’ll likely carry five wide receivers once the roster is trimmed to 53 players. One of these players will be the odd man out after five preseason games.
Good luck to the Vikings front office and coaching staff with that decision.
It’s tough to even assume how it’ll play out in training camp outside of Wallace and Johnson, who are considered the top two receivers on the team. We all know it’s a big season for Patterson, who arguably has the most talent of the six receivers, and he needs to take that next step in Year 3. Wright has displayed flashes, particularly at the end of the season with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, as a downfield threat and a slot receiver that can move the chains. Thielen didn’t receive too many opportunities on offense, finishing with eight catches on 14 targets for 137 yards last year, but he was very impressive on special teams.
Now the Vikings add Diggs to the mix. He was the 19th wide receiver picked in a deep draft at the position. Diggs brings speed and versatility on offense with the ability to be used on special teams. Diggs had 62 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns last year as a junior. He also averaged 23.9 kickoff yards and 15 punt return yards on special teams.
There are questions about his durability, but Diggs was a viewed as a good value pick in the fifth round by draft analysts.
“I’m a play maker and a dominant competitor,” Diggs said. “Outside of the game, on the practice field and in the game no matter where I am, I like to compete at all costs and I love to win. So that’s the type of attitude I bring to any situation. Now that I am a part of the family, I look forward to working my butt off and doing everything I can.”
We’ll see how it plays out in the coming months, but it’ll be a good competition to watch this summer.
Former Vikings tight end John Carlson, a standout at Litchfield High who went on to play for Notre Dame, abruptly retired at age 30 on Tuesday. Per NFL.com:
It has been an offseason of early retirements, and Arizona Cardinals tight end John Carlson is next in line.
“After much thought and consideration, my wife Danielle and I know that this is best decision for us,” Carlson said in a statement released by the team. “I was blessed to play seven seasons in the NFL for three tremendous organizations — the Cardinals, Vikings and Seahawks. I will always treasure the experiences and relationships made during that time but I’m also very excited about the next phase of my life and what’s ahead.”
Carlson was on the back end of a two-year, $4.65 million contract he signed in 2014. A second-round pick out of Notre Dame in 2008, Carlson had his best years as a rookie and sophomore with the Seahawks, catching 106 passes for 1,201 yards and 12 touchdowns.
A strong start earned him a five-year $25 million contract with his hometown Vikings before getting cut and signed by the Cardinals. … Carlson did not provide a reason for his early exit, though it’s safe to say it came as a surprise. He was working out with the team on Monday.
While it would be unfair to assume any reason for retirement since Carlson didn’t give one, it is fair to note this March 2014 Star Tribune story, which makes significant mention of Carlson’s concussion problems:
Carlson played 27 games and had 40 catches for 387 yards and one touchdown over two seasons with the Vikings. He finished last season on injured reserve because of a concussion he suffered in Week 14 against the Ravens. It was his third reported concussion in six NFL seasons. Carlson reviewed his health in the offseason with his family, and plans to continue his football career next season.
“It’s a serious thing, but I’m not ready to be done,” Carson said in February of 2014. “I’m not done, and the doctors are telling me that it’s OK that I’m not done.”
Whether or not concussions are the reason, he is done now.
Joe Berger, starting left guard.
Go ahead and say it. It won’t hurt nearly as bad as many seem to fear.
The Vikings are at peace with that possibility. And with all due respect to Charlie Johnson, a quality person who gave the Vikings all he had for four seasons, Berger is, for now, a satisfactory upgrade at left guard. He should be viewed as the security blanket who allowed the Vikings to add two key defensive starters in the first two rounds of the draft .
That’s why General Manager Rick Spielman is quick to correct people who start their left-guard questions with, “you didn’t do anything at left guard in free agency …”
Actually, he did. He re-signed Berger, an 11-year veteran with 103 games played and 38 starts at center (21), right guard (14) and left guard (3). In 2011, he started at all three spots in the same season. In 2013, he started at left guard and right guard on consecutive weeks.
“He was one of the priorities that we definitely wanted to sign back because of his versatility, because of his experience,” Spielman said. “We are going to have a very young group of guys coming up behind him, but the one guy that we really wanted to target to keep on our roster from our own UFA’s was Joe Berger.”
David Yankey, a fifth-round draft pick in 2014, is the preferred candidate to start at left guard. But no one knows what to expect considering he wasn’t physically strong enough to be inserted into a game a year ago. And we know even less about this year’s late-round guard prospects, Tyrus Thompson and Austin Shepherd.
I asked center John Sullivan for his thoughts on Yankey’s progress. Even with a lot more insight, Sullivan seems like the rest of us who are waiting to see if the big kid can cut it on the field.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to single guys out yet,” Sullivan said. “But I will say this. Everybody is in here working incredibly hard [during the offseason conditioning program]. Guys are way stronger than they were at this time a year ago.
“We know that Yankey worked hard in the offseason with his trainer. And he looks good. But it’s about more than this. This is one component of it. But it’s April. The assessments on who’s ready to play are going to be made later. The first step is OTAs. Then you get into real football. And then decisions are made. There are plenty of variables that could change. But as of right now, I think he’s done everything he can do.”
Sullivan hasn’t practiced alongside Yankey or had a chance to see his practice tape.
“He’s a hard worker, I know that,” Sullivan said. “But in terms of breaking down his tape, the scout team analysis when they watch film is done without your starting group. So I’m not sure because I haven’t watched anything.”
Sullivan made it clear that he would welcome Berger as the starter. A year ago, Berger made nine starts at right guard. He was the second-best lineman on the team behind Sullivan. If you need numbers to back up your eyeballs, ProFootballFocus.com has them.
“I think he’s a starting-caliber player on a lot of teams in the league at either guard spot and especially at center,” Sullivan said. “So I’d be happy to play any single game next to any single opponent next to Joe Berger. I don’t know what the plan is. That’s stuff above my pay grade. But he already proved again the second half of last season that he’s more than capable of starting.”
I won’t profess to know everything about this 2015 Twins team, but 26 games in (after tonight’s game, the season will be one-sixth over), these trends are presenting themselves:
1) This is a resilient team. A lot of us wrote them off after a terrible first week. I was guilty of sending more than one text indicating I thought this could be the worst team of the past five Twins seasons. It was a good lesson in small sample sizes, I suppose, but the manner in which this team started 1-6 was alarming … and the manner in which it has now played itself into a 14-12 record is a testament to the manager and players staying the course (and performing better). That resiliency has been on display in individual games, including Monday’s comeback win over Oakland. Down 4-0 after a first-inning grand slam, the Twins looked like they were headed to an improbable 0-6 record in Phil Hughes’ starts. Instead they rallied and kept their momentum going.
2) This team is going to hit. The Twins are 12th in MLB in runs scored and eighth in batting average (.260), and that’s without any one player getting off to a torrid start. Rather, this lineup has the feel of being able to generate runs even if everyone isn’t clicking. Much of the damage Monday came from the bottom of the order: the 6-9 hitters combined for nine hits and 7 runs scored.
3) The pitching still isn’t great, but it’s better. Twins starters have a 4.43 ERA, 21st in MLB. That’s still bottom-third, but it’s a marked improvement over recent seasons. And that’s without Ervin Santana, of course. It speaks to improved depth.
4) Paul Molitor is getting high marks already for the way he manages. I like his mix-and-match lineups — with a willingness to platoon and take advantage of hot hitters or good matchups. I like the way he uses his bullpen and lets guys pitch two innings. I like that the Twins put Oswaldo Arcia on the DL immediately instead of waiting to see if his injury would clear. Playing with a short bench for multiple games puts a team at a disadvantage; whether that’s Molitor’s call or someone else’s call, it seems to be a difference over past years.
5) The biggest question now is to what degree all of this is sustainable. Resiliency can fade if losses mount, the pitching could go south and the bats could cool off. The question is to what degree. The Twins in recent years have had competent stretches of play that gave way to doldrums. And in general, it hasn’t been the first 100 games that have been the real problem; it’s been the final 62.
That said, this team already has a chance to do something no Twins team since 2010 has accomplished: go 3 games over .500. That chance comes tonight, along with a shot at a six-game winning streak. It’s more than some might have predicted at the start of the season, and certainly more than most would have predicted after the first week.