There’s a lot of pessimism surrounding the Vikings in 2012, and that pessimism is certainly warranted. The Vikings are easily the worst team in the NFC North this season. Adrian Peterson tore his ACL and while it appears he is ready to return to his superstar form, it’s not a foregone conclusion. There is still a gaping hole in the defensive backfield, and the team certainly needs another wideout to pair with Percy Harvin. Christian Ponder, the quarterback who the Vikings spent a first round pick on, declined rapidly as the 2011 season wore on, making worse decisions each game and rekindling questions about his durability.
Simply put, it will take an extraordinary amount of good fortune and improvements across the board for the Vikings to return to the playoffs in 2012. This is not a team without talent. There are pieces to build around, but there is simply not talent to compete with the likes of the Packers and Lions in the NFC North this season.
With college football starting right around the corner, I figured it would be a good time to throw some potential high draft choices in the 2013 NFL Draft out there that the Vikings may be interested in. This way, you can know who you are looking for when you pop on the TV on a Saturday and form your own opinions of these players before the experts weigh in. I am not saying that all of these players will retain their draft stock throughout the year, as there will undoubtedly be lots of risers and fallers as the college football season rolls along. But these are some names to watch during the 12-13 season.
Name – Measurables – 2011 Statistics
It would be foolish to think this first team All-American junior corner will match his unheard of tally of 13 interceptions from a year ago. Teams simply won’t throw to this guy nearly as much as they did last year. In fact, I was shocked he even got to 13 picks last year as he clearly established himself as one of the finest cover corners in the nation very early on. A cornerback is notoriously difficult to project because the good ones are so rarely thrown at in college, but if Amerson can show an improvement in run support and maintain his elite playmaking ability, he should be a lock for the top 10. If you have read anything I have wrote regarding the Vikings, you would know that I view cornerback as the most pressing need on the roster. Despite Chris Cook’s return, we don’t know how much he lost by basically sitting out a year due to his legal troubles. There’s a reason why Josh Robinson was a third round pick despite his blazing speed — his technique is extremely raw and he has a lot of growing to do before he becomes a legitimate starting cornerback. Amerson would provide an immediate upgrade to a unit that was absolutely shredded in 2011, and probably won’t fare much better in 2012.
Notable NC State games:
* 8/31 vs Tennessee (Watch him against Justin Hunter, stud WR from the Vols)
* 9/29 at Miami
* 10/6 vs Florida State
* 11/17 at Clemson (Super sophomore WR Sammy Watkins is a monster and a great challenge for Amerson)
USC is so stacked on offense this year. In addition to probable #1 pick Matt Barkley, Robert Woods is regarded as the best WR prospect in this year’s upcoming draft and he may not even be the best WR prospect on his own team. True sophomore Marquise Lee is an AJ Green/Julio Jones type talent and should build on his fantastic true freshman season from a year ago.
That is not to tear down Woods’ ability whatsoever, by the way. If you are a Gophers fan, and if you are reading this blog, you probably are, you will remember Woods from last year. He’s the guy who caught about 50 passes in one game against the Gophers (actual line in that game: 17 catches for 177 yards and 3 TD – wow). Woods is considered an all-around receiver, but would probably translate to more of a possession receiver in the NFL. There are some concerns with drops and his role in the USC offense (a number of his receptions were off of short bubble screens), but this guy would fit in perfectly in the Vikings offense. He is an exterior receiver who would allow Percy Harvin to remain in the slot role that he is so remarkably efficient in. Woods would not solve all of the Vikings WR problems as they still need a vertical threat down the field, but he would be a fantastic start to giving Christian Ponder the kind of weapons that he desires to help his development.
Notable USC games:
* 9/15 @ Stanford
* 10/4 @ Utah (Utah has a great defense this season)
* 11/3 vs Oregon
Remember when the Vikings had the best run defense in the NFL? The loss of Pat Williams and severe decline of EJ Henderson had a lot to do with the fact that the Vikings are no longer considered one of the better run defending teams in the NFL. Hankins, a nose tackle from Ohio State, would go a long way in shoring up a defensive front that is lacking in run stuffers. Remi Ayodele was a miserable failure in 2011, and if Letroy Guion fails to impress this season at the nose tackle spot, the Vikings may very well be inclined to look at Hankins.
Hankins is a monster of a man whose biggest strength is, well, his physical strength. He is nearly immovable up front, and we all know how important this trait can be when stopping the run as Pat Williams was one of the best in NFL history at this tactic. That said, scouts have been praising Hankins for his versatility as his game is not limited to just taking up blockers up front. He shows a great first step and blows up a ton of plays in the backfield, either picking up a tackle for loss or rerouting the running back to one of his teammates.
He is not a great pass rusher and would likely be just a two-down player for the early part of his career. The athleticism that Hankins shows along with his great physical measurables and solid motor should lead to more pressures on the QB as his career goes along, however.
Notable Ohio State games:
* 9/29 @ Michigan State
* 10/6 vs Nebraska (The Cornhuskers are a notorious power running team that features stud RB Rex Burkhead)
* 11/17 @ Wisconsin (Same as Nebraska, Montee Ball sort of had a good year last year)
* 11/24 vs Michigan
While I thoroughly disagree with Barkevious Mingo’s parents choice for his first name, he is still one hell of a football player on a defense that is always loaded with talent. He had a tremendous season on a team where they rotate defensive linemen frequently to keep everyone fresh.
Mingo’s teammate, Sam Montgomery, is another fine defensive end prospect, and both can play either a 4-3 end role or as a 3-4 pass rushing OLB. Most reports have Mingo as more of a 3-4 OLB, but in today’s NFL, it’s crucial to get guys that can rush the passer. Mingo can certainly do that. He displays freakish athleticism and his incredibly quick first step is essential to being a pass rushing force in the NFL. There would be a slight concern that Mingo is too small to play as a 4-3 defensive end, but both he and his coaches feel that it wouldn’t be very difficult for Mingo to bulk up and put on some more weight.
As far as he relates to the Vikings, Brian Robison is a solid player but Mingo would be a clear upgrade and an absolute weapon on the defensive side of the football. Opposite Jared Allen, Mingo would force teams to ease up on doubleteaming and chipping the NFL’s sack leader from 2011. If Mingo can build upon his 2011 season and reach double digit sacks, his pass rushing potential may be too good to pass up even with other more pressing needs on the roster.
Notable LSU games:
* 9/22 @ Auburn
* 10/6 @ Florida
* 10/13 vs South Carolina
* 11/3 vs Alabama
* 11/23 @ Arkansas
Other names to watch:
DT Star Lotulelei Utah
DE Sam Montgomery LSU
DE/OLB Jarvis Jones Georgia
DE Jackson Jeffcoat Texas
WR Keenan Allen California
S Eric Reid LSU
LB Manti Te’o Notre Dame
CB Johnthan Banks Mississippi State
S TJ McDonald USC