Top Safety and Tight End Prospects the Vikings Can Claim
Image courtesy of Robert Deutsch-USA TODAYIt will be difficult to find a way to create a more complete roster than the one the Vikings have, but they assuredly won't be standing still when it comes to roster cuts. With only two tight ends on a roster whose offense is theoretically designed to get the most out of the position, the Vikings may find themselves unbalanced and unready to take on the season.
Further, the same Vikings whose pass defense was one of the worst in the NFL will find itself in dire straits without figuring out the safety situation. With all of that in mind, it may behoove us to look at the safeties and tight ends that have hit the waiver wire in order to see what the Vikings' options are.
Duke Ihenacho, S
Ihenacho first flashed in 2013, with both good and bad games on either extreme, but certainly showed promise. In his time with the Broncos, he did show issues with quick read/react skills, and some tackling issues, but certainly has the speed and understanding of on-field geometry to make a difference in the run game. Ihenacho is a fearless hitter, and he makes his presence known. He’s rangier than given credit for, and can play deeper than the Broncos did. The bigger issues are false steps and generic footwork. In college, he played four different positions and had four different coaching staffs in his time with San Jose State, so his development was severely stunted. He needs to be more fluid, but his awareness in zone often makes up for it.
MarQueis Gray, TE
Those who remember him from his days as a Golden Gopher may cringe, but Norv Turner loved having Gray on his roster with the Browns as a move tight end with potential. Turner used Gray in Wildcat-type sets as well as a traditional tight end. He knows Norv’s system, adds a dynamic element to the offense that wasn’t there before, and has loads of potential. Unfortunately, his hands and route-running haven’t developed quite like he may have hoped, which is why he was cut from a team that desperately needs pass-catchers. Fumbles and drops in camp and the preseason sealed his fate with Cleveland. Still, with the ball in space, he's tantalizing.
Danieal Manning, S
Manning looked good in the preseason, but though he played well the reports are that he didn't learn the system as quickly as the coaches may have hoped. Throughout his career, Manning has been a consistently average safety, though was often made a scapegoat in Houston. The injury at the end of his Houston tenure sent him to IR, but did well for himself in 2011 and 2012, both in run and pass defense. He has burst and quick feet, and plays with good awareness in zone coverage, though he's not a fit in man coverage (not because of athletic ability, but technique). His speed is an asset and hopefully didn't tail off with the injury. He could start right away for the Vikings if he picks up the system quickly enough.
Champ Bailey, CB
The future Hall-of-Famer may want to end his career like Charles Woodson, as a safety. Despite Bailey’s recent injury history (which is overblown; 2013 wasn’t great but he didn’t have any reported injuries in 2012 and was pretty clean in 2011), he’s worth a shot at safety, which may be better from an injury perspective anyway. Bailey was an elite corner who’s lost a step but may have the ability to attune his high-level instincts in a position that doesn’t require as much athletic prowess. He still feels like he can play and is a free agent. Obviously, his representation feel he’s healthy to go—but the Vikings will conduct a medical just to be sure in the even they’re interested.
Kellen Davis, TE
Davis has worked in an Air Coryell system in Chicago under Mike Martz and was in camp with Norv Turner with the Cleveland Browns in 2013. His preseason was not too bad, although he didn’t shine in his final game with the Giants, who are known to need a tight end. Despite some recent struggles (2012 and 2013), he excelled under Mike Martz, and unusually for Martz, as a blocking tight end who could catch. His ability to create running lanes would be a nice addition in order to spell Ellison on the field and create a reasonable tight end rotation. Davis' catching ability is a little underrated as he didn't rack up a lot of receiving yards and has had high profile drops, but his primary ability is blocking.
Chase Coffman, TE
Chase Coffman was a well-regarded draft prospect who fell (to the 3rd round) due to injury concerns, which manifested themselves early for the Bengals. After making the practice squad twice, he signed with the Buccaneers, who waived him. After that, Atlanta placed him on their PS. Like Cincinnati, Atlanta did not offer a reserve contract to him at the end of the season. His reputation in college was as a very, very good pass-catcher with limited blocking duties. Despite all of that, he's well worth a look. He was the best receiving tight end in the 2009 draft, and it wasn't particularly close (a class that included Brandon Pettigrew, Jared Cook, and Travis Beckum)—he had acrobatic catches and the ball stuck to his hands like glue. He also created space for himself far better than his peers at the time. His preseason this year has looked good
Gerell Robinson, TE
Robinson is a flex/move tight end more in the spirit of Rhett Ellison than Kyle Rudolph. He has some athletic ability to him that many other tight ends don’t, which may be what he needs to get onto a roster known to value that more than others. He was converted by the Broncos to tight end from wide receiver, where he played at Arizona State. He can take abuse and relishes blocking, but will need to adapt to a different style of route-running and different assignments run blocking in the NFL. He can probably do it, but is extremely raw as a tight end and needs to add weight, to boot.
Rob Blanchflower, TE
A rookie who was recently cut by the Steelers, Blanchflower may take some time to adopt the terminology of another new offense, but could be worth it as a long-term project. Blanchflower is athletically a great fit as a tight end and has shown the ability to block as well as run routes. It's not simply that he could put up great testing numbers (he was recovering from a sports hernia that saw him miss the combine and his pro day), but that he's an extremely flexible and agile athlete, too. Unfortunately, he's had issues with drops that can be a real concern, but are correctable. Even with those pass-catching problems, Blanchflower can play a significant role as a blocker; he's shown the ability to block from multiple angles and alignments to create new running lanes and is well worth a look—especially because he's far more polished as a route-runner than he should be, coming from Massachusetts.
Craig Loston, S
Craig Loston was a safety I was very low on in the draft, but neither did I expect him to go undrafted or get cut. He only played in two games for Jacksonville and very few snaps at that (10). At LSU, he played with good anticipation in a complex defense that mirrors the responsibilities of the more difficult defenses to master in the NFL. He was a signal-caller for their good defense, hit with abandon and had some speed. But his length and fluidity were both very poor, and he was inconsistent driving to the ball. Big hitter, but not a great tackler. He has iffy recovery speed, is an old rookie (25), and did not do a very good job tracking the ball. His physicality in the run game was not matched by any such relish for contact in coverage. For all his football intelligence, he also took poor angles against the run. He's a bit of a project, but he's smart and teachable.
Ed Reynolds, S
I’m surprised both that Reynolds lasted to the fifth round and that he was cut by the Eagles. He reads the quarterback very well and reacts to the ball and is rangier than his athletic reputation would suggest. He has a good sense of leverage and positioning, and despite a lack of long speed can find the ball easily, and put up some good numbers to that effect. Solid in run support, both in being assignment-sound and quick to react without biting on fakes. Though he doesn’t read running angles consistently, is still an asset and can combine a proclivity for big hits with form tackles.
Ted Bolser, TE
Another unheralded rookie, Bolser might fit the mold of a Zimmer-Turner player because of his ability to pick up new information and integrate it quickly into his game. He converted from receiver to tight end at Indiana extremely quickly and should be able to correct holes in his game. He just got cut from Jay Gruden's Washington team and therefore will be at a disadvantage in terms of learning the language, but still should be worth looking at. He's a very good pass-catcher with polished hands technique and solid route-running skills. He probably won't split up out wide like Jimmy Graham, but should thrive on the mismatch in the slot with his quickness. All of this said, Bolser has a long way to go as a blocker and needs to be coached up on technique. Given how quickly he's adapted before, it shouldn't be a big problem.
Josh Aubrey, S
Cut from the Browns despite a very good preseason, Aubrey can play both safety roles with reasonable versatility. Though he doesn't have the athleticism of top-tier safeties, he has starting-level quality when it comes to awareness, technique and football intelligence. Though stiff in coverage, he still drives to the ball well and undercuts routes intelligently. Probably best at strong safety, he can still function well as a free safety working towards the ball in force responsibilities. He has good tackling technique and takes smart angles to the ball. His preseason in 2013 was excellent as well.
Mike McNeill, TE
McNeill has spent time in a few Coryell offenses, though the biggest impediment won't be learning a new system as much as his health. He was waived from the Carolina Panthers with an injury settlement, and may be out for a few more weeks yet. Still, his work at Nebraska as well as his limited play with St. Louis in previous years is at least worth investigating. At Nebraska, he was able to create a lot of separation and showed an excellent overall catching skillset that would make him a threat in the red zone at the very least. He isn't particularly fast or quick, but did find ways to get open and caught most everything thrown his way. He is, unfortunately, an abysmal blocker.
Sean Baker, S
Baker didn’t get to see the field at all in 2012 or 2013, but had a pretty good preseason. He’s a very quick safety who plays with a lot of range. Generally speaking, safeties with range and the instincts that he displayed while at Ball State would make him at least a decent pick to stick onto the roster, but concerns about technique may have limited him. It looked like he cleaned up his footwork, which would reduce a lot of his issues, and would therefore at least be a depth option if not a starting option. He’s a reliable tackler who at Ball State showed up in a big way in the run game, playing with both form and physicality. In the NFL, he’s expected to have more trouble getting off of blocks (which he had issues with in college). His speed isn’t great, but neither is it very limiting—he simply won’t be a man coverage safety. Was a ballhawk.
Jacob Murphy, TE
This probably won't be happening given how bad his preseason with Oakland was, but Murphy wasn't a bad prospect coming out of Utah. Murphy is a very fluid player who runs routes well and catches passes, especially in timing systems, like a pro. He catches the ball well outside of his frame and makes some highlight-reel catches at times, too. He's a little undersized and isn't well-known for his blocking, but his long arms can make up for some of his other deficiencies and he blocks well enough for a tight end at this stage. Murphy is a very good route-runner that still has to work on deception but may be worth a flier.
There are a few tight ends and safeties the Vikings should probably avoid. Michael Egnew was a well-rated prospect in 2012, but showed little in his time with Miami and was just cut from Detroit despite his prototypical size and athletic capability. While at Missouri, Egnew showed little to no proclivity for blocking, holding on to the ball through contact or creating additional yards once hit. He's simply not a physical player.
Major Wright has been nothing but terrible in his career. He benefited in Chicago working with Peanut Tillman, and even then did not look particularly good. Without Tillman, he looked awful. He is not particularly instinctive in coverage and is late to react. In college he got away with it because of his speed, but in the NFL he’s been exposed. He does not do a good job positioning himself in the secondary, especially with the ball in the air. In the run game, he went for the big hit more than the tackle, and it didn’t usually work out. His tackling angles have improved since college, but it didn’t do a lot of good with the rest of the package in mind.
Orson Charles may be familiar to those who watched Mike Zimmer on Hard Knocks when the Bengals were on—he was converting from tight end to fullback, and has recently converted back. He hasn't been good at either, and he's not athletic or explosive as a player. His blocking is good but not great and his receiving was marginal.
MD Jennings was a name that Vikings fans may be familiar with in the cut process, but he, too, should be avoided. Aside from being cut from a few safety-needy teams, Jennings has never put together the total package to be a complete safety. He's fluid, quick and plants well—all with the speed of a single-high safety. But he has extremely poor run/pass diagnosis, doesn't read keys well, doesn't anticipate the ball well, read the quarterback well or play with any semblance of good positioning against receivers.