NFL Combine: OL, TE workouts begin, what positions do Vikings need?
Get the 1500 ESPN SportsWire delivered to your inbox daily, and keep up with all the news in Twin Cities Sports
Each day of NFL Scouting Combine workouts we'll highlight one or two positions that will work out and are also of need for the Minnesota Vikings.
As the mental evaluations at the NFL Scouting Combine wrap up, the bread and butter of physical testing begins on Saturday for the first group of athletes.
Tight ends, offensive linemen, kickers, punters and other specialists are set to compete in timing and skill drills that will set crucial benchmarks for their stock at the NFL Draft in May. 'Skill' players in quarterbacks, running backs and receivers will go on Sunday, defensive linemen and linebackers on Monday and defensive backs on Tuesday to close the Combine.
Vikings' current situation: The Vikings drafted UCLA's Jeff Baca in the sixth round [196th overall] last year to begin molding an interior rotational linemen spot that 31-year-old Joe Berger [UFA in March] held down last season. Guard Charlie Johnson will also be a free agent after earning a king's ransom, relative to his play [ProFootballFocus.com ranked Johnson as the 48th-best guard in the NFL] even after restructuring cut him to $2.45 million in base salary before last season. After a rocky 2012, guard Brandon Fusco took a major step forward in run blocking, ranking fifth of all guards in that area by PFF. Next season will be Fusco's last under contract, but the Vikings need to likely bring in another rotational lineman to support he and Baca, who are the only two guards under contract when the new league year starts in March.
Who to watch: The Vikings have one pick in each round of May's NFL Draft, with exception of a second third-round pick (96th overall). Here's three guards to watch for on Saturday.
Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA -- One of the top guard prospects this year, ESPN.com's Mel Kiper placed Su'a-Filo as the fourth-best guard in the draft, while NFL Network's draft expert Mike Mayock predicted that Su'a-Filo will fall to the second- and third-round range as the second-best guard in the draft.
At 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, Su'a-Filo is the prototypical build for an interior linemen. He's the same height and listed just two pounds lighter than the Vikings' Fusco and brings versatility. He played left tackle his freshman season as a Bruin and switched to the interior in his final two seasons.
Su'a-Filo should also know how to perform in NFL systems as he played under longtime NFL positions and head coach Jim Mora at UCLA. Having a former teammate in Baca on the Vikings likely wouldn't hurt his assimilation, either.
Dakota Dozier, Furman -- Mayock ranked Dozier as the fifth-best guard prospect in May's NFL Draft, as did NFLDraftScout.com. Dozier impressed scouts at the East/West Shrine game when he transitioned inside to guard after playing left tackle for three seasons at Furman.
At 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, Dozier is also the prototypical build for an interior lineman in the NFL. He's not too tall to get in his own quarterback's way, yet there are many, many questions surrounding his ability to compete at a high level. Dozier was a first-team All-FCS selection by the Associated Press in 2013 and earned all-league selection three times as at least one Furman rusher gained more than 1,000 yards each season he played. Many draft experts compare his game to that of Jonathan Cooper, who the Arizona Cardinals selected seventh overall last year.
Dozier likely isn't a big enough body to find any success in the NFL at tackle, but his newly found position at guard isn't unprecendented to succeed at the highest level for a FCS product. The Vikings' own Fusco came from D-II Slippery Rock and New Orleans Saints' Pro Bowl guard Jahri Evans bloomed out of little-known Bloomsburg University.
From NFLDraftScout.com: "[At the Shrine game] he looked quick, balanced and controlled in his movements with the base strength and awareness to hold his ground and pick up extra blitzers. Dozier surfaced as the top offensive line prospect this week and is a darkhorse top-100 prospect."
Cyril Richardson, Baylor -- During a rocky Senior Bowl performance on Jan. 25, Richardson weighed in at 344 pounds. This week at the NFL Combine, Richardson showed off his dedication by weighing in 15 pounds lighter and will have a lot to prove in workouts. The Baylor product is another guard transplant as he played tackle up until his final season at Baylor.
Now listed at 6-foot-5 and 329 pounds, Richardson was one of the heavier tackles in college football when he protected Robert Griffin III's blindside up until 2012. His weight would've been more concerning had he not thrived in Baylor's hurry-up, no-huddle offense that is predicated on conditioning. However, Richardson still has a lot to learn when transitioning to guard and that starts with the basics -- three-point stance, staying lower and altering footwork and peripheral vision to watch both sides.
NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah sang Richardson's praises before his final season at Baylor:
"Richardson plays a very physical brand of football in a Baylor offense that is often identified as a "finesse" system. He weighs more than 340 pounds and uses that size and power to maul defenders in the run game. He has unbelievably strong hands to torque and turn defenders at the point of attack. He also does a nice job of running his feet after his initial contact, which allows him to create a lot of movement at the line of scrimmage. He has a very firm, powerful base in pass protection."