NFL Combine: QB/RB/WR workouts begin, what positions do Vikings need?
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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 began on Saturday for the first group of athletes.
Tight ends, offensive linemen, kickers, punters and other specialists already competed 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: Finding a franchise quarterback is the Holy Grail for NFL teams - and the Vikings will continue their pursuit in May's NFL Draft. The Vikings have one quarterback under contract in Christian Ponder (13-20-1 as a starter) and are trying to resign veteran Matt Cassel after he opted out of the back end of a two-year deal he inked before last season. An increased cap figure by $9 million to $132 million this season will give the Vikings even more room to offer a lucrative deal to Cassel. Josh Freeman, who started one game last season, is likely to remain a fixture of the past in Minnesota.
The Vikings reportedly interviewed eight or nine of the top quarterback candidates on Saturday in Indianapolis and will get to see them in action in various drills on Sunday. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who was part of the Vikings' quarterback chats, will not throw and neither will Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. UCF's Blake Bortles and Alabama's A.J. McCarron will throw. General manager Rick Spielman has said he'd 'love' to trade down from the No. 8 overall pick, however, with Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7th overall pick) coach Lovie Smith also leaving the door open to a first-round passer -- the Vikings may have to trade up to get one of the top draftees. Whether the Bucs plan to draft a quarterback or not, giving out that perception may cause teams to dump picks to trade up.
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 are three quarterbacks to watch on Sunday.
Johnny Manziel (not throwing) - The guy at the top of most mock drafts and the one everyone wants to talk about. Johnny Manziel may be the most-hyped draft prospect since Tim Tebow - and there's no guarantee Manziel will have as much (or as little) success as Tebow. The most important difference is Manziel's arm, which he elected to not show off on Sunday. He'll also bow out of the Aggies' Pro Day on March 5 and will instead host a Manziel Pro Day on March 27. He'll also throw in private workouts for teams leading up to May's NFL Draft.
Manziel checked in at just under six-feet (5'11") and has the fifth-largest hands of the 19 quarterbacks at the Combine (9 7/8"). Along with Georgia's Aaron Murray (207lbs) and South Carolina's Connor Shaw (206lbs), Manziel (207lbs) is one of the lightest quarterbacks at the Combine, though that measurement is moldable whereas height and hand width aren't.
Manziel's rise to stardom was practically overnight. He was an unknown backup before the Aggies' 2012 campaign and not only earned the starting job, but finished the season as the first freshman Heisman Trophy winner in history. However, his off-field activities have raised eyebrows.
"STRENGTHS: Ranks among the more dynamic college football players in recent history. Remarkable maneuverability. Excellent agility and burst, as well as straight-line speed, but what makes Manziel so difficult to contain is his vision. Seems to possess eyes in the back of his head, showing incredible spatial awareness of those around him.
"WEAKNESSES: Tendency to fall off his throws, even when standing flat-footed with no pressure. In falling away rather than stepping into his throws, passes lack consistency accuracy."
A.J. McCarron (throwing) - Deemed a "second-level" quarterback by draft experts, Alabama product A.J. McCarron is one option for the Vikings in the second or third round instead of both Manziel and Bortles, who are projected to be gone before the Vikings' eighth-overall pick. McCarron was initially skeptical about performing all workouts at the Combine, but ultimately elected to participate in every drill including passing on Sunday. McCarron turned down a Senior Bowl invite, reportedly due to health issues, after a poor performance in the Crimson Tide's 45-31 Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. McCarron threw for 387 yards, but two interceptions resulted in two Sooners touchdowns.
McCarron measured in at 6'3" and 220 pounds at the Combine, including the third-largest hands for a quarterback with a 10-inch width. In a draft where a NFL-record 98 underclassmen are eligible, McCarron is one of a handful of quarterbacks with four full seasons in the college ranks. McCarron appeared in 53 games with Alabama and exited as a two-time BCS National Champion, finishing with 77 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, including a career-high seven picks in 2013.
McCarron's draft stock has took a hit with rocky performances to end 2013, but his championship pedigree could allow some teams to overlook inconsistency.
Blake Bortles (throwing) - University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles has the size and athleticism that lead many to believe he's a prototypical NFL quarterback just waiting to be sculpted. Checking in at 6'5" and 232lbs, Bortles has been likened to Pittsburgh Steelers' Super Bowl quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Little known before the 2013 season, Bortles finished his redshirt junior season in the top 10 in completion percentage and passer rating among all NCAA D-I quarterbacks. His size may lead many teams to take a chance on him regardless of how he performs in Combine drills.
Projected as one of the top three quarterbacks along with Bridgewater and Manziel, Bortles claims and wants NFL front offices to know he's not Johnny Football off the field.
NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah moved Bortles up four spots in his most recent Top-50 prospect rankings:
"Bortles has outstanding size, mobility, and intangibles. He has quick feet in his drop and a very deliberate throwing motion. He doesn't have a huge arm but he can make all of the necessary throws. When he has a clean pocket and throws in rhythm, he is very accurate to all three levels. However, when he has bodies around him, he falls off throws and his accuracy suffers. He throws a lot of bubble screens in UCF's offense, but there are examples of him advancing deep into a progression. He has the athleticism to extend plays and is a dangerous runner. He is raw but he does have a big upside."
Others to watch: NCAA passing yards leader and Fresno State product Derek Carr; San Jose State's David Fales and the Combine's largest quarterback: Virginia Tech passer Logan Thomas. Thomas trained with Manziel and other draft prospects at a strength, conditioning and speed camp in California leading up to the Combine.
The complete QB prospect roster:
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Tajh Boyd, Clemson
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Derek Carr, Fresno State
David Fales, San Jose State
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Jeff Mathews, Cornell
AJ McCarron, Alabama
Zach Mettenberger, LSU+
Stephen Morris, Miami (Fla.)
Aaron Murray, Georgia
Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
Connor Shaw, South Carolina
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Dustin Vaughan, West Texas A&M
Keith Wenning, Ball State