In his second year as the Minnesota Vikings General Manager, Rick Spielman struck gold again in this years 2013 NFL draft. It was first-round madness for the Vikings franchise when they drafted defensive tackle Shariff Floyd and cornerback Xavier Rhodes with the 23rd and 25th picks. The Vikings draft party at Mall of America Field was thrilled by the new talent the Vikings had drafted. Most of the fans started filling out of the stadium expecting to be done drafting in the first round. But things got even better for Minnesota fans when management traded for the Patriots’ 29th pick. The pick resulted in Tennessee product Cordarrelle Patterson, a gifted and raw athlete.
Shortly after the draft the Vikings worked quickly, nabbing as many talented undrafted free agents as they could. Although most of these players will never play a down at the NFL level, these players should not be overlooked as many talented players have gone undrafted. Notable undrafted free agents that went on to make a name for themselves include: Arian Foster, Wes Welker, James Harrison, Antonio Gates, and the Minnesota Vikings Hall of Famer John Randle. Here are five undrafted free agents to watch.
Rodney Smith: WR, Florida State
The Vikings added a lot of depth to the receiver core over the off-season with the signing of former Packer Greg Jennings and first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson. Last year the Vikings posted one of the worst passing games in the league as the averaged only 171.9 receiving yards per game. Acting quickly to change that trend, the Vikings made major moves by trading Percy Harvin, releasing Michael Jenkins, and letting Devin Aromashodu walk.
With Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson, Jarius Wright, and Cordarrelle Patterson likely to be locks to make the team, the Vikings will seek a maximum of two more roster spots for receivers. Rodney Smith brings to the table a big frame with speed; an important presence to any football organization. Listed at 6’4″ 225 pounds, Smith has the ability to be a deep threat in addition to being a red zone threat. Vikings lacked any sort of deep threat last year as they had only three passing plays go for more than 40 yards.
In his career at Florida State, Smith recorded a total of 10 touchdowns on 1,540 receiving yards. At the combine Smith preformed well with a 40-yard dash of 4.51 sec as well as quick times in the 20 and 60-yard shuffle where he finished in the top 10 among all wide receivers. Smith also has a great leaping ability as he posted a 10′ broad jump and a 34.5″ vertical.
Mark Jackson: OL, Glenville State
The Minnesota Vikings have secured their starting left and right tackles for years to come when they resigned Phil Loadholt in the offseason. But the Vikings might be looking for some guard help in the near future. The Vikings drafted two offensive lineman – Travis Bond and Jeff Baca – in the 6th and 7th rounds of the 2013 NFL draft to help beef up the offensive line. Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco both struggled at times during the 2012 season and an upgrade, or at least backup plan, seems like a good idea.
Jackson, a native of Columbus, Ohio, who had an offer from the Golden Gophers, left Illinois due to off-the-field issues. At 6’5″ and 328 pounds, Jackson is a monster that can play guard, center, and tackle. NFL.com graded Jackson a 61.0, which is a projected 5th or 6th round pick. He ultimately went undrafted and signed with the Vikings.
Although he underperformed in the speed categories posting a 40-yard dash time of 5.65 seconds, Jackson still has huge leverage with the potential to play any position on the offensive line. Coming out of high school he was ranked the 10th-best center. While at Glenville State, where he was a three year starter, Jackson was named captain and MVP in his final season.
Zach Line: FB/RB, Southern Methodist
It was a Pro Bowl season last year for the Minnesota Vikings starting fullback Jerome Felton as he plowed the way for Adrian Peterson. Running backs Toby Gerhart and Matt Asiata both had a minimal role in the 2012 season as they combined for a total of 53 carries and 178 yards (just over 3.3 yards per carry). None of these backs are legitimate third down backs and the Vikings are desperately trying to find a back that has good hands, can block, and can carry the ball if needed. Welcome Zach Line out of SMU. Zach’s strengths include his pass blocking ability, his ability to catch balls out of the backfield, and his north-south running style. In his senior year he carried the ball 277 times for 1278 yards and 13 touchdowns and also had 33 receptions for 229 yards.
Coming into a Vikings system that serves its attention around star running back Adrian Peterson will be a challenge for Line to overcome. If Line wishes to make the team he will need to prove himself as a third down back. Line has the size to play the fullback position as he is a sturdy 6’0″ and 230 pounds. Zach preformed well at the combine in several different areas finishing 6th among all running back in the bench press with 26 reps. Line has some quickness to his legs as he ran a 4.77 in the 40 yard dash and had a broad jump of 111″. Zach could be used as a fullback or running back, but will likely have to crack the team with his special teams play.
Adam Thielen: WR, Minnesota State Mankato
As the Vikings continue to gather the formula for their depleted wide receiving core of last year, they are even looking at the division-II level to find any hidden talent. Adam Thielen out of Minnesota State has the skills capable of being an NFL wide receiver. He was lights out in his senior year down in Mankato as he led the team in receptions (74), receiving yards (1,176), and receiving touchdowns (8). Thielen also made himself the primary punt returner, returning four kicks for touchdowns in his senior year.
Thielen has a size advantage against most defensive backs being 6’3″ 200 pounds. He has great hands in the deep field and is very skilled in winning most 50/50 jump ball situations. His speed and elusiveness have been proven with his 40-yard dash of 4.45 at a regional combine in March in Chicago. Being a D-II player, however, does serve as a disadvantage for Thielen being that he has never had to run routes or play against elite college talent. Adjustments will need to be made for Thielen if he wishes to wear horns on his helmet come week one of the regular season. It’ll be hard to imagine Thielen making the 53-man roster, but as a project he could likely be on the practice squad getting ready for the 2014 season. Needless to say it will be intriguing to monitor the progress of Adam this offseason.
Brandan Bishop: FS, North Carolina State
The Vikings defensive secondary has always been a question over the past few years and Rick Spielman and company are making strides improve the secondary every year. In the 2012 NFL draft Minnesota traded up to use the 29th pick on Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith. After a great rookie season that included highlight plays and deflected passes, Smith established himself as a starting safety. Mistral Raymond suffered an ankle injury that kept him out most of the season and Jamarca Sanford took over as the other starting safety.
Brandan Bishop is a very quick and intuitive safety who can use his height to bat passes as well as his big body to make bone-crunching tackles. Bishop is a great open field tackler and he led the NC State Wolverines in tackles each of his last two seasons. His great tackling ability shows his likeliness to be a great special teams player for the the Vikings. Bishop is a major threat for Andrew Sendejo’s special teams position. It was last year when Sendejo snuck his way into the Vikings 53-man roster after preforming to the best of his ability in training camp and the preseason. If Bishop were to make the team he primarily would play special teams but could log in some minutes at the safety position. Brandon finished his collegiate career with 9 interceptions and 240 total tackles.