Two weeks out from the NFL Draft it appears likely the Vikings will use at least one of their two first-round selections on a cornerback.
The present cornerback roster is alarmingly thin in quality and depth. Head coach Mike Zimmer, long a defensive guru, will want to make cornerbacks a priority in the college draft, along with mandatory needs at wide receiver and in the offensive line.
There might be seven quality cornerbacks available among the top 35 or 40 prospects. The Vikings, with first round selections at No. 22 and 25, could use one of their picks on Trevon Diggs from Alabama, and the brother of former Minnesota wide receiver Stefon Diggs now with the Buffalo Bills.
Trevon, a former receiver, is expected to be an NFL starter in his first or second season, according to NFL.com/prospects. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Diggs is a physical cover man with the instincts of a receiver. Vikings decision makers shouldn’t allow past history with Stefon’s attitude to stop their drafting of Trevon.
Another corner likely available when the Vikings use their first round choices is TCU’s Jeff Gladney. He doesn’t match Diggs’ size at 5-10, 191 pounds, but he is athletic and feisty on the field. Gladney was known for his ball-hawking skills at TCU, and Zimmer is fond of physical defenders like his All-Pro safety Harrison Smith.
It’s probably a long shot the Vikings will use both of their first round picks on corners but Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have flexibility in the draft with 12 selections over the seven rounds. The franchise could put off drafting a wide receiver or offensive lineman until beyond the first round.
With a need to replace Stefon Diggs at wide receiver, the Vikings are fortunate the 2020 draft is rich in WR talent. In a S.I.com story last week listing the draft’s top 100 prospects, 16 of them are wide receivers (No. 100 is Golden Gophers WR Tyler Johnson). The Vikings will almost certainly find a high potential WR in the first two rounds of the draft. An out of the spotlight pick that could interest Minnesota in the middle or late rounds is Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Spielman has a reputation for swinging trades to improve his draft position. Gambling that he could meet team needs at corner and WR beyond the first round, what if he traded his No. 22 and 25 selections to move high enough to choose offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs? The Iowa star is among the most coveted linemen in the 2020 draft and the Vikings could use a newcomer contributing the way 2019 first-round center Garrett Bradbury performed as a rookie.
Zimmer likes to emphasize the running game and has one of the NFL’s best ball carriers in Dalvin Cook. The offensive line, a concern for years, remains a project, and that’s not good news for Cook or quarterback Kirk Cousins who often doesn’t respond effectively to pressure from pass rushers.
New U Season Tickets Total Impresses
Although the promotion of University of Minnesota football has been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, the athletic department has already sold 2,067 new season tickets for the 2020 home schedule. That total is close to the 2,519 new season tickets for 2019 the U reported in September of last year after the home schedule was underway.
Included in the 2,067 new season tickets sold to the public (non-student tickets) are 278 tickets that were sold for $249 each. Those inexpensive season tickets were announced in late November last year, and prompted by the fan excitement of the Gophers’ impressive season.
Minnesota earned an 11-2 final record including a surprise Outback Bowl win over SEC power Auburn. The Gophers finished with a final A.P. ranking of No. 10 in the nation. That was the highest ranking for the program at season’s end since 1962.
As of May 13 last year the athletic department had sold only 858 new public season tickets. On May 1, 2018, the total of new season tickets was 817.
Season ticket sales to the public have been a challenge for several years, including modest totals of 21,691 last year and 21,663 in 2018. This week the U reported to Sports Headliners a total of 12,199 total season tickets sold so far. At this time of year renewals of tickets can be slow, and the pandemic could derail 2020 sales and even wipe out the season, but the Gophers potentially might surpass the 2019 total—fueled by last year’s success on the field and the promise of the 2020 team, that while needing to replace much of the defense, will have an exciting offense led by quarterback Tanner Morgan and wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Minnesota has won 15 of its last 19 games and the public is buying into fourth-season head coach P.J. Fleck.
Minnesota closed the season with sellouts in its final two home games as part of a fall that saw more fans coming to TCF Bank Stadium. Dennis Dodd of Cbssports.com reported last month the Gophers’ 2019 attendance increased by 21.9 percent and 8,275 fans per game—the largest overall increase of any NCAA program in the top 50 in total attendance.
Minnesota’s seven-game home schedule includes a nonconference visit by BYU and Big Ten powers Iowa and Michigan. Down the road, and a motivation to buy season tickets, is the 2021 opener against perennial national championship contender Ohio State.
The Buckeyes last visited Minneapolis in 2014.
Hopkins coach Ken Novak told Sports Headliners Monday morning coveted Royals shooting guard Kerwin Walton might choose the University of Minnesota as his college destination later this month.
Novak said Walton is likely to announce a decision in late April after selecting from a final list of Arizona, Creighton, Minnesota, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. Walton’s Hopkins teammate of a year ago, Zeke Nnaji, had a breakout freshman season at Arizona and is declaring for the NBA Draft. Creighton was the first program to offer Walton a scholarship and with all its key players returning will be a preseason top five team next fall. North Carolina is one of college basketball’s “blue bloods” and coach Roy Williams has personally been recruiting Walton. Vandy coach Jerry Stackhouse, who was an accomplished NBA shooting guard, has also made a favorable impression on Walton.
An indication of Walton’s interest in the Gophers was his attendance at multiple Minnesota home games this past season. Hopkins has a rich basketball tradition and former Royals who played for the Gophers (including Kris Humphries and Blake Hoffarber) are encouraging Walton to play at the U, per Novak.
“He is really up in the air (regarding a decision),” the coach said. “I really don’t think he knows yet.”
Novak talks regularly to Walton and is helping him sort through things. “Everybody (all five schools) has got some positives,” Novak said.
Ultimately the coach believes the college choice will be a family decision involving Walton and his parents. Since Walton is close to his mom and dad, the hometown Gophers might have an edge over rival schools because the Minnesota-based family could watch all his home games at Williams Arena.
The 6-5 Walton averaged 27 points per game for the Royals. He shot 50 percent on three-pointers. “Kerwin is as good a shooter as you can find in the country,” Novak said.
Novak describes Walton as “low-key” and likeable. “He is a very unselfish kid,” the coach said.
The superlatives don’t end there. Last winter Walton, who is a good defensive player, would not only practice with the Royals after school but also in the evenings head to a local fitness club to work on his basketball skills. “He is probably the hardest working kid I’ve ever had,” said Novak who has a long list of alums who went on to success in college and the NBA.
Former Hopkins superstar Royce White, whose anxiety issues messed up his NBA dream, is pursuing a career in MMA while training in suburban Minneapolis. The 28-year-old White talks about his life in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. “He could play in the NBA now,” Novak said.
White attended Hopkins practices this past year and was helpful to the players. The coach said the public may not fully understand what a good person White is. “He is very close to my heart,” Novak said.
White turns 29 on Friday.
Drew Peterson, a potential basketball transfer to the Gophers, told the Houston Chronicle website last week he wasn’t going to leave Rice until two teammates made the decision to pursue other schools. The 6-8 Libertyville, Illinois native can play guard and forward. As a sophomore last season, he led the Owls in both rebounding average per game at 6.5 and in assists at 3.5. He was third in scoring at 11.1.
The NCAA has yet to rule on whether players can transfer one time during their college careers and become eligible to play the next season (rather than sit out a year). That will impact former Drake center Liam Robbins, a shot blocking specialist who is transferring to the Gophers. The guess here is the NCAA will approve the immediate eligibility rule. Keeping players on the field or court is in the organization’s best interest for marketing the college product. It’s also a difficult argument to say free-wheeling coaches can leave one school for another but players cannot.
The coronavirus epidemic limiting social contact has put a halt to NBA tryout sessions and that can’t help the draft prospects for Gophers sophomore guard Marcus Carr. Even if the evaluation sessions were in place, Carr could be a long shot to be drafted. He seems likely to withdraw his name from draft consideration.
Former Vikings Adrian Peterson (RB) and Cordarrelle Patterson (kick returner) are members of the 2010s All-Decade team announced yesterday by the NFL and Pro Football Hall of Fame. Peterson is one of eight unanimous selections among the 53 players honored. Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald (WR) is also on the team.
The Minnesota Twins’ 2020 home opener was to have been played yesterday at Target Field against the Oakland A’s. Of course, it wasn’t and schedules for athletics on every level have come to a halt because of the coronavirus and all its implications. What can we anticipate in the months ahead?
There is speculation the Twins and their Major League brethren will start the 2020 season in July. However, there is no certainty on a timeline, nor is there as to whether teams will play in empty stadiums without fans. There is so much frustration among the public from the absence of live televised sports, the return of MLB or other sports will prompt a ratings bonanza.
An explosion in TV viewership will be fueled even more if sports like baseball become (for awhile at least) “studio television.” Geez, will they even use a soundtrack with crowd noise including a few “Bronx cheers”?
When crowds are invited back into stadiums and arenas, what will that look like? Imagine fans crowding the gates again at Target Field or U.S. Bank Stadium to watch the Vikings? Could the new norm be to herd fans into smaller groups and then allow them through security?
Even if the choice is there, who is going to attend games later this year or next year? A good guess is older fans will be reluctant to fill seats until the all-safe message rolls out regarding the coronavirus including a vaccine. The most gung-ho demographic figures to be teens and young adults. After all, part of their DNA screams, “We are invincible!”
Patrick Klinger is the former vice president of marketing for the Twins and still lives in the Twin Cities where he is president of Agile Marketing Partners. During his many years with the Twins, Klinger was known for his innovative promotions, events and marketing that enhanced the fan experience at the Metrodome and Target Field.
Klinger is an optimist, but also a realist who understands the sports and entertainment public. He believes when American sports resume there will be a great appreciation for the impact they have on our lives. He shared several other thoughts about what could lie ahead in the American sports environment in an email yesterday. The email was edited for publication below:
“I believe there will be a contingent of fans reluctant to go back into arenas, ballparks and stadiums (where strangers sit shoulder to shoulder) until there’s a vaccine for COVID-19, or an assurance that the crisis has completely passed. We’ve learned that ‘social distancing’ is the key to containing the spread of viruses. Sports attendance is unlikely to snap right back. However, I do believe it WILL come back in full force in time.
“I’m sure teams, leagues and venues are considering how to ensure fans are safe and comfortable when they return. Will a fan still be able (or want) to get a hot dog passed from a vendor through the hands of six strangers before it lands with the customer? Will concession stands still be manned by volunteers or part-timers with no professional experience with food service? If so, will they be required to wear masks?
“Will venues be completely wiped down with anti-bacterial solution following every game, a special challenge for MLB with its long homestands? Will additional hand washing stations and/or hand sanitizer be placed throughout the venues? There is also the need to keep high-priced players safe in the close confines of locker rooms and dugouts where sweat and spit is ubiquitous.
“We’ll likely think twice before high-fiving the person next to us after a home run, touchdown or game winning basket or goal. Just another way sports may look and feel different when the games begin again.”
The opening pitch for yesterday’s Twins’ home opener was supposed to be 3:10 p.m. The temperature at that time was 60 degrees, with overcast skies, per AccuWeather. The coldest temp ever for a Twins opener was 33 degrees at Metropolitan Stadium April 14, 1962.
Viking wide receiver Adam Thielen’s foundation is partnering with KFAN and iHeart Radio Minneapolis to host the Thielen Foundation MN COVID-19 Relief Radiothon April 9. Programming throughout the day will feature Thielen on-air from his home with call-ins by Minnesota athletes, coaches, team executives and community leaders. Campaign donations will be equally divided between four charities and applied to their most urgent COVID-19 needs. The foundation has already committed $100,000 to organizations in need during the state’s crisis.
Former Golden Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster, long known as a top recruiter, will have an impact on the University of Florida’s success where he joined the Gators’ staff of assistants in February. Brewster left North Carolina for Florida, and the Tar Heels are No. 4 in the 247Sports recruiting rankings for the class of 2021. The Gators are No. 3.
The Gophers are No. 20 in the rankings.
State of Minnesota college hockey fans have reason to follow the April 10 announcements of the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter awards. Hibbing’s Scott Perunovich, a junior defenseman from UMD, is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award recognizing the nation’s top college player. Minnesota State’s Dryden McKay, an Illinois native, is one of the five finalists for the Mike Richter Award given to college hockey’s top goalie.
I tweeted this “gem” on Wednesday: “Anyone remember in 1998 when on April Fools’ Day Burger King introduced ‘left-handed whoppers?’ ” (Sure hope nobody tried to order a “lefty” at BK drive-thru this week).