Saturday, July 8, 2017

Three Vikings Training Camp Sleepers: Part One

Photo: SportsMedia101

With training camp quickly approaching, it is time to start looking over the roster. Daniel House picked out a group of under-the-radar players to watch closely in Mankato. 

Updated: July 8, 2017 2:55 p.m.

By: Daniel House

Every year, there is a group of players that burst onto the scene and surprise fans in training camp. Sometimes they put themselves in the infamous #MrMankato sweepstakes. That's why it's always important to identify targets before training camp gets underway.

At a quick glance, this year's field is stronger than ever. The Vikings spent more money than usual in undrafted free agency to secure players they coveted. After watching film, I found several candidates that could compete for roster spots in late August. As the Vikings continue to add depth, the idea of having quality talent in the third or fourth tier of the roster is enticing. In this two-part series, I have picked out six players to monitor when training begins on July 24.

Here are the first three Vikings training camp sleepers:

Eric Wilson- LB
The linebacker position group is searching for depth and Cincinnati linebacker Eric Wilson has quietly flown under-the-radar. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, the undrafted rookie was a tackling machine over his final two seasons with the Bearcats. He notched 129 tackles (7.5 for loss) and three sacks, en route to an All-AAC First Team selection. He has a knack for creating turnovers and recovered seven fumbles. Not to mention, Wilson does a great job of squaring up in the gap and making run stops. The clip below shows what he can do in space too.

He is very agile and light on his feet in coverage, but can be a step late from an instincts standpoint. In several games I watched, Wilson got too far inside and missed his assignment to cover a tight end. As a blitzer, Wilson can be very effective when he is sent off a disguise. He gets downhill fast and explodes to make a tackle or quarterback pressure. With a refinement of his technique (footwork) and a more defined role, Wilson has upside. However, he must get stronger because he has trouble pulling off of blocks. He is a converted safety and should get a look at outside linebacker because he is slightly undersized to play inside. More importantly, Wilson was fantastic on special teams during his collegiate career. He could carve out a role because he is so versatile and sure-handed as a tackler. It is very surprising Wilson went undrafted after the final two collegiate seasons he put together. 

Dylan Bradley- DT
In a crowded position group, Southern Mississippi product Dylan Bradley will have an uphill battle to make the team, but he is a very intriguing prospect. In 2016, Bradley led the team with 64 tackles (15.5 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. He has NFL bloodlines as his uncle, defensive end Jason Hatcher, played 10 years in the NFL for the Cowboys and Redskins. Bradley weighs just 265 pounds, which raises some concerns about whether he could play inside. At the college level, he was extremely explosive and compact out of the stance. He won by staying low and being fundamentally sound. In addition, Bradley has a strong motor and frequently chases screens or running plays down the field.

More importantly, he has developed a few pass rushing moves and has experience at multiple spots among the defensive line. In several instances, he stood up in the defensive system and could slide to end during special sets. On his film, he struggles with double teams and this could be related to his slimmer frame. Bradley is a tweener at this position, which makes it hard to project whether he could play defensive tackle or end. It might be best to deploy him in certain pass rushing packages that utilize his unique blend of explosion and quickness. It will be fascinating to see how defensive line coach Andre Patterson uses Brandley during training camp and the preseason.

Cayleb Jones- WR
The Vikings need to find wide receivers who can contribute in the red zone. Arizona wide receiver Calyeb Jones is a player who could fit this mold. He spent a short stint with the Eagles last year on their practice squad and the Vikings snatched him at the end of the year. He led the Wildcats in receiving during junior and senior seasons. Jones has NFL bloodlines to pair with an intriguing skill-set. His father, 10-year veteran linebacker, Robert Jones, was a 3-time Super Bowl champion. Jones' uncle, Jeff Blake, was a journeyman quarterback, most notably with the Cincinnati Bengals. In addition, Cayleb's brother, Zay, was drafted in the second round by the Buffalo Bills this April.

On the field, Jones was deadly off fades and vertical passing plays inside the 20-yard-line. His above average ball tracking skills and ability to make contested grabs are intriguing.

At 6-foot-3, he is a big target and has a large catch radius. So why hasn't he latched on with a team? Jones has trouble with physicality at the line of scrimmage and it sometimes causes him to struggle for separation. 

His ball-tracking and high-pointing skills help compensate for this, but he’ll need to develop as a route runner in the NFL. When he is placed in the red zone, Jones can make plays on the ball, which is something the Vikings are looking for. Depending upon his development as a route runner during camp, Jones could fly under-the-radar and slide onto the team. He could hold down Michael Floyd’s roster spot while he is suspended. However, a practice squad spot seems more likely at this point.

Stay tuned for part two of this series next week!

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