Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is a big believer in Matt Kalil, the star offensive tackle out of Southern Cal who almost everyone is projecting to be a Pro Bowler before long. The Vikings also have needs to bolster their offensive line. And they own the No. 3 pick in April’s draft, in good position to potentially land Kalil, who is being widely touted as the best offensive line prospect of the past five years.

But here’s the debate that will take place at Winter Park over the next eight weeks: Do the Vikings need a superstar left tackle to become a factor in the NFC playoff picture again? Or is it possible, as general manager Rick Spielman has wondered aloud, for them to win with a “functional” left tackle whose performance is elevated by the playmakers around him?
At this point, it may seem hard to imagine the Vikings passing on Kalil if he’s there for them at No. 3 on April 26. And while Spielman’s “Teams can win with a functional left tackle” hypothesis might be nothing more than some pre-draft poker playing, the debate itself is worth examining.
Sure, the data shows us that most Pro Bowl left tackles are guys drafted early in Round 1. Here’s the list of this year’s Pro Bowl tackles and where they were picked:
  • Miami’s Jake Long (picked first overall in 2008)
  • Cleveland’s Joe Thomas (third overall in 2007)
  • New York Jets’ D’Brickashaw Ferguson (fourth in 2006)
  • Denver’s Ryan Clady (12th in 2008)
  • San Francisco’s Joe Staley (28th in 2007)
  • New Orleans’ Jermon Bushrod (125th in 2007)
  • Philadelphia’s Jason Peters (undrafted as a tight end in 2004) 
Yet might it also be wise to look at the left tackles of the 12 playoff teams from this past season to examine their left tackle position? Here goes …
New York Giants
Left tackle: David Diehl
Drafted: Fifth round, 160th overall in 2003 by New York
New England Patriots
Left tackle: Matt Light
Drafted: Second round, 48th overall in 2001 by New England
San Francisco 49ers
Left tackle: Joe Staley
Drafted: First round, 28th overall in 2007
Baltimore Ravens
Left tackle: Bryant McKinnie
Drafted: First round, seventh overall in 2002 by the Vikings
Acquired: Signed last August after being cut by the Vikings
Green Bay Packers
Left tackle: Marshall Newhouse
Drafted: Fifth round, 169th overall in 2010 by Green Bay
New Orleans Saints
Left tackle: Jermon Bushrod
Drafted: Fourth round, 125th overall in 2007 by New Orleans
Denver Broncos
Left tackle: Ryan Clady
Drafted: First round, 12th overall in 2008 by Denver
Houston Texans
Left tackle: Duane Brown
Drafted: First round, 26th overall in 2008 by Houston
Detroit Lions
Left tackle: Jeff Backus
Drafted: First round, 18th overall in 2001 by Detroit
Atlanta Falcons:
Left tackle: Will Svitek
Drafted: Sixth round, 187th overall in 2005 by Kansas City
Acquired: Signed with Atlanta in 2009 after spending 2008 season out of football
Pittsburgh Steelers
Left tackle: Max Starks
Drafted: Third round, 75th overall in 2004 for Pittsburgh
Cincinnati Bengals
Left tackle: Andrew Whitworth
Drafted: Second round, 55th overall in 2006 by Cincinnati
The quick data summary? The 12 left tackles to start in the postseason this past season had an average draft position of 76th overall. Five of the 12 were first-round picks, including only one top 10 selection. Two were second-rounders.
The only top 10 selection of the bunch (McKinnie) was picked up off the scrap heap after the Vikings parted ways last August.
Of the 12 playoff teams from 2011, five (New York, New England, Green Bay, New Orleans, Pittsburgh) have indisputably elite quarterbacks. Two other teams have young signal callers who could ascened to that elite level in the near future (Detroit, Atlanta). Of the remaining five teams, Cincinnati seems to be the only squad without either an elite quarterback (Andy Dalton isn't there just yet) or a first-round left tackle.
This is in no way a means of showing that the left tackle position isn’t important. But is it of the utmost importance to the Vikings? Or should we all consider, as Spielman said he will, whether the Vikings can get by with a “functional” left tackle if they can also see rapid improvement by young quarterback Christian Ponder (quicker decisions and throws, better reads) and an upgrade in playmaking ability among their receivers.
In other words, while landing Kalil would certainly be nice, might the Vikings’ rebuilding project also get a boost if they were to land another playmaker at No. 3 and find their left tackle solution either later in Round 1 (via trade) or early in Round 2?

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