Hartman: Pressure is on Vikings draft picks to produce

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2013 - 8:54 PM
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The Vikings hope this year’s draft class — led by their three first-round picks, defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd, defensive back Xavier Rhodes and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson — can perform as well as last year’s group did. The team’s 2012 draft class included standouts such as Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith and Blair Walsh, among others.

Photo: ELIZABETH FLORES, Star Tribune file

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Without a doubt, the Vikings’ excellent 2012 draft had a lot to do with the team finishing 10-6 and advancing to the NFC playoffs.

They grabbed left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 4 overall pick, a move that enabled them to move Charlie Johnson back to his more natural position at left guard, then grabbed Kalil’s Southern California teammate, running back Rhett Ellison, in the fourth round.

Those two players effectively helped to counteract any major negative effects from the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser, who had been so instrumental in the blocking schemes for more than a decade.

Then the surprise pick came in the sixth round when they selected Georgia kicker Blair Walsh, which effectively ended Ryan Longwell’s tenure with the squad. Special teams coach Mike Priefer had looked extensively at Walsh’s technique and saw that a few minor changes could turn him into the All-Pro he was in his rookie season.

But last season saw just a few major pieces that needed to be replaced: Kleinsasser retired, and the team chose to release or not re-sign veterans such as Longwell, Steve Hutchinson, E.J. Henderson and Cedric Griffin, all of whom were not as effective as they were earlier in their careers.

When it comes to replacements this year, it will be a different story.

At the top of the list, the Vikings have to replace Percy Harvin, a great wide receiver, kick returner and running back who was traded to Seattle. Their top defensive back for years has been Antoine Winfield, who was released and also ended up with the Seahawks. Linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who started every game, signed with Arizona. And then eight-year punter Chris Kluwe was released and signed with Oakland.

The Vikings drafted punter Jeff Locke of UCLA to replace Kluwe, but he doesn’t have the NFL experience that Kluwe had, not only punting in crucial situations but also as an outstanding holder.

At this point they don’t have a middle linebacker to replace Brinkley, although Erin Henderson has a chance to do that job. But if that happens, they need to find somebody who can replace Henderson at outside linebacker.

The plan is for free agent Greg Jennings and first-round draft choice Cordarrelle Patterson to replace some of the offense Harvin produced and hope that Locke can match Kluwe in punting and as a holder.

And last but not least, the Vikings don’t have somebody with the experience and production that Winfield provided in his long career here.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, director of college scouting Scott Studwell and others in the team’s front office should be able to provide the replacements just as they have in the past. But the team needs this year’s draft class to perform as well as last year’s did.

Peterson praises Spielman

Adrian Peterson was on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Friday and talked about where he sees the team going, and also about the big departure of Harvin.

“You know, I feel like the pieces are coming,” Peterson said. “Our GM, Rick Spielman, has done a great job in the first two years of bringing in guys who have been productive and helped this offense flourish, and defensively as well.

“Greg Jennings is a guy I have played against and watched several times on the sidelines, I’m always asking myself, ‘How is he getting so open?’ Now being in OTAs and being around that guy, I see why.”

Regarding quarterback Christian Ponder, he said: “The biggest piece, he is definitely getting more comfortable and that confidence is showing through, that’s something I’ve been able to see the past month. We have the right pieces and we’re headed in the right direction.”

Peterson was also asked if he thought the departure of Harvin was necessary to move the team forward if the star receiver truly wasn’t happy here.

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