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.
“I don’t know, it’s kind of hard because it’s hard to replace a guy like Percy, to be honest with you,” he said. “But if you have a guy that really doesn’t want to be there, if that’s the case, then yes, it’s better off for the team. For whatever reason he wasn’t happy where he was, and now he’s in Seattle and I wish him the best.”
Buxton could be moving
Twins 2012 first-round pick Byron Buxton continues to dominate at Class A Cedar Rapids. He entered Saturday second in the Midwest League in hitting with a .338 average, is first in on-base percentage at .428, fourth in RBI with 52 and first by a lot in runs scored with 66.
Twins General Manager Terry Ryan likes what he sees from Buxton and believes he will be moved up soon.
“He has a chance to be real good,” Ryan said. “He’s got all the skills, the makeup, he’s athletic, a pure center fielder, can run, throw, field, hit, power, steal a base and makeup. That’s why we took him. He’s off to a good start at Cedar Rapids, and that’s just as important. We’re looking for guys not only with those ceiling tools but also guys that perform, and he’s doing all the above.”
• Look for Timberwolves President Flip Saunders to make every effort to draft Indiana shooting guard Victor Oladipo, who would give the Wolves just what they need in the backcourt.
• The top three Vikings draft picks should receive signing bonuses in this order: Sharrif Floyd, $4.2 million; Xavier Rhodes, $4.1 million; and Cordarrelle Patterson, $3.6 million, according to the 2013 estimates of NFL teams’ rookie pool. The Vikings have signed all their draft picks except those three.
• During the past two Final Fours, the Wall Street Journal has published the values of top college basketball programs as figured by Ryan Brewer of Indiana University-Purdue University-Columbus. Last year’s report placed the Gophers 10th in the nation and third in the Big Ten with a worth of $87.9 million. The Gophers didn’t make the top 10 this year, but Brewer said in an e-mail that the Gophers came in at No. 12 this year with a valuation of $114.76 million.
• Minnesota native Tom Lehman has played in eight events this year on the Champions Tour and has earned $390,590. Lehman also toured the Children’s of Alabama hospital earlier this month before the Regions Tradition tournament with former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
• Connor Mayes, a center from Van Alstyne, Texas, who recently committed to the Gophers, has been selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which will be played on Jan. 4 in San Antonio.
• Twins President David St. Peter reported the club and Major League Baseball expect to unveil the 2014 All Star Game logo sometime in August. Tickets will be sold in three-event strips, including the Futures Game, the workout day/Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game itself. Twins season-ticket holders will be given priority.