I realize NFL teams would never purposely tank for improved draft position – at least not overtly. However, as far as the Vikings are concerned it would behoove them to stop winning in order to assure themselves the highest draft pick possible.
In an article by Jeff Goodman in the current ESPN The Magazine, an anonymous NBA general manager told him: "Our team isn't good enough to win and we know it. So this season we want to develop and evaluate our young players; let them learn from their mistakes -- and get us in position to grab a great player. The best way for us to do that is to lose a lot of games. This draft is loaded. There are potential All-Stars at the top, maybe even franchise changers. Sometimes my job is to understand the value of losing."
Why is it pretty much acceptable for NBA teams to tank while it's taboo for NFL teams to do so?
Of course, given how they've been playing and the daunting schedule that lies ahead, the Vikings should stay the course. Just keep doing what they're doing and the losses will come.
Exactly two years ago to the day in this little VikesCentric corner of the Interweb I proclaimed the Vikings' season a lost cause and began a modest "Reel for Kalil" movement. As they are now, the Vikes were 1-6 at that time and ranked high in the projected draft order. At that point they appeared out of the "Suck for (Andrew) Luck" sweepstakes, with several really bad teams also in contention. Therefore, I suggested the Purple ought to be targeting a cornerstone left tackle such as Matt Kalil in the NFL Draft.
The proverbial crystal ball was working well that day.
Assuming the Vikings go winless or close to it the rest of the way, they're going to be picking at or near the top of the draft. In order to get the No. 1 overall pick, they'll need some help. To that end, Vikings fans imploring them to tank should simultaneously be rooting for the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) to win one or two games at some point.
If the season ended today, the Vikings would be picking third behind the Jaguars and Buccaneers. At the third spot they would be in position to draft a blue chip quarterback, which should absolutely be their focus. The possibility exists that none of the three quarterbacks currently on the Vikings' roster will be on their roster again next season. The likelihood exists that only one of them will be. It's no secret: quarterback is the biggest of their many needs.
Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Marcus Mariota of Oregon are the two top-ranked quarterbacks as of right now by notable Draftniks Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN. Both should be in the Vikings' crosshairs. Both Kiper and McShay (and many others) rank freakish defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina just ahead of Bridgewater and Mariota on their overall board. They could very well be the top-three players selected (in some order). It should be pointed out, however, that both the Jaguars and Buccaneers will also likely be in the market for a quarterback.
Fortunately for those seeking a quarterback in next year's draft, it appears to be a very deep class if certain underclassmen declare their eligibility. Brett Hundley of UCLA could also go among the top-10 picks. And then there's this kid going to school at Texas A&M you might have heard of: Johnny Manziel. The jury is still out on where Johnny Football might land on Draft Day. He began the season as possibly a Day 2 pick, but is now looking more like top of the second round or even a first round selection. There's no consensus on the most polarizing player in college sports.
Which of these guys should the Vikings target?
The "Tank for Teddy" bandwagon is filling fast, but the word on the street is that the Vikings are eyeballing Mariota. Unfortunately, I don't have a clever rhyme or alliteration for the Mariota campaign. I'd love to hear some suggestions.
Looking six months ahead, the possible scenarios are numerous. What if the Buccaneers and Jaguars lose out and grab Bridgewater and Mariota with the first two picks? There would almost certainly be a team willing to trade up with the Vikings for the chance to take Clowney… again, assuming the Draft order remains the same as it is today. Should the Vikings attempt to trade up and assure themselves of getting Mariota or Bridgewater? Should they trade down a few spots, let someone else take Clowney, and grab Hundley for themselves?
Or how about this zany scenario: stay at No. 3 and take Clowney and then trade back up into the the first round to take Manziel. Taking the two highest-profile players in the upcoming draft would create a huge buzz and an onslaught of media attention. It would certainly sell tickets.
It could also hasten the Vikings' rebuilding process.
Listen, the Vikings need help at positions other than quarterback. The defense has holes all over the place and could lose some linemen in free agency. By all accounts Clowney is a game-changing end capable of electrifying a defense. Why not grab him and then take Johnny Football? It would definitely be a gamble. Bridgewater, Mariota and Hundley all feel like safer picks and the Vikings simply can't afford any more misfires in finding a quarterback. They have to get it right this time.
Manziel is an absolute wildcard. There are many (probably many reading this) who believe he has little shot of succeeding in the NFL. There are even more who detest his off-the-field partying and other assorted shenanigans.
I get that I'm on the unpopular side of this, but I think Manziel has a shot – a good shot -- of becoming a quality NFL quarterback. To those who say he's too small, I'd point out he's listed as 6-1, 210. Yes, that probably means he's closer to 6-0, 205. Drew Brees is generously listed at 6-0, 209. Russell Wilson is 5-11, 206. Small is a problem if you don't have tremendous talent. Brees and Wilson do. So does Manziel.
I'm a Manziel believer. His ability to extend plays with his legs is unmatched. His ability to lead and single-handedly will an offense into the end zone is uncanny. His arm is bigger and more accurate than you think. He makes the smart play more often than you think. He's not just a gunslinger and he doesn't lock in on primary receivers.
We might as well kick-start the discussion now, Vikings fans. Who do you want to see your team take in the NFL Draft? Bridgewater? Mariota? Hundley? Is anyone willing to join me on my wacky, improbable Clowney and Manziel bandwagon? Any other options you'd rather see?
Or should they just tank in 2014 as well and take FSU's Jameis Winston in 2015? He's already being called "the next Andrew Luck."
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell
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