VikesCentric is written by Twin Cities football writers Bo Mitchell and Patrick Donnelly of SportsData, and Ted Carlson of TST Media. They are Twin Cities-based Vikings and NFL experts who crunch numbers, watch video and tell you what's on their minds.

Posts about NFL draft

VikesCentric: Two holes plugged within three hours

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 27, 2012 - 11:00 AM

The Minnesota Vikings filled two of the most glaring holes in their starting lineup within a span of three hours Thursday night, selecting USC left tackle Matt Kalil and Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with a pair of first-round selections.

 
It was a crazy and entertaining evening for die-hard NFL fans, and it went by quickly despite the eight draft day trades and slower-than-necessary start.
 
And by slower-than-necessary start I mean: why wasn't Andrew Luck already standing on the stage as Commissioner Roger Goodell opened the draft? Everyone knew Luck and Robert Griffin III were the first two picks, so why waste everyone's time? Why wait for Luck to take a call on his 2004 flip phone and talk to what could only have been every member of the Colts' front office?
 
Unnecessary.
 
Put him next to the commish, let them exchange a bear hug, give him a hat and jersey, snap a few thousand photos and move on. The action-packed first round could have come in under three hours had the parties involved not felt the need to milk the moment. But milking the moment year-round is one of the things the NFL does best. Fans just can't get enough of it and the NFL knows it.
 
Nevertheless, Vikings' fans had to appreciate every moment of last night's three-hour tour since their team came away with one of the best hauls.
 
A shrewd pre-draft trade by general manager Rick Spielman sent the Vikings' third overall pick to the Cleveland Browns for their fourth overall pick plus their selections in the fourth (118th pick), fifth (139th pick) and seventh (211th pick) rounds. The result: the Vikes got the left tackle they would have taken at three plus an additional three assets for Day 3 of the proceedings, bringing their total number of picks to 13 in the seven rounds.
 
Trading back up to grab Smith – a smart, versatile defender that looks like the future quarterback of this secondary -- with the 29th overall pick sealed the deal on what has the look of the most successful Vikings' first round since Adrian Peterson fell into their laps in 2007.
 
Well played, Mr. Spielman.
 
The Vikings' braintrust is receiving universal praise for their craftiness and quality selections on Thursday, and I suspect Spielman isn't done wheeling and dealing.
 
Of course grading any team immediately following the draft – much less following one round of the draft – is silly. Yes, the Vikings have to like what happened Thursday and they are in position to fill even more holes in their roster over the course of the next six rounds, but let's wait two or three years before we hand out grades.
 
All of these first-round picks are destined to be Pro Bowlers in the eyes of those who drafted them and their adoring fans, but if history is any indicator only a third of them will be.
 
I did some digging for SportsData last week and found that over the past decade, 319 players were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft (the Patriots didn't have a pick in 2008 because of "SpyGate") and only 98 of them (31 percent) have made even one Pro Bowl. Just 55 (17 percent) have made multiple Pro Bowls.
 
What did the numbers say about players selected at Kalil and Smith's positions? Just eight of the 39 offensive tackles selected in the last 10 first rounds of the NFL Draft have been to a Pro Bowl while nine of the 16 safeties picked in the last 10 first rounds have made the trip to Honolulu.
 
Notwithstanding the fact that the NFL may soon do the wise thing and eliminate future Pro Bowls, there is no guarantee the Vikings' two "can't-miss" picks will turn out to be Pro-Bowl caliber players.
 
For now, at least they look like two new starters, and that's good news for Vikings fans because there were a lot of holes that needed filling on this team.
 
 
Bo Mitchell is the Vice President of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Do the Vikings have the assets to get back into Round 2?

Posted by: Updated: April 27, 2012 - 9:43 AM
After trading back into the late first round to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith on Thursdy night, the Vikings no longer own a second round pick. That could make tonight's NFL Draft action relatively boring for fans of the Purple, unless the team can find a way to move back into the second round. Here's a look at whether they have enough assets to make that happen if they see a player they covet.
 
The Vikings still own 10 remaining picks, as follows: Round 3, pick 3  [66th overall - i.e. 3.3 (66)], 4.23 (118), 4.33 (128), 4.39 (134), 5.3 (138), 5.4 (139), 6.5 (175), 7.3 (210), 7.4 (211), 7.16 (223). Picks 128 and 134 cannot be traded because they were compensatory picks awarded to the Vikings by the NFL.
 
Using last year's draft as a guide, it's going to be tough for the Vikings to get too far up in Round 2 without their own No. 2 as a bargaining chip. 
 
In 2011, the 49ers acquired the 36th overall pick from the Broncos, and it cost them a lot; three picks, including the 45th overall pick, a fourth-rounder, and a fifth-rounder. Later in Round 2, it cost the Colts a fifth-rounder and their own second-rounder just to move up four spots in the middle of Round 2. Perhaps the most realistic example involved the Patriots, who traded their own 2nd-rounder (No. 60 overall) to the Texans for Houston's early third and fourth-round selections.
 
So, without their own second-round pick to barter with, it looks unlikely that the Vikings will be able to get into the early portion of the second round (unless they're willing to talk about trading future second- or third-round picks). However, with their own early third and fourth-round picks, it's feasible that they could move into the latter half of the round if a player they want is still available.
 
And if they do, look for the Patriots to be involved. After uncharacteristically moving up two different times in the first round on Thursday night, the Pats have only two picks left in the entire draft, and both are second-rounders (2-16 and 2-30). The Patriots have made an art form out of trading down and stockpiling picks, so it wouldn't be surprising at all if Bill Belichick is looking to trade at least one of his two second-rounders in exchange for multiple picks later in the draft. It won't be cheap, though. As mentioned above, the Pats squeezed early picks in rounds three and four from the Texans for the 30th pick in the second round. The Vikings could conceivably make a similar deal for New England's 2-30 pick with their own 3.3 pick and perhaps 4.23 and a sixth or seventh-rounder, but getting all the way up into the middle of the second round might not be an attainable goal.
 
On a side note, for years NFL general managers used a trade value chart that assigned a value to each pick in the draft, and made trading picks a matter of pure mathematics. The trade value chart was based on the old, pre-lockout NFL economic environment. After last year's collective bargaining agreement implemented a rookie wage scale for each pick in the draft, the value chart is essentially obsolete. For the sake of argument, though, if we use the old value chart to analyze the potential of trading into Round 2, New England's 2.16 pick was worth 420 points, while the Vikings' 3.3 pick is worth only 255, with their own fourth, fifth, and sixth-round picks being worth a combined total of just 122 points. That essentially means that even if the Vikes were willing to trade all of their remaining tradable draft picks, they still wouldn't have enough "value" to get to the middle of Round 2.
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is also a contributing writer at Vikings.com and a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
Follow Christian on Twitter: @CP_ChristianP

Trading down would be ideal

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: April 26, 2012 - 9:15 AM

As company spokesmen, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have done a nice job of drumming up interest among possible suitors for the third overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. By publicly declaring the Vikings' interest in left tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon – three top talents at positions of Vikings need – they have turned up the heat on trade talks.

 
At a minimum, their pitch is plausible.
 
It's not like they've announced serious interest in Trent Richardson, this year's top running back on the board. Nobody would believe that of a team that currently has the NFL's highest-paid running back on their roster, regardless of the surgically-repaired ACL in Adrian Peterson's knee.
 
Despite the purple smokescreen what's clear is that the Vikings' primary goal is to trade down rather than choose between Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon. They've said repeatedly that the pick is available and it makes sense for them to move back. By doing so, they could acquire more draft picks, and still net a very good player in round one. In fact they might still get Kalil if they don't trade down too far.
 
The Vikings' interest in Blackmon feels the most like a smokescreen. Blackmon has the ability to be a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but he's not in the same class as recent elite prospects such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. The third overall pick is a little too high for him. It's one thing to reach a little for a player in the third or fourth round. You can't do that with the No. 3 overall pick.
 
As local NFL Draft guru Shawn Zobel points out in his 2012 Draft Preview, this draft class is loaded with wide receivers that can be had in latter rounds. "With 40+ [wide receivers] that could make valid arguments as to why they should be drafted, it's hard not to wonder if it'd also be smart to wait on a receiver this year," Zobel points out. "And when you consider that there will be potentially second-to-third round value in the fourth-or-fifth round this year, I'd expect some teams to hesitate when considering drafting a wideout early."
 
With all that receiver help available, the Vikings could easily grab a pretty good one in the second, third, or fourth round.
 
At No. 3, talent is clearly still the most important factor. The old adage of taking the "best player available" may be trite, but it's smart. That said, basing draft day decisions purely on talent could lead a team with the third pick to take the aforementioned Richardson – a running back whom many are calling the most complete back to come out of college since Peterson in 2007.
 
That's why the best player available approach has to be mixed with at least some consideration of need and position scarcity – how deep the talent pool is at a given position. The Vikings don't need Richardson at all – or at least not nearly as much as they need a left tackle, shut-down corner, or wide receiver… or linebacker or safety for that matter.
 
If the Vikings are unable to find a suitable dance partner in round one, they will have to stay put. That's not a bad thing. They'd still have their choice of Kalil and Claiborne at that point: two players who meet both the criteria of elite value and desperate need. Neither would be a reach.
 
Of the two, Kalil is the more attractive based on position scarcity. This is shaping up to be a very good draft for cornerbacks and not so deep for tackles. Thus, the Vikings could still nab a good corner later in the draft if they miss out on Claiborne in round one.
 
The market for the Vikings' pick has heated up. The Buffalo Bills are reportedly inquiring about moving up from No. 10 to get Kalil and the New York Jets really want to move up from 16 to get Richardson. The Buccaneers at No. 5 really like Richardson and Claiborne. When the clock starts ticking down, my guess is the Vikes will find a way to trade back and collect more picks to help fill their long list of needs.
 
Prediction: if they stay put at No. 3, Claiborne will be wearing purple. If they trade back, Claiborne will be snapped up ahead of them and the Vikings will try to land Kalili or the draft's other top left tackle, Riley Reiff. With the extra picks, they should still have enough assets left to go get a quality wide receiver and cornerback in the second and third rounds on Friday.
 
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 
You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: Reel for Kalil

Posted by: Bo Mitchell Updated: October 29, 2011 - 2:05 PM
With their beloved team sitting at 1-6, most Vikings fans have already begun looking ahead with an eye toward re-tooling the roster in the offseason, specifically via next year's draft. That's why Vikings fans should be sure to tune in tonight for the nationally-televised college football game between the Stanford Cardinal and USC Trojans – but not for the reason you might think.
 
No, this has nothing to do with the "Suck for Luck" campaign, which is currently all the rage in the markets with the worst NFL teams. I don't think the Vikings are going to suck badly enough to land the No. 1 pick (i.e. Stanford's once-in-a-generation quarterback Andrew Luck) with such horrible teams as the Dolphins, Colts, and Rams currently ahead of them in line.
 
While you can certainly feel free to enjoy watching Luck play quarterback tonight (ABC at 7 p.m. CT), the player Vikings fans should be scouting instead is USC left tackle Matt Kalil.
 
Yeah, I know, scouting an offensive lineman isn't nearly as sexy as scouting a quarterback, but I'm trying to be both realistic and optimistic on behalf of Vikings fans. The Vikes will still have to be pretty bad to have a chance of drafting Kalil because by all accounts he is the best offensive line prospect in this year's draft. And it's not particularly close.
 
The name should sound familiar. His older brother Ryan is a Pro Bowl center for the team the Vikings will play Sunday, the Carolina Panthers. Ryan was a second-round pick of the Panthers in 2007 and has been to the Pro Bowl twice since then. He currently snaps the ball to Cam Newton, who was the top overall pick in this past spring's draft.
 
And while I fully expect Luck to be a better quarterback than Newton (yes, he's that good), those in the know fully expect younger brother Matt to be better than big brother Ryan. That's saying a lot.
 
Indeed, Matt Kalil will be a highly-coveted pick in the draft next spring according to nationally-recognized NFL Draft expert Shawn Zobel, who I spoke with today before sitting down to pound out this blog entry.  On Shawn's web site, DraftHeadquarters.com, he calls Kalil a "top-five overall prospect."
 
I asked Shawn for more details, and here's what he told me:
 
"Kalil is as polished of an offensive tackle prospect as we've seen enter the draft in the past five years. He's on the level of where Jake Long and Joe Thomas were when they were coming out of Michigan and Wisconsin, respectively. Kalil offers a terrific combination of size, strength, and athleticism for an offensive lineman. He projects as a franchise left tackle capable of protecting the blind side of his quarterback for the next 10-15 years."
 
Does that sound like someone the Vikings and their fans might have some interest in? I know Christian Ponder's answer.
 
In order to turn their ship around, the Vikings are going to need at least three of the four basic building blocks of most successful NFL teams. Most importantly, they need a very good quarterback… which they hope they will eventually have in Ponder. I'm not breaking any news in suggesting the NFL is a quarterback-driven league.
 
Secondly, they need an end or outside linebacker to pressure the quarterback, which they clearly have in NFL sack leader Jared Allen. Another basic building block is a very good cover corner or even shut-down corner (of whom there are very few in the world -- none on the Vikings' current roster).
 
And lastly they need a stalwart, lights-out left tackle to protect that quarterback. That's Kalil.
 
Drafting Kalil would absolutely give the Vikings a building block. It would lock down one of the five most important positions on their team for the next decade.
 
So forget about "sucking for Luck," Vikings fans. If your team wins only a few more games this season they will be in pretty good position to add Kalil to their team in the draft. He's the guy Vikings fans should be eyeballing. He's the player Vikings fans should be campaigning for. Should we call it the "Reel for Kalil" or the "Keel for Kalil" campaign? I'm not sure which I like better, so I'll as VikesCentric nation to chime in below with the slogan they like best.
 
Share your comments below. "Keel for Kalil" or "Reel for Kalil"? Or something else I'm not clever enough to have thought of?
 
Bo Mitchell is VP of content at SportsData and co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.
 

You can follow Bo on Twitter at @Bo_Mitchell

VikesCentric: The woeful secondary

Posted by: Updated: October 25, 2011 - 3:40 PM

There is absolutely no guarantee that Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield would have made a lick of difference against the shockingly efficient Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the absence of the Vikings’ top two defensive backs exposed just how painfully weak the Vikings’ secondary really is.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin is a mere shell of the player he was prior to blowing out his knee (the first time) in the 2009 NFC Championship game. He’s lost at least one step per ACL surgery (two in total), appears to be completely devoid of confidence, and should no longer be considered a starting-caliber player. Problem is, the Vikings don’t have anybody better.

I can’t think of (or find evidence of) anything that Asher Allen does that’s better than your average street free agent. Safety Husain Abdullah has been the culprit on two separate back-breaking touchdown bombs in the last two weeks alone. The other Week 7 starting safety, Tyrell Johnson, was, until Sunday, playing behind a former seventh-round draft pick who isn’t very good either (Jamarca Sanford).

Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the porous secondary is that the Vikings have attempted to address the situation via the NFL Draft repeatedly. They just haven’t done a very good job.

Dating back to 2006 (Griffin in Round 2), the Vikings have burned five picks within the first three rounds on defensive backs.

Tough to blame anything but bad luck on Griffin, who was developing into both a sound tackler and an excellent cover corner just before the fateful overtime kickoff in the 2009 title game on which he blew out his knee for the first time.

But after that, it gets ugly. Third-rounder Marcus McCauley (2007) started nine games in his rookie season before being benched and then released after the 2008 season, then playing in one game for the Lions in 2009 before his brief career came to a merciful end.

In 2008, Tyrell Johnson was chosen in Round 2. Johnson started seven games in his rookie season and 15 games in 2009 before being benched in favor of mega-bust Madieu Williams and the undrafted Abdullah in 2010 and losing a training camp battle to Sanford this year. For the record, Pro Football Focus (PFF) grades Abdullah as the 74th-“best” safety in the NFL (out of 90 that have earned a grade by PFF’s game charters) this year in terms of pass coverage. Sanford (82nd) and Johnson (85th) are even worse.

Allen, a third-rounder in 2009, was burned repeatedly when forced into action in the place of an incarcerated Cook on Sunday. According to PFF, Rodgers threw Allen’s way 10 times, completing nine of them for 108 yards. Of the 98 cornerbacks that have been ranked by PFF this season, only five have graded out worse than Allen in pass coverage.

Which brings us to Cook, the 2010 second-rounder (after trading out of Round 1) who has garnered attention far more for his off-the-field antics than anything he’s done on it. In fairness to Cook, he’s actually been playing very well this season. He’s been used to shadow elite receivers from Vincent Jackson to Calvin Johnson and held up remarkably well. According to Pro Football Focus, Cook has allowed 60% of the passes thrown in his direction to be completed, but he’s done a very good job limiting the damage to just 187 total yards and one touchdown in just over four games.

Then again, judging character is just as important as judging skill, and the early returns indicate that the team may not be able to depend on Cook, no matter how well he plays when he's in uniform, in the short or long-term.

The absence of Winfield really can’t be overstated here. He’s been PFF’s No. 1-ranked cornerback twice in the last four years (and hasn’t dropped out of the top 12 in the same span), and despite getting older and becoming increasingly injury-prone, the secondary is completely different when he’s not on the field.

With a healthy Winfield and an unjailed Cook, things wouldn’t look quite so dire, but the safety situation is nothing short of disastrous, and both the unbearable lack of talent at safety and the lack of depth at cornerback is directly traceable to the inability of the front office to land NFL-caliber starters in the draft, despite using high picks in an attempt to do so.

Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com, the 2011 Maple Street Press Vikings Annual, and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

VikesCentric: If not now, when?

Posted by: Updated: October 4, 2011 - 3:53 PM

I’m sure the Vikings can see what everyone else can see. They aren’t going to make the playoffs this year. There are too many holes on the roster – from defensive back to the offensive line to the obvious problem at quarterback – and at 0-4 with two 4-0 teams in the same division, the season is effectively over.

You can’t possibly expect the coach or organization to admit that, though, which is exactly what they’d be doing by inserting Christian Ponder over Donovan McNabb right now. No rational organization would send such a signal after just four games, no matter how deflating the four losses have been. The only way a team can pull that off is by admitting that they’re rebuilding right from the start. Had the Vikings opted not to acquire McNabb and instead said right from the get-go that they were going to sacrifice the season in favor of developing Ponder for the future, that’s something you can at least attempt to sell to the public.

Once the Vikes brought in McNabb and trotted him out as the starter in Week 1, they were declaring their intentions. They weren’t the Bengals or the Panthers – teams that could afford to start their own rookie quarterbacks coming off of a long history of futility (not to mention, it’s a different story if you’re Carolina and your rookie quarterback is the No. 1 overall pick in the draft). They weren’t even the Jaguars, who announced their intentions loud and clear when they canned veteran signal-caller David Garrard on the eve of the season with the obvious intention of playing rookie Blaine Gabbert sooner rather than later.

The fans in Cincy and Jacksonville are used to losing. They’re ready to be sold on the future, even if it means there’s no hope for this year. The Bengals can be excited (well, not that excited, but we’ll get to that in a bit) about watching Andy Dalton and A.J. Green with no expectations other than seeing some sign that there’s hope for the future.

But the Vikings are only one full season removed from the NFC Championship game. It’s a lot tougher to sell a rebuilding effort when you were on the cusp of the Super Bowl less than two calendar years ago. Or when you’re paying millions of dollars to a couple of high-priced defensive stars (Jared Allen and Kevin Williams) in the prime of their careers. Or when you’re trying to sign two of your young building blocks (Chad Greenway and Adrian Peterson) to mega-contracts before they walk away to less purple pastures. And if you can’t sell a rebuilding effort to your own locker room, it’s an even tougher sell to the fans. This wasn’t a rebuilding year to the tens of thousands of season ticket holders who renewed their seats after last year’s wasted season. It wasn’t a rebuilding year the day single-game tickets went on sale. It wasn’t even a rebuilding year the day they picked Ponder in the first round of the NFL Draft.

And it’s not a rebuilding year now, either. Not publicly. Just four games in, the Vikes just aren’t at a point where they can admit their mistake and look to 2012. Not yet. Not when there are tickets to sell for the next home game. Just ask Leslie Frazier. Or, ask the Bengals. Bengals fans in the immediate Cincinnati area are so excited about the “hope” being sold by Dalton and Green that they haven’t seen their squad play on TV since the middle of last year. Turns out, hope is a tough sell, as they’ve now failed to sell out their last six consecutive home games.

As of last Tuesday, the Vikings were 6,500 seats shy of a sellout for this week’s game. I get the sense the insertion of Ponder would actually be a short-term boost from a PR perspective, even if it’s a long-term hit when the team inevitably continues to lose. A cynic might say the Vikings must be close to selling out this week’s game already and that they don’t need the Ponder PR boost this week.  Perhaps the team is keeping that bullet in the chamber with the expectation that they'll need it in mid-November, the next time they’ll be in danger of a home non-sellout (the only home game between Arizona and November 20 against the Raiders is the always-sold-out Packers on October 23).

And who knows, perhaps by November 20 the McNabb-led squad will have engineered an unlikely about-face with four consecutive wins over the Cardinals at home, the Bears on the road, Green Bay at home, and Carolina on the road. Actually, nevermind. But even so, November 20 is still the next-most likely date for Ponder’s unveiling. Even at 0-5, you wouldn’t throw him to the wolves at Chicago next week or at home against the Packers the week after that (remember, cynics, you don't need to sell tickets to that game). October 30 at Carolina is a possibility, but the Week 9 bye sure would be handy from a preparatory standpoint to start giving Ponder first-team reps in practice. And asking a rookie to debut on Monday night on the road against the Super Bowl champs in Week 11 is just asking for disaster.

That brings us to November 20, at home against the Raiders. Realistically, at that point the Vikings are 2-7, maybe 3-6 if they catch a few breaks, and with very little chance of selling out against an annually non-contending AFC team. And then, with hope undeniably lost for 2011, it will be time to start selling hope in the future.

 

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