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 Vikings draft

VikesCentric: Looking at the NFL's worst vertical passing attack

Posted by: Ted Carlson Updated: December 1, 2012 - 11:59 AM

Every Vikings fan knows that our passing attack is far, far removed from the "Three Deep" days. It's a rare Sunday that we see Christian Ponder unleashing the type of long pass that makes you shift to the edge of your seat in anticipation of a big gain.

We could argue in circles about the reasons behind the lack of explosive plays in the Vikings passing attack - Ponder's downfield inaccuracy vs. a lack of speedy receivers vs. a lack of receivers who can't catch vs. Bill Musgrave's playbook, which seems to include only one or two routes that go beyond 15 yards. It's a combination of all of the above, which have led to these number: 9.6 and 20.

The Vikings are averaging an NFL-low 9.59 yards per reception.

Who is ranked 31st? The Arizona Cardinals sit at 10.54. Yes, an offense that has seen their quarterback carousel turn to Kevin Kolb, John Skelton, and Ryan Lindley manages nearly one full yard per catch more than the Vikings.

The Vikings have completed an NFL-low 20 completions of 20-plus yards.

The Bears (27) and Chiefs (27) are tied for 30th, and it would take a miracle for the Purple to catch them at this point. The 2009 Browns (25) were the last team to finish a full season with fewer than 30 completions of 20-plus yards.

When we stack that 9.6 yards-per-reception average against recent history, we find only four teams who've been more pathetic in the past decade - the 2009 St. Louis Rams (9.5), the 2008 Cincinnati Bengals (8.8), the 2006 Houston Texans (9.2), and the 2003 Detroit Lions (9.4). Let's look briefly look back at those four offenses, where they were, and how they reacted:

The 2003 Lions were led by second-year quarterback Joey Harrington, whose top pass-catchers were running back Shawn Bryson, slot man Az-Zahir Hakim, tight end Mikhael Ricks, and fullback Cory Schlesinger. They were hurt by another Charles Rogers injury (five games played) and a steep fade in production by Bill Schroeder. With the seventh overall pick in the 2004 draft, the Lions selected Texas wide receiver Roy Williams. They also added speedy running back Kevin Jones with the 30th overall pick and signed wide receiver Tai Streets.

The 2006 Texans featured fifth-year starter David Carr, who completed 103 passes to Andre Johnson and 57 passes to aged veteran Eric Moulds. Rookie tight end Owen Daniels (34 catches) was a minor factor, as was Kevin Walter (17 catches). In the 2007 offseason, the Texans ditched Carr and Moulds, made a huge trade with the Falcons to land Matt Schaub, signed speedster Andre Davis, and drafted deep threat Jacoby Jones in the third round.

The 2008 Bengals lost Carson Palmer to an elbow injury after four games and turned the keys over to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was a relatively untested commodity at the time. Chad Johnson punctuated a terrible offseason by changing his last name in August, pouting, playing terribly, and finishing with 53 receptions for 540 yards over 13 games. T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught 92 passes but traveled a mere 904 yards. The Bengals had already prepared for the future by selecting Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell in the 2008 draft, but in the 2009 offseason, they also ditched Housh in favor of Laveranues Coles while praying for Palmer's elbow to heal.

The 2009 Rams opened the season with Marc Bulger under center and eventually also used Kyle Boller (four starts) and Keith Null (four starts). Steven Jackson (51) led the team in receptions, followed by raw speedster Donnie Avery (47), rookie Danny Amendola (43), rookie Brandon Gibson (34), and Randy McMichael (34). With the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the Rams took quarterback Sam Bradford. They also traded for Mark Clayton and Laurent Robinson, selected three pass-catchers in the later rounds of the draft, and gave a shot to undrafted rookie Danario Alexander.

So, what's the lesson here? The Vikings aren't going to cure their lack of a vertical passing game over this final month, but fans can expect Rick Spielman to look far and wide for speedy and big-bodied additions to join Ponder, Percy Harvin, and Kyle Rudolph in the passing attack. We can anticipate waving goodbye to Jerome Simpson, Michael Jenkins, and Devin Aromashodu next offseason, and none of us should shed too many tears.

Some fans are already obsessed with the thought of going over Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, or Dwayne Bowe. I'll leave that discussion for this upcoming offseason, but while we're all dreaming about upgrading this passing attack, it's time to get acquainted with  youngsters the Vikings may be looking at with their first-round pick (currently No. 20).

Currently, there's not a clear-cut, top-10 wide receiver in the 2013 draft class. The college player who best fits that profile - USC's Marquise Lee - is only a sophomore. But the Vikings could be in position to go after Keenan Allen (Cal), Justin Hunter (Tennessee), Terrance Williams (Baylor), Robert Woods (USC), or DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Tavon Austin (West Virginia) is also in the first-round discussion, but the 5-9, 175-pound speedster isn't the ideal option for a team with Harvin and Jarius Wright.

Rather than ruin my holidays by praying for Simpson to turn into the threat we all hoped he would be, I plan to spend my December dreaming about who might help out this passing attack next year. I suggest my fellow Vikings fans do the same because our current lot of wideouts are what they are and complaining about them will just lead to high blood pressure.

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

The smokescreen and Matt Kalil

Posted by: Updated: April 26, 2012 - 9:43 AM
No matter what the Vikings do with their No. 1 pick on Thursday night, you have to hand it to General Manager Rick Spielman. He's put on a clinic on how to convince the world that the Vikings won't make the obvious pick with the third selection of the first round. 
 
Make no mistake, Kalil is, and always has been, the consensus third-best player in the draft, and he plays a position of dire need for the Vikings. Like it or not, the future of the franchise is inexorably tied to the success or failure of quarterback Christian Ponder. And the best way to allow Ponder to succeed is to protect him. 
 
Of course, there are other needs. But neither the secondary nor the wide receiving corps is as shaky as the offensive line. At cornerback, the Vikings have brought in several serviceable players in free agency and will get both Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back on the field. While Cook, Winfield, Chris Carr, and Zack Bowman aren't exactly causing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, or Jay Cutler to lose any sleep and adding a potential shutdown corner like LSU's Morris Claiborne would be nice, the secondary simply isn't as much of a need as is the offensive line.
 
Justin Blackmon sure looks like an explosive player, and just the kind of dynamic receiver that could make Ponder's job a heckuva lot easier. Adding Blackmon to group of receivers that includes Percy Harvin, two capable pass-catching tight ends, and high-risk, high-reward free agent Jerome Simpson would be one way of helping Ponder reach his potential.
 
But Ponder won't be able to find Blackmon open deep downfield if he's flat on his back (or in the training room). And that's what's going to happen if his blind side continues to be "protected" by Charlie Johnson, who graded out as one of the worst blindside blockers in the NFL last year. Adding Kalil to the mix not only solidifies the ultra-important left tackle position, it simultaneously fills what is, as of this moment, a glaring hole at left guard. Johnson is much more capable of filling that position, so adding Kalil would fix two problems with one player.
 
My final point on why Kalil should be the pick: If the Vikings don't get Kalil, there won't be any legitimate, start-from-day-one caliber offensive tackles available to them in the second round. Most would agree there indeed will be wide receivers and/or cornerbacks capable of starting immediately with that early second-rounder. Put another way, the opportunity cost of passing on Kalil is significantly greater than the cost of passing on a corner or a wideout.
 
It's the rarest of rare circumstances; the best player available to the Vikings at No. 3 just so happens to play the position of greatest need for the team. Unless the Vikings scouts have seen weaknesses in Kalil's game that nobody else has, he's the pick at No. 3.
 
But the world now thinks otherwise, thanks to a brilliant job of subterfuge by Spielman and whoever it is within the Vikings brain trust that leaks information to certain media members. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN have had Kalil going to the Vikings at No. 3 since the draft order was established months ago... until today, when both of their most recently published mock drafts list Claiborne as the Vikings' pick. McShay and Kiper aren't alone, as numerous media outlets (including my esteemed VikesCentric colleague Bo Mitchell in his well-penned post about trading out of the No. 3 pick) have seemingly come to the conclusion that Spielman isn't bluffing, and that Claiborne will win out over Kalil if the team stands pat with the third pick.
 
What changed? Nothing, other than Spielman himself coming out last week and saying that the Vikings had equal grades on Kalil, Claiborne, and Blackmon. Then, on Tuesday, he announced that the Vikings are open to trading the No. 3 pick, and that he's already received several "nibbles" from other teams interested in trading up. After two carefully placed public proclamations by the man people should be least likely to believe, and probably in part due to the pressure on media members to provide new and interesting takes on information they've been regurgitating over and over again for weeks, we've all been convinced that Spielman doesn't want Kalil.
 
Which, of course, is the whole point of the smokescreen. Creating uncertainty about who the Vikings are targeting at No. 3, and convincing the world that they'd be perfectly content to trade down, is the only way of creating a market for the No. 3 pick. And the market is heating up. Already on Thursday morning, published reports have indicated both the Bucs (at No. 5) and the Bills (at No. 10) are seriously considering making a run at the Vikings' pick. Whether the Vikings pull the trigger or not, the interest in their pick - and the public's belief that they're not going to take the obvious player and instead would be content with any of several different players - can be traced back to Spielman and his deft pre-draft machinations.
 
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 at @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: What's the greatest area of need?

Posted by: Updated: December 1, 2011 - 3:44 PM

 It’s a sad commentary that the Vikings will head into the offseason with so many glaring areas of need that it’s necessary to determine which of them is the greatest, but that’s the situation for this team. In no particular order, it’s not difficult to ascertain that the Vikes need serious help all over the secondary, on the offensive line, and at wide receiver. In my estimation, those are the three areas of greatest need. With what’s shaping up to be a top-5 (if not top-3) pick in next year’s draft, the Purple will be in a great spot to immediately address one of those three areas; let’s take an early peek at each and start to map out a plan for the offseason, which can’t come soon enough at this point.

Wide Receiver
With Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson, the Vikings already possess two of the most dynamic offensive weapons in the NFL, but with Harvin best-suited for a multi-dimensional role out of the slot and occasionally the backfield and Peterson obviously being a running back, the team lacks a dynamic talent that can stretch defenses on the perimeter. The now-injured Michael Jenkins is not fast enough or talented enough to serve in that role. Devin Aromashodu has proven he’s not the answer, and nobody else on the current roster has any chance of becoming the answer. 
 
With a top-5 pick, the Vikings would probably be in position to grab the top-ranked college wideout – Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State. Graded by most draftnicks as a top-5, game-changing talent, Blackmon has been described as being better than Dez Bryant, his predecessor as the top dog wide receiver at Oklahoma State. But wide receivers are generally much easier to find late in the draft. ESPN’s Todd McShay gives first-round grades two three other wideouts, in fact, including former Cretin Derham Hall star Michael Floyd, who could conceivably still be available at the top of the second round. Furthermore, there are a number of intriguing wide receivers that could become free agents after this season. From a long list that includes Vincent Jackson, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Mario Manningham, Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Lloyd, Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston, the Vikings would be able to address this position via free agency if they so desire. Some of those names may re-sign before they ever hit free agency, but on first blush it appears plenty of wide receiver talent will be available on the open market.
 
Offensive Line
First, the bad news. Charlie Johnson is most definitely not the answer at left tackle. Steve Hutchinson is getting older and less effective right before our eyes, and while he’s still slightly better than average at his position, the Vikings won’t be getting full value if they opt to continue to pay him his $6.7 million salary in 2012. Overall, the Vikings line has been just short of disastrous this season. Football Outsiders ranks the Vikes 15th in run blocking and dead last in pass blocking. Pro Football Focus is more optimistic – ranking Minnesota’s offensive line the #1 line in all of football in the running game, but 24th in pass protection.
 
John Sullivan has developed into a very good center this season, but he’s set to be a free agent and could command a huge pay raise to keep him on board. Given the state of the rest of their line, I’d expect the Vikings to sign him to a long-term deal. Right guard is not a position of strength, but it could be worse. While giving Anthony Herrera a long-term contract extension has proven to be the wrong move, veteran Joe Berger has proven surprisingly effective as his backup this season. It wouldn’t be a total disaster to bring both players back next year.  At right tackle, Phil Loadholt has shown talent at times, but remains maddeningly inconsistent. If you assume the team re-signs Sullivan and that Loadholt, who’s still young and promising, is safe at right tackle, it’s possible the team could have three new starters along the line.
 
If the Vikes land a top-2 draft pick, they’d be foolish not to take USC tackle Matt Kalil. He’s head-and-shoulders above any other offensive lineman in the draft and could step in at left tackle immediately. And since it’s very difficult to address that position in free agency (the best left tackles are so valuable they are almost always locked up with lucrative deals by whatever team drafted them), grabbing an anchor for Christian Ponder’s blind side for the next 8-10 years makes all the sense in the world. But if they’re not in the top-2, it’s not so clear cut. The other top-rated offensive linemen are Jonathan Martin of Stanford and Riley Reiff of Iowa, neither of whom project as stars. If Kalil is off the board, it may not be worth reaching for Martin or Reiff.
 
In the end, you can get by for another year with Hutchinson, Sullivan (if he re-signs), Herrera/Berger, and Loadholt, assuming you do something to upgrade at left tackle. It’s not a perfect situation by any means, but it’s not a total trainwreck either.
 
The Secondary
In my mind, this is the greatest area of need. Wide receiver can be addressed in other ways – either later in the draft or in free agency. The offensive line is a weak spot, but it’s not as if Ponder is being pummeled on every single play, and if indeed the team does bring back four of the five players along that line, consistency and familiarity is a huge aspect of good line play. But the secondary is a total and complete disaster from top to bottom.
 
The Vikes can’t possibly be depending on Chris Cook, who showed glimpses of promise prior to his off-the-field incident that has de-railed his entire career. Even if he stays off the police blotter, there’s no guarantee that he’ll turn into a consistent NFL performer. Antoine Winfield simply can’t be counted on to stay healthy any longer. He’s due $7 million in 2012, which is an awfully steep price to pay for five or six games. It’s possible they could move him to safety, but it’s also possible the Vikes will decide $7 million is too much to pay for him. Cedric Griffin and Asher Allen are both awful, and shouldn’t be retained. Neither is capable of being a starter in the NFL. At safety, I’m told the team likes Husain Abdullah. While I personally don’t see it, he’s probably still locked in as a starter in 2012, assuming Minnesota signs him (he played 2011 on a one-year, $1.8 million deal). Assuming Abdullah returns, that leaves gaping holes at three of the four secondary positions, and absolutely no depth whatsoever. 
 
Using the draft to eliminate one of the three open spots would be a wise move. While using a top-5 pick on a defensive back might seem high, most of the best corner backs in the NFL today were high draft picks. Among them are Darrelle Revis (14th overall in 2007), Nnamdi Asomugha (31st pick in 2003), Carlos Rogers (9th overall in 2005), Johnathan Joseph (24th pick in 2006), and Joe Haden (7th pick in 2010), while others like Champ Bailey (7th overall in 1999) and Charles Woodson (4th selection in 1998) have proven that elite, shutdown corners can also have long and productive careers. 
 
As luck would have it, the top of this year’s draft appears to be well-stocked with elite-level corner backs. At the top of most lists is LSU corner Morris Claiborne, ranked as high as the third-best player in the entire draft (by ESPN’s Todd McShay – ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranks Claiborne fifth). Others include Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard.
 
Given that the team must replace as many as four starters in their secondary (three if you assume Abdullah returns, two if you have the misguided belief that either Chris Cook or Antoine Winfield can stay on the field for any length of time), it’s the greatest area of need going into 2012 unless something unforeseen happens over the final five games of this season. 
 
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com and is a contributor to Vikings.com and the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on Saturday Mornings on KFAN 100.3 FM.

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