Scoggins: Sifting through subterfuge is the fun of the NFL draft

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2012 - 6:34 AM

With the top two picks all but made, the Vikings now become the focal point at No. 3. Will they play it safe or gamble?

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The Vikings need a left tackle. Southern California’s Matt Kalil (right) is considered the best left tackle in the draft. So does that mean he’ll wear purple? We’ll have to wait and see.

Photo: Bret Hartman, Associated Press

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The NFL draft is still more than a week away, but the Vikings, for all intents and purposes, are on the clock. Actually, they have been for a while now.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are so assured of being selected Nos. 1 and 2 overall that they might as well fill out change-of-address forms and start checking out real estate listings in Indianapolis and Washington.

The Vikings hold the No. 3 pick and, with time to kill, speculation will run rampant about their intentions until they officially submit their choice on April 26. The safe bet remains that they'll take Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil, a wonderful talent at a position of dire need for the Vikings. Draft experts refer to him as a "safe" pick, which makes this a no-brainer for Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman, right?

Yes, but that's no fun and certainly not in the spirit of draft protocol, which mandates subterfuge, misinformation dissemination and -- truth be told -- blatant lies. Besides, who tips their hand in poker?

We're not talking about the kind of lying that Bobby Petrino endorses. Nothing sinister or anything like that. It's more a white lie, a wink-wink fib meant to keep people guessing and possibly inflate trade value.

That's why people refer to this part of the NFL calendar as the "silly season." Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish fact from fiction as rumors are floated on a daily basis. It's the time of year when private meetings and pro day workouts qualify as big news. At least for a day or two.

Unfortunately, the process occasionally results in underhanded tactics by individuals who take things too far. Exhibit A: Someone leaked to media outlets that LSU's Morris Claiborne, the top-rated cornerback, scored a remarkably low 4 on his Wonderlic, even though results of the aptitude test are supposed to remain confidential. The person(s) responsible presumably covets Claiborne and hopes to scare off teams, which ultimately will be a failed experiment because his score won't hurt Claiborne's draft status one iota.

That kind of speculation is what makes the draft so compelling to so many people. It combines pro football and gossip. What's more popular than that? Sure, the rumor-mongering and microanalysis are maddening at times, but the draft has become another ingenious creation by the NFL to keep its product on the front burner year-round.

The opinion here is that Kalil should be the Vikings' pick based purely on rationale. They have a glaring hole at that spot and Kalil is the top left tackle in the draft, a prospect many talent evaluators believe can be a decade-long fixture at a critically important position. If Christian Ponder is indeed their long-term answer at quarterback, they better find someone to protect his blind side long term. Plus, top-shelf left tackles aren't exactly available by the bushel.

The Vikings certainly have other pressing needs, a fact revealed throughout their 3-13 season. Wide receiver and cornerback headline that list, and Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and LSU's Claiborne are worthy options who'd look good in Purple.

Those two also provide the Vikings some leverage in trade talks, along with Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the latest example of a prospect whose stock skyrocketed in draft buildup. Reports already have surfaced suggesting Spielman is willing to trade down for the right price.

Perhaps a quarterback-starved team -- Miami? -- loves Tannehill enough to forfeit a ransom to swap picks with the Vikings. Maybe a team desperately wants Claiborne or Blackmon and is willing to offer a bounty to get him. It's up to Spielman to measure the desperation level of others before making his move.

Maybe Spielman and Co. already know who they're taking. Maybe they don't, even if that seems a little hard to believe. Either way, it serves no real purpose to declare their intentions now. Anticipation is half the fun.

The draft creates a similar effect as recruiting in college that way, only magnified tenfold. Fans love what they don't yet have and are enamored by the idea of something new and improved. Like a kid poring over a Christmas catalog filled with toys, the possibilities seem so cool. Those feelings are even more pronounced after a nightmarish season like the Vikings just endured.

The Vikings would rather not pick so high, of course, because of what it took to get there. But since they are, they'd better take advantage of it, which means they should select Kalil, a home run choice at No. 3. Don't overthink it or get too aggressive trying to accumulate more picks by trading down.

Sometimes the safe pick is also the best pick. Not even a smokescreen can cloud that.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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