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Continued: The main question: 'Is he a good football player?'

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 25, 2012 - 11:29 AM

During a break from yet another marathon draft planning summit, Vikings assistant general manager George Paton sat down, vigorously rubbed his right eye and sighed.

Paton admitted the always exciting yet seemingly endless draft preparation was producing its share of exhaustion, the evaluations of so many college players suddenly blurring together.

All that analysis, all this discussion. It was forcing everyone involved in the process to seek stimulation.

Red Bull. Coffee. Chewing tobacco. Something always within reach.

"Anything that's a legal vice, we've pretty much conquered," Paton said. "We've probably gone through a couple of cases of Red Bull in the last week alone."

In a nearby conference room, the Vikings' draft board was taking shape, a cluttered matrix of magnets that enabled the front office and coaching staff to discuss prospects in-depth while simultaneously assessing team needs.

"The excitement piece of all this is having the chance to finalize 11 months worth of work that you piecemeal together," said Scott Studwell, the Vikings director of college scouting. "You finally get to look at a picture of your draft and the football players you covet."

With 10 picks this week, including seven in the top 140, the Vikings have plenty of currency to aid their rebuilding efforts. And while their selections will be finalized Thursday, Friday and Saturday, those final draft meetings held earlier this month provided an invaluable cram session to grade and rank every player.

At a conference table in his office, General Manager Rick Spielman opened a thick, three-ring binder labeled "Offense" to provide a quick glimpse into the detailed analysis put together on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, the likely No. 1 pick but worth studying nonetheless.

The package included two photographs of Luck with his official measurements from the scouting combine.

After that: a statistical report plus a football biography plus pertinent medical information plus eight different scouting reports compiled by Vikings scouts and coaches. In addition, there was a character assessment, relevant background information and psychological testing results mixed in.

That's a full year study compressed into a five- or six-page report. By draft night, Spielman says he will further condense that onto one large index card.

And yes, at this stage each player has been so hyper-scrutinized that it's easy to believe there's not a single player left who can play a lick.

"Paralysis by analysis," Paton confirmed. "We shoot a lot of holes in kids. It's probably some overkill. But the biggest thing you have to guard against is second-guessing yourself. You don't want to talk yourself out of guys rather than talking yourself into them."

Added Studwell: "With all the pieces of information you pull together with a player's character and background and mentality, the biggest question by far is this: Is he a good football player? Is he a productive football player? There's a tendency for that to get lost in the equation. You have to make sure you always come back to that."

With all that in mind, here are five players the Vikings have drafted since 2007 with behind-the-scenes explanations for why they did so:

THE GREAT HOPE: CHRISTIAN PONDER

Selected: First round, 12th overall (2011)

Draft debate: With the elbow injury and concussion that hindered Ponder during his senior year at Florida State, was there evidence he could become a franchise quarterback?

Why the Vikings were sold: They loved what they saw on tape from Ponder during the 2009 season, impressed by his accuracy, arm strength and ability to progress through reads quickly. They loved what they saw at the Senior Bowl in January 2011, where Ponder wound up as MVP, continuing to show his athleticism and an ability to buy second chances.

But the lightbulb went on for good during a visit that a group of Vikings officials -- Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson -- made to Tallahassee, Fla. Ponder's maturity, confidence and intelligence in discussing offensive concepts won the Vikings over.

"He was the only one who could go through our entire offense without taking a note," Spielman said. "It was almost surreal. He didn't have to take notes but yet could regurgitate everything back to us."

Now: Ponder, inconsistent as a rookie, still will be given every opportunity to reward the Vikings' faith, needing to show significant improvement during his second season and hoping to traverse the bridge that takes him from believing he can be a consistent NFL standout to proving he is one.

THE CALCULATED RISK: PERCY HARVIN

Selected: First round, 22nd overall (2009)

Draft debate: How in the world could a top 10-caliber talent slide into the 20s?

Why the Vikings were sold: There were many reasons to be scared away. Harvin had a reputation for being temperamental and had several marijuana-related transgressions, including a failed drug test at the 2009 combine. Questions also loomed about his size and durability. In all, 20 teams passed on him in the first round, including Detroit twice.

The Vikings? They went into draft day with one thought. Said Spielman: "You're patient. You don't let anybody see you sweat. But internally we were all thinking, 'Please drop to us!' "

The Vikings had sent coach Brad Childress to Florida shortly before the draft to visit with the dynamic receiver. Childress was asked to determine if Harvin was a "Vikings fit" on all levels.

"There were concerns," Studwell said. "If anyone tells you differently, they're lying. But at the end of the day, we felt like it was manageable and everybody signed off on it. We felt like we could bring Percy in and get him to conform to what we would ask him to do."

Ultimately, Harvin's talent was too good to pass up.

"We all talked to people we knew in the Florida program, coaches we knew," Paton said. "And the main thing is everyone said he's a guy you want on your football team. That's what we do. We play football. And this guy loves to play football."

Now: Harvin is coming off his best NFL season, having caught 87 passes for 967 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. He is a huge part of the Vikings' plans. "There have been a few bumps in the road," Studwell said. "And they're probably always will be with Percy. But we're OK handling those."

MEASURABLE MISS: MARCUS McCAULEY

Selected: Third round, 72nd overall (2007)

Draft debate: When a player looks the part, how much value do you place on that?

Why the Vikings were sold: They measure height and weight and speed, strength and agility at the NFL combine. And truth be told, the Vikings looked at McCauley and thought they saw worlds of potential. He was 6-1, 200 pounds. He had blazing speed and was fluid.

"He fit the prototype for what a standout corner is in our league," Spielman said. "Plain and simple."

Alas, the combine has no definitive tests for passion and ambition.

Now: McCauley started nine games as a rookie and played in 26 contests over his two seasons in Minnesota. But the Vikings cut him at the end of training camp in 2009, and he never has been able to stick elsewhere. So what went wrong? The Vikings didn't trust their instincts enough, falling in love with the flashes of brilliance they saw on tape coupled with McCauley's impressive size, speed and athleticism.

But the promising corner didn't have the passion to fuel an emergence.

"That was certainly a big piece of it," Studwell said. "The mentality, the toughness, the competitiveness, the grit. He just didn't have it."

In some ways, it was the cautionary tale of falling too deeply in love with a combine performance without more closely examining what's below the surface.

"You can see when you interview guys and when you go through this process, guys who have that fire in their eyes and love what they do," Spielman said. "That needs to be there."

LATE-ROUND LUCK: JOHN SULLIVAN

Selected: Sixth round, 187th overall (2008)

Draft debate: Did Sullivan's intelligence and work ethic give him a chance to be a serviceable backup?

Why the Vikings were sold: To be frank, the Vikings commemorated the Sullivan selection with an indifferent shrug not a fist pump. The Notre Dame center seemed a bit undersized, a little slow. At the combine, he managed only 21 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. So how did he wind up with the Vikings? Said Studwell: "There is value in every pick. And there's value in every round."

At pick No. 187, the Vikings pegged Sullivan as a likely reserve. They liked what they saw of him at the Senior Bowl and were impressed by his intangibles during the interview process, when Sullivan diagrammed and discussed plays on the whiteboard with remarkable intelligence.

"Now was he going to be ready right off the bat? No," Spielman said. "But because he has smarts, because he has passion for the game, because he's going to fit what our coaches want from a scheme standpoint, we felt comfortable taking a chance. Those kinds of guys, in some capacity, can help you win football games."

Now: Sullivan has become a Spielman favorite, an impact starting center whom the organization rewarded in December with a five-year, $25 million contract extension. "He was a pleasant surprise from the day we got him," Studwell said. "We got lucky."

RESOLUTE ROLE PLAYER: MISTRAL RAYMOND

Selected: Sixth round, 170th overall (2011)

Draft debate: Could Raymond's mental toughness fuel his promise?

Why the Vikings were sold: A cornerback during his senior season at South Florida, Raymond also had the versatility to play safety. Yes, there were notable concerns with his fluidity and thin frame. But in getting to know Raymond during the pre-draft process, the Vikings fell in love with his character, deeply admiring the resolve he had shown through some galling personal tragedy.

Raymond had persevered through a horrific incident in which his mother's house was firebombed and his sister was shot seven times. He endured again after his mom died from a lung illness. He pressed on after his half-sister died. And he turned himself into an NFL prospect even after beginning his college career at a small junior college in Iowa because no programs had recruited him.

During a visit to Winter Park last spring, Raymond sat in Frazier's office and emanated positive energy.

"Learning about him as a person gave us an idea that this guy could overcome odds," Frazier said. "And in pro football, that's a big part of succeeding. When things aren't right, how are you going to deal with it? I just felt like if this guy got an opportunity, he would make the most of it."

Now: Raymond played sparingly on defense as a rookie, seeing his most extensive action in the final month after the secondary had been gutted. But the Vikings have no depth at safety right now and are banking on Raymond taking a big step forward in 2012.

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Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 35 FINAL
Arizona 6
Denver 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 108 FINAL
Toronto 118
Memphis 91 FINAL
Cleveland 105
Boston 84 FINAL
Miami 100
Detroit 105 FINAL
Brooklyn 110
LA Lakers 101 FINAL
Sacramento 108
Philadelphia 96 FINAL
Orlando 88
Phoenix 104 FINAL
Washington 92
Indiana 100 FINAL
Minnesota 96
New Orleans 101 FINAL
Oklahoma City 99
Colorado 2 FINAL(SO)
Detroit 1
Dallas 6 FINAL(SO)
Edmonton 5
Buffalo 3 FINAL(OT)
Boston 4
Carolina 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 1
Toronto 0 FINAL
Chicago 4
Philadelphia 4 FINAL(OT)
Winnipeg 3
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 69 FINAL
Army 72
Ferris State 82 FINAL
Bowling Green 68
San Francisco 65 FINAL
Cleveland State 69
Oregon State 52 FINAL
Quinnipiac 60
Coastal Carolina 72 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Canisius 67
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
Georgia State 68
Western Carolina 66 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 62
Creighton 58 FINAL
North Texas 62
Maryland 73 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
Cornell 61 FINAL
Radford 74
Vermont 55 FINAL
Saint Louis 58
Loyola-Maryland 52 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Reinhardt 72 FINAL
Winthrop 100
Ark-Little Rock 46 FINAL
Green Bay 66
TX-Pan American 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 77
Alabama State 63 FINAL
Evansville 81
FIU 69 FINAL
Hartford 82
Goshen 55 FINAL
Valparaiso 82
Bryant 48 FINAL
Denver 46
Austin Peay 63 FINAL
Lipscomb 69
Tennessee St 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
South Dakota 67 FINAL
Montana 62
ULM 50 FINAL
Samford 64
Coker 52 FINAL
South Carolina 78
USC 75 FINAL
Boston College 71
Northern Ariz 66 FINAL
Hampton 75
SD Christian 61 FINAL
San Diego 71
UC Irvine 55 FINAL
Bradley 47
Troy 65 FINAL
Nicholls 64
Seton Hall 47 FINAL
Georgia 65
Appalachian St 59 FINAL
Alabama 60
North Dakota St 52 FINAL
Kent State 53
San Jose St 53 FINAL
Washington St 82
Alcorn State 45 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 78
Sacramento St 47 FINAL
Seattle 66
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Cal-Irvine 55 FINAL
Denver 63
St Marys-CA 52 FINAL
George Washington 70
TX-San Antonio 49 FINAL
Nicholls 57
Portland State 71 FINAL
Columbia 66
Tenn Tech 62 FINAL
Morgan State 56
SMU 43 FINAL
Auburn 56
Quinnipiac 70 FINAL
Hartford 58
Hofstra 75 FINAL
Boston College 61
Eastern Washington 55 FINAL
Georgia Southern 42
Liberty 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 84
Fairleigh Dickinson 74 FINAL
Brown 79
Buffalo 73 FINAL
Long Island 79
Bucknell 74 FINAL
Mount St Marys 49
Stony Brook 70 FINAL
Wagner 76
FIU 83 FINAL
Wofford 75
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Providence 67
Maine 54 FINAL
William & Mary 51
Alabama State 43 FINAL
Samford 56
TX-Pan American 43 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 64
South Dakota St 64 FINAL
Marist 82
Saint Josephs 50 FINAL
(5) Notre Dame 64
Radford 60 FINAL
Virginia Tech 73
(3) Texas 67 FINAL
(4) Texas A&M 65
Rhode Island 60 FINAL
Bryant 56
South Florida 90 FINAL
Penn State 87
Sam Houston St 55 FINAL
TCU 79
Evansville 50 FINAL
IUPUI 62
(14) Maryland 110 FINAL
Coppin State 51
Mercer 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 72
NC A&T 43 FINAL
Chattanooga 58
Princeton 84 FINAL
Monmouth 53
Eastern Illinois 69 FINAL
Lehigh 72
Rider 67 FINAL
Binghamton 72
SC State 57 FINAL
Clemson 66
Fairfield 63 FINAL
Iowa State 76
Richmond 70 FINAL
Eastern Kentucky 56
Cleveland State 80 FINAL
Morehead St 72
Kent State 62 FINAL
Colgate 61
South Alabama 43 FINAL
UAB 73
Saint Peters 35 FINAL
Navy 71
Youngstown St 52 FINAL
Pittsburgh 78
NJIT 50 FINAL
Lafayette 66
Davidson 51 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Indiana State 73 FINAL
St Johns 67
Southern U 49 FINAL
Florida 78
Wright State 46 FINAL
Purdue 70
(19) Oklahoma St 66 FINAL
USC 62
Houston 54 FINAL
Texas Tech 60
Ark-Little Rock 66 FINAL
Tulsa 59
Dayton 71 FINAL
Vanderbilt 67
Northern Ariz 37 FINAL
New Mexico 56
UNC-Asheville 60 FINAL
USC Upstate 67
North Dakota 81 FINAL
South Dakota 86
Western Ill 57 FINAL
Marquette 65
Elon 67 FINAL
(6) North Carolina 85
Ball State 59 FINAL
Western Ky 84
(8) Kentucky 68 FINAL
(13) Duke 89
New Orleans 58 FINAL
Alabama 87
Chicago State 47 FINAL
Milwaukee 69
Bowling Green 61 FINAL
Bradley 47
Ill-Springfield 56 FINAL
SE Missouri St 73
Northern Ill 42 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
(23) Iowa 100 FINAL
Drake 98
Central Michigan 64 FINAL
Minnesota 67
Western Carolina 45 FINAL
North Florida 62
Wyoming 71 FINAL
Colorado 76
Portland 58 FINAL
Boise State 94
Cal Poly 63 FINAL
Colorado State 65
No Dakota State 54 FINAL
Grand Canyon 69
Albany 71 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 49
Oklahoma 64 FINAL
Arkansas 71
Idaho State 63 FINAL
Seattle 55
(18) Michigan State 89 FINAL
(19) Syracuse 76
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Arizona State 88
TX-Arlington 46 FINAL
North Texas 38
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Oregon 59
St Francis-PA 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 72
UNLV 71 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 74
UCLA 50 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 86
(10) Louisville 70 FINAL
(24) California 57
Howard 53 FINAL
Virginia 74
Miami-Ohio 42 FINAL
(21) Miss State 68
Illinois-Chicago 55 FINAL
Old Dominion 61
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