Vikings' safest bet is to pick USC's Kalil

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 26, 2012 - 11:09 AM

Maybe history will repeat itself, when the team took Ron Yary in 1968 and he starred for over a decade.

The Vikings drafted Southern California tackle Ron Yary with the first pick in the 1968 draft, and he went on to play right tackle for the team from 1968 to '81. That should encourage Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman to take Southern California tackle Matt Kalil with the third pick in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft.

How did the Vikings get Yary? The Vikings sent Fran Tarkenton to the Giants in 1967 and got the Giants' bonus pick, which they had picked up as compensation resulting from the AFL-NFL merger, when the Giants accepted the Jets as a New York entry in the merged league.

Like Yary, Kalil is at or near the top of the list of available college prospects by most of the 32 teams in the league.

On top of this, the Vikings have lost three starting offensive linemen in the past year: left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was cut by the Vikings in the summer of 2011 and started last year for the Ravens, and guards Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, who were released in March.

Spielman said the Vikings have the same high grade on three players who they could select in the draft -- Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon.

D-back history

The Vikings have drafted a defensive back in the first round only twice in team history: USC's Joey Browner was selected No. 19 overall in 1983 and North Carolina State's Dewayne Washington was selected No. 18 overall in 1994.

In the past six years, the Vikings have used three second-round picks on defensive backs. Only one remains with the team.

Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson was selected 43rd overall in the 2008 draft. The Vikings moved up four draft spots -- swapping a fourth-round pick for a fifth-round pick in a deal with Philadelphia -- specifically to get Johnson.

After the draft, Spielman explained the rationale in moving up to get Johnson: "He is a unique player. When it got within striking distance, we felt we had to go up and get him. ... He was too good of a football player to sit there and wait."

Johnson started 22 games over his first two seasons, recording 88 tackles and two interceptions. But in 2010 and '11, he appeared in only 18 games, making 35 tackles with no interceptions. He signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this month.

The Vikings selected Texas cornerback Cedric Griffin in the second round of the 2006 draft, at No. 48 overall. Griffin had a successful start to his career and signed a five-year contract extension worth $28.5 million in 2009. But he tore the ACL in his left knee during the NFC Championship Game against the Saints following the 2009 season, then tore the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 of the 2010 season.

He was released by the Vikings in March and signed a one-year contract worth $2.5 million with the Redskins six days later.

Chris Cook, who remains with the team, was a cornerback from Virginia selected 34th overall in the 2010 draft. Cook had his 2011 season derailed by domestic assault charges, but even prior to that, his career had been a bit of a mess because of injuries. He appeared in only 12 games over his first two seasons, recording 41 tackles and no interceptions.

Upon his return from watching Clairborne, Spielman said he had never seen a better college cornerback.

And even though Spielman said he ranks Blackmon in the same class as Kalil and Claiborne, I can't believe the Vikings would take a receiver third. They might pick one only if they made a trade and Kalil and Claiborne were gone when they picked after the deal.

I'm not trying to be critical of Spielman, who has done a great job drafting for the Vikings, for considering three options on the table for the No. 3 pick. But I believe it's a better gamble to take an offensive tackle such as Kalil.

U to play outdoors

Tony McGinnis, associate athletic director at the University of Minnesota, reported Wednesday that the Gophers men's hockey team will play Wisconsin as a part of a doubleheader outdoors at Chicago's Soldier Field on Feb. 17. Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) probably will play in the other game.

Because the game originally was scheduled as a Badgers home game, the Gophers would not make big money but will get expenses and some type of payment.

Jottings

• Jimmy Williams, who sued the University of Minnesota after he claimed he was hired by the Gophers as an assistant men's basketball coach and quit his job at Oklahoma State only to not get the position, said the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear the case May 3. Williams won the first two cases and was awarded $1 million. He is currently coaching at Memphis.

• Maurice Walker, the Gophers basketball sophomore forward who played only 12 games his freshman year and was a redshirt this past season after knee surgery and didn't play at all, recently suffered a foot injury and will miss summer practice for four weeks, but he should be healthy when the season starts.

• Andy Seeley, who has been an associate director of athletic communications at Minnesota for football since coming here from Utah in 2008, was offered the assistant athletic director position at Central Florida on Wednesday after being interviewed earlier this week. The football coach at Central Florida is George O'Leary, a Vikings assistant coach under Mike Tice from 2002 to '04.

• Credit Vikings director of player personnel George Paton for signing Florida International basketball player Nick Taylor as a free-agent receiver in March. Spielman reported Paton was in Florida scouting and "there was a basketball player down there that ran real fast and did some things that caught [your attention] from an athletic standpoint. We ended up signing him as a free agent. ... If we can go out there and dig some guys up, you don't lose anything."

• Alan Anderson, the former DeLaSalle basketball star who has played with several NBA teams, is now a member of the Toronto Raptors, who signed him last month.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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