Matt Vensel is in his first year at the Star Tribune after covering the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun for six years. He is a Pittsburgh native and a Penn State grad. Follow him at @mattvensel.


Mark Craig has covered the NFL for 23 years, and the Vikings since 2003 for the Star Tribune. He is one of 44 Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors. Follow him at @markcraignfl.


Master Tesfatsion is the Star Tribune’s digital Vikings writer. He is a 2013 graduate of Arizona State and worked for mlb.com before arriving in Minneapolis. Follow him at @masterstrib.


Justin Blackmon as a Viking? There's a lot worth considering

Posted by: under Vikings, Bears, NFL draft, Leslie Frazier, Vikings fans, Adrian Peterson, Leslie Frazier, Percy Harvin, Vikings draft Updated: January 3, 2012 - 9:41 AM

The Vikings’ season ended Sunday with a 17-13 loss to the Bears. And head coach Leslie Frazier will address the media today for a postmortem on a campaign that included 13 losses in 16 games. Frazier’s thoughts on how to overhaul his roster and coaching staff will carry great intrigue. Yet it’s also safe to acknowledge that many Vikings fans are already fast-forwarding to April 26. That’s the night the 2012 NFL Draft will begin. And this year, the Vikings own the No. 3 pick, in position to land a major difference-maker.

Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon perhaps?
 
On Monday night, Blackmon put on an absolute show in Glendale, Ariz., recording eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns and leading his Cowboys to a 41-38 overtime win over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Go ahead and use the bright red stamp to affix three words to Blackmon’s scouting report: “The Real Deal.” He’s big. He’s strong. He has great body control, intelligence and runs crisp routes. Above all else, the kid makes plays. Over and over and over again.
 
But now come the big questions that may take the next three-and-a-half months to sort out. For starters, will Blackmon be available when the Vikings go on the clock with the third pick? Or will the St. Louis Rams nab him at No. 2, hoping to give promising but, to date, unproven quarterback Sam Bradford a playmaker to sling the ball out to?
 
And what if the Rams were to trade their No. 2 pick to a team interested in Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Vikings have the choice between Blackmon or Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil? What then?
 
This is where the Vikings’ 3-13 faceplant this season presents a bit of a conundrum. After all, they have so many holes to address at so many positions – in the secondary, on the offensive line, at receiver – that it’s hard to know which to prioritize first.
 
Here are a half-dozen things to consider when weighing the possibility of Blackmon coming to the Twin Cities:
 
1) Perhaps no receiving corps in the NFL was as ordinary as the Vikings’ this season. Even with Percy Harvin’s impressive breakthrough in the season's second half – Harvin had 56 catches for 633 yards with six touchdowns in the final eight games – the Vikings lacked that true home run hitter that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night. Among the receivers, Michael Jenkins finished second on the team in catches (38) and yards (466), developed solid rapport with quarterback Christian Ponder and should be a reliable role player going forward. But he’s never going to be an NFL game-changer. Neither is Devin Aromashodu, now a free agent, but too inconsistent after six seasons in the league to forecast future greatness. After all, Aromashodu may have tallied 11 catches for 224 yards in his three best games this season. But in the other 13 contests? Try 15 catches for 244 yards. Simply put: Ponder and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave would love to add another big play threat to the equation that will keep defenses from attacking so much. Blackmon would be a nice fit.
 
2) Blackmon’s production speaks for itself. The kid will turn 22 next week. And in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State he averaged 9.3 catches and 132 yards over 25 games. With 38 touchdowns mixed in. There are few worries that Blackmon’s skills won’t translate over to the NFL. And quite simply, this is a playmaker’s league.
 
3) The first week of March will be interesting. This year, a handful of big-name free agent receivers could be available to pluck. Included on that list: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, New Orleans' Marques Colston and Philadelphia’s DeSean Jackson. So if the Vikings play their cards right, they could have their receiving corps bolstered long before draft night, free then to turn to other areas of need.
 
4) There’s also a thought process that says marquee receivers can be found all throughout the draft. Here, for example, is a look at the top 12 receivers in the NFL this season and where they were selected.
  • Calvin Johnson – selected second overall in 2007
  • Wes Welker – undrafted in 2004
  • Victor Cruz – undrafted in 2010
  • Larry Fitzgerald – selected third overall in 2004
  • Steve Smith – selected 74th  overall in 2001
  • Roddy White – selected 27th overall in 2005
  • Jordy Nelson – selected 36th overall in 2008
  • Brandon Marshall – selected 119th overall in 2006
  • Mike Wallace – selected 84th overall in 2009
  • Hakeem Nicks – selected 29th  overall in 2009
  • Dwayne Bowe – selected 23rd overall in 2007
  • Marques Colston – selected 252nd overall in 2006
For those counting, that’s five first-rounders out of 12. Draw your own conclusions for what that signifies.
 
5) So perhaps it would serve the Vikings better to start first with bolstering their offensive line. On Sunday, they finished a season in which they allowed 49 sacks (sixth worst in the NFL). And that total would have most certainly spiked if Joe Webb wasn’t so darn elusive after pressure has gotten to him. This is where Kalil and Stanford offensive tackle Jonathan Martin will enter the conversation. Drafting an offensive lineman never does shake the excitement meter among fans. But it’s hard to underestimate the value of reliable protection. Let’s not forget, Ponder was unable to finish three of his final four starts this season due to injuries. And a quick look at the six tackles that were selected to the Pro Bowl this season show that four of them were first-round picks, three of them going in the top four.
 
Kalil? He’s a big-time force up front. Quick. Intelligent. Impressive as a pass blocker and run blocker. Given a Kalil vs. Blackmon dilemma, the Vikings might have to prioritize the front line. But that would be a good problem to have. Martin? He’s not quite on the level of Kalil and might not be dynamic enough for the Vikings to pass on Blackmon.
 
6) Finally there’s Harvin, who, as we mentioned, was incredible after the bye, proving once and for all that he can be an every week game-changer if featured properly. Sure, he’s not a traditional vertical threat and tends to get beat up a lot as a season goes on. But with the hope that Adrian Peterson can still be a major factor in the running game and internal optimism that tight end Kyle Rudolph is ready for a sophomore breakthrough, the Vikings may not need another offensive playmaker as much as they need that help on the offensive line and additional aid to rebuild the secondary.
 
In the coming months, we’ll all have plenty of time to dissect the Vikings’ needs and sort through what their priorities should be when draft night arrives. The Rams, of course, are the wild card in all of this. Head coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney were both fired Monday, leaving St. Louis to rebuild their power structure. From there, the Rams will have to determine their own draft priorities, which will have the obvious ripple effect on the Vikings.

 

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