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.
Just think, five weeks from today we’ll all have the Vikings’ final answer. Is general manager Rick Spielman really considering passing on Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil with the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft?
He couldn’t be, could he?
After all, listen to the draft experts and it’s very clear Kalil is as close to a can’t-miss tackle as you’ll ever find in the draft. He’s big. He’s explosive. He has quick feet and uses his hands well.
On top of that, the Vikings have asserted that they would like to reinforce their offensive line to protect developing young quarterback Christian Ponder. And what could be better than securing a smart, athletic, strong beast up front to ink into the starting lineup for, oh, the next 10-12 years?
Yep, on the surface it sure seems like A+B=You’re-out-of-your-darn-mind-if-you-pass-on-Kalil.
Yet Spielman insists he will seriously look at the other side of this coin as well. At the combine last month, he wondered aloud whether championship teams truly require a star left tackle to excel or whether they can still succeed with a functional player there if the offense has real difference makers at the skills positions.
It’s a fair question to consider. And after Spielman began that debate, we looked into it a little deeper by analyzing the starting left tackles for the 12 playoff teams in 2011, uncovering evidence that it’s by no means necessary to spend a high draft pick on the position in order to win.
Now, as stories continue to surface that Spielman and the Vikings could opt to use that No. 3 pick to address a different position -- LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne is in the conversation and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon should be too – we’re providing another set of data that’s worth considering. For those teams who do use top 10 picks on offensive linemen, what kinds of dividends to they usually see? Here’s a quick look at the 23 offensive tackles taken in the top 10 over the past 20 drafts.
The figures might surprise you. Of those 23 tackles, only four posted winning records overall during their stays with the teams that drafted them.
The two best left tackles taken in the past five years? Joe Thomas and Jake Long have been Pro Bowlers since the day they entered the league. Yet they’ve also been on teams with a combined .410 winning percentage and zero playoff wins in their nine seasons combined.
Have a look around at our display. Think it over. Discuss.
We’ve still got another five weeks to analyze the pros and cons of taking Kalil.
Drafted: No. 8 by Atlanta
Team’s record while he was there: 82-109-1
Longevity: Whitfield played in Atlanta for 12 years, starting all 16 games in nine of those seasons. He lasted 15 years in the NFL, playing 220 career games.
Postseason success with Atlanta: Whitfield was a starter on the 1998 Falcons team that upset the Vikings in the NFC Championship game to reach the Super Bowl. But Atlanta made the playoffs only two other times during his stay there.
Drafted: No. 10 by Seattle
Team’s record while he was there: 22-42
Longevity: Roberts played 127 games during his NFL career with 116 starts. After four seasons in Seattle, he played his final five years for the Lions.
Postseason success with Seattle: The Seahawks did not make the playoffs during Roberts’ four seasons there.
Drafted: No. 8 by New Orleans
Team’s record while he was there: 57-87
Longevity: Roaf enjoyed a Hall of Fame career during his 13 seasons in the league, reaching the Pro Bowl 11 times. After nine years in New Orleans, he finished his career in Kansas City.
Postseason success with New Orleans: Roaf played in exactly two playoff games with the Saints – a 31-28 win over the Rams in 2000 followed by a 34-16 loss to the Vikings in the division round the following week.
Drafted: No. 2 by Jacksonville
Team’s record while he was there: 62-50
Longevity: Boselli played 91 games over seven seasons for the Jaguars and was an All-Pro for three consecutive years from 1997-99. He was selected in the 2002 expansion draft by the Texans but never played a game for Houston.
Postseason success: Boselli helped the Jaguars make the playoffs for four consecutive years from 1996-99. Jacksonville advanced to the AFC Championship game in 1996 but lost to New England.
Drafted: No. 10 by Cincinnati
Team’s record while he was there: 76-116
Longevity: Anderson was sturdy for 13 seasons, the first 12 with the Bengals. He played 195 career games and started 184 of them. He went to the Pro Bowl four times.
Postseason success: During Anderson’s 12 seasons in Cincinnati, the Bengals played one playoff game, a 31-17 loss to Pittsburgh after the 2005 season.
Drafted: No. 1 by St. Louis
Team’s record while he was there: 92-100
Longevity: Pace played 12 seasons with the Rams and finished his career with a one-season stint in Chicago. He made 165 starts in his 169 career games and made the Pro Bowl in seven consecutive seasons (1999-2005).
Postseason success: The Rams made the postseason five times and went 7-4 in playoff games during Pace’s tenure there. He was the anchor of an offensive line that helped St. Louis win Super Bowl XXXIV. The Rams also made it to Super Bowl XXXVI.
Drafted: No. 6 by Seattle
Team’s record while he was there: 102-90
Longevity: Jones played his entire 12-year career with the Seahawks and started 180 games. He made the Pro Bowl in nine of his final 10 seasons.
Postseason success: Seattle made the playoffs six times and won four postseason games, including two victories following the ’05 season that sent the Seahawks onto the Super Bowl.
Drafted: No. 3 by Washington
Team’s record while he was there: 70-90
Longevity: Samuels lasted 10 years and played in 141 games for the Redskins. He made the Pro Bowl six times.
Postseason success with team that drafted him: The Redskins made the playoffs in 2005 and ’07 but one only one postseason game and never reached the conference championship game during Samuels’ time there.
Drafted: No. 4 by Buffalo
Team’s record while he was there: 28-36
Longevity: Williams lasted four years with the Bills then spent one season each in Jacksonville and Washington.
Postseason success with Buffalo: The Bills did not reach the postseason while he was there.
Drafted: No. 7 by the Vikings
Team’s record while he was there: 74-70
Longevity: In nine years with the Vikings, McKinnie made 131 starts and was a mainstay up front. He made the Pro Bowl in 2009. After being released last summer, he played all 16 games in 2011 for the Ravens.
Postseason success with Minnesota: The Vikings reached the playoffs in three of McKinnie’s nine seasons and had a 2-3 record in those games. They almost reached the Super Bowl after the 2009 season before suffering a devastating overtime loss to New Orleans in the NFC Championship game.
Drafted: No. 10 by Cincinnati
Team’s record while he was there: 48-63-1
Longevity: Jones spent seven seasons with the Bengals and finished his career in 2009 with the Redskins.
Postseason success with Cincinnati: The Bengals lost their only playoff game with Jones on the roster, a 31-17 stumble against Pittsburgh in January 2006.
Drafted: No. 8 by Carolina
Team’s record while he’s been there: 72-72
Longevity: Gross has made 135 starts in his nine seasons in Charlotte. He’s made the Pro Bowl twice.
Postseason success: As a rookie, Gross helped the Panthers reach the Super Bowl where they lost to New England. Two years later, Carolina was back in the NFC Championship game. They’ve won five of their eight playoff games in three postseason appearances during Gross’ nine seasons.
Drafted: No. 2 by Oakland
Team’s record while he was there: 33-79
Longevity: Gallery played his first seven seasons in Oakland before playing last year in Seattle. He’s played in 104 games during his eight years in the league.
Postseason success with Oakland: The Raiders never reached the playoffs.
Drafted: No. 4 by the New York Jets
Team’s record while he’s been there: 51-45
Longevity: Ferguson hasn’t missed a start in six seasons with the Jets and has made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons.
Postseason success: New York has reached the playoffs three times in Ferguson’s six seasons and reached the AFC Championship game in consecutive seasons in 2009 and 2010.
Drafted: No. 3 by Cleveland.
Team’s record while he was there: 28-52
Longevity: Thomas hasn’t missed a start in five seasons with the Browns and has made the Pro Bowl all five seasons.
Postseason success: The Browns have yet to reach the playoffs.
Drafted: No. 5 by Arizona
Team’s record while he’s been there there: 40-40
Longevity: Brown hasn’t missed a start over the past four seasons and has played in 77 games during his five years in Arizona.
Postseason success: The Cardinals made the playoffs after the ’08 and ’09 seasons and advanced to Super Bowl XLIII with Brown aiding a prolific passing attack.
Drafted: No. 1 by Miami
Team’s record while he’s been there: 31-33
Longevity: Long has played in and started 62 of Miami’s 64 games over the past four seasons. He’s made the Pro Bowl in all four seasons.
Postseason success: Miami went 11-5 when Long was a rookie in 2008 but lost its playoff opener 27-9 to Baltimore.
Drafted: No. 2 by the Rams
Team’s record while he’s been there: 10-38
Longevity: Smith hasn’t lived up to expectations, hampered by injuries and inconsistent play. He’s played 29 games with 26 starts in his first three seasons.
Postseason success: The Rams have yet to reach the playoffs.
Drafted: No. 6 by Cincinnati
Team’s record while he was there: 23-25
Longevity: Smith has started 19 times and played in 27 games in his first three seasons.
Postseason success: The Bengals have reached the playoffs twice in the past three seasons but lost their postseason openers both times.
Drafted: No. 8 by Jacksonville
Team’s record while he’s been there: 20-28
Longevity: Monroe has played 45 games and started 42 during his first three seasons.
Postseason success: The Jaguars have yet to reach the playoffs.
Drafted: No. 4 by Washington
Team’s record while he’s been there: 11-21
Longevity: Williams has played in 24 games and started 23 during his first two seasons.
Postseason success: The Redskins have yet to reach the playoffs.
Drafted: No. 6 by Seattle
Team’s record while he’s been there: 14-18
Longevity: Okung has made 22 starts in his first two seasons with the Seahawks.
Postseason success: After sneaking into the playoffs with a 7-9 record in 2011, Okung helped Seattle upset New Orleans in the wild card round. The Seahawks lost the following week at Chicago.
Drafted: No. 9 by Dallas
Team’s record while he’s been there: 8-8
Longevity: Smith started all 16 games as a rookie last season.
Postseason success: The Cowboys did not reach the playoffs in 2011
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is a big believer in Matt Kalil, the star offensive tackle out of Southern Cal who almost everyone is projecting to be a Pro Bowler before long. The Vikings also have needs to bolster their offensive line. And they own the No. 3 pick in April’s draft, in good position to potentially land Kalil, who is being widely touted as the best offensive line prospect of the past five years.
What in the world will happen with Chris Cook?
That may be the biggest behind-the-scenes question facing the Vikings organization this week as they enjoy their midseason bye. So now comes yet another major decision for Leslie Frazier and his staff with the front office certain to weigh in.
What matters more: Talent or character? Upside on the football field or civilized conduct off of it?
This afternoon, while joining Dan Barreiro for a one-on-one interview on KFAN, Frazier said a decision of some sort on the Cook front will come Monday.
"We're going to have a resolution as to what direction we're going to go," Frazier said. "And we'll talk about it then."
Cook's next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 22. Clearly, with a resolution promised for next week, Frazier has no plans of taking a wait-and-see approach.
Just two short weeks ago, Cook was emerging as a difference-maker on defense, a second-year cornerback with impressive size and speed plus the confidence to battle some of the top receivers in the NFL.
Man, the kid seemed to have a bright future and was giving the Vikings hope that they had made a terrific choice when they drafted Cook with their top pick in 2011.
"He was playing very well for us," Frazier told Barreiro. "He was coming along to the point where he was on the verge of being our No. 1 corner. He was really making a lot of plays. And people were staying away from him. He might get one or two throws his way and that was about it. So things were going well."
Then came the morning of Oct. 22. The Eden Prairie Police took a call from one of Cook's neighbors, who had heard screaming coming from nearby. Shortly after 2 a.m. Cook was arrested, taken into custody and held without bail on charges of domestic assault.
Three days later, an official felony charge was levied. And as the details of the incident became public, with Cook accused of hitting and strangling his girlfriend, the Vikings organization was left in a disturbed state. Cook was suspended without pay. He has not practiced since. And he did not make last weekend's road trip to Carolina.
In less than a week, Cook will know a lot more about his future with the team. It will be yet another high-profile decision for Frazier, who has already faced several in his first full year as an NFL head coach. From the release of offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie in August to the benching of Donovan McNabb in Week 7 to the release of Bernard Berrian last week, Frazier has had his hands full.
McKinnie was sent on his way in part because he had put on too much weight during the lockout, a sign that he may not have been dedicated enough. Berrian's investment in making himself and the team better was also questioned. And McNabb? Well, his subpar performance on game days led to his demotion.
All of those situations were far less complicated and less troubling than Cook's transgression. So now Frazier and the Vikings staff face another potential watershed moment. On Monday, we'll learn what they've decided.
Welcome to the NFL. Happy Labor Day. Now get to work.
The Vikings return to Winter Park this morning after three days off. Since they last gathered for the 28-0 preseason finale victory over the Texans, they've cut from 80 to 53 players, put a middle linebacker (Jasper Brinkley) on IR, released three linebackers (Heath Farwell, Ross Homan and David Herron) and signed a linebacker (Xavier Adibi) that started against them on Thursday night. And, oh yeah, Kevin Williams found out he'll be suspended for the first two games.
It should be a short, non-padded practice when the team takes the field at 11 a.m. today. Here are some of the question marks we're looking at heading into Sunday's regular-season opener at San Diego:
. New starters at left tackle, quarterback, flanker, defensive tackle, nose tackle, left defensive end and weak-side linebacker.
. The team still hasn't announced a starter at strong safety.
. Two players, CB Cedric Griffin and RG Anthony Herrera, haven't played full games since tearing ACLs. Griffin, of course, has torn both over the past two years.
. Weak-side linebacker Erin Henderson has never started an NFL game.
. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury. Both backup running backs -- Toby Gerhart (Achilles'/ankle) and Lorenzo Booker (back) -- are nicked up, although coach Leslie Frazier said everyone should be ready to practice this week.
. Depth at offensive line, linebacker and secondary.
Don't misunderstand. Pointing out question marks isn't meant to imply that an area is hopelessly lost or that the answer to that question won't turn out on the positive side. These are just areas that we'll all be watching closely.
For instance, as good as Pat Williams was for most of his Vikings' career, I'll still take Remi Ayodele at 28 over Big Pat at 38 and coming off a subpar year. I also think Donovan McNabb has looked surprisingly comfortable. And all eyes will be on LT Charlie Johnson, but let's face it, it's not like Bryant McKinnie was on top of his game the past couple seasons.
It's not the worst thing in the world that the Vikings head into a season picked to finish last in their division because of so many question marks.
After all, last year's team went into the season picked to win the Super Bowl because the perception was it had no question marks.
Former Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie has decided to donate the furniture and appliances from his Eden Prairie home to a local chartity, his publicist said today.
"All of my furniture in my old home is practically new and in decent condition, I look at this as a positive way to move to my new location, while still providing families in need of appliances and household goods," McKinnie said in a release from his publicist.
McKinnie was released on Day 2 of training camp after reporting overweight. He was signed last week by the Baltimore Ravens and is expected to play left tackle after getting back in shape.
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