Cue the fanfare! Draft Day is quickly approaching, and with it, the unofficial start of another NFL season.
Speaking of which, it was announced Tuesday morning that the NFL regular season schedule will be announced Thursday night at 7 p.m. CT. I'm guessing there will be some elaborate program on NFL Network surrounding the unveiling. It wouldn't be too tough to shoe-horn it into their current tepid programming schedule that can best be described as "tap-dancing until the Draft starts." I'm actually a little surprised they didn't have a special program Tuesday to announce when the schedule announcement would take place. It would have been better than comparing the NFL to The Masters again or rehashing the best touchdown celebrations from 2012. But enough about that, let's talk NFL Draft.
Round 1 of the NFL Draft will get underway Thursday, April 25 at 7 p.m. CT. Rounds 2 and 3 will be held April 26 beginning at 5:30 p.m. CT and the festivities will wrap up April 27, starting at 11 a.m. CT with rounds 4-7.
The Vikings will hold their annual Draft Party that Thursday at Mall of America Field – a shindig that will include the unveiling of the new Vikings uniforms. Two days later, they will be holding their inaugural Vikings Football Day. For those asking: yes, I do feel at least partially responsible for inspiring the latter event with my VikesCentric post in January. You're very welcome. I do what I can.
The VikesCentric crew is busily putting together some NFL Draft pieces to complement the previews that Mark Craig and Dan Wiederer are providing to the Star Tribune audience. We've decided to kick things off with a look back at the caliber of players who have gone in the No. 23 to No. 25 range… since that is where the Vikings are currently slated to pick. Obviously a trade could change the positioning, but for now it might be interesting to see what kind of quality typically comes out of that third tier of the first round.
Admittedly, last year wasn't a great year for the 23-25 range – at least not yet. It's only been one year so we'll need some time for those players to develop before making a more accurate assessment. The Lions selected tackle Riley Reiff with the No. 23 pick last year. He started seven games and will battle for a starting gig this summer. The Steelers went with guard David DeCastro at 24 in last year's Draft. He appeared in only four games as a rookie and will have to fight for starting time this year. The Patriots had pick 25 last year and selected linebacker Don’t'a Hightower, who went on to start 13 games. Hightower is inked into their projected starting lineup for 2013 as well. Shocking that, out of the three, the Patriots got the best early return for their investment, huh? Broadening out a little further, the Texans took outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus at 26 last year and the Bengals followed with guard Kevin Zietler at 27. Both are starters.
Based on one year, it appears as though the Vikings have a solid chance of landing a pair of starters with those first two picks – either guys who can start right away or start by their second season. But Vikings fans want more than mere starters. They want impact players. Is it even possible to get a high impact player that late in the first round? The answer might surprise you.
Looking back another 10 years (the NFL Drafts from 2002-2011) shows Pro Bowl caliber players can be found at 23 and beyond.
Including last year, the three draft positions that have produced the most Pro Bowl players have been the No. 2 pick, the No. 11 pick and (surprisingly) the No. 24 pick – with six players at each spot who have been to at least one Pro Bowl. Yes, the 24th pick – right smack dab between the Vikings' two picks. Furthermore, the 27th spot in the Draft has produced five Pro Bowl players since 2002 – the same number of Pro Bowlers as the No. 1 overall picks. Ridicule the Pro Bowl game itself all you want, but the Pro Bowl is a still a good barometer (not perfect) of talent and impact. It's a nice short-hand if nothing else.
A decade of data shows there is usually some quality to be had in the middle 20s. The 2010 NFL Draft included wide receiver Dez Bryant going to the Cowboys at 24 (one spot ahead of Tim Tebow).
Get a load of the 2009 Draft: the Vikings took Percy Harvin at 22, the Ravens took "Blind Side" tackle Michael Oher at 23, the Dolphins took cornerback Vontae Davis at 25 and the Packers took linebacker Clay Matthews at 26. Oh and the Giants grabbed wide receiver Hakeem Nicks at 29.
In 2008, running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson went 23 and 24 to the Steelers and Titans respectively.
In 2007, the Chiefs took wide receiver Dwayne Bowe at 23, the Patriots selected defensive back Brandon Meriweather at 24 and the Panthers nabbed linebacker Jon Beason at 25 – a total of six Pro Bowls between the three so far.
In 2006, wide receiver Santonio Holmes went to the Steelers at 25, running back DeAngelo Williams went to the Panthers at 27 and All-Pro center Nick Mangold fell to the Jets at 29.
In 2005 some guy named Aaron Rodgers went No. 24 to the Packers and wide receiver Roddy White fell in the Falcons' lap at 27. You may have heard of them. The Rams used their 24th overall pick in 2004 to select eventual franchise rushing leader Steven Jackson. In 2003, running back Willis McGahee went 23 to the Bills, tight end Dallas Clark went 24 to the Cowboys, running back Larry Johnson went 27 to the Chiefs and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha landed in Oakland at 31. And finally, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed was the 24th overall pick in 2002 by the Ravens.
Yes, there have been many players who didn't amount to much of anything in their NFL careers selected in the final tier of the first round over the past decade or so. But this simple exercise should at least assuage some fears among Vikings fans that all the talent will be long gone if they don't use their picks to trade up.
The lesson: talent can be found at 23 and 25. The harder part is figuring out which guys have it. Now it's up to Rick Spielman, Scott Studwell et al to go get it.
Bo Mitchell is the VP of Content at SportsDataand a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.
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