No matter what the Vikings do with their No. 1 pick on Thursday night, you have to hand it to General Manager Rick Spielman. He's put on a clinic on how to convince the world that the Vikings won't make the obvious pick with the third selection of the first round.
Make no mistake, Kalil is, and always has been, the consensus third-best player in the draft, and he plays a position of dire need for the Vikings. Like it or not, the future of the franchise is inexorably tied to the success or failure of quarterback Christian Ponder. And the best way to allow Ponder to succeed is to protect him.
Of course, there are other needs. But neither the secondary nor the wide receiving corps is as shaky as the offensive line. At cornerback, the Vikings have brought in several serviceable players in free agency and will get both Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield back on the field. While Cook, Winfield, Chris Carr, and Zack Bowman aren't exactly causing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, or Jay Cutler to lose any sleep and adding a potential shutdown corner like LSU's Morris Claiborne would be nice, the secondary simply isn't as much of a need as is the offensive line.
Justin Blackmon sure looks like an explosive player, and just the kind of dynamic receiver that could make Ponder's job a heckuva lot easier. Adding Blackmon to group of receivers that includes Percy Harvin, two capable pass-catching tight ends, and high-risk, high-reward free agent Jerome Simpson would be one way of helping Ponder reach his potential.
But Ponder won't be able to find Blackmon open deep downfield if he's flat on his back (or in the training room). And that's what's going to happen if his blind side continues to be "protected" by Charlie Johnson, who graded out as one of the worst blindside blockers in the NFL last year. Adding Kalil to the mix not only solidifies the ultra-important left tackle position, it simultaneously fills what is, as of this moment, a glaring hole at left guard. Johnson is much more capable of filling that position, so adding Kalil would fix two problems with one player.
My final point on why Kalil should be the pick: If the Vikings don't get Kalil, there won't be any legitimate, start-from-day-one caliber offensive tackles available to them in the second round. Most would agree there indeed will be wide receivers and/or cornerbacks capable of starting immediately with that early second-rounder. Put another way, the opportunity cost of passing on Kalil is significantly greater than the cost of passing on a corner or a wideout.
It's the rarest of rare circumstances; the best player available to the Vikings at No. 3 just so happens to play the position of greatest need for the team. Unless the Vikings scouts have seen weaknesses in Kalil's game that nobody else has, he's the pick at No. 3.
But the world now thinks otherwise, thanks to a brilliant job of subterfuge by Spielman and whoever it is within the Vikings brain trust that leaks information to certain media members. Both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN have had Kalil going to the Vikings at No. 3 since the draft order was established months ago... until today, when both of their most recently published mock drafts list Claiborne as the Vikings' pick. McShay and Kiper aren't alone, as numerous media outlets (including my esteemed VikesCentric colleague Bo Mitchell in his well-penned post about trading out of the No. 3 pick) have seemingly come to the conclusion that Spielman isn't bluffing, and that Claiborne will win out over Kalil if the team stands pat with the third pick.
What changed? Nothing, other than Spielman himself coming out last week and saying that the Vikings had equal grades on Kalil, Claiborne, and Blackmon. Then, on Tuesday, he announced that the Vikings are open to trading the No. 3 pick, and that he's already received several "nibbles" from other teams interested in trading up. After two carefully placed public proclamations by the man people should be least likely to believe, and probably in part due to the pressure on media members to provide new and interesting takes on information they've been regurgitating over and over again for weeks, we've all been convinced that Spielman doesn't want Kalil.
Which, of course, is the whole point of the smokescreen. Creating uncertainty about who the Vikings are targeting at No. 3, and convincing the world that they'd be perfectly content to trade down, is the only way of creating a market for the No. 3 pick. And the market is heating up. Already on Thursday morning, published reports have indicated both the Bucs (at No. 5) and the Bills (at No. 10) are seriously considering making a run at the Vikings' pick. Whether the Vikings pull the trigger or not, the interest in their pick - and the public's belief that they're not going to take the obvious player and instead would be content with any of several different players - can be traced back to Spielman and his deft pre-draft machinations.
Christian Peterson is the Operations Manager at LeagueSafe.com. He is also a contributing writer at Vikings.com and a co-host of the Fantasy Football Weekly radio show on KFAN 100.3 FM.
Follow Christian on Twitter at @CP_Christianp.
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