As company spokesmen, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Leslie Frazier have done a nice job of drumming up interest among possible suitors for the third overall pick in this year's NFL Draft. By publicly declaring the Vikings' interest in left tackle Matt Kalil, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and wide receiver Justin Blackmon – three top talents at positions of Vikings need – they have turned up the heat on trade talks.
At a minimum, their pitch is plausible.
It's not like they've announced serious interest in Trent Richardson, this year's top running back on the board. Nobody would believe that of a team that currently has the NFL's highest-paid running back on their roster, regardless of the surgically-repaired ACL in Adrian Peterson's knee.
Despite the purple smokescreen what's clear is that the Vikings' primary goal is to trade down rather than choose between Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon. They've said repeatedly that the pick is available and it makes sense for them to move back. By doing so, they could acquire more draft picks, and still net a very good player in round one. In fact they might still get Kalil if they don't trade down too far.
The Vikings' interest in Blackmon feels the most like a smokescreen. Blackmon has the ability to be a very good wide receiver in the NFL, but he's not in the same class as recent elite prospects such as A.J. Green, Julio Jones or Dez Bryant. The third overall pick is a little too high for him. It's one thing to reach a little for a player in the third or fourth round. You can't do that with the No. 3 overall pick.
As local NFL Draft guru Shawn Zobel points out in his 2012 Draft Preview, this draft class is loaded with wide receivers that can be had in latter rounds. "With 40+ [wide receivers] that could make valid arguments as to why they should be drafted, it's hard not to wonder if it'd also be smart to wait on a receiver this year," Zobel points out. "And when you consider that there will be potentially second-to-third round value in the fourth-or-fifth round this year, I'd expect some teams to hesitate when considering drafting a wideout early."
With all that receiver help available, the Vikings could easily grab a pretty good one in the second, third, or fourth round.
At No. 3, talent is clearly still the most important factor. The old adage of taking the "best player available" may be trite, but it's smart. That said, basing draft day decisions purely on talent could lead a team with the third pick to take the aforementioned Richardson – a running back whom many are calling the most complete back to come out of college since Peterson in 2007.
That's why the best player available approach has to be mixed with at least some consideration of need and position scarcity – how deep the talent pool is at a given position. The Vikings don't need Richardson at all – or at least not nearly as much as they need a left tackle, shut-down corner, or wide receiver… or linebacker or safety for that matter.
If the Vikings are unable to find a suitable dance partner in round one, they will have to stay put. That's not a bad thing. They'd still have their choice of Kalil and Claiborne at that point: two players who meet both the criteria of elite value and desperate need. Neither would be a reach.
Of the two, Kalil is the more attractive based on position scarcity. This is shaping up to be a very good draft for cornerbacks and not so deep for tackles. Thus, the Vikings could still nab a good corner later in the draft if they miss out on Claiborne in round one.
The market for the Vikings' pick has heated up. The Buffalo Bills are reportedly inquiring about moving up from No. 10 to get Kalil and the New York Jets really want to move up from 16 to get Richardson. The Buccaneers at No. 5 really like Richardson and Claiborne. When the clock starts ticking down, my guess is the Vikes will find a way to trade back and collect more picks to help fill their long list of needs.
Prediction: if they stay put at No. 3, Claiborne will be wearing purple. If they trade back, Claiborne will be snapped up ahead of them and the Vikings will try to land Kalili or the draft's other top left tackle, Riley Reiff. With the extra picks, they should still have enough assets left to go get a quality wide receiver and cornerback in the second and third rounds on Friday.