The Vikings were right to trade their first-round draft pick.

They were right to avoid Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen, a bratty kid who would have been a lousy fit in the Vikings' veteran, professional lockerroom.

They were lucky they weren't forced to consider Tim Tebow, who will be one of the great draft busts in NFL history.

They were right to abide by an NFL truism, that picks at the end of the first round aren't much different than picks in the second round.

They were right to sign Lito Sheppard this week, removing pressure to draft a cornerback out of desperation.

But were they right to trade with the Lions, who, despite their persistent status as the Clippers (or Timberwolves) of the NFC North, are starting to take on the appearance of a future contender?

The Lions used the pick they acquired from the Vikings, the 30th in the first round on Thursday night, to draft a running back who could be a perfect turf player. Whether playing in Ford Field, or the Metrodome.

The Vikings' trade was logical, because they didn't need Clausen and had plenty of options at No. 30, several of whom will be available with the 34th pick they acquired from Detroit.

But when the Lions took Jahvid Best, the talented running back from Cal, the Lions suddenly started looking like the Cowboys of 1990, a young, raw but immensely talented squad.

If you, like me, think Matthew Stafford can play, then the Lions have their quarterback of the future. If you, like me, think Calvin Johnson's immense skills eventually will flourish once the Lions become a competent team, then the Lions have their big-play receiver.

If you, like me, think Ndamukong Suh was the best player in the draft, then the Lions had the best draft of any NFL team on Thursday. If you, like me, think building a defensive line is the fastest way to NFL respectability, then Suh and free-agent signee Kyle Vanden Bosch, a defensive end, could make the Lions much more formidable even while their young offensive players are growing up.

And if you, like me, were at TCF Bank Stadium last fall when Best torched the Gophers with spectacular moves and breakaway speed, then it's hard not to wonder whether the Vikings just aided and abetted a team that eventually could displace them atop the NFC North standings.

Yes, the Lions are laughingstocks, they are the NFL version of the Timberwolves, a franchise with weak ownership that has inspired a culture of backslapping and ineptitude.

This time around, though, they hired a real NFL coach, Jim Schwartz, who worked under Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher. Schwartz has much to prove, but he executed a surprising coup when he camped outside of Vanden Bosch's house as free agency began, and talked the hulking defensive end into signing with the NFL's most laughable franchise.

The Lions will have to rebuild their offensive line, but they now have a group of elite talents at key positions. They could be dangerous within two years.

Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman was asked whether he had any worries about trading with a division opponent. "No,'' he said. "I think the value of going up and having those slots that we were able to get was very important for us.''

He was asked later whether he worried about trading a pick that enabled a division opponent to acquire a player such as Best. "He's a very good football player,'' Spielman said. "He's a scat-back, he has very good speed.

"We're going to have to play against him, I understand that. But we have a very good football team as well.''

The Vikings could have taken Best and used him as a third-down back, kick returner and Percy Harvin clone. Instead, they took the safer approach, trading for more value in later rounds, apparently intent on adding defensive talent.

For the Vikings, the trade makes sense. For the Lions, it could signal an era of overdue success.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. jsouhan@startribune.com