Minnesota Vikings: Top First-Round Picks in Franchise History
Photo image by: Iain Smith
I have had the great opportunity to write quite a few articles on Bleacher Report, and if you just pan over some of the crazy articles I've written, you know that sometimes we undertake a challenge of considerable magnitude. This article, is such an example as I sat around the other day and asked, “I wonder who the best first round draft choices are in Vikings history?”
Actually, the idea proved harder to address than I had anticipated. For instance, and I am not a math genius, but the Vikings are about to embark on their 52nd draft.
Of the prior 51 drafts, the Vikings have had 52 first-round picks, but there were years where we had multiple Round 1 picks, and years with no picks, so to have it work out the way it did was interesting. The most the Vikings had was in 1967 Minnesota when they had three first-round picks.
Of the 52 players selected by the Vikings, not all were memorable picks. In fact, some were quite forgettable. However, I decided to focus on 10 players and give honorable mentions to 10 others. They are in order of year drafted, so there's no, “Who’s the best?” That's entirely up to you.
OK, let’s take a draft trip down memory lane and be sure to let me know your thoughts.
1961: Tommy Mason, RB, Tulane
Photo courtesy of Vintage Football Card Gallery
Mason was the first overall pick in the expansion year for the Vikings.
For many not up to speed on all things historically for the Vikings, Fran Tarkenton was a third-round selection.
Mason was highly touted, and for years, did not disappoint. He was a three-time Pro Bowl player. He played for the Vikings from 1961-1966 before being traded to the Rams in 1967, in which he played for the Rams from 1967-1970. He played one year with the Redskins in 1971 before retiring.
As a Viking, he rushed for 3,252 yards and scored 28 touchdowns and a 4.3 YPC average. He also caught 151 passes for 1,689 yards and 11 TDs.
1964: Carl Eller, DE, Minnesota
It’s hard to argue against Eller as being one of the most dominant defensive ends the Vikings ever had. We have been blessed to have some pretty big names play DE, but not all were first-round picks.
Aside from his final year, Eller played his entire career in Minnesota—15 with the Vikings and one with the Seahawks as a result of the expansion draft.
Eller was the No. 6 overall pick and did not disappoint the Vikings. Sacks were not really accurately taken in the early days, but it was estimated that Eller had 130 and was the record holder until his battery mate Alan Page passed him in 1978.
Eller played on four Super Bowl teams and was one of the vaunted “Purple People Eaters.”
Eller was a six-time Pro Bowler and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2004.
1967: Alan Page, DT, Notre Dame
Photo courtesy of Nearmint's Vintage Football Cards website
1967 was an odd draft year because the Vikings had three picks in Round 1. Page was the Vikings' third choice behind Clinton Jones (taken No. 2 overall—ouch), and Gene Washington, WR, taken No. 8 overall.
Ironically, the selection of Page was in part due to the trade of Mason to the Rams.
Alan Page joined Carl Eller as one of the Purple People Eaters and amassed a career that was honored in 1988, and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He played for the Vikings from 1967-1978. He finished his career in 1981 as a…Bear. Ouch!
Page totaled 148.5 sacks along with two INTs and three safeties with the Vikings. Hang on, I'm not done. He recovered 23 fumbles, had 28 blocked kicks, and by the end of his career, he racked up 173 sacks.
He was a nine-time Pro Bowl player and four-time NFC champ, not to mention two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Now, that's a football career.
A very, very sad day for me was when Page went to the rival Bears and played there for four years. I was depressed, to say the least, and disappointed.
1968: Ron Yary, T, USC
Yary was the No. 1 pick in the ’68 draft and played 14 seasons for the Vikings. His final year was an unspectacular closing to what was a great career when he was traded to the Rams in 1982.
Yary was a seven-time Pro Bowler, played in four NFC championships and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001. He missed only two games in his 14 years with the Vikings.
Yary was the No. 1 overall choice because the Vikings traded Fran Tarkenton to the Giants.
Of note: You may notice a theme here with tackles from USC who have had long and stellar careers with the Vikings—a sign?
I am sure Yary would heartily endorse Kalil.
1973: Chuck Foreman, RB, Miami
Photo courtesy of vikingsmania.com
I remember seeing Foreman his rookie year and thinking that I was possibly watching the next Gale Sayers. I am not kidding. Foreman could slice through a defense and turn on the jets in no time.
Foreman played for the Vikings from 1973-1979. He rushed for, what was then a team record, 5,887 yards and 53 TDs. He also caught 336 passes—as a running back mind you—for more than 3,000 yards and another 23 TDs.
Foreman’s last two years in Minnesota did not go well because of injuries. He was 6’2”, and therefore, a large target. In 1978 and 1979, a nagging knee and rib injuries limited his playing time.
For the record, Foreman was Rookie of the Year in 1973, played in five Pro Bowls and NFC Player of the year in 1974. His rushing records for the Vikings would last until some tall, skinny kid from Ohio State would step onto the carpet at the Metrodome.
1985: Chris Doleman, DE, Pitt
Doleman was the No. 4 overall pick in the ’85 draft. He played for the Vikings from 1985-1993 before being traded to the Atlanta Falcons—the very team for which we acquired the pick in Round 1 to draft Doleman. I am not making this stuff up.
Although he went on to play for the Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers until 1999, he signed a one-day contract in ’99 with the Vikings, so he could retire as a Viking. I love it when players do that. It gives you a sense of loyalty.
Doleman’s career showcased an ability to sack the quarterback. He racked up 150.5 in his 15-year career. Yeah, that’s an average of 10 per year. He played in eight Pro Bowls and had eight INTs to go along with all those sacks.
Doleman was recently inducted (2012) into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I wonder if he’ll have Keith Millard, a battery mate, speak for him in August at the HOF game?
1988: Randall McDaniel, G, Arizona State
Chosen at No. 19 overall, Randall McDaniel was somewhat of a novelty given his football stance.
His left leg was cocked back so far that most scouts thought there was no way McDaniel could compensate fast enough given the strength and speed of NFL defenders. Hmm, 14 years later, he was still showing the NFL world how it’s done.
Randall McDaniel and Ed White are probably two of the greatest guards to play for the Vikings. I know some of you are thinking of Gary Zimmerman, but they acquired him in a trade, and Steve Hutchinson was signed as a free agent.
In his career, McDaniel started 202 consecutive games, was a 12-time Pro Bowler, and in 2009, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Yep, the man with the awkward stance sure showed those scouts, didn’t he?
1993: Robert Smith, RB, Ohio State
At 6’2”, 212, Smith reminded many Vikings of Chuck Foreman, who at 6’2”, 210 had a long gait-style run as well.
Foreman was more of a spin master, while Smith relied more on a shake move, but when he got going, it was a guaranteed score. Smith finished his career having the longest TD average among running backs at 27.2 yards per TD.
Smith pulled a Barry Sanders in 2000, retiring at the end of the season, his eighth, and perhaps, best. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
After a slow start to his career, many were questioning the selection of this slender, yet very fast back from Ohio State, but injuries played a part in that slow start, but when he got it going in 1997, there were four very good years.
In 98 games, Smith ran for 6,818 yards for a 4.8 YPC average. He scored 32 TDs and 178 receptions for nearly 1,300 yards. He played in two Pro Bowls.
My sense is that had Smith played two more seasons and closed it out with 10 total, he would have had a shot at 10,000 total yards, but it’s all speculation now. Smith had a very solid career for being the 21st selection in the 1993 draft.
1998: Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
Randy, Randy, Randy, the enigmatic, controversial, yet highly talented wide receiver, who was an absolute boon for the Vikings, gave us thrills and shills, especially with his antics.
The focus here is on Moss’ career with the Vikings—1998-2004 before his trade to the Raiders.
Enough has been written about Moss the person, but just some statistics for Moss as a Viking certainly place him as one of the top Round 1 draft choices in franchise history.
From ’98 to ’04, Moss tallied 587 receptions for more than 9,300 yards and 92 TDs. He played in five Pro Bowls and was Rookie of the Year in 1998.
Regardless of how people feel about Moss, there's no doubt that, outside of his 2007 campaign with the Patriots, his best years were clearly as a Viking.
I think a good discussion topic would be, will Randy Moss become a Hall of Famer one day? Argue for or against.
2003: Kevin Williams, DT, Oklahoma State
Williams was the No. 9 pick for the Vikings, albeit under bizarre circumstances. Most Vikings fans shudder when they think about that day with Chris Berman going over the top in hysteria by shouting something to the effect of, “The Vikings have not turned in their card. What is Mike Tice doing?”
Well, everything seemed to work out OK. It’s 2012, and Williams is still a Viking and most likely will be able to retire as one. He joins a long distinguished list of defensive tackles for the Vikings—Alan Page, Keith Millard, John Randle, etc.
So far, Williams has accumulated 54.5 sacks, 10 fumble recoveries, four INTs—two of which went for TDs.
It is probably most Vikings fans' wish that Williams plays another year or two and retires as a Viking.
2007: Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma
Obviously, the jury is still out on Peterson because he's still active, but in his five years with the Vikings, Peterson has proven to be everything and more. He has been the face of the franchise, absent a quarterback to possess that similar honor.
Had A.D. been able to finish his fifth season, he would have surpassed Robert Smith as the Vikings all-time running back. In just 73 games, Peterson has amassed 6,752 rushing yards for a 4.8 YPC average giving him a 92.5 YPG average. He also has 64 rushing TDs.
Although not known as the receiver that both Robert Smith and Chuck Foreman were, Peterson has managed to pull in 137 passes for 1,307 yards.
Peterson’s recent ACL injury in 2011 will say a lot in terms of how Peterson moves forward in his career. I think we all hope that he fully recovers and continues to wreak havoc on defenses in the NFL.
The recent setback may shorten his career and makes catching Emmitt Smith all but impossible, but Smith did play 15 years—14 for the Cowboys where he averaged 85.4 YPG. We’ll give him a pass for being a Cardinal.
2009: Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
Again, the Vikings benefited in the draft where a player who may have had some collegiate issues come up, and therefore, the result was him dropping in the draft, falling in their lap at No. 22.
To be honest, I was somewhat surprised to see the Vikings take Harvin. I thought for sure it was going to be Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina or Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois.
At this point, Harvin has been a God-send. He was Rookie of the Year and contributed greatly to the Vikings 2009 run to the NFC championship.
When he was first drafted, we had a suspect corps of receivers, so the addition of Harvin was needed. Now, he seems to be the only reliable one.
In the grand scheme of Vikings' draft history, this may be an early call for Harvin, but my hope is that he will have a long and storied career with the organization despite the health issues. That's why it's incumbent upon the Vikings to get him some help as well, not just for Ponder.
Other First-Round Mentionables
Tommy Kramer image courtesy of: projects.ajc.com
This was a tough list, but here are some more players that were not included in the great list of first round selections by the Vikings.
1974: Fred McNeil, LB, UCLA
No. 17 overall, what a great player for the Vikings; often overshadowed by Matt Blair who was selected in Round 2. McNeil played his entire 12-year career with the Vikings.
1974: Steve Riley, T, USC
No. 25 overall, I told you, the Vikings have had great luck with USC tackles. Riley played 11 years, all of them with the Vikings. He was never selected to the Pro Bowl but certainly lands in good company as prominent left tackles for the Vikings—such as Gary Zimmerman, Grady Alderman, Todd Steussie, Tim Irwin and Bryant McKinnie.
1977: Tommy Kramer, QB, Rice
From 1977-1989, Kramer was under center for the Vikings. If there was a player to eventually replace Fran Tarkenton, Kramer was the guy. He played 12 years for the Vikings. He was not a great QB, but was very solid. His famous touchdown toss to Ahmad Rashad against the Browns in 1980 is the stuff of legends. His nickname was Two-Minute Tommy.
Following the 1986 season, Kramer was selected to the Pro Bowl in which he was the highest-rated quarterback in the NFL. Kramer was the first NFL quarterback to throw for over 450 yards in a game twice, and he once threw six touchdowns in a single game versus the Packers.
Some information, courtesy of wikipedia.com
For Kramer, it was more about injuries that kept his numbers down, otherwise, he could have put up some pretty impressive numbers.
1984: Keith Millard, DT, Washington State
Even though Alan Page had been gone from the Vikings since 1978, Millard came in and was brash, outspoken and backed it up. He played from 1985-1991 and finished his career in somewhat ignominious fashion, playing for three other teams before finally calling it quits in 1993.
Millard, along with Chris Doleman, brought back images of the days of Page and Eller or Page and Marshall. As a defensive tackle in 93 games, he had 58 sacks. In 1989, he set an NFL record 18 sacks from the DT position—a record yet to be broken. He played in two Pro Bowls, but after the 1989 season, he suffered a horrible knee injury and was never the same player. That damned Metrodome turf.
1999: Daunte Culpepper, QB, Central Florida
Of course, there will be arguments here as to whether Culpepper was really as talented as some thought or if he benefited from Cris Carter, Randy Moss and Jake Reed as his receivers, not to mention Robert Smith.
In the seven years that Culpepper played for the Vikings, he threw for more than 20,000 yards, 135 TDs and 86 INTs. Of course, Culpepper was known for his running ability, which ironically cut his career short when he suffered a torn ACL in 2005.
2006: Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa
Greenway has his critics, and since he was the No. 16 overall pick, some of that criticism is warranted, but one thing Greenway has been is solid. I don’t know if people expected him to come in and be the next big thing at OLB.
Greenway has quietly led the team in tackles in three of his six years. Given that he did not play in 2006, he has over 600 tackles in five playing seasons.
Some may consider Greenway to be a mild disappointment. I consider him in a long line of Vikings LBs being dismissed by NFL Pro Bowl voting. Greenway finally made the Pro Bowl this past year, long overdue.
2011: Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Simply put, this is an important one folks. Hopefully in about 10 years, we can easily place Ponder’s name on the list of wise, solid, first-round choices in franchise history. Or will he join the likes of Demetrius Underwood and Derrick Alexander? I sure hope not.