Re-Drafting Minnesota Vikings' 2012 Draft After First Half of NFL Season
At the halfway point of the Minnesota Vikings' season, their 2012 draft class can be considered a success. Nine of the 10 draftees are still with the team, with seven of the nine seeing action on Sundays.
A quick scan over the last two drafts for the Vikings indicates that perhaps this organization, behind head coach Leslie Frazier and general manager Rick Spielman, knows what they're doing. There are 18 of the Vikings' last 20 draft picks still with the team—with Demarcus Love, drafted in 2011 and Greg Childs, drafted this season, on injured reserve.
From this year's rookie class, the Vikings found starters in left tackle Matt Kalil and safety Harrison Smith, the team's two first-round draft picks.
Other rookies making contributions so far this season are kicker Blair Walsh, who is 17 of 18 on field goals, including 4-for-4 on tries over 50 yards, cornerback Josh Robinson, who will get plenty of playing time with Chris Cook out for six to eight weeks following a broken arm, and tight end Rhett Ellison with four catches for 56 yards.
Still, that doesn't mean we can't take a look back and do some second guessing. After all, at the very least, a perfect draft would be one that has all 10 draft picks seeing some action on the field.
Here's a look at how the Vikings' draft may have gone, knowing then what is known now.
Round 1, Pick No. 4: Left Tackle, Matt Kalil
Leading up to the draft, there was little doubt who the Vikings would select with the fourth pick in the first round.
The selection of offensive tackle Matt Kalil from USC was the best move for the Vikings.
They filled a position of need with an immediate starter. Kalil has played better than advertised. According to The Football Database, Kalil has only been flagged for two penalties in eight games so far this season—one of them was for unnecessary roughness after he leveled a defender following the whistle.
Heading into the second half of the season, he has yet to be flagged for offensive holding. Only second-year player and first-year starter, Brandon Fusco has yet to be flagged on the Vikings' offensive line.
This was the right choice for Minnesota, despite wide receiver Justin Blackmon and cornerback Morris Claiborne, two players drafted immediately after Kalil, being available to the Vikings. In six starts for Jacksonville, Blackmon is third on the team with 18 catches for 193 yards. Claiborne has an interception and 19 tackles in seven starts for the Cowboys.
The selection of Kalil made sense for another reason as well. The average playing careers for wide receivers and cornerbacks are the among the shortest in the NFL. According to livestrong.com, running backs have the shortest career at 2.57 years, followed closely by wide receivers at 2.81 years then cornerbacks at 2.94 years.
Kalil has the potential to be a cornerstone of the Vikings offensive line for the next 10 years.
Round 1, Pick No. 29: Safety, Harrison Smith
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The Vikings made a deal with Baltimore, trading their second-round selection along with a fourth-round pick for the Ravens' first-round pick.
The deal moved the Vikings up six spots in the draft, allowing them to select Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith with the 29th selection.
This move has paid immediate dividends. Smith has started every game this season at safety, and is currently fourth on the team in tackles.
His hard-hitting style has raised the level of play for the entire defensive backfield. After finishing dead last in the NFL last season allowing 34 touchdown passes, the Vikings are ranked 14th through eight games.
Again, the Vikings made the right choice. The Vikings needed help at safety, and according to walterfootball.com, Smith was the second-best safety in the draft behind Mark Barron, who Tampa Bay selected with the seventh pick in the draft.
Smith has played well this season and has an interception returned for a touchdown, the first defensive touchdown since Antoine Winfield returned a fumble for a score against the Eagles in Week 16 of the 2010 season.
The next best player that would have been available for the Vikings was running back Doug Martin, selected with the 31st pick by Tampa Bay. Martin has started every game for the Buccaneers, and leads them with 543 yards heading into Week 9.
Round 3, Pick No. 66: Cornerback, Josh Robinson
With their first two picks in the 2012 NFL draft, the Vikings addressed needs at tackle and safety. Heading into the third round, they still needed to add depth at wide receiver, linebacker and cornerback.
With the 32nd-ranked defense in allowing touchdown passes, and the 31st-ranked with only eight interceptions, the right move was to bolster the defensive backfield again.
With the 66th pick in the draft, the Vikings selected cornerback Josh Robinson out of Central Florida. He was the sixth cornerback selected, and according to walterfootball.com, the sixth-best corner in the draft.
According to Vikings.com, Robinson is currently fourth on the Vikings with 31 tackles, despite only making two starts this season. With the injury to Chris Cook, he will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities.
Of the five cornerbacks selected in the third round, Robinson was the second behind Trumaine Johnson taken by St. Louis right before Robinson. So far, he is leading this bunch in tackles and is in a three-way tie with his interception.
Among players they might have considered with the 66th pick were, wide receiver T.J. Graham from North Carolina State, selected 69th by the Bills. Graham has 12 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown in six starts.
The Vikings are three-for-three so far in their selections, picking up players that have helped improve the team.
Round 4, Pick No. 118: Wide Receiver, Keshawn Martin
This is where things get a little more complicated. When drafting in the fourth round, there are not many players who have the ability to step in and start in the NFL.
Of the 40 draft picks taken in the fourth round (including compensatory picks), only three players are listed first on the their team's depth charts—Evan Rodriguez is Chicago's starting fullback, Bobby Massie starts at right tackle for Arizona and Miles Burris is a starting outside linebacker for the Raiders.
The Vikings used their three selections in the fourth round to help bolster the offense—they failed. Some of it has been due to bad luck, and some to perhaps selecting the wrong player.
If the Vikings were going to use the worn-out expression and take the best player available, then looking back with what we know now, they would not have selected Jarius Wright with the 118th pick in the draft.
Wright, who missed most of the preseason with an ankle injury, had an impressive game in the final tuneup in Houston. He finished with six catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, demonstrating that he was healthy and ready to go. The leading receiver for Arkansas last season, finishing with 66 catches for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns, has been inactive for every game this season.
With how difficult it has been for the Vikings offense to establish a down-field passing game, Wright should have been given a shot by now. He's must be missing something that head coach Leslie Frazier is not ready to put him on the field.
With the clarity of seeing who's been productive at the midpoint of the season, a better selection would have been Keshawn Martin, a wide receiver from Michigan State selected by the Texans three picks later.
Martin has six catches in seven games for the 6-1 Texans. While not an impressive total, it's still six more catches than Wright has made.
Round 4, Pick No. 128: Linebacker, Miles Burris
The Vikings' selection of Rhett Ellison with the 128th pick in the draft was by no means a bad selection. It was, however, a bit of a reach for a player that was not expected to be drafted.
On draft day, Ellison was so surprised that according to a report in oregonstate.scout.com, he broke down in tears when the Vikings called to give him the news.
The Vikings would have been better reaching a little less and selecting linebacker Burris, who Oakland grabbed with the 129th pick. Burris has started six of seven games for the Raiders, and is fourth in tackles.
Burris would not have displaced Chad Greenway or Erin Henderson as a starter, but he would have provided some depth at the position, as well as some security with Henderson playing on a one-year contract.
At the same time, Ellison would most likely still be available later in the draft.
Round 4, Pick No. 134: Tight End/fullback, Rhett Ellison
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While this is only six picks later than when the Vikings originally selected him, and it can still be considered a reach, Rhett Ellison has played well when given the chance. He's played in seven games, making three starts. While he only has four receptions, they have gained 56 yards.
Instead the Vikings used this pick on wide receiver Greg Childs, taking on the potential he could bring to the NFL.
As a sophomore, Childs led Arkansas with 48 receptions for 894 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. The following season, he suffered a torn patellar tendon and was never quite the same player. As a senior, he only had 21 catches for 240 yards.
Instead of putting his knee injury behind him, Childs suffered the same injury to both knees in the Vikings inter-squad exhibition game in training. He is still with the team having been placed on injured reserve for the season.
While Childs still has a chance to make it in the NFL, the odds don't look good.
Round 5, Pick No. 139: Cornerback, Josh Norman
The Vikings selected cornerback Robert Blanton, Harrison Smith's teammate from Notre Dame, with their fifth-round pick in the draft, and moved him to safety.
The pick was not a bad one, considering how much help the Vikings needed in the defensive backfield. Blanton has been active for five games, and even got some time with the defense when Smith was ejected from the game against the Titans.
Had the Vikings known that Jamarca Sanford would play better this season filling in for Mistral Raymond at safety, there would not have been the need to draft another safety. A better selection would have been cornerback Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina.
Norman has established himself as a starter with Carolina. While perhaps not a great achievement for a team that is 1-6 on the season, he is currently second on the Panthers in tackles.
Round 6, Pick No. 175: Kicker Blair Walsh
At the time, when the Vikings selected kicker Blair Walsh out of the University of Georgia with their sixth-round draft pick, I was dumbfounded.
After all, Minnesota had veteran Ryan Longwell. In his six seasons with the Vikings, he had 633 points, good for third place all-time in franchise history.
He had an 86 percent conversion rate on field goals and was 9-of-15 on field goal attempts greater than 50 yards. The only downside of his game was that he struggled putting the ball in the end zone on kickoffs.
Minnesota ranked 29th in the NFL last season with only 24.4 percent of kickoffs resulting in a touchback—even with the kickoff being moved up to the 35-yard line.
Looking back, this was the right pick for the Vikings. Walsh was the third kicker taken in the draft this season, behind Randy Bullock of Houston and Greg Zeurlein for St. Louis.
This season the Vikings are second in the NFL with 73.8 percent of their kickoffs resulting in a touchback. This is better than even Denver, where the thin air gives kickers an advantage.
On field goals Walsh has been nearly perfect. Coming out of college, he had only a 73.8 percent conversion on field goals for the Bulldogs.
Since joining the NFL, he had made 17 of 18 field goals, making all four attempts from over 50 yards, including a 55-yarder with 0:22 left in the game that tied the score against Jacksonville in the season opener. He would hit the game-winning field goal in overtime.
His 68 points through eight games is fourth-best in the NFL.
The only problem here? The Vikings need to trade in some of these field goals for touchdowns, but that's not Walsh's fault. The rookie has been spectacular.
Round 7, Pick No. 210: Inside Linebacker, Audie Cole
Audie Cole returns two interceptions for touchdowns on consecutive plays.
When it comes to seventh-round draft picks, it's more about potential than anything. Typically, these are players that wind up on the practice squad.
Of the 46 players drafted in the seventh round, 22 of them have been active this season for at least one game, according to pro-football-reference.com. The seventh-round draft pick to see the most action so far this season has been running back Daryl Richardson, the second to the last player taken in the draft.
Through eight games he has 62 carries for 335 yards—second on the Rams behind Stephen Jackson by a mere 68 yards. Richardson also fourth for St. Louis with 14 receptions for another 99 yards.
With as well as Adrian Peterson has been playing this season, there's no reason for the Vikings to look for a running back.
Based on the players available at this point, the Vikings selection of linebacker Audie Cole was still the best move. The ninth inside linebacker drafted, he was ranked as the seventh-best inside linebacker by both walterfootball.com and cbssports.com.
Walterfootball.com projected him to go as early as the fourth round. In the report, a poor combine may have resulted in him dropping to the seventh round.
In the second preseason game against Buffalo, Cole may have earned a roster spot by returning two interceptions for touchdowns. The feat occurred on consecutive offensive plays for the Bills. Granted, they came late in the fourth quarter when all of the projected starters were in street clothes.
Round 7, Pick No. 219: Greg Scruggs
Since Trevor Guyton, the Vikings' final selection in the draft at No. 219 did not make the roster, or the practice squad, just about any other player taken with this selection may have been better.
Of course as a defensive end, it was going to be tough to make the roster where the Vikings have starters Jared Allen and Brian Robison and super backup Everson Griffen—the top three sack producers on the team.
Looking at the same position, a better selection might have been Greg Scruggs, who the Seahawks selected with the 232nd pick in the draft. While he is listed third at left defensive end on the Seattle depth chart, he is on the active roster and has recorded a sack on the season.
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Even though technically the Vikings have nine of their 10 draft picks still with the team, two of them have not seen any action yet this year.
The changes would have forgone the selections of wide receivers and Arkansas teammates Greg Childs and Jarius Wright—both who could still make some contributions in the future. In their places the Vikings would gotten wide receiver Keshawn Martin and linebacker Miles Burris.
Instead of Robert Blanton, the Notre Dame cornerback switched to safety, the Vikings would have cornerback Josh Norman.
Finally, instead of nothing to show for the selection of Trevor Guyton, the Vikings might have Greg Scruggs as a backup defensive end.