Minnesota Vikings: A 7-Step NFL Draft Strategy
From the moment the Brett Favre experiment began in Minnesota, we knew this day would come. When a team goes into "win now" mode, there are only two possible outcomes. The Vikings pushed their chips all-in. They neglected the future. They crashed and burned.
Minnesota entered the 2010 draft aiming to polish a few select positions. They already boasted a championship caliber roster that would return all 22 starters, including a league-best eight Pro Bowlers. However, in the NFL things can change faster than Antonio Cromartie's kid count, and last season's bizarre downturn has left this team reeling.
The Vikings now find themselves in the infancy of a new era, rendering the 2011 draft their most crucial in recent memory.
1. Face Reality and Refocus Immediately
Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe recently told the NFL Network that the Vikings are "built for the now." He's delusional. The reality is that they're an aging 6-10 cellar dweller without a quarterback. What's more, the fledgling coaching staff is in jeopardy of losing Sidney Rice and/or Ray Edwards from an already porous roster.
Adrian Peterson is clearly the franchise centerpiece. With four seasons and 1,271 carries on his tab, he's likely hovering around the midpoint of his career as an elite back. We can probably expect a significant decline in his abilities by 2015, his age-30 season.
At best, the Vikings are two outstanding offseasons away from surrounding him with the requisite pieces to contend with, among others, the Green Bay Packers. Therefore, I'm proposing a target window of 2013-2014, Peterson's seventh and eight seasons. For the next two years, every personnel decision should hinge on this "2013 Plan."
Nobody likes the idea of rebuilding, but the only thing worse is the Vikings' current path: mediocrity.
2. Put a Premium on Character and Football I.Q.
Six months prior, they wasted their 2010 fourth rounder on Everson Griffen, a mental midget who'd been projected as a first round talent. Since joining the team, Griffen has collected zero sacks, two arrests, and 50,000 volts from a police taser.
Athletes like Griffen will tease you with their "potential," and they'll garner high marks from the Mel Kiper's of the world based on "value." It's a road well travelled in Minnesota. Heck, it's a lake well travelled too. With third and fourth round picks already circling the toilet bowl, the Vikings would be well served to invest in collegiate athletes who are ready to become professionals—they can no longer afford to gamble on clowns.
3. Redefine B.P.A.
When building for 2013, "Best Player Available" becomes "Best Prospect Available." The Vikings are not close to contending in their current state, so they shouldn't be chasing a quick fix. It's a difficult pill to swallow, but with Adrian Peterson's clock ticking, Minnesota needs to get ahead of the curve on the rebuild.
The eleventh pick of the second round (2.11) presents a perfect example. Ryan Mallett may be available, and he sports the best arm in the entire draft. Sadly, he gets the red "character concern" Sharpie.
TCU's Andy Dalton is a mature, fundamentally sound signal caller who could probably start for the Vikings tomorrow, but he has a low ceiling.
Nevada's Colin Kaepernick is raw, but he's a physically gifted specimen with all the tools to excel in the NFL. He's also been lauded for his work ethic, leadership, and intelligence (he scored an impressive 37 on the Wonderlic).
4. Draft B.P.A. at No. 12
Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton will most likely be gone by pick 12, meaning that the best available prospect will not be a quarterback.
The Vikings enter the draft with the "luxury" of having only one position (running back) solidified. This gives them free rein to snap up the most talented prospect that falls to them, regardless of position. Whichever direction the Vikings choose, it's imperative that they don't repeat their historic mistake of 2005.
With the seventh overall pick acquired from Oakland in the Randy Moss trade, Minnesota reached for Troy Williamson, hoping he'd assume Moss' role as a feared vertical threat. The easiest way to miss on a pick is by over-drafting to fill an immediate need, and the Vikings whiffed. Williamson quickly became a punchline, and four of the next six picks would go on to become Pro Bowlers (Antrel Rolle, DeMarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman, and Jammal Brown).
Elevating Jake Locker or Ryan Mallett to the 12th spot based on need would be a shortsighted blunder.
5. Stockpile Quarterbacks
The Vikings would be wise to leave the draft with two quarterbacks. With Gabbert and Newton expected to go very early, talent and value won't match up until the second round for Minnesota.
Flash back to 2008, when Brett Favre's departure left an unproven Aaron Rodgers as the only quarterback on roster in Green Bay. He was a blue chip prospect, but Ted Thompson realized that he was dealing with the most important position in all of sports, so he astutely grabbed two more quarterbacks to add to the mix.
Louisville's Brian Brohm, who at one point in his college career projected as the No. 1 overall pick, fell to the Packers in the second round (pick 56). Thompson then raised eyebrows when he threw a seventh round flyer at LSU's Matt Flynn. Brohm bombed, but Flynn is now one of the most highly regarded backups in the entire league.
The Vikings should aim to enter training camp with Joe Webb, two new rookies, and a cheap veteran mentor-type—think Marc Bulger or Chad Pennington. The four-quarterback stigma does not apply to a team as desperate as the Vikings. They need options.
6. Bolster the Offensive Line
The Vikings' bookend their line with a pair of 6'8" behemoths who flirt with a combined 700 lbs. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie (31) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (25) are both talented enough to be major contributors in 2013, but Loadholt is inconsistent, and McKinnie lacks motivation. They could both use a heavy dose of legitimate competition.
The bigger problem is in the middle. Left guard Steve Hutchinson may already be on his last leg, and he'll be turning 36 midway through the 2013 season. That's where the current roster's interior talent ends.
It's been speculated that Phil Loadholt could move inside to guard, and that McKinnie could slide over to right tackle if the Vikings uncover a promising left tackle. Regardless, with at least three holes to fill, 60 percent of the 2013 starting offensive line is not on roster yet.
Positionally speaking, this draft is widely regarded to be very deep in the trenches.
7. Revamp the Secondary
Antoine Winfield will turn 36 prior to the 2013 season, and he'll have undoubtedly transitioned to safety by then. Cedric Griffin is on the mend—he's now torn both ACLs. The only other noteworthy cornerback is last year's top pick, Chris Cook, who battled multiple knee injuries throughout his rookie season and was ineffective when active.
God bless Madieu Williams. In a league full of false idols, his humanitarian efforts are truly heroic. Sadly, the NFL's Man of the Year is not a starting-level safety for a contending NFL team, and neither are any of the other safeties currently on roster.
Did I mention Aaron Rodgers is only 27 years old?
Minnesota Vikings: Best Case Scenario
Barring a trade, the picks and analysis below represent what I feel would be the best case scenario for the Vikings if everything were to fall into place.
1.12) Prince Amukamara; CB, Nebraska - Prince locks down one side of the field for the next decade, and would be a no-brainer if he were to fall to 12.
2.11) Colin Kaepernick; QB, Nevada - A first round talent, Kaepernick is a developmental quarterback who will be ready to shine in 2013.
4.09) Will Rackley; G/C, Lehigh - Rackley is a small-school left tackle who projects as a very solid guard/center prospect with positional flexibility at the next level.
5.08) Ahmad Black, SS, Florida - Black is a bit undersized, and he had a poor combine. However, he's a big-effort gamer, and a fearless hitter who lets the tape do the talking.
5.19) Ricky Stanzi; QB, Iowa - Minnesota uses the pick they acquired in the Sage Rosenfels deal on another signal caller. Stanzi may lack the physical tools of the draft's top prospects, but his moxie and intangibles are off the charts.
6.7) Terrell McClain; DT, South Florida - McClain is a high-motor prospect who has the ability to be disruptive in the run game, and has potential for improvement as a pass-rusher.
7.12) Ricardo Lockette; WR, Fort Valley State - A Division II track star, Lockette possesses a tantalizing size/speed combination, but he's incredibly raw.
I bought heavily into the "2013 Plan" when formulating my selections. Outside of Amukamara and Stanzi, I opted for talent and upside over polish. This projects as a raw draft class with outstanding long-term potential.
As a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA), Ryan Boser has contributed writing and commentary for numerous fantasy football outlets. His own website, Out of My League, covers both fantasy football and the Minnesota sports landscape.