Minnesota Vikings 2012 Draft: Round-by-Round Predictions, Ver. 1.0
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The 2011 season is mercifully coming to an end, and with that the Vikings will look to 2012 in order to re-navigate the ship in the right direction.
Most Vikings fans are hoping the navigator and captain, Leslie Frazier, can have a successful offseason by firing certain coaches and hiring solid NFL-caliber coaches. Some of the coaches will remain, most notably Bill Musgrave. Those who are calling for Musgrave to be fired should temper their impatience.
Read the book Eating Soup with a Fork—then you'll understand what's going on with the Vikings offense right now. Or at least try to understand the metaphor.
The rest of the staff definitely needs re-tooling. I cannot speak to management, but Frazier has his work cut out for him.
Frazier and crew must also look at free agency and the draft to fit out a crew worthy of sailing this Vikings ship back into playoff contention. In previous articles, I have chronicled possible scenarios for the Vikings, if you care to take a look at those to gain greater context of my reasoning.
This draft and free agency will indicate to the fans the direction the Vikings want to go in. If you look at all the teams they have an identity. Are they an offense first type of team, or defense first type of team? That is what Minnesota has to figure out. Right now they cannot be both because they cannot afford it, a potentially 2-14 team cannot be wishy-washy in their approach.
While I have this opportunity, let me respond to several Vikings beat writers who have taken liberty to make curious statements about rookie Christian Ponder. I take issue with these so-called sports journalists who seem to be nothing short of opportunists. They do very little research, make bold assertions having never played the game, and overall seem desperate to make much ado about nothing. I will address the Ponder situation in the next slide with adept research as reinforcement for my assertions.
The subsequent slides take an early look at the 2012 draft and the possible choices for the Vikings in each round. I have taken liberty to include a minimum of two compensatory picks in lieu of losing Ray Edwards and Sydney Rice. I would assume the Vikings could perhaps receive two more, one for Tarvaris Jackson, and Ben Leber, but I don't want to get greedy, and I really just don't know until it is made official after the winter meetings.
My guess is the Vikings will have at least two, but as many as four, compensatory picks in the 2012 draft. This assessment is made on the premise that there is no free agency and strictly follows a draft philosophy.
So, let's take a look into the murky ball that has yet to crystallize this early.
Ponder has often had to run for many reasons
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My guess is that there will be an emphasis on trying to get Christian Ponder some weapons next year, and that may start as early as Round 1 of the draft. Make no mistake, the kid has the moxie, intelligence and desire to excel as a top-caliber NFL quarterback, and when I see articles that question whether Ponder was a good draft decision, I take issue with that.
Here is research to back up that Ponder hasn't been as bad as some of the Vikings "expert" journalists have painted him out to be.
Troy Aikman: Rookie year, Cowboys go 1-15; Aikman starts 10 games, wins zero. His numbers: 52.9%, 9 TDs, 18 INTs, QB rating of 55.7.
John Elway: 11 games, 45.7%, 7 TDs, 14 INTs, QB rating of 54.9
Steve Young's second year: 14 starts, 53.7%, 8 TDs, 13 INTs, QB rating of 65.5
Drew Brees' second year: 16 starts, 60.8%, 17 TDs, 16 INTs, QB rating of 76.9
Christian Ponder: 8 starts, 54.5%, 13 TDs, 12 INTs, QB rating of 72.3
This is certainly not to say he's automatically in the same caliber as the other quarterbacks on this list, but it illustrates that a rookie season does not reflect a final product. It's pretty sad when these writers have decided to jump on a guy who has little or few weapons, a star running back who's missed three-plus games and an offensive line that has more holes than moth-filled breeches.
Message to fickle journalists: Lighten up, back off and at least give this kid a chance to get some weapons, an entire offseason of workouts and a full season under his belt before you unleash your vitriol.
Round One: A Day One Starter Desired
Is Blackmon worth a possible number three pick?
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Decisions, decisions. If the season ended today the Vikings would hold the third pick in round one. The consensus is the Colts are going to draft Andrew Luck, and with the Rams drafting second, they could certainly send a wrinkle the Vikings way, maybe.
The unique thing about the Rams, Vikings, and Jaguars is that all three have needs at the same position, offensive line and wide receiver. Each team will need to decide the higher priority and person available. You don't draft a need if the need player is not the player you covet, simply to draft for that position. Many teams that continue to struggle will do that, they will reach for need players rather than choose the best athlete available.
Even though it's early in the process, I see the Vikings taking Matt Kalil, OT, USC if the Rams do not. And if the Rams select Kalil, the Vikings may want to move down and allow some team like the Dolphins or Redskins to jump up and draft Robert Griffin III, who seems to be everyone's star on the rise.
Personally, I think that would be an excellent move for the Vikings because they would fall four to five spots, take another desirable lineman, or maybe even one of the other three top wide receivers, not to mention acquiring an extra pick.
Ideal pick: Matt Kalil, OT, USC: Frame, athleticism, system, and experience make him a day one starter. He has flaws, but they all do. He is the top lineman in his class and would fill an immediate need.
Secondary ideal: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Depending on who you talk to, or articles you read, Blackmon is a home run hitter, while others are not so sold on the gifted 6'1", 210 pound wide out. Rest assured, he is an upgrade over Malcolm Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu.
Round Two: The Vikings Achilles Heel
Could the LSU standout remain in purple?
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You might say, "What, Achilles' heel? What about Rudolph and Gerhart?" Yes, you are right, and if you go back to a recent article I wrote, "Vikings 2011 Woes Easily Traceable" You will see that I give exception to both of these players, but in year's past, the Vikings have missed on a slew of round two players, that is why I gave it that title.
Round two can be every bit as important as the first round. Miss here and you most likely miss on a starter.
I have made the suggestion that the Vikings trade Toby Gerhart because his talent is being wasted for just a few carries a game. What he does can be replaced by a player drafted in the mid to late rounds. Again, I love Gerhart, and he has shown why he was a solid number two pick, but we could have better spent that draft on another need. I get the whole, we lost Chester Taylor thing, but really, round two?
By trading Gerhart, the Vikings could conceivably get at least a third rounder for him, maybe a late two.
If the Vikings get Kalil in round one, it is safe to say the Vikings will look to wide receiver or defensive back in round two. If they grab Blackmon in round one, then look for a lineman here. I would offer though that getting your LT for the next decade is more likely to show up in round one as opposed to round two. Here you can find gem receivers more than sleeper lineman. Here are three possible names to be out there:
Zebrie Sanders, 6'5", 290, OT, FSU: Sanders may not even be available here, but if so, he would be a solid pick. He is a three year starter, has good range and mobility, but is not considered a top tier tackle, the likes of Kalil and Reiff, and can have difficulty with fluid, agile ends. Most scouting reports have him graded out as mid second round talent.
Reuben Randle, 6'3", 208, WR, LSU: Edge to Randle here over Mohamad Sanu, WR, Rutgers, because of competition and SEC. Both men are similar in height and speed. Randle has above average speed and ability to stretch a defense.
Stephon Gilmore, 6'1", 193, CB, South Carolina: Tough, good size, excellent speed. Rated among top five corners in the draft. Didn't we say that about Cedric Griffin when he was coming out
Round Three: Critical Decision Time
Big Hutch's career is winding down
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Ah, round three, where so many drafts are made for many teams. Here is that one guy so many other teams passed on that went on to have a great NFL career. Or, here was that guy where teams had high expectations and he fell on his face. Yep, round three, (and throw in round four to make the thought here complete) the round that so often makes or breaks a teams overall draft grade.
Steve Hutchinson is 34, and Herrera is going into his ninth year at guard. With Brandon Fusco and Demarcus Love from last year's draft, one would think the Vikings are okay here, but Love is second team LT on the depth chart, and Fusco is Sullivan's back up at center, so it is safe to say the Vikings may look at guard in round three. If they draft Kalil, Charlie Johnson can move down to guard, his more natural position. The Vikings could also look at cornerback here if they did not address it in round two.
Again, three names:
Kevin Zeitler, 6'4", 318, G, Wisonsin: Three year starter, has size, mobility, toughness, and intangible of high motor make him a solid round three pick.
Brandon Jenkins, 6'3", 265, OLB, FSU: Ideally, I would like to see the Vikings save a pick here and move Everson Griffen to SLB. He could lose about 10-15 pounds, has shown great quickness and agility, and could very much make an impact the likes of Lamar Woodley of the Steelers. That would enable the Vikings to move Greenway back to his more natural position, WLB. The idea here is, get your best athletes on the field, period.
With that said, the Jenkins selection would not take place, but he is a very athletic, fluid linebacker with good speed.
Xavier Rhodes, 6'2", 215, 4.45-40, CB, FSU: Rhodes has great size and speed. His year was marked by teams avoiding him for the most part, but if he comes out, he might not make it to this point in the draft. If he stays at FSU, he is considered a round one selection next year.
Round Four: May the Best Athlete Win
Could Lewis' stock drop enough for Vikings to do the "can't pass up" argument?
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To follow up the round three analogy, round four is part of that two round area that can really set a draft class apart from others. In general, most pundits will give teams a good grade for round one and perhaps a reinforcement with round two, but it's rounds three and four that begin the separation.
Not to belabor the point, let's get to it. I believe this is where the Vikings will receive their first compensatory pick, so it is safe to say they should have two picks here. With that in mind, here are four names to consider.
Jamell Fleming, 5'11", 192, 4.5-40, CB, Oklahoma: Considered a solid corner who is very good with technique. He may not flash, but he will be a reliable cover corner. Off field issues though drop him to fourth round.
Joel Foreman, 6'4", 310, G, Michigan State: This is not an incredibly deep class for guards this year, but in round four there could be great quality in Foreman. He is a good run pusher, and is part of a contingent that protects Kirk Cousins. He is well rounded in all aspects of blocking. His deepest flaw would be that he does not have those special, standout physical tools some teams may look for.
Ronnell Lewis, 6'2", 244, 4.55-40, OLB, Oklahoma: Lewis is projected as high as the number two OLB, and if that is the case then he is gone round one, early round two, but Lewis has had some off field issues that could push his draft stock down, and as you know sometimes a guy just keeps dropping.
It is doubtful that Lewis will be here, but if he is, the gifted OLB would add a lot to the special team's early on as he learns the weak side position.
Cyrus Gray, 5'10", 200, 4.47-40, RB, Texas A&M: Gray is a nice one cut runner who runs more powerfully than his frame would dictate. He also has the speed to quickly jump to the second level defender area. He is not the lead type running back, but is a good complement to Adrian Peterson..
Gray, or Mississippi State's Vick Ballard, would be complementary backs if the Vikings decide to trade Gerhart. If they do not trade him, I do not believe the Vikings would draft a RB unless a gifted, fit the system perfect guy fell to them. This would be the compensatory pick.
Round Five: Back Ups Needed, Athletes Preferred
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Round five could bring the Vikings two more picks, but the compensatory process is far from being established at this point, so let's stick to one player here. In round five, it would be safe to say that teams are looking for solid back ups or special teams standouts. Occasionally, you will get that rare pick who becomes a productive starter.
Lord knows the Vikings special teams needs help. It seemed like every game this year the Vikings gave up huge return yardage or a return for a touchdown. So, who could come in and make an impact would benefit one of the three phases of the game, and that would be a boon for the Vikings.
So far the OL, WR, CB, and possibly OLB has been addressed. The running back mention in round four was a pick as a result of the compensation process for losing Ray Edwards.
Here are three names for round five:
Joe Adams, 5'11", 190, 4.57-40, WR, Arkansas: Adams and fellow receiver Jarius Wright made for a dangerous combination in the SEC. Adams seems to be the steadier, more consistent receiver who projects out as a slot receiver.
MIke Martin, 6'2". 304, DT, Michigan: The rumor mill is the Vikings may move to a 3-4 defense. If Pagac is fired and an NFL caliber type DC comes in and the Vikings move to a 3-4, Martin will not be part of that plan. He is a traditional NT for a 4-3, but in their current state, the Vikings could consider a NT at this point as Kevin Williams is aging, and the other DTs have not made the impact expected.
I would like to see the Vikings move to a 3-4 because it gives your defense more flexibility, and in today's NFL with so much passing, a 3-4 provides better disguises and match ups.
The third name here would be:
Isaiah Frey, 6'0", 190, 4.5-40, CB, Nevada: Frey is a three year starter and had four INTs this year. He has good size, and his experience as a starter garners a deeper look at his skill set.
Round Six: The Donovan Mcnabb Round
Man, I should have just retired last year
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As you might recall, the Vikings threw away a sixth round draft choice for Donovan McNabb. Some may argue otherwise had McNabb actually played well, but when a team has struggled like the Vikings have this year, every pick counts.
So, in honor of Donovan McNabb, I am going to put down two names just to spite the trade agreement. Besides, we might get a compensatory pick here.
Bobby Wagner, 6'1", 230, 4.67-40, OLB, Utah State: Wagner had a very productive senior season. He is considered a smart player with a nose for the football. If he is available here, this could be a nice surprise for the Vikings.
Best athlete available: Whether it is OLB, CB, or WR. The Vikings evaluate their draft board and go for the athlete they feel would be a good back up, or special teams player.
Round Seven: Who?
With so many issues for the franchise, a good draft will put fans back in the stands
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And here we are, round seven. This is where we often have to dig deep into our scouting to find out any information on most team's final draft choice.
Most likely the Vikings already have two picks in this round, their own and the one agreed upon in the Randy Moss trade. Also, there is a high likelihood the Vikings will receive a compensatory pick here as well. Here are five names to close out the 2012 initial look draft of the Minnesota Vikings.
Nathan Stupar, 6'1", 230, 4.65-40, OLB, Penn State: Stupar follows a long line of recent Penn State LB standouts currently in the NFL. Stupar will not wow you with physical gifts, but he is smart, steady, and reliable.
J.B. Shugarts, 6'7", 300, T/G, Ohio State: Shugarts is more suited for inside and would provide depth and nothing more. Shugarts' father played for the Steelers, so he has the bloodline.
Greg McCoy, 5'11", 185, 4.35-40, CB, TCU: the 4.35 looks impressive, so why is McCoy a late round prospect? His corner skills need a lot of work, but he is a very good athlete and is a dangerous kick returner. Minnesota's revolving door of return men is enough to make us dizzy, and even though we like to see Harvin back there, I would rather have a regular guy carry the KR load. McCoy could be that choice.
Lance Lewis, 6'3", 200, 4.54-40, WR, East Carolina: Lewis performed well this year against top competition: South Carolina and North Carolina. He missed the final four games and his stock has dropped because of that.
Harrison Smith, 6'2", 212, 4.6-40, S, Notre Dame: Smith has had an up and down season, but last year's 7 INTs will help his draft stock. He is a solid tackler and in the NFL that will help him get extra looks.
Well, there you have it, an initial round by round look at what the Vikings could be looking at. The off season will be an interesting one, no doubt.
Stay tuned for future articles as I tweak the Vikings round by round draft, mostly due to rising and falling players, players returning to school, a good/poor combine, bowl games, etc. Of course, much will change after the free agent season begins.
As always, your constructive comments or thoughts are welcome. Happy Holidays.