The NFL Draft is this weekend, with Round 1 set to kick off Thursday night, at 7pm. Rounds 2-3 will follow on Friday at 6pm, with the draft wrapping up, beginning at 11am Saturday, with the final four rounds. While everybody knows Stanford QB Andrew Luck will go first to the Indianapolis Colts followed by Baylor QB Robert Griffin III being taken second by the Washington Redskins (who traded their 2012 1st and 2nd round picks, as well as their 2013 and 2014 1st round picks to St. Louis in order to move up four spots, from No. 6 to No. 2, and draft him), there has been much speculation as to what direction the Minnesota Vikings will go with the third overall pick in the draft. Let’s take a look at some scenarios and see which one makes the most sense for Minnesota.
According to many experts, the 2012 NFL Draft is one with five elite talents (six depending on who you are) and then everybody else. Luck and Griffin III are regarded the top talents in the draft no matter who you talk to. After the two of them, you have, in no particular order, Trent Richardson: RB from Alabama, Matt Kalil: OT from USC, and Morris Claiborne: CB from LSU. Some scouts would also include WR Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State in this group, while others consider him to be in Tier 2. So, any way you look at it, if the Vikings stay put at No. 3, they’ll ultimately have their choice of four potential stars, all of who would fill glaring needs on the roster, with the exception of Richardson. There is also always the possibility of trading down if a great offer comes along. In recent days, there has been a lot of chatter about teams possibly trading up to the No. 3 spot in order to select Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill. Don’t believe those rumors. That’s too high for him to go in this draft, as his peak is probably at No. 8 to the Miami Dolphins. However, the key for Minnesota is what other teams feel the Cleveland Browns will do with the fourth pick. The Browns clearly need help on the offensive side of the football and although some do feel they like Tannehill at No. 3, the two more likely scenarios are Richardson or Blackmon. So, if there’s a team out there who is absolutely in love with one of those players, Minnesota may get a great trade offer, so that team can leapfrog the Browns and select the guy they must have. If the Vikings are fielding offers for the No. 3 pick, they don’t want to slide down too far in the first round. The lowest they may be willing to go is somewhere between picks No. 8 and No. 13, where the second rated OT and WR, Riley Reiff of Iowa and Michael Floyd of Notre Dame figure to go. In the case Minnesota trades down in the draft, expect to see them come away with one of these two guys. Although they wouldn’t be getting an elite player, trading down would allow the Vikings to fill more of their needs and with plenty of big needs up and down the roster (OT, WR, S, CB, LB, DT, DE), it may not be a bad idea. However, once again, it all depends on finding a trade partner willing to give up multiple picks to slide into the No. 3 spot.
As we already know, the Vikings would clearly benefit from any of the three players mentioned above; Kalil, Claiborne, or Blackmon. It was extremely disappointing to see how unaggressive they were this offseason, in trying to bring in an established free agent WR to help out Ponder, Harvin, and the passing game. So, without making that a priority, they must address the WR position in the draft. Luckily for them, this draft class is deep at the WR position, so Minnesota does have the luxury of waiting until Round 2 or maybe even 3. With that said, assuming they stay put at No. 3, that takes Blackmon off my board, leaving two. Kalil and Claiborne. Since drafting former OT, Bryant McKinnie No. 7 overall in the 2002 NFL Draft, the Vikings have spent just one other pick, in the first three rounds, on an OT. That was when they selected Phil Loadholt in the second round of the 2009 draft. Say what you will about McKinnie, but all in all, both of those picks panned out for the most part. McKinnie, although grossly overrated in his days with the purple and gold, was at times a very productive player. And Loadholt has been solid thus far. On the contrary, since the McKinnie pick in 2002, Minnesota has spent seven picks on defensive backs, in rounds one through three. All but Cedric Griffin can be classified as busts, however Chris Cook and Asher Allen still have time to reverse their fortunes. The others; Tyrell Johnson, Marcus McCauley, Dustin Fox, and Willie Offord were all borderline terrible for the Vikings. My point being, with their recent history of swinging and missing on DB’s in the second and third rounds, it may be very tempting for the Vikings to use the No. 3 pick on one of the best cover corners to come around in a while. If they feel this way, Morris Claiborne would be a great selection. However, no matter how tempting Claiborne is, the Vikings’ top priority has to be protecting their franchise QB, Christian Ponder. If you watched any games last year, it seemed like both he and Joe Webb were constantly running for their lives. It is extremely difficult to evaluate what you have at the QB position if your QB is always on his back and never has time to deliver the ball. In a league that is catered to the offense, the Vikings must take the next step in improving theirs. Kalil is a rare talent who is already polished enough to come in and be the Vikings LT from day one. And not only is he a great pass blocker, he’s also very good in the running game. Picking him would significantly upgrade not only the offensive line, but also the offense as a whole. Claiborne has the chance to be a great player for a long time, but in Minnesota’s current situation, Kalil is a no-brainer. It would be foolish to pass on him.
Besides the No. 3 pick, Minnesota also owns picks No. 35, 66, 98, 128, and 134 in the first four rounds as well as No. 138 in Round 5. With this many picks, they can package some to move up in certain spots or simply stay put and fill hole after hole after hole. Their top three priorities should be to fill holes at OT, WR, and DB (CB or S). As we mentioned earlier, the WR group is deep this year, so they may want to look at a S in Round 2 and a WR later, in Round 3. At the S position, the Vikings should jump all over Harrison Smith of Notre Dame, if he falls to them in Round 2. After Smith, the dropoff at S is significant, so if they miss out on him, they may as well wait awhile and take either the best WR or CB available. Again at the CB position, once you get past Janoris Jenkins from Northern Alabama, a dropoff occurs. If these players are gone, Minnesota could go WR or fill another need with Nebraska LB Lavonte David, California LB Mychal Kendricks, Connecticut DT Kendall Reyes, DT Devon Still of Penn State, or draft a pass rusher in Clemson DE Andre Branch or USC DE Nick Perry. However, if Georgia Tech WR, Stephen Hill slips to the Vikings at No. 35, he may be too tempting to pass up. Hill is a 6’4” 215lb specimen with blazing speed. His 40 time at the combine was 4.36. Hill would be a great compliment to Harvin, in the passing game, and could stretch the field for the Vikings offense. If they decide to wait until Round 3 to choose a WR, Minnesota is most likely looking at Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina (who continues his free fall down the draft board), A.J. Jenkins from Illinois, or Appalachian State’s Brian Quick.
Log on Thursday to see my complete Round 1 Mock Draft.