We’re well through the task of opening the doors on TFQ’s NFL Draft Advent Calendar! This is our Christmas – when NFL teams get to decide what sort of new toys they get under the tree to play with next season.
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2012 finish: 10-6; lost in Wild Card round
TOTAL PICKS: 10
25 (from Seahawks)
5 (102) (from Lions)
7 (213) (from Cardinals)
Fact: Minnesota came one late-minute scratch of injured QB Christian Ponder away from a fighting chance to beat Green Bay in the first round of the playoffs. (Backup quarterback Joe Webb had to play in Ponder’s stead and performed one of the biggest bedshittings of any starter in NFL playoffs history as the Vikings lost the game.)
Fact: There were two reasons why a team that was projected to be one of 2012’s worst in the league even made it to the playoffs. Those would be a historic season from bionic RB Adrian Peterson and a defense that played above both its talent level and statistical output.
Fact: Vikes GM Rick Spielman can’t depend on those two things; this team needs to make serious roster adjustments in order to come close to last season’s win-loss record.
Minnesota has already begun to make offseason moves to improve a team that was so thin in talent heading into the 2012 season that I expected them to contend with Jacksonville for the NFL’s worst record, and the Vikings sit in prime position heading into this year’s draft with two first-round picks at what many people see as the sweet spot in this year’s draft: the mid-20s. (This is because a lot of the scouting analysis reveals a very narrow talent gap between the top 10 picks of the first round and the fifteen or so that follow. Plus, that area of the first round can be a prime position to entertain trades from other teams that want to jump up into Round 1 for a player they have their eyes on.)
Spileman’s team is one of only two teams with two picks in Round 1 (the other is St. Louis), but Minnesota had to give up star slot receiver Percy Harvin to do it. How did the franchise’s cornerstone feel about the Harvin trade?
Not the most ringing endorsement of his team’s bold move. One thing’s for sure: Spielman isn’t worrying about keeping his all-world running back happy while he makes tough roster decisions. But if Patriots owner Robert Kraft doesn’t answer to QB Tom Brady, then Spielman shouldn’t have to make decisions while keeping Peterson’s opinions too much in mind either.
Besides, Peterson’s comments came prior to the Vikings free agent snagging of WR Greg Jennings from the division-rival Packers. We could debate the merits of Harvin versus Jennings all day, but in the end both players have been in and out of their respective lineups with injuries, and Harvin was very unhappy in Minnesota. In this sense, Spielman did a great job of addressing the latter issue by getting first and seventh round picks in this year’s draft, a conditional pick in 2014, and one of the marquee wideouts in the NFC North by unloading a player that didn’t want to be on this team.
With Peterson, Jennings, and a solid offensive line returning mostly intact (they lost reliable backup tackle Geoff Schwartz to the Chiefs in free agency, but wisely re-signed starting T Phil Loadholt and second-string interior lineman Joe Berger) and TE Kyle Rudolph as one of the young rising stars at the position, the Vikings can set their sights on using one of their selections in Round 1 to address one of two offensive question marks: another receiver to compliment Jennings, or, sigh, a quarterback to replace Ponder at some point in the near future.
I’m not a fan of how so many teams are quick to write off expensive investments at the QB position…. I understand that new personnel management and/or head coaches don’t feel married to pivots that were acquired by those who came before them, but I still find it jarring that, in this day and age when draft picks are valued like gold, teams in places like Cleveland, Jacksonville, Philadelphia and Minnesota are legitimately rumored to be considering drafting alternatives at QB within one or two years of spending a high selection on the position. Ponder, however, “led” a passing attack that ranked higher in the NFL last season than only one team – Kansas City. Funnily enough, Spielman signed QB Matt Cassel away from the Chiefs to back up Ponder, so if the GM believes that the odds are even close to strong enough that Ponder could play himself out of the starting job next season, Plan B isn’t so stellar at the moment. This is a total instinct call, but what about Florida State’s athletic double-threat QB EJ Manuel? I think Manuel could be a great pro, but the question for Minnesota would be this: What, given the tenor of balance between their run game, defense, special teams, coaching staff, et cetera, is the best sort of quarterback to have on this team? More specifically, the franchise’s brass need to believe that Manuel’s skill set could mesh with Peterson. (My take: a run-capable QB running wide with Peterson as a pitch option? Priceless.)
With that long shot out of the way – and assuming West Virginia’s WR Tavon Austin will be taken somewhere in the teens of Round 1 – the most likely wideout prospects that would be a good move at 23 or 25 would be either Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee) Keenen Allen (Cal) or DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson). Allen reminds me too much of Jennings, and Hopkins’ body of work isn’t as impressive as Patterson’s, so let’s go with the Volunteer here. (Mind you, the WR position is a relative quagmire in terms of scouting the talent this year; I see a big glut of almost-top-tier talent at the top, with no clear-cut favourite.)
With the other first round pick, the Vikes must address their undermanned defense. The interior of the line and cornerback are their two most glaring needs, but I’d say that defensive tackle wins out there. North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is the space eater who is most likely to still be on the board in the mid-20s. DE Datone Jones from UCLA, or Bjoern Werner from FSU could help the pass rush as a dark horse option; ends Jarrett Allen and Brian Robinson aren’t getting any younger, and a rotation of fresh rushers to bookend Allen can’t hurt. As far as CB goes, the Vikings can address that need in the second round.
Peterson may not repeat his stellar 2012 campaign, and the team might not come close to its 10-win performance, but you can be sure that the roster will be stronger, with much more depth, after Spielman is done making use of his team’s ten draft picks.
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STAY TUNED FOR THE REST OF THE DAYS LEADING UP UNTIL THE 2013 NFL DRAFT. WE’LL TAKE A LOOK AT EACH TEAM, AS WE OPEN THEM UP IN THE ADVENT CALENDAR. WE’LL ALSO BE DOING A LIVE TWEET-UP DURING THE DRAFT.