Last year was a rough one in the land of purple. Expectations were riding high on the heels of an NFC Championship Game appearance and one of the best statistical seasons ever from Brett Favre. Alas, as went Favre so went the Vikings......and Favre went down. The Vikings did little but postpone the inevitable rebuilding process by signing Favre two years ago, and they now find themselves in that spot again.
Possessive of an aging defense and a vacant starting QB position, the Vikings still have pieces to build around. Adrien Peterson is the best RB in the league, for my money, and Jared Allen still has gas left in the tank. But they walked into the draft needing a new QB, lots of help on the offensive line and lots of help in the secondary. Add to that the fact that the Williams wall is getting old as wqell as the fact that Ray Edwards, Mideau Williams, Chad Greenway, Pat Williams and Sidney Rice are all scheduled to be free agents and you can see that the Vikings are at a transition point and that this draft was of the utmost importance.
So how did they do? Follow me to the clearing at the end of the jump and we'll look together!
The Vikings had 10 picks in this years draft, including four 6th round selections. Today we'll take a look at the first 5 choices they made.
In the first round, the Vikings got spooked when three quarterbacks went off the boards in the top 10 picks and reached for Florida State QB Christian Ponder. Ponder is a 6'3" 230 lb three-year-starter. He's a dink and dunk passer probably best suited for a west coast offense and he needs to work on his downfield passing game. He's very mobile but is often too quick to take to his feet. That being said, he does have very good pocket presence and feels defenders closing in well. He has solid mechanics and his arm strength is above average, though hardly in the Jay Cutler range. He is very decisive, a great leader and an intelligent kid who has already earned his MBA. He does have durability issues after suffering several arm and shoulder injuries at FSU. Honestly, while I know everyone is down on this pick, I actually think the Vikings made the best possible move for their club with this selection. Ponder had a late first to early second round grade and most thought him the third best QB in the draft. He has all the physical skills, he has the intangibles and he has the intelligence. If Ponder can avoid injury, he could very well end up making Carolina, Jacksonville and especially Tennessee, along with all the scouts and "experts" looking very stupid. Unfortunately, the possibility also exists that he becomes 2011's Chad Pennington with all the talent in the world robbed by injury. Still, I'm higher on this pick than most people are, and I give it an A.
The second round saw the Vikings grab themselves Greg Olsen V2.0 aka Kyle Rudolph. Want to know who Kyle Rudolph is, look at Greg Olsen. The 6'6" 265 lb TE from Notre Dame is being compared regularly to Jason Witten, but he far more closely resembles Olsen. He is a fantastic receiver with great hands, great routes and great body control. And he can't block. Like G-Reg, he can't block. He gives it the ol' college try, just as Olsen does, but just doesn't possess the skill. And as with Olsen, this can be corrected to some extent. Living in South Bend, I've spent the last few years watching Rudolph play, and he's the real deal. He will make the Vikings better in 2 TE sets. But I question the wisdom of the pick. The Vikings already have Visanthe Shiancoe and they have far greater needs than a 2nd TE. Rudolph might have been the best player on their board, and I have problems arguing that, usually. But in this case, I'm going to say that they should have taken the second best player on their board. Still, I can't deduct much for that and I give the pick a B-.
The Vikings got great value at a need position in the 4th round when Iowa Defensive Tackle Christian Ballard fell to them in the 4th round. He's a high motor DT with a good interior pass rush. He has the versatility to play DT or End, as well as the size at 6'5" and 285 lbs. He reminds me a lot of Israel Idonije. Not necessarily elite, but has the fundamentals and work ethic to succeed admirably. He diagnoses plays well, but struggles to anchor in running situations and needs to get stronger. Overall, I like this pick and I give it a B.
This years whole crop of CBs seemed to fall farther than expected, and the Vikings grabbing Brandon Burton in the 5th round is no exception. Burton had a 3rd to 4th round grade and the Vikings managed to get another need filled. That said, Burton seems kinda wrong to me. He doesn't fit what the Vikings usually want in a corner. The 6' 190 lb corner has 4.50 speed great hips and a good backpedal. He's good in man coverage and solid ball skills and leaping ability. But he is poor in zone coverage and he is nonexistent in run coverage, two thing the Vikings usually value highly in their corners. He's also fairly inconsistent. Overall, I think this was a need pick and the Vikings are going to have to do a lot of work with Burton for him to fit what they do. This would be why I couldn't penalize them much for the Rudolph pick. When you draft for need, you end up in this kind of position. I give the pick a D.
I was stunned that the Vikings didn't address the offensive line earlier, but they did finally get around to it in the 6th round with Arkansas tackle DeMarcus Love. The 6'5" 315 lb linemen is projected as a guard in the NFL, though he could end up at tackle. Love was a nice nab in the 6th. He plays with power and is equal as a run and pass blocker. He has good size and long arms and he has excellent hand play. He held his own against top talent in the SEC and usually rose to the occasion against the best talent. But he has poor lateral agility, which is why many see a move to the right side or to the interior of the line. He sometimes has problems with speed rushers and struggles with stunts. Additionally, he needs to work on bending at the kness instead of at the waist. The Vikings waited far to long to start grabbing linemen, but they could have done far worse than DeMarcus Love. I'll give the pick a B-.
Those are my thoughts on the first 5 picks the Vikings made this year. Now let's hear yours. And tune in later for an evaluation of their last 5 picks.