I love the NFL draft, I really do. It's like Christmas was for me as a child. You've wished for certain things, but you can't be exactly sure what you're going to get. Then after much anticipation, the day(s) arrives and there are these new gifts under the tree, waiting to be unwrapped.
So the Vikings got 10 gifts over three days during the draft. For some light Sunday reading, here are scouting reports on left tackle Matt Kalil (1st round), safety Harrison Smith (1st), cornerbacks Josh Robinson (3rd) and Robert Blanton (5th), wide receivers Jarius Wright (4th) and Greg Childs (4th), tight end Rhett Ellison (4th), linebacker Audie Cole (7th) and defensive end Trevor Guyton (7th). (I couldn't find a scouting report for sixth-round pick, kicker Blair Walsh. But he's a kicker, so who cares what his vertical was or how he did in the 3-cone drill. Do they even make kickers do a 3-cone drill?)
You will read a lot over the next few days about how grading drafts is a fool's errand because it takes three or four years to truly know how a draft turned out (although after about 10 months, it was clear the Vikings 2005 draft was a stinker). I agree. But I think you can still determine whether a draft made sense and if the logic behind the picks was sound. That is what I will address here.
What I liked about the Vikings draft
* Going into the draft, we knew the Vikings needed a left tackle and they needed to upgrade their two weakest units – secondary and wide receivers.
Drafting Matt Kalil solves the left tackle issue. Worst-case scenario, Kalil turns into a solid starter for a decade or more. Best case scenario, he becomes a Jonathan Ogden-type shut down tackle who makes pass rushing defensive ends look like Erasmus James. They chose three defensive backs, including two guys – Smith and Robinson who could be starting in the season opener. And the club selected two receivers relatively early, with Wright likely to play a significant role as a speedy slot guy and punt returner. And if Childs is fully recovered from a patellar tendon injury, the Vikings get a big red zone threat on the outside for Christian Ponder to play with.
* I liked the picks of Cole and Guyton in the seventh round. Cole can play all three linebacker positions and special teams. Guyton is an interchangeable part. He doesn't sound like he will get many sacks, but he's strong against the run and can play tackle or end. He's kind of like last year's fourth-round pick Christian Ballard – only he was picked where he should have been (unlike Ballard, he probably went a round or two too early.)
* I also like the fact the Vikings acquired fourth-round and sixth-round picks in 2013. General manager Rick Spielman made it clear the team will build through the draft (every team says that). Picking up a couple of extra draft chips for next year is ammunition a rebuilding team like the Vikings needs.
What I didn't like about the Vikings draft
* I wasn't totally enamored with trading back into the first round to get Smith. To give up a second and a fourth-round pick to choose a safety who isn't great running with receivers screams Adam Archuleta to me. But I also understand why the Vikings wanted Smith. He was the draft's second-rated safety behind Mark Barron. And the Vikings safeties were brutal in 2011. They weren't convinced another team wouldn't choose him before their pick came up in the second round. They traded up to get him as a result. He should start right away.
* I think I speak for most Viking fans when I write that I didn't get – at all – the selection of Ellison and Walsh. The fourth-round is pretty early to draft a Jeff Dugan-type H-back, which seems to be Ellison's ceiling.
The same goes for selecting kicker Blair Walsh in the sixth round. Yes, that's late in the draft and you're taking some fliers on guys at that stage. But I've never thought using a draft pick on a kicker is a good idea. Many of the great kickers in the NFL were never drafted. One of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, current Vikings kicker, Ryan Longwell, is one example.
There is some speculation that Longwell's six-year stay in Minnesota could be nearing its end now that the Vikings have chosen the Walsh. I wouldn't write Longwell's obituary yet. If Walsh can't beat out Longwell (and I don't think he will), then the Vikings wasted a sixth-round pick.
* One last thing I don't care for in this draft was the lack of attention paid to adding depth to the linebacker position. It sounds like Cole is a nice get in round seven, but he's the only linebacker the Vikings added in this draft (the club has signed two undrafted free agent LBs as I write this). The Vikings' depth at this position is pretty thin. The Vikings better hope Jasper Brinkley can handle the Mike linebacker job and that he, Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson can stay healthy throughout 2012. There isn't much behind them.
Can we grade Rick Spielman's performance?
Yes, and I give him a B.
Spielman, who was promoted to general manager this winter, has been in charge of the Vikings draft since 2007. However, this was the first time he had the final call on every pick. Because of that (and because he's the GM of a team that's gone 9-23 the past two seasons), fans were watching closely how he handled the draft.
He was a busy guy. The trade with Cleveland was beautiful work. He created the illusion that Tampa Bay might trade with him. Cleveland bit and Spielman was able to trading down one spot, grab three extra picks and still land Kalil.
As I mentioned above, trading back into the first round to grab Harrison Smith made me cringe a bit. But it's clear now Smith was Spielman's guy all along. They got him and he probably already is the best safety the team has. It's a gamble I can live with.
Landing Robinson in the third round looks like great value. He's not the big, rangy corner Cover Two teams supposedly look for. But sometimes you've got to draft talent rather than drafting for scheme. Robinson is a talent. I think Spielman's work in the first three rounds of this draft was top-notch.
But then there were some questionable picks in rounds four through six. Ellison and Walsh were odd picks for a rebuilding team. Blanton's a question mark, too. A big cornerback with sub-par speed. He sounds like a Mistral Raymond kind of guy, who will be moved to safety.
The seventh-round picks look pretty solid – for seventh-round picks. And Spielman has already started compiling draft picks for 2013, getting a fourth-rounder (where the Vikings have made hay in the past) and a sixth-rounder. We don't know how any of the 10 selections made in this draft will work out. But overall, I'm pretty satisfied with how Spielman ran this draft.
So did the Vikings draft strategy make sense? And was there solid logic behind all 10 selections? I think eight of the 10 picks fit that criteria – with the Ellison and Walsh selections being the head scratchers.
But overall, I approve with what the Vikings did (I'm sure Spielman and the Vikings scouts will be relieved to know that). Now all the 10 draftees have to do is make the team and perform.