So, you’re a Vikings fan. Your team just had the worst season in franchise history, going 3-13 and losing your franchise player to a horrific knee injury late in the season. Your first round quarterback, despite showing signs of promise, appears to have regressed and the injury concerns brought up pre-draft appear to be viable. If there was ever a first round draft pick that the Purple absolutely HAVE to hit on, this is it.
Let’s take a closer look at the players available as they relate to the Vikings, as well as the option of trading down for a team looking to pick up Baylor QB Robert Griffin III.
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Overview: A junior this past season, Kalil didn’t surprise anyone by declaring for the NFL Draft. He’s about as solid as they come at the tackle position with no major weaknesses in his game. Kalil has been durable, productive, and plays with an edge to his game that almost every offensive lineman needs to have. He’s probably a bit better as a pass blocker at this stage of his development, but there’s no real reason to believe that he won’t be a Pro Bowl left tackle for years to come. His brother, Ryan, is one of the best centers in the NFL, playing for Carolina and was franchise tagged this past off-season. ESPN has Kalil rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in this year’s draft, behind Stanford QB Andrew Luck.
Likelihood: It would be shocking if the newly minted Jeff Fisher does not select Kalil No. 2 overall to help protect former #1 overall pick (and the much-sacked) Sam Bradford. Fisher has had success building an offensive line in Tennessee, and likely recognizes that Rodger Saffold is not an NFL left tackle. Too bad they whiffed so bad on Jason Smith, huh? In the scenario that the Rams select Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, a scenario that became slightly more reasonable after Blackmon’s monster Fiesta Bowl performance, I’d have to believe that the Vikings will be inclined to pick Kalil, although it’s my opinion that the next player on this list would be the better fit for Minnesota. Odds: 15%
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Overview: While Claiborne has not gotten the attention that former LSU standout Patrick Peterson enjoyed pre-draft (or even the attention of Heisman Trophy finalist and teammate Tyronn Mathieu) Claiborne is arguably the best cover corner of the bunch. The best way to describe Claiborne’s game is smooth while aggressive. Claiborne is a former wide receiver whose knowledge of his former position enables him to give just enough room to receivers to frequently bait the quarterback into throwing his way and then attacking the ball. Of course, you can’t do this without superb agility and acceleration and Claiborne certainly does not lack in this category. He will not run a “great” 40 time for a corner, but do not be fooled. Claiborne has a legitimate second gear and his game speed appears to be more than adequate to play at a high level in the NFL. He’s not the greatest tackler out there, but he is good enough. You’re taking this guy for his cover ability, as he shows maturation beyond his years. In my opinion, he’s the best player not named Andrew Luck in this draft and should be a candidate for All-Pro teams for a very long time.
Likelihood: Barring the Rams taking Justin Blackmon, Claiborne will arguably be the top player left on the board for the Vikings when they pick at No. 3. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you will understand that it’s my opinion that the Vikings have the worst secondary in the National Football League. Here’s a nugget for everyone: 367-538 for 4019 yards, 34 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, 68.2% completion percentage, 107.6 QB rating. That was the opposing teams’ numbers when passing against the Vikings in 2011. Those are Pro Bowl numbers. The Vikings have one, maybe two legitimate secondary players in Chris Cook (who sat out most of ’11 with a felony arrest hanging over his head) and Antoine Winfield (who is a shell of his former self, now injury prone and stuck in the nickel). The rest deserve to be in the CFL, or quite possibly the extinct XFL. Selecting Claiborne could give you a very nice tandem of starting corners in he and Chris Cook, if he can avoid another run-in with the law. There is some talk that the Vikings may be able to move down and select Claiborne, which would obviously be the best play. But I have a strong feeling that the Vikings will take the LSU corner at #3 and go from there. Odds: 70%
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
Overview: Blackmon has been extraordinarily productive in the Pokes’ pass-happy offense, totaling 111 and 121 catches in his two full-time seasons in Stillwater. His best trait are his ball skills, consistently high pointing the pigskin at the optimal level and he also shows tremendous ability after the catch as he is very built for a college junior and shakes off more tackles than you’d think. Blackmon is also a very crisp route runner and should not have any problems being productive in the right situation. However, he has had some off the field issues (including a 2010 arrest for DUI) and there are concerns about his character. That said, his teammates have never said a bad word about the guy and he appears to be maturing. He also lacks elite separation ability, and the corners are a lot better in the NFL than they are in the Big 12. His numbers were almost certainly padded by the Oklahoma State offense and their propensity to throw the ball 50 (and sometimes 60) times a game.
Likelihood: I’ve seen a lot of Vikings fans clamoring for Blackmon. I understand why fans would want Blackmon, but I just don’t see him as a great fit on the Vikings. First, the Vikings badly, badly need a vertical WR who can stretch the field and take pressure off of Percy Harvin, who is lethal underneath safeties in the short and intermediate passing game. But Blackmon isn’t really a guy you can throw the bomb to, because he will struggle to separate from the better corners in the NFL. He’s more of an Andre Johnson/Anquan Boldin type, the kind of #1 receiver that doesn’t catch a lot of 80 yard touchdowns but will be productive in the red zone and running mostly corners, outs, slants, and hooks. There is also the factor of the slew of free agent wide receivers available this offseason, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if the Vikings looked to go down that route instead of using the #3 pick on Blackmon. Odds: 10%
The other 5%, or names to keep an eye on as the evaluation process heats up
Reilly Reiff, OT Iowa – Not really a top 5 pick in my book, but stranger things have happened. Should be a solid pro, but you don’t take a guy like this #3 overall
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Alabama – He’s good, but there’s not a lot of people that’d take Kirkpatrick over Claiborne given the opportunity. A prime candidate for the Vikings if they decide to trade down, however.
Quinton Coples, DE North Carolina – I’d be shocked if they went down the Coples route, considering they gave Brian Robison an extension and there are much more pressing needs than DE. Coples has all the talent in the world, but he’d be a huge risk at #3. Another guy they’d consider on a trade-down, just like Reiff and Kirkpatrick.
The Vikings won’t take Robert Griffin III, no matter how badly some of the local news outlets want to milk that cow. They’ve invested a first rounder on Ponder and picking Griffin would make no sense unless you feel like he’s a hybrid of Michael Vick and Dan Marino, which he’s not.
However, for a team that is sitting #3 and could be the hot spot of the draft for Griffin, the Vikings will (and ABSOLUTELY SHOULD) look at trading the third pick to a team like Cleveland, Miami, or Washington that will be looking at Griffin. This would enable the Vikings to pick up extra draft picks and continue to accumulate young talent on a team that needs depth and help at a lot of positions. This became a MUCH more likely scenario when Matt Barkley (and Landry Jones, to an extent) returned to college. Teams like the Redskins, Dolphins, and Browns don’t want to be left at the altar with a guy like Ryan Tannehill as the best available quarterback, and it’s not a stretch at all to say that the Vikings could very well be picking in the 4-10 range rather than #3.