Next week, Viking Update is going to unveil its first mock draft of the year and, in the process, begin the laborious “paralysis by over-analysis” that accompanies the mock draft process. Player values rise and fall at events like this past week’s Senior Bowl and the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine, where medical staffs get a hands-on look at players and come up with the critical data that factor into draft status just as much as 40 times and how many reps of 225 pounds a prospect can do. As a result, our first mock draft will be present-day reflective but almost assuredly subject to change.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), the Colts, Rams and Vikings don’t have a ton of homework to do on the top picks. It seems all but assured that, as often as our mock draft is going to change in the coming weeks and months, the one spot that won’t change is Stanford QB Andrew Luck at No. 1, whether Indianapolis trades it away or, as everyone expects, keeps it.
However, after that point, it gets interesting. Unless someone is willing to pony up a king’s ransom in draft picks to get Luck, nobody even needs to put Luck on their draft board. He’ll be gone. But, starting with the Rams at No. 2, it’s going to be wide open and those in charge are saying all the right things.
The Rams sit at No. 2 and, at this point in the draft process, there are four players that would be in consideration – wide receiver Justin Blackmon, quarterback Robert Griffin III, offensive tackle Matt Kalil and cornerback Morris Claiborne. Of those four players, the Rams and Vikings have one key element in common – aside from Griffin, most of their fans wouldn’t complain if they drafted any of the other three.
But, in the draft-as-currency world of the NFL, the player who may well end up being the most important one of the four is the one the Vikings don’t want – Griffin.
The Vikings spent last year’s No. 12 pick in what more draft analysts than not believed was a kneejerk reaction as three quarterbacks came off the board in the first 10 picks – selecting Christian Ponder. For a team that went 3-13 a year ago, I would have a hard time drafting Luck with such other “can’t-miss” style talent at need positions available. The Rams are in an even leakier boat, since they used the No. 1 overall pick two years ago on Sam Bradford and were one win away from making the first pick in this year’s draft.
A case could be made that the Rams could take Blackmon. They need a go-to receiver to help in the long-term development of their young quarterback. The Rams could take Kalil because they learned the hard way the value of having an elite left tackle for a decade that held down the fort on the blindside and protected the franchise investment in its young QB. The Rams could take Claiborne because, in the increasingly pass-happy world of the NFL, having shutdown corners is going to become a new premium and the Rams have a pedestrian secondary at best.
Now, go back and read that last paragraph again. Except this time, replace the word “Rams” with “Vikings.” It reads identically. The only difference is where they might have them ranked. The word out of St. Louis is that their sights may be set on Blackmon as pick 1A and Kalil being 1B. For the Vikings, that order may be reversed. But the player a handful of other teams might be the most interested in is RG3.
Cleveland would love to see the Rams and Vikings stand pat and use their picks on, in whatever order, Blackmon and Kalil. Having Griffin slide into their lap at No. 4 would be a dream scenario, since they could reverse mimic the Bengals from last year and use the 22nd pick to take their choice of wide receivers not named Blackmon. In one draft, they could acquire a franchise QB and his go-to receiver in one fell swoop. However, don’t count on that happening.
Given the recent success of young quarterbacks stepping in immediately and not falling flat on their faces, the quarterback market is as hot as it has ever been. The decisions of Matt Barkley and Landry Jones, both of whom would have been first-rounders, to stay in school increased Griffin’s value.
Unlike most aspects of life, where competition breeds success, in the NFL it’s just the opposite. If there are only two players in an entire draft at a position that are viewed as “can’t-miss” prospects, their value skyrockets. Without Barkley and Jones to dilute the punch, RG3 is the only available show in town in the 2012 draft after Luck (no pouting, Ryan Tannehill).
The question the Rams and the Vikings have to ask themselves is how far are they willing to drop to get a player they still covet?
As it currently stands, there are five teams other than the Colts that would realistically be in the market for Griffin – Cleveland, Washington, Miami, Seattle and Oakland. The Browns have the fourth pick in the draft. The Redskins are sixth. The Dolphins are at No. 9. The Seahawks sit at No. 12 and Oakland, thanks to a crazy “Oakland-only” deal, don’t have their 17th pick because they traded it to Cincinnati for a retired Carson Palmer. Peyton Manning also potentially looms, which takes one team out of the mix – my money is currently riding with Washington because Daniel Snyder has a rich history of throwing huge sums of money at players well past their prime but with big-time name recognition. It is rumored that new Miami head coach Joe Philbin, who comes to Miami from Green Bay, is going to make a strong push for free-agent QB Matt Flynn. That could take Miami out of the mix.
For St. Louis (and the Vikings), the ideal trade partner would be Cleveland. They Rams could do it before the draft, since the consolation prize for Cleveland to move into the No. 2 spot would be to land Luck. If the Colts went off the board (and out of their minds) and let Luck slide to No. 2, the only question the Vikings would have is whether they preferred Kalil, Blackmon or Claiborne?
The games have already begun. At the Senior Bowl, both Rick Spielman and new Rams coach Jeff Fisher both hinted they would be more than a bit interested in potentially peddling their picks. Both are new in their current positions – Spielman as the final-word general manager and Fisher as the St. Louis head coach, general manager, chief cook and bottle washer.
Whether either of them stay put or pull the trigger on a trade likely won’t be known until draft day – although technically St. Louis could cut a deal at any time because the buyer would know what they’re getting. It’s going to be a drama that plays out in the next three months, but one that may go a long way to stamping the latest chapters in the professional careers of Fisher and Spielman, both of whom are looking to make a big splash with their newfound power.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.