In less than three weeks, the 32 NFL teams will stock their shelves with the next generation of NFL stars. They will all leave the draft believing that they have the players they need to make a run for the Super Bowl – either this year or a couple of years down the line.
Unfortunately, history tells us that the draft is a very iffy proposition. Every year stars emerge, but just as many players have pedestrian careers that set their franchises back. It will take three or four years to assess whether the 2012 draft is one for the ages or one to forget.
The last time the Vikings were picking among the blue-chip prospects was in 2007. The Vikings had the seventh pick in the draft and selected Adrian Peterson. There was little doubting Peterson’s talent, but, at the time, there were concerns about his broken collarbone – which had been snapped twice. Discussion was that he might require a metal plate to be surgically implanted, a claim Peterson denied and, as it would turn out, wasn’t true.
The 2007 draft serves as a blueprint on how hindsight is 20/20 in the NFL. The draft created some of the game’s top stars, but also included some significant swings and misses.
That draft began with the selection of LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. He got a huge payday from the Oakland Raiders, but was more interested in obtaining “Purple Drank” than he was being an exceptional pro. In the 2012 draft, the Raiders don’t have a first-round draft pick because they had to give it up in order to lure Carson Palmer out of retirement and pay off the Cincinnati Bengals. In the five years since the monumental failure with Russell, the Raiders cut a trade with the Washington Redskins to acquire Jason Campbell (who is also no longer with the team), as well as executing the Palmer deal that, if the Raiders make a deep playoff run, will cost them another first-round pick in 2013. It was an expensive mistake that set the franchise back and cost them much more than the money used to invest in the first-round pick.
While the Raiders swung and missed with Russell, the Lions and Browns struck gold with Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas. Both have become regular Pro Bowlers and have re-signed with lucrative, long-term contracts. Next came Tampa Bay, who swung and missed with DE Gaines Adams, who didn't live up to the hype before his death. Injuries have largely derailed the early careers of the fifth and sixth picks (OT Levi Brown of the Cardinals and LaRon Landry of the Redskins). When those two came off the board, it opened the door for the Vikings to take Peterson and, in the process, they found a face of the franchise who has rewritten the team’s rushing record book and is acknowledged as the best back in the game today.
The hit-and-miss nature of the draft was on display as the first round of the 2007 draft continued. Defensive linemen Jamaal Anderson (Atlanta) and Amobi Okoye (Houston) have never lived up to their hype and the No. 9 pick (Ted Ginn Jr. of Miami) was booed by the home fans when he was selected and was run out of town via trade to the 49ers, swap that Miami G.M. Jeff Ireland hoped would erase the memory of the wasted draft pick.
While the top 10 picks were extremely hit-and-miss, there were stars that came out to shine that were gems outside the blue-chip top-10 range. San Francisco got linebacker Patrick Willis with the 11th pick. Buffalo snapped up Marshawn Lynch at No. 12, followed by St. Louis taking Adam Carriker at 13 and the Jets landing Darrelle Revis at No. 14.
Other stars that emerged from that draft class were Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City, No. 23), Anthony Spencer (Dallas, No. 26), Ben Grubbs (Baltimore, No. 29), Kevin Kolb, (Philadelphia, No. 36), Sidney Rice (Minnesota, No. 44), LaMarr Woodley (Pittsbugh, No. 46), Marshal Yanda (Baltimore, No. 86), Michael Bush (Oakland, No. 100), Brian Robison (Minnesota, No. 102), Paul Solai (Miami, No. 108), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans, No. 125), Dashon Goldson (San Francisco, No. 126), Steve Breaston (Arizona, No. 142), Brent Celek (Philadelphia, No. 162), and Ahmad Bradshaw – who was taken just five picks before Mr. Irrelevant by the Giants with the 250th pick of the draft.
With the good also comes the bad. Many of the first round picks that their respective teams thought would be the answer to their prayers would become answers to trivia questions. There were almost as many busts as stars, including Justin Harrell (Green Bay, No. 16), Jarvis Moss (Denver, No. 17), Brady Quinn (Cleveland, No. 22), Craig “Buster” Davis (San Diego, No. 30) and Anthony Gonzalez (Indianapolis, No. 32).
Five years later, teams can look back on the 2007 draft as one that helped either make or break their team – either adding talent that elevated them to the top of the league or expensive investments that never panned out. The 2012 draft class will have the opportunity to create its own share of stars. While much of the attention is centered on quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, there are going to be players at every position that will become some of the game’s brightest stars and others that become monumental busts. It happens every year.
The Vikings had one of the better drafts, coming away with Peterson, Rice and Robison. Teams like the Raiders have tried to eliminate any association with Russell, even though it’s clear they’re still paying for that mistake five years later and will continue to do so in the 2013 draft.
That is what makes the draft great. Everyone finishes the weekend convinced they’ve added a lot of talent to their roster. History may say different, but it’s the time in between that determines how accurate those projections were. If 2007 taught us anything, that draft produced one of the deepest harvests of elite talent in recent years, but also had more than its share of busts.
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.