Scouts and NFL executives spend months analyzing draft prospects.
They watch college games, game film, all-star games. They meet with players for nearly three months heading into the April draft. Prospects are poked, prodded and tested. The big job interview is the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
All of the work is done to define what type of athlete and person each potential draftee is. After breaking down each player, teams are then forced to make their best guess. Still, after all the examination, sometimes the best method to drafting is not over-thinking the selection.
And that style has served the Minnesota Vikings well over the years. Some of Minnesota's top first-round picks have landed in purple simply because the Vikings have been willing to take a chance on overly scrutinized players who fell into their lap.
A ranking of the top five Vikings’ first-round picks of the past 25 years puts the no-brainers at the top.
1. RANDY MOSS, WR, 1998, 21st overall
On the draft board: Moss is the poster child for scrutinized players the Vikings were willing to take a chance on. Coming from Marshall, Moss' physical abilities were apparent and limitless. But concerns about drug use caused Moss to tumble down the first round. Minnesota was already set at wide receiver with Cris Carter and Jake Reed, but the Vikings took Moss anyway, and he became an instant sensation and one of the top receivers in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans took wide receiver Kevin Dyson at No. 16 that season. Some might question how Moss can be ahead of the second person on this list, Hall of Famer Randall McDaniel, and it's a legitimate argument. But Moss changed the entire outlook of the Vikings' franchise from the moment he first stepped on the field as a rookie. That's something an offensive lineman can't do.
As a rookie: Moss caught two touchdowns in his first career game, had his coming-out party against the Green Bay Packers on a Monday night in October with 190 yards receiving and two touchdowns and finished his first season as a first-team All-Pro after tallying 69 catches and 1,313 yards receiving for an astounding 19.0 yards-per-catch average. He also led the league with 17 touchdown catches.
From there: Always a lightning rod for both praise (amazing ability) and criticism (taking plays off), Moss spent seven highly productive seasons in Minnesota before he was traded to Oakland, where he struggled for two seasons. A fabulous comeback with New England, an ill-fated return to Minnesota in 2010 and a very brief stay with Tennessee preceded a one-year retirement. He announced his return to the NFL this offseason and signed with the San Francisco 49ers. He's a six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro and is second to Carter in every Vikings major receiving mark, with 587 catches, 9,316 yards and 92 touchdowns for the Vikings. He has the ninth-most catches (954), fifth-most receiving yards (14,858) and second-most receiving touchdowns (153) in NFL history.
2. RANDALL MCDANIEL, LG, 1988, 19th overall
On the draft board: The Vikings had a good offensive line in 1987, but it became elite with the addition of McDaniel in 1998. McDaniel, an All-American at Arizona State in 1987, ended up as the second of four Hall of Famers selected in 1988, and none of the first-rounders selected after him ever wound up having much of a career. He was the third guard and fourth offensive lineman selected after Paul Gruber, Dave Cadigan and Eric Moore.
As a rookie: McDaniel started 15 games in his rookie season, teaming with another Hall of Famer, left tackle Gary Zimmerman, center Kirk Lowdermilk, right guard Terry Tausch and right tackle Tim Irwin. The Vikings had the league's fourth-ranked offense.
From there: In his second season, McDaniel earned the first of 12 straight Pro Bowl invitations, an NFL record. He ended his career as a seven-time All-Pro, having spent 12 years in Minnesota before finishing his career with two years in Tampa Bay. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009.
3. ADRIAN PETERSON, RB, 2007, seventh overall
On the draft board: Peterson was a Heisman Trophy runner-up after a record-breaking freshman season at Oklahoma, but injuries were a factor the next two seasons and worry over a collarbone injury caused him to drop in the draft despite his obvious talent. The Vikings pounced at No. 7, even though Chester Taylor was coming off a 1,000-yard season. Peterson was remarkably durable during his first four seasons despite a punishing running style, and the collarbone has never been an issue. JaMarcus Russell went No. 1 overall that year and is among the draft's all-time busts. Also selected ahead of Peterson were Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Gaines Adams, Levi Brown, and LaRon Landry.
As a rookie: Peterson played in 14 games, starting nine, and was the Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for 1,340 yards and 12 touchdowns. He earned the first of four straight Pro Bowl selections and made Taylor expendable.
From there: Peterson is a two-time All-Pro selection and is just 66 yards away from the franchise's all-time rushing mark. He has 6,752 rushing yards and 67 total touchdowns in his five years. He fell shy of 1,000 rushing yards (970) last season after dealing with a high ankle sprain and having his season end a week early because of a knee injury. He underwent offseason surgery to repair a torn ACL and torn MCL and already has started running. Peterson hopes to be ready to start the 2012 season on time.
4. KEVIN WILLIAMS, DT, 2003, ninth overall
On the draft board: This is a pick that will live in infamy for the Vikings, but not because of Williams' career. Few will forget how time expired on Minnesota's pick and two teams jumped in quickly with their selections. Minnesota was trying to consummate a trade and didn't get its card in on time. Eventually, two spots later than they were on the clock, the Vikings got Williams at No. 9. They said Williams was the player they wanted all along. Because of Williams' production, there has been no need to look back since.
As a rookie: Williams started immediately and was worth the confusion and high pick, tallying 10.5 sacks in his first year. Starting all 16 games, he also had a forced fumble and fumble recovery and showed his athleticism despite his size by intercepting a pass.
From there: Williams' sack numbers have dropped off a bit since his career-high 11.5 in his second season, but he has continued to pressure the quarterback and stand up against the run during his nine-year career. The six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro has missed only four games in his career, two because of suspension, and has 54.5 career sacks. Teaming with Pat Williams, he helped Minnesota's run defense lead the league for three straight seasons, and he will be back as the anchor in the middle in 2012.
5. ROBERT SMITH, RB, 1993, 21st overall
On the draft board: The Vikings have had other strong first-round picks, most coming on offense, but the team's current all-time leading rusher has to be on this list. Smith was coming off a solid career at Ohio State and was the third running back selected in 1993 behind Garrison Hearst and Jerome Bettis. Minnesota sought a big-play running back after turning the page on the Herschel Walker experiment a year earlier. The 1993 draft didn't end up producing many top-tier players, and Smith worked out fine for Minnesota.
As a rookie: Smith was mainly a backup his first season, starting two of the 10 games in which he played. He finished with 399 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while catching 24 passes for 111 yards.
From there: Smith was a late bloomer and then decided to retire after just eight seasons. Injuries certainly played a part in his slow start, but he broke through in 1997 with his first 1,000-yard season. During his final four seasons, he surpassed 1,000 yards each year and was a two-time Pro Bowler. His final season in 2000 was his best. He finished with career-high in rushing yards (1,521), rushing touchdowns (seven), receiving yards (348) and receiving touchdowns (three). He had 36 catches, one off his career-high set in 1997.
Brian Hall writes about the Vikings for Fox Sports North.