The 2012 draft came and went this weekend and, as is the practice with drafts, grades are assigned – the winners and losers of the draft. It is an absurd practice, because, in reality, a draft can’t fairly be judged or assessed with any accuracy until three years down the line. What the 32 NFL teams did this weekend was to make a calculated bet that they were right in the assessment. They were rolling the bones. They were writing checks they hope will clear at the bank.
The draft is a crapshoot. In 2005, the Vikings thought they had a solid draft. They beamed afterward about how they got the players they wanted. Those players were Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Marcus Johnson, Dustin Fox, Ciatrick Fason, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Ward. The only player with a decent NFL career was Mosley and he didn’t do it with the Vikings.
On the flip side, in 2007, the Vikings left the draft with Adrian Peterson, Sidney Rice, Marcus McCauley, Brian Robison, Aundrae Allison, Rufus Alexander, Tyler Thigpen and Chandler Williams. The Vikings got three starters out of that draft and, had they not been cute in trying to slip Thigpen through waivers, who knows how the franchise might have changed?
Without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here is our first take on the 2012 draft:
Lasting Impression of the Draft – It had nothing to do with the pick. It had to do with the execution of the draft. You couldn’t have slapped the smile off Rick Spielman’s face when all was said and done. The biggest move of the draft came an hour before it started.
After posturing that the No. 3 pick was on the board was available in trade after the Rams reaped a harvest of draft picks to let the Washington Redskins pin their future on Robert Griffin III, the Vikings let the teams immediately behind them know the price of poker. You can have the third pick, but it will cost you.
Spielman got the Cleveland Browns to blink, they flip-flopped first-round picks and the Vikings got three additional picks as a “sweetener” to the deal. That became the currency the Vikings needed to push their way into positions they wanted.
They got the player they wanted, had the ammunition to trade back into the first round to get Harrison Smith and, when all was said and done, used the three picks they received in the Cleveland trade to wheel and deal to get fourth- and sixth-round picks in next year’s draft. They took a page from the Patriots draft playbook and accumulated picks and used them as bartering material to give them a cache of weapons for next year. Spielman had the right to smile.
Now to the picks:
The First Two Days
OT Matt Kalil – From the first mock draft we did a week after the Super Bowl in early February, we had Kalil as the Vikings’ pick – at the time, we were projecting a trade between St. Louis and Cleveland for the rights to take Robert Griffin III, leaving the Vikings with the de facto No. 1 pick. We never wavered from our Kalil pick. Christian Ponder was Spielman’s pick last year. He wasn’t 100 percent on board with the acquisition of Donovan McNabb, which may explain why he’s the general manager and the vice president of player personnel. Ponder is, as the phrase goes, “Spielman’s guy.” He vouched for him as a leader that can lead the Vikings back to Super Bowl contention. A receiver like Justin Blackmon would have helped. But, for “Spielman’s guy” to succeed, he needs to know his blindside is safe. Kalil was the player in the 2012 draft that most helps Spielman’s biggest gamble. Brad Childress put all his chips in the middle convinced he could make Tarvaris Jackson a clone of Donovan McNabb. In the end, that decision put him on ice thin enough to break through when times got tough. Spielman wants to give Ponder every chance to succeed because they are intrinsically linked … for better or worse. Kalil was an A+ pick along with the trade with Cleveland for magic beans.
S Harrison Smith – Clearly a player the Vikings coveted, the additional picks acquired in the trade with Cleveland gave the team what it needed to make the jump from the second round into the first. With the need at safety, Smith was a priority, especially given the lack of quality depth at the position in this year’s draft class. There was no way the team was going to get Mark Barron, so Smith was the next best option.
CB Josh Robinson – You can teach a lot of things to young players. Speed isn’t one of them. Robinson was the fastest player at the Combine and has the skill set to be a playmaker. With the Vikings looking to eventually replace veteran Antoine Winfield and using free agency to create a short-term fix at the position, talent meets need and Robinson has the potential to be a long-term solution at one of the cornerback spots.
The Day 3 Cattle Call
WRs Jarius Wright and Greg Childs – Spielman wanted the Vikings to get younger and faster at the position and Wright and Childs, who have been friends since the third grade when they were classmates in the small town of Warren, Ark., were the answer.
On Wright, Spielman said that, in the fourth round, “all those smaller receivers were going that have return ability, there was a run on those guys, so we felt very fortunate to get Jarius at the time we got him, because not only can he help the offense, but also as a potential big-play returner."
Childs saw his draft stock slip because he was recovering from a torn patella tendon suffered at midseason in 2010. He is fully healed and Spielman believes the Vikings got a steal in the fourth round, saying Childs “is a big receiver and he can go up and get the ball in the red zone.”
He said it was simply coincidence that the Vikings drafted two players that have been teammates since Pop Warner ball, but both brought talent that fits what the Vikings need.
TE Rhett Ellison – Another area of need, the Vikings lost Jim Kleinsasser to retirement. His role in the offense wasn’t as a pass-catcher, but it was vitally important because he was one of the most dominant blocking TE/fullback/H-back hybrids in the league. Spielman envisions similar abilities in Ellison. With Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson locked in as receiving tight ends, the Vikings had a need for a blocking tight end that can do the dirty work.
“He does a lot of things for an offense just because of his versatility and his intelligence to do a lot of different things. He can do a lot of the same things that we saw in Kleinsasser,” Spielman said.
CB/S Robert Blanton – Blanton, a teammate of Smith's at Notre Dame, may eventually line up next to him in the Vikings secondary. A cornerback by trade, scouts believe his ideal position is at safety and that's where he will begin his career with the Vikings.
“He can play corner and safety,” Spielman said. “When we get him here, we’ll utilize him in both areas.”
K Blair Walsh – While not a death knell for Ryan Longwell, the Vikings haven’t drafted a kicker since Mike Wood in 1978 – making Saturday’s drafting of Walsh significant in that respect. While the Vikings almost surely won’t keep two kickers, Walsh is going to battle with Longwell for the job and his selling point is his ability to boom kickoffs and kick field goals of 50 yards or more, two areas that aren’t strengths of Longwell’s.
“He was just one of the players on our board that we felt could come in and compete,” Spielman said. “Watching him at the Combine, he was the best kickoff guy there, as far as averaging almost four or five-second hang time and had a lot of touchbacks.”
LB Audie Cole – The Vikings waited until the seventh round to address linebacker, but got a player many scouts viewed as a mid-round prospect who didn’t appeal as much to 3-4 defenses because of his limitations in space. He will be a candidate to compete for the starting middle linebacker position, but Spielman believes he can provide the versatility to fill in inside or outside.
“He can probably play all three positions,” Spielman said. “That’s what we’re looking for when we look at linebackers. We cross-train those guys so they have to be able to play all three for us.”
DE Trevor Guyton – Guyton was a victim of circumstance, stuck in a rotation at Cal behind first-round draft picks Tyson Alualu (2010) and Cameron Jordan (2011) before having a breakout season last year. Spielman likes his ability to play multiple positions, which was a byproduct of Guyton being moved around in order to get him on the field.
“Guyton can play 3-technique and can also play defensive end,” Spielman said. “That gives you another rotation guy. They used him all over, some as a nickel rusher. The more guys that we can bring in here that can play multiple positions and have versatility, the more value they have for us.”
It will take three years or so for an accurate assessment of the 2012 Vikings draft to pan out, but, not only did the team aggressively attack the pressing needs on the roster, they found depth, special teams ability in the late-round picks, and found a way to stockpile a couple of picks for next year. At first blush, it would appear the Vikings had their best draft since 2007 and, given the position they’re in at the bottom of the improving NFC North, all the help they can get will be needed.
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.