Rick Spielman (Brian Spurlock/USA Today)
At the top of the first round, teams could be positioning to line up for Geno Smith. After that, a second wave of QB-hungry teams at the top of the second round could be looking to trade up.
The annual NFL draft is always a situation in which teams are matched up head to head in covert competition for players who could end up being difference-makers for the franchise that takes them. Last year, the Vikings felt strongly enough about Harrison Smith that they traded up into the first round to make sure they got him. They haven’t regretted that move for a second.
The inevitable topic of the most pre-draft debate coming up in the next four weeks is going to center around West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith. In our current Viking Update mock draft, we have Smith going No. 8 to Buffalo – which decided to re-sign Tarvaris Jackson and cut starter Ryan Fitzpatrick over the last month. The question now is whether Smith will get that far down the draft board.
Despite not rating out as better than a late-first round selection by VU, as is the habit in the NFL, teams to lose rational sanity when it comes to drafting quarterbacks. They reach. They overspend. They often regret the decision.
Vikings fans aren’t alone in questioning taking Christian Ponder with the No. 12 pick in the 2011 draft. Just talk to anyone who is a fan of the Jaguars or Titans. Jacksonville may be back in the market to use another lottery selection on a quarterback for a franchise that has apparently turned on Blaine Gabbert. Tennessee signed Fitzpatrick as a security blanket for Jake Locker, who may be in a “prove it-or-bust” mode. The Vikings made a similar veiled threat to Ponder by signing veteran Matt Cassel.
In a draft where there isn’t a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick and most college football draft analysts see as a very deep draft of talent, trying to find a buyer for Smith before the eighth overall pick (Buffalo’s) is going to become the cloak-and-dagger story of the draft’s opening night. Kansas City has already made it clear in the smoke-and-mirrors red herring world of the draft that they may have an interest in Smith. Translation: That’s a lie. But if you want to make sure you can get him, the pick is there for the having.
Jacksonville has been rumored to have an interest if the organizational disgust for “Sunshine” Gabbert is accurate (believe nothing this time of year, although anyone with eyes knows that Gabbert subpar at best as an NFL QB). As always, Oakland could be the fly in the punchbowl. The Raiders have expressed an interest in Smith but are close to making a deal with Seattle that would bring Matt Flynn and his one career start to the Bay Area and would allow them to get out from under the ridiculous ransom they paid for Carson Palmer.
Philadelphia at No. 4 could be in the market for a QB. Neither Michael Vick nor Nick Foles are Chip Kelly’s “guy” and, while it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to burn the pick on a reach like Smith, a case can be made that, if you’re a team that wants him, the asking price may be the fourth pick. Detroit is in a similar boat. With Matthew Stafford at the wheel of the franchise, the Lions could offer up their pick to drop back to the teams that are interested in moving in front of the next four picks – all of whom can make a case for Smith.
Andy Reid drafted the oldest rookie QB in the league (Brandon Weeden) and is no longer in Cleveland anymore to answer for it. Arizona has had a revolving door of hideous quarterbacks since Kurt Warner retired and could use an upgrade. The Bills currently have T-Jack on the first line of their depth chart. The Jets and their fans are so ready to get rid of Mark Sanchez that they might trade up (like they did to land Sanchez in the first place) to get Smith.
Despite being a prospect more accurately associated with the first pick of the second round, it seems extremely unlikely Smith makes it to the 10th pick. Along the way, USC’s Matt Barkley may not be far behind despite reports of a very average pro day. Like the hitchhiker along for the free ride, Barkley might find himself in the first round – in a bizarre world scenario, he ends up with Buffalo when Smith is off the board.
The problem with the feeding frenzy at quarterback is that it causes prospects to get inflated to the point of absurdity. It can be argued that nobody other than the Vikings saw T-Jack as a second-round prospect. But all it takes is one team to create a market for a draftee. In this year’s draft, there may be more intrigue after Smith is gone than there will be when he actually comes off the board.
The longer Barkley remains on the board, the better for the Vikings. Mark this in your mental file cabinet. The picks currently slated for those that will come after the Vikings’ second pick of the round at No. 25 are Green Bay, Houston, Denver, New England, Atlanta, San Francisco and Baltimore.
What do those teams have in common? None of them are in the market for a quarterback. That is what makes the No. 25 pick valuable. Why? Because, if the offers start coming in to jump on the second wave of quarterbacks, the same teams that are in need at QB will be coming around the mountain again on Friday night if they don’t get their QB woes solved in prime time Thursday. You can’t miss the irony of the teams drafting in the top 10 that could all use QB upgrades and those in the bottom 10 are pretty much all set.
While we aren’t yet fully on the QB feeding frenzy bandwagon – this year’s draft class has a lot of talent at other positions – it can be argued that the teams that don’t land Smith (among a group that potentially includes Jacksonville, Oakland, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Arizona, Buffalo and the Jets), could speckle the end of the first round and beginning of the second. Not only could Barkley be in play, but so could North Carolina State’s Mike Glennon, Florida State’s E.J. Manuel and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib.
All that needs to happen between now and April 25 is that at least one of the Tier 2 quarterbacks in next month’s draft gets an organization to fall in love with him. Indianapolis at No. 24 has just one pick in the first two rounds, so the Colts’ pick might be in play for a team to make a bold trade up, but with each pick that follows the cost on the trade value chart drops considerably. Given that the Colts have a couple of pressing needs that can only be solved with a first-round pick, the odds of them trading out of their spot is minimal.
This is what makes the No. 25 pick the one that will be coveted by teams serious about getting the quarterback. At No. 26, Green Bay and its pending mega-million dollar contract that Aaron Rodgers is going to receive is the logical pick for a team to target. The Packers build through the draft as an organizational mantra and would be more than willing to trade out of the first round to acquire multiple picks from a team early in the second round.
Unfortunately for the Packers, Rick Spielman is more than willing to make deals – both up and down – on draft day. It’s his M.O.
Let word go forth: From this time and place, to friend and foe alike, the No. 25 pick is up for grabs. There are going to be a lot of needy teams that miss out on Geno Smith. If they have a draft weekend spring fling with one player they just can’t live without, the line starts at pick No. 25 and, fortunately for the Vikings, that’s the pick they own.
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.