The drama of the first round of the 2012 NFL draft was over for Vikings fans about a half hour after the draft began. The first two picks were cocked and locked before the draft started – Andrew Luck was going to Indianapolis and Robert Griffin III was going to Washington. The trade that brought the Vikings a draft harvest to back up one spot assured fans that Cleveland was taking RB Trent Richardson and Matt Kalil would be the next Viking.
Granted, the Vikings made it interesting by selecting safety Harrison Smith after trading back into the first round, but that pick came as a surprise to many Vikings fans. The first day of their draft was expected to be over a little more than a cup of coffee into the first night’s proceedings.
This year is a much different story. Thanks to dropping 20 spots on the draft chart with their 3-13 transformation into a 10-6 playoff team, the Vikings are currently slated to pick at Nos. 23 and 25 on April 25. Barring a trade upward, they’re going to be sitting and waiting for a long time as other teams take their slice out of the draft pie while the Vikings hope that a couple of players they covet remain.
It’s a much different scenario than the fan base witnessed a year ago, so the numbers crunchers have to come into play. While each draft class is different, the priorities teams put on players remains the same. What two positions typically dominate the first round of the draft? Defensive end and offensive tackle. Why? For the same reason: teams that don’t get many sacks look for a pass-rushing end and teams that allow too many sacks look to upgrade at tackle.
After an analysis of first-round picks over the last five years to determine where teams will be dipping their chips into the draft guacamole, these are our findings:
Over the last five years, there have been 159 picks taken in the first round (in 2008, the Patriots had to forfeit their first-rounder after being found guilty in the court of the commissioner’s office in the Spygate scandal). We break them down position by position as to the likelihood of players being taken. The results aren’t shocking, but are somewhat surprising.
Defensive End (26) – It’s the biggest hit-and-miss position in the draft, and over the last five years there have never been less than four taken in the first round, but in 2011 eight of the 32 picks (25 percent) were DEs. That shouldn’t change this year. Four or more DEs should go this year as well – the Vikings wouldn’t object to all four going before Pick No. 23.
Offensive Tackle (24) – Last year, Kalil was one of just two offensive tackles taken in the draft. The previous four years saw four or more go. The high water mark was 2008, when eight OTs got drafted. At least four will come off this year, maintaining that trend.
Cornerback (18) – In a passing league, this comes as no surprise. In two of the last five years, five CBs have been drafted, three CBs in two other drafts and two has been the low-water mark. Two corners (Dee Milliner, Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant) are expected to be first-round locks, but there could be another one finding his way into the first round.
Defensive Tackle (17) – This has been a consistent position and potentially good news if the Vikings are in the market. Over the last five years, three DTs have been drafted in the first round in four of those drafts – the exception being 2010 when there were five. This year, five may be the minimum that come off the board, but history suggests a glut of DT talent tends to devalue them early in the draft.
Wide Receiver (15) – This one should come with an asterisk attached because the talent level in 2008 at WR was so deep and equal that no wide receivers went on the first round. It should be noted that a draft-record 10 wide receivers were taken in the second round of that same draft – speaking to the depth coaches and general managers believed there was in the Class of ’08. Over the past four years, the numbers have fluctuated – six in 2009, two in 2010, three in 2011 and four last year. The conventional wisdom is that two WRs are a lock this year, but as many as four or five could end up being picked – with the Vikings right in the middle of it.
Quarterback (15) – This number has been trending upward. Over the last five years, no draft has gone by without at least two QBs being drafted in the first round. But in each of the last two years, four QBs have gone in the first round. That won’t happen this year, but don’t be stunned if at least two come off the board at some point of the draft’s first day.
Running Back (15) – This one should come with its own asterisk as well. After the draft-day search began for the “Next Adrian Peterson,” five of those 15 first-round backs came in 2008. In the four years since, three running backs have been taken in first day of three drafts and only one (Mark Ingram) in 2010. At this point, a case could be made that there isn’t a worthy first-round candidate in this year’s RB draft class, but history tells us somebody will take one.
Linebacker (13) – This number is somewhat of a misnomer because almost half of this group were players drafted to be de-facto defensive ends in 3-4 defenses. There has been a lot of talk that linebackers have become a more disposable position in recent years when it comes to first-round picks and the numbers back that up. Despite encompassing three or four every-down players depending on the defense being employed, there have been only two linebackers drafted in the first round in three of the last five years – with three in 2009 and four last year. Depending on how players like Dion Jordan Are determined (DE or OLB), there could be four or more linebackers coming off the board this year, which would continue and upward trend, but still seems too low considering how many linebackers are on the field at any given time.
Safety (5) – Safeties remain virtually ignored in the first round. In two of the last four years, no safeties have been taken. There will be at least one safety taken this year, but the one-a-year trend may continue.
Guard (4) – When we rate and review guards in our pre-draft rankings, we point out that their draft value is diluted because many college offensive tackles don’t have the foot agility to be an NFL offensive tackle. They move to guard. It muddies the water for career college guards and drops their value. Over the last five years, there has been more than one guard drafted in the first round just once. This year will make that two, since Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper may both be off the board in the first half of the first round.
Center (4) – There haven’t been more than two taken in any of the last five seasons and there won’t be one this year, dropping it as low as it can get – perhaps moving it back into last place.
Tight End (3) – While the interest in tight end as an offensive weapon may be at its highest point in NFL history given the New England blueprint of the Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez domination, there have been only three tight ends taken in the first round and none in the last two years – the three being, in order of drafting, Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew and Jermaine Gresham. This year, that number could swell as Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert and Stanford’s Zach Ertz could bounce the numbers higher. But history doesn’t lie. At this point, it’s hard to justify two TEs going, given their last-place first-round draft status.
If things remain as they currently are, 22 picks will be gone when the Vikings are “on the clock.” From the looks of things, this year will continue the thematic trend of offensive and defensive linemen dominating the first round. From the Vikings’ perspective, the best news might be that the positions most dominant in the early stages of the draft – offensive tackle and defensive end – aren’t front-burner draft needs for the Vikings. The more of them that come off the board before Nos. 23 and 25, the better for the Vikings’ chances of filling their own most pressing needs.
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.