One of the most absurd things that is done every year is giving a draft grade to a team hours or days after the draft has finished. It’s like sitting at a wedding reception partaking in the generous open bar, leaning to a friend and saying, “I don’t think this marriage is going to last.”
The truth is that you never know. You can have ideas, questions or concerns, but you can never tell how the future will play out. They may live happily ever after. It may end up being something they regret for years to come. That’s the nature of making big choices, whether it’s in a relationship or a business enterprise like the NFL draft.
At this point, all one can do is look to what short-term needs (the honeymoon period, if you will) a franchise had and what steps were taken to address those. Free agency and blockbuster trades provide short-term, quick-fix gratification. Miami needed a wide receiver and they signed Mike Wallace. Chicago had ugly offensive tackles so the Bears signed Jermon Bushrod. Word got out that Percy Harvin wasn’t happy in Minnesota and Seattle made an offer Vikings general manager Rick Spielman couldn’t refuse.
The draft is a different animal completely. You’re going on faith. Game film of college contests (even in the SEC) pales in comparison to the NFL. The worst NFL team would win the BSC Championship Game by 30 points. Getting a free agent with a four-year track record against NFL competition makes the risk compared to the reward far less. The risk is much greater in the draft.
At first blush, I would contend the Vikings hit a draft weekend home run, even though they didn’t make a pick on the second day. Spielman had Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson with the 23rd and 25th overall selections. The only reason the Vikings got back into the end of the first round and made a third first-round selection for only the second time in franchise history and the first time in 12 years for any NFL team was because Sharrif Floyd was available against all odds, making him the pick at 23, pushing Rhodes to 25 and leaving Patterson dangling a little longer.
Spielman has admitted that Patterson was the only player the Vikings would have considered trading back into the first round to get. It was widely accepted coming into the draft that the Vikings had four primary needs – middle linebacker, a cornerback with size, a playmaking wide receiver and a defensive tackle to groom at Kevin Williams’ replacement. If you wrote those four positions down on a piece of paper at 9:30 p.m. Thursday, a half-hour later, you had big, bold check marks next to three of those four. That’s a lot of short-term fixing in the time that it takes a pizza to arrive at your front door.
Vikings fans have every reason to be extremely excited about how this year’s draft turned out. Whether Floyd, Rhodes and Patterson turn out to be the players the Vikings’ scouting brass believes they can be will play out over the next several years. However, the chance to get three players that some mock drafts had all being gone before the Vikings were scheduled to make their first pick of the draft is very rare, much less tripling down to land all three players – the two they targeted and the one who was a happy accident.
I typically don’t drink the Kool Aid that guys like Spielman, Leslie Frazier, Brad Childress, Mike Tice or Denny Green have served up at the complimentary media snack table every draft weekend. The rhetoric of a player they absolutely loved falling into their laps like manna from heaven gets old after a while. This time around, you get the impression that they were legitimately stunned and, when all was said and done after Round 1, Spielman and Frazier did their best attempt at an old-guy airborne hip bump. They couldn’t have imagined the day would end like it did and they experienced the best hour of their professional draft careers.
There are few who can see a downside to the marriage between the Vikings and the draft class of 2013. Can the same be said for the other teams in the NFC North?
Again, it’s hard to put a long-term impact on a team’s draft so shortly after the selection of players – Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News gave the Vikings the top initial grade in the 2005 draft. That draft turned out to be one of the worst – if not the worst – in franchise history. That being said, here’s our first take on the 2013 drafts of the other NFC North teams – keeping in mind that we would give the Vikings an A grade on their draft.
Chicago (6 picks) – G Kyle Long, MLB Jon Bostic, OLB Khaseem Greene, OT Jordan Mills, DE Cornelius Washington, WR Marquess Wilson.
The Bears had a couple of clear-cut draft needs and it would appear that was their only focus. While Long was a rising prospect, most analysts felt he was way too raw and an off-field red flag waiting to happen to warrant a first-round pick, much less at No. 20 overall. It would appear the Bears got caught up in the O-line panic of 2013 and made a reactionary pick to address need over available talent. Floyd would have looked awesome in Bears black and orange, even if it wasn’t a priority need. Bostic and Greene are a couple of solid linebackers, but the Bears did little else in the way of taking tangible steps to improve their roster aside from those two needs – and didn’t get an elite player at either of those need areas. They got good players, but not the type that automatically gets the fan base thinking the team has made significant improvement. Grade: C-minus.
Detroit (9) – DE Ezekiel Ansah, CB Darius Slay, G Larry Warford, DE Devin Taylor, P Sam Martin, WR Corey Fuller, RB Theo Riddick, TE Michael Williams, MLB Brandon Hepburn.
The Lions had two significant needs and addressed them with their first two picks. Ansah is a dynamic player, although many national analysts felt the questionable character of the Detroit locker room is a bad fit for the BYU defensive end. The Lions needed help at end badly after losing Cliff Avril in free agency and releasing Kyle Vanden Bosch – their two starters in 2012. Slay was one of my personal favorites among the second tier of cornerbacks and he could be a nice impact player for the Lions. Warford was a nice value pick to help solidify the offensive line. The Lions still have multiple defensive needs that remain, but they did a nice job of plugging the leaks in the roof of the franchise and are one player away from potentially having the most lethal young defensive line in the league with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and now Ansah. GRADE: B-minus.
Green Bay (11) – DE Datone Jones, RB Eddie Lacy, OT David Bakhtari, G J.C. Tretter, RB Johnathan Franklin, CB Micah Hyde, DT Josh Boyd, OLB Nate Palmer, WR Charles Johnson, WR Kevin Dorsey, LB Sam Barrington.
You don’t have to like the Packers, but you do have to respect them. They locked down Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews in the days leading up to draft weekend and used 11 picks to address nine positions. Lacy was a player many had the Packers targeting in the first round. Because they saw how the draft was falling, they passed on Lacy in the first round and took Jones, yet another in a growing list of DEs for their rotation. You have to tip their hat to way they do their business and create depth across the board. GRADE: A-minus.
The Vikings are likely to remember April 25, 2013 as a day that will live in franchise history – for better or worse. They made the bold move they needed to come away with exactly the players they wanted, not the ones they got stuck with. They put a ring on it and made the commitment. Will it last? At this point, at this time, we’re banging a butter knife off a glass and toasting their good health. It looks like a “happily ever after” scenario.
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.