Vikings' draftologists ponder possibilities

The Vikings know their need at quarterback, but they are in a precarious position if the top three are already gone. If they don't select a quarterback at No. 8, the field will be thinned considerably by the time they reach No. 40.

Those who have NCAA basketball tournament brackets can empathize with NFL draft war rooms. You see things happening around you and you have you have your eye on the prize.

Just as no two NCAA brackets are identical, so it is with war rooms. While technology has made incredible advancements in the evaluation of on-field talent, teams still go by the opinions of their inner circle. When the Vikings drafted Christian Ponder, it can be argued that there wasn't a team for the next dozen picks after No. 12 that had a strong interest in taking Ponder. At the time, some contended that nobody in the first round would have taken him and the Vikings could have played spoiler by making small downward trades to get from 12 to the mid-20s with impunity.

But the Vikings and general manager Rick Spielman didn't want to take the chance. On their board, Ponder was a worthy of a selection at No. 12 and, as the story goes, was ranked higher than anyone else. As it turned out, there wasn't another quarterback taken until the Bengals took Andy Dalton with the third pick in the second round.

Teams stack their boards based as much on need as talent. They can say "best athlete available," but rankings are often based as much on the level of need for the franchise. If you need defensive ends, you're giving them higher grades.

Just as NCAA "bracketeers" boldly fill out dozens of boards convinced one will be the golden ticket, the key is always the Final Four. In NFL war rooms, it's the First Four that are viewed as the most critical – the first four picks you make.

One of the reasons it takes a team its full allotted time (and occasionally more) is that they're making an internal decision as to the value of players at different positions. Part of that decision is what will be available after the respective members of the First Four are gone.

For the Vikings, their First Four would look to be quarterback, linebacker, safety and guard. In NCAA terms, quarterback would the Florida Gators – the clear-cut No. 1 overall seed and expected to go all the way. When a team makes its first pick, it more often than not addresses its No. 1 need (which would be the bracket's No. 1 seed). If you invest in your second-biggest need because of available talent, the No. 1 seed gets upset. In the case of Florida, that would have translated to losing to Dayton and advancing the Flyers to your First Four list.

Johnny Manziel goes away. Say hello to Jimmy Garoppolo.

Every team faces this same dilemma. Last year, one of the Vikings' First Four needs was at linebacker. But when the first round yielded a defensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver, linebacker got left behind.

Many thought the Vikings trading back into the first round was to pick up linebacker Manti Te'o. But, when Cordarrelle Patterson was announced, it was clear that linebacker, which could have been the first, second or third pick the team made, wasn't going to get addressed until Day 3.

That is the dilemma the Vikings are facing at No. 8. There is sure to be a player that some other war room bracket has going in the top seven picks and that team will be looking to move up. Where it becomes dicey is if, for example, linebacker Khalil Mack and Manziel are both on the board. Whichever player gets selected (barring trading down), one of those two positions will have to be put on the back burner.

As things currently stand, it's hard to imagine the Vikings not rolling the dice if Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and/or Manziel are still on the board. But in the draft you know the positions you covet and the players you want. As things currently stand, only one position will be addressed in the first round for the Vikings.

If that position isn't quarterback, their draft bracket may well get busted by the time they get to select a quarterback and postpone drafting the long-term answer at the position for another year.


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.

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