Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Other Futbal on Sister Blog

For the next few weeks, Vikesgeek will defer to the soccer blog linked to on Vikesgeek.com.  On that blog, you will find coverage of this year's World Cup.  Although the United States is not even favored to advance out of its group, fans of the red, white, and blue might be interested in the author's take that the United States could advance as far as the semi-final round.

As the World Cup wraps up, training camp will be underway in Mankato and Vikesgeek will again be covering the purple with a tip on how to make money in Vegas when betting the Purple.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Did Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman Read Too Many of His Own Press Clippings?

Entering the 2014 NFL draft, Minnesota Vikings' General Manager Rick Spielman had made a short reputation for himself as someone able to identify when a marquee player had fallen into his lap.  Last year, Spielman jumped on three such players, selecting Xavier Rhodes, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Sharrif Floyd in the first round, after trading up to take Patterson.  In 2012, the Vikings drafted Matt Kalil and traded up into the bottom of the first round to take Harrison Smith.

Over the past two drafts, the early returns are favorable.  Kalil has had his ups and downs, but mostly has been the dependable left tackle that the Vikings needed.  Smith has been solid when not injured.  Rhodes showed promise as a rookie.  And Patterson was brilliant, when finally allowed to play.  Only Floyd has yet to live up to his promise, and that might be coming this year.

Spielman's recent success in the first round has over-shadowed his wretched 2011 draft and his inability to identify the less evident talent in later rounds.  Of the Vikings' eight non-first-round selections in 2012, only Blair Walsh and Audie Cole have panned out and the rest look to be not long for the NFL.  Of the team's six non-first-round selections in 2013, none appear long for the NFL.

The goal in any NFL draft is to identify two immediate starters and two players who will develop into starters.  Because he took the obvious players in 2012 and 2013, Spielman likely will come close to meeting this objective for those two seasons.  The same almost certainly will not be said of the 2014 draft, however.

Championship teams in the NFL are built from the front back, with special consideration due the quarterback position.  In 2012 and 2013, the Vikings strengthened their lines and supplemented with secondary help.  The Vikings did that despite also having needs elsewhere--at wide receiver and linebacker in particular.

Entering the 2014 draft, the Vikings had several holes to fill for a team that finished 2013 with a 5-10-1 record.  Barring a miraculous run through the remainder of the draft, the team will not fill those holes in 2014.  Nor, despite having two first-round picks, did Spielman come away with any player that can be regarded as either the best player on the board or even the best player at a position of need for the Vikings.  That's unfortunate.

Minnesota began the draft well enough, trading down one spot and picking up a largely ceremonial fifth-round pick--the kind that Spielman tends positively to make use of only when he deals it to move up.  At nine, the Vikings had three apparent options.  One was to take the best player on the board--the player that fell into their laps--in Aaron Donald.  The Vikings can argue that they did not need Donald because they had Floyd.  That's nonsense, however, if Donald is the player that everyone believes him to be.  If that makes Floyd expendable or diminishes his already limited role, so be it.  Unlike last year and the year before, Spielman missed this clear gift.

The second option at number nine was to take Johnny Manziel.  Passing on Manziel will save the Vikings some near certain headaches in off-the-field drama and Manziel is no sure thing.  But, drafting Manziel would have sold tickets and he would have made things interesting.

The interesting thing about the Vikings' decision to pass on Manziel is not that Manziel was an obvious pick, it is that the Vikings appear to believe that he was their guy but that he would be available for the taking later in the round.  According to some reports, the Vikings attempted to trade up to the 22nd pick in the first round to take Manziel, only to be bested in their offer for Philadelphia's pick by Cleveland--which then took Manziel.  Spielman did not deny the report, which all but confirms its validity.

If the report of the Vikings' attempt to trade up to take Manziel are accurate, the Vikings look foolish.  If Manziel was their guy, given the team's frustrations at quarterback for several years--frustrations almost entirely at Spielman's feet--the Vikings should have taken Manziel with the ninth pick or traded down a bit more and taken him in the middle of the first round, assuming a trading partner.

The guess here is that Spielman wanted cover for taking another quarterback and taking Manziel at eight or nine would have put him squarely on the clock for showing Manziel's immediate value.  Spielman did not want that kind of heat, so he backed down.  In doing so, he fumbled the ball and was left with an even worse predicament.

The third option at number nine was to trade down, take a trenches player and use the largesse from the trade to fill holes elsewhere, using a second-rounder on Jimmy Garoppolo.

Instead, the Vikings stayed at nine and selected a raw linebacker in Anthony Barr.  The upside to Barr is that he is big, strong, and fast.  The downside is that he is a project with limited experience playing linebacker.  At a position for which identifying NFL starters from college production is difficult for players with stellar and long college careers, projecting Barr's NFL trajectory is perilous, at best.  That would be fine, if Barr were the Vikings' second first-round pick or if the Vikings had a certainty in their other first-rounder.  Neither is the case, however.

After failing to land Manziel, the Vikings traded back into the bottom of the first round to select Teddy Bridgewater.  There appear to be two reasons for this move.  The first is that taking Bridgewater in round one gives the team an option for a fifth year.  Of course, if Bridgewater is awful early, that option is meaningless.  The second is that by taking Bridewater in the first round, Spielman buys more time to "evaluate" his pick as a first rounder--assuming Spielman retains that duty over the long term.  We saw this play out with Christian Ponder and now, it appears, the Vikings have positioned themselves to see it play out that way with Bridgewater, as well.

The upside to Bridgewater appears to be that many once viewed him as a top-five pick.  That he slid down the draft board has been explained by some to be the function of a poor pro day.  That's probably part of it.  The other part, however, is that he has some work to do.  Bridgewater's greatest asset in college was his ability to play against bad teams on a regular basis.  Against good competition, Bridgewater generally looked like a decent, if unspectacular quarterback.  Add to that the fact that Bridgewater has a three-quarters arm slot on his deep pass release and that his sense of himself is matched only by Manziel's sense of himself and you have a recipe for disaster that easily could have been avoided at lesser cost.

The right pick for the Vikings in this year's draft would have been Donald into Garoppolo/guard/receiver/corner/running back.  Instead, the team went with two projects.  If they both pan out, brilliant.  But Spielman's own track record suggests that when he reaches for a project, the odds are against success.  For all the kudos that Spielman deserved for making the right choices in last year's draft, this draft has the makings of quite the opposite.  Time, of course, will tell.