At midnight tonight, the Minnesota Vikings will be free to finalize their trade of Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for Napoleon Harris and the Raiders' seventh overall pick and seventh-round pick. With Moss gone, the Vikings suddenly are in need of a playmaking wide receiver, a number one wide receiver. The 2005 NFL draft offers two such receivers--Braylon Edwards and Mike Williams.
In a previous column, I tauted the virtues of Braylon Edwards. Today, I cover Mike Williams. And, should the Vikings consider defensive players with the number seven pick, they will have a choice to make, whether to augment a lousy secondary or upgrade an improving front seven.
Mike Williams is a horse of a player, standing 6'5" and tipping the scales at 228. When last we saw Williams, he was helping lead the USC Trojans to the 2003-2004 National Championship. That was before he left school early. Before he tested NFL draft rules. Before he lost a year of eligibility and was barred from playing in the NFL. And before he embarked on one full season without meaningful football competition. For these reasons, despite his more generous physical attributes, Williams comes in second, albeit a close second, to Braylon Edwards as the top receiving prospect in the 2005 draft.
Everything that makes Edwards remarkable as a receiver can be said of Williams. Both have speed, both are tall, both are strong, and both fared well against good comptetion. And if Williams had played in 2004-2005, he might very well be the top wide receiver in the draft.
The Vikings have stated that they are not pursuing any of the top receiver prospects in free agency. That means that they will not be pursuing Derrick Mason or Plaxico Burress. Though the thought of Burress in purple does little for me, Mason would have been a nice addition. The Vikings, perhaps wisely, are content to abstain from what is certain to be a bidding frenzy for Mason. This suggests that the Vikings, understanding that they currently have only one legitimate receiver (barring a resurgence by Marcus Robinson), are looking at the first round of this year's draft for a receiver who will have an immediate, positive impact.
There are two possible scenarios for the Vikings when they prepare to make their pick at number seven. The first possibility is that Edwards and Williams are both on the board. The second possibility is that one of the two are already off the board--probably Edwards, for the reasons cited above. Given who is drafting 1-6 and the needs of the teams with those selections, it is highly unlikely that both Edwards and Williams will be off the board.
If either of these scenarios plays out, the Vikings need to give strong consideration to taking a receiver at number seven. But there are other options. And defense might rule at number seven.
One name that has received considerable attention lately as the Vikings' possible selection at number seven is University of Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson. Johnson had a solid senior season at Texas, recording several sacks and rating high on the tracking list, but he comes with a significant caveat for Vikings' fans. At 6'3" 233, Johnson looks very much like a host of players that the Vikings already have playing outside linebacker. Do the Vikings really need another young, outside linebacker in this mold?
Moreover, if the Vikings truly are looking for yet another smaller, quicker linebacker, they will have several options later in the draft. These include Kevin Burnett (Tennessee, 6'2", 236), Channing Crowder (Florida, 6'2", 241), Darryl Blackstock (Virginia, 6'4", 239), Odell Thurman (Georgia, 6'1", 231), and Lance Mitchell (Oklahoma, 6'2", 244). The highest rated of these linebackers, Burnett, is projected to be selected somewhere after the 20th pick.
If the Vikings are going to select a defensive player with the seventh pick, there are better options. And, as good as Antrel Rolle and Carlos Rogers might be at cornerback, the Vikings would be well-served by improving the front seven through the draft and looking for veteran corners in free agency.
One such front seven player is Matt Roth of the University of Iowa. At one time, Roth was in everyone's top 20. Of late, he appears to have become a victim of his "small" build. That simply makes no sense, however.
At 6'3", 279 pounds, Roth gives two or three inches to fellow defensive linemen. But that height difference, invaluable to interior linemen for the ability it gives them to reach passes and throw down large, interior, offensive linemen, is less significant to a pass-rushing end--which Roth most certainly is. With 30 sacks in his final three seasons at Iowa, Roth has demonstrated a quickness that will serve him well against beefy, slow NFL offensive linemen.
And, if you like numbers, consider these. From 2002-2004, Roth totaled 148 tackles and 30 sacks. That tackle total is astounding for a defensive end, averaging out to nearly 50 a season for an 11-game season. The Vikings' top tackling defensive end in 2004 totaled 46 tackles in 14 (12 regular season games and 2 playoff games) last season. Think Roth might help?
While some "experts" have Roth going as late as the second round, there is virtually no chance that this will happen. The word is already out that Roth is an overachiever--an NFL coach's wet dream. OTC has Roth as the 13th best player in the draft and going at number 19 to the Rams. But Cleveland and Cincy fan boards already have numerous postings urging their teams to draft the defensive end.
The Vikings could do worse than drafting Roth at number seven, but only one or two picks could be better. If the Vikings elect to go with defense at number seven, Roth looks like a solid choice.
But if Roth is too much of a reach for the Vikings at seven, and the Vikings are intent on selecting a defensive player, they may want to look due East. And that, following a brief interlude to discuss the Raiders' trade for Moss, is the subject of the next (next) column.
Up Next: Raider State of Mind.