Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Drafting for Need and Ability

A draft-day rule of thumb to which most NFL teams adhere is that when drafting in the top ten, you take the best player available. The logic behind the guideline is that, because players taken in the top ten generally command substantial signing bonuses, it is easier for the drafting team to avoid a colossal failure selecting a widely regarded player rather than a player less highly regarded merely because that player fits a need. Moreover, teams that select in the top ten of the draft generally have enough holes to fill that taking the best available player is usually anything but a risk.

As the Minnesota Vikings approach the 2007 draft, two years removed from a 9-7 finish and with arguably more talent on the roster than was on the roster at the end of 2005, they appear to fit the mode of teams that generally select in the top ten of the NFL draft. With needs at virtually every position, the Vikings indeed ought to take the best available player if they retain their number seven overall pick.

Most analysts have the following players somewhere in their list of top ten available players in the 2007 NFL draft: JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Joe Thomas, Gaines Adams, Alan Branch, LaRon Landry, Jamaal Anderson, and Amobi Akoye. With limited need at either safety or defensive tackle, the Vikings probably are not considering drafting either Landry or Branch. But, even with those two removed from the list, there are still eight players left for seven teams through Minnesota's seventh selection spot in the draft. And it is with that in mind that I consider the Vikings' draft for 2007.

Shaking Out The Draft

For the past month, Vikings' coaches and personnel people have made it clear that they have an interest in Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn and LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell. With the Raiders in desperate need of a quarterback and clearly pleased with the workouts that they have seen from Russell, it is unlikely that they will pass on Russell. And with Tampa Bay searching for a long-term solution at quarterback--presumably with Chris Simms out of the picture and Jeff Garcia meant as a short-term tutor--the Bucs might opt for Quinn with the number four overall pick.

The Vikings also have several holes along the offensive line and have expressed an interest in Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. The problem with any Vikings' plans to select Thomas is two-fold, however. First, Thomas is coveted by virtually every other team at the top of the draft. If the Raiders were not so desperate at quarterback, they would probably even consider taking Thomas number one overall--even with Robert Gallery having yet to pan out.

The second problem that the Vikings would face if they drafted Thomas is that they already have committed a substantial amount of cap room to left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Though Thomas has played other positions--including defensive end--he is primarily a left tackle. And the Vikings might be wary of attempting to move another lineman from his trained position given the failed attempts to make such moves under former head coach Mike Tice two season ago. Having McKinnie and Thomas thus would be redundant--unless the Vikings elected to release McKinnie.

Even if the Vikings had plans in place for using Thomas, however, it is unlikely that Thomas will be available when the Vikings draft. Assuming Russell and Quinn go to Oakland and Tampa Bay, respectively, the Lions, Browns, and Cardinals are all in desperate need of an offensive tackle. One of the three is nearly certain to take Thomas.

With Thomas off the board, and given Childress' commitment to building from the line back on both sides of the ball, the most logical player for the Vikings to target next would be Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams. Adams has been projected as going anywhere from second to somewhere just outside the top ten, though his ability suggests a certain top-ten selection. Because Matt Millen probably will make the wrong pick--no matter who he selects--and because defensive end is the Lions' third or fourth issue entering the draft, odds are at least even that the Lions will take Adams with the number two pick. That would be fine with the rest of the league, as it would ensure that Adams is a bust in the NFL, but if Detroit were to pass it would be as sure a sign of probable ability. Assuming that Detroit does pass on Adams, however, Washington, desperate to add muscle to a weak pass rush, almost certainly will not.

With the top linemen on each side of the ball likely off the board when the Vikings draft the team might look to Arkansas junior defensive end Jamaal Anderson. That would be a mistake. Anderson probably will be available when the Vikings draft, but, even with a strong junior season at Arkansas, he probably will not contribute much as a rookie in the NFL given what scouts have generously referred to as "raw talent." The Vikings don't need raw talent selecting at number seven, they've gone that route before. What the Vikings need is a player who can start and make an impact immediately.

If the team deems Anderson too great of a risk, they could be left with few options from among their top ten when selecting at number seven. Assuming Thomas, Russell, Quinn, and Adams are selected ahead of the seventh pick, and that the Vikings have no interest in Landry, Branch, or Anderson, the team will be left hoping that Calvin Johnson somehow falls to number seven. That probably won't happen, but it could happen if every team ahead of Minnesota takes the best available player that most fits their needs. And the continuing rise of Quinn's draft value might just make that a reality.

If each team drafts the best player available that fits a team need, the draft would follow the following sequence: Oakland would select Russell or Quinn, Detroit would select Thomas, Cleveland would select Adrian Peterson, Tampa Bay would select Russell or Quinn, whomever the Raiders elected not to draft, the Cardinals would select Adams or Branch, and Washington would select Adams or Branch, whomever the Cardinals did not select.

The near-certainties not to take Johnson are Oakland, Detroit, Cleveland, Arizona, and Washington. Oakland has receiver issues, but much more pressing issues at quarterback, along the offensive line, and at running back. Detroit has a history of taking wide receivers early, but Matt Millen not only cannot afford taking another receiver high, the team also is not in need of another wide receiver. Cleveland could use a clear number one receiver, but they more desperately need at running back, along the offensive line, and along the defensive line. Arizona has no need for receivers with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in the mix. And Washington has so many problems that taking a wide-receiver near the top of the draft would lead to mutiny among the teams' followers--and possibly among the current players. Only Tampa Bay has a need at receiver that merits taking Johnson over other players that will be available to them in the draft. It will be a tough call for Tampa Bay.

Up Next: Why Passing On Johnson Might Be Best For Minnesota. Plus, already polishing spin.

6 comments:

OneFourFive said...

Aren't the Raiders considering Johnson at #1?

Especially if they can unload Moss?

Boognish said...

Yes they are. If they were to unload Moss to Gein Bay and receive Rodgers in return, I could definitely see them taking Calvin with the #1 pick. In fact, I could see almost every team before us taking Calvin if he's still there. As was stated in the beginning of this article, most teams select the player who is highest on their draft board, not for need. He'll be high on everybody's draft board.

The only way we get Calvin is by trading up, and I think that would be a terrible idea. I wouldn't count out Landry either, if I were you. Sharper is getting pretty long in the tooth and Dwight just isn't that good. Blue showed some potential last year, but Landry is a pure stud. I can definitely see the Vikes drafting him, or trading down this year.

Vikes Geek said...

OneFourFive,

As I said in the post, it is a near-certainty that the Raiders will not take Johnson. That probably ensures that Al Davis will take Johnson.

Even assuming that the Raiders trade Randy Moss to Green Bay for Aaron Rodgers, they'd still be without a bona fide starting quarterback this year (and, in my opinion, as long as they relied on Rodgers to be their starter). That would make Johnson a great player, paid highly, but virtually irrelevant in the Raiders' offense.

The Raiders need to resolve their line, quarterback, and running back issues before they even think about receiver. For Oakland, that looks like it might be a five-year plan. If Davis wants to use a high pick and allocate big dollars to a receiver for the next three years as part of that plan, he certainly will do so. It just doesn't seem to make much sense, regardless of how good Johnson is.

A better decision for Oakland would be to trade out of the number one spot and let somebody else take Johnson. They could then address several needs in this year's draft.

VG

Vikes Geek said...

Boognish,

Of course every team could conceivably take Johnson in the first round. He's widely regarded as the most talented player in the draft. But the point of the article is that if teams take the player that they most need, Johnson could slide to Minnesota. Trading up is not the only way to get Johnson if the right scenario plays out. With that said, the Vikings probably would be better served filling another hole with the number seven pick.

I agree taht Landry is a great safety. I don't know if Minnesota is high on him, however, given that they at least have safeties for 2007. They need a defensive end, quarterback, receiver, and offensive lineman. Of those needs, it is possible--perhaps probable--that the top options will be gone when the Vikings pick. That scenario likely would mean that Adrian Peterson wuuld still be available. Despite what Chester Taylor accomplished last season, he's not in the same league as Peterson.

VG

VG

Boognish said...

Carr's imminent release has created some interesting scenerios in the League. Rumor is that Raiders coaches and scouts are beyond smitten with Johnson and view him as the surest thing in the talent pool. Plus, choosing him at the top of the draft also would allow Oakland to trade troublesome wide receiver Randy Moss. But it doesn't make sense to take Johnson unless you have a quarterback to get him the ball, and Carr would have a shot. And wasn't the Raiders' new coach and resident wunderkind Lane Kiffin an offensive guru of sorts during his tenure at Southern California? And one more intriguing note: Kiffin and Carr have some history together, as Kiffin was a coach at Fresno State during Carr's first two years there.

If Carr goes to Oakland, expect to see Calvin drafted #1 overall and be wearing the silver and black next season.

Vikes Geek said...

Boognish,

I agree that if the Raiders have a quarterback that they believe can lead the team they will draft Johnson #1. Right now, however, they do not have that quarterback. Moreover, it would be a mistake for the Raiders to believe that Carr is the guy to lead the team.

VG