As the NFL's 2007 college entry draft creaps ever closer, several questions remain regarding who will take whom, who will trade up, and who will trade down. With needs at several positions, the Minnesota Vikings remain one of the teams about whom little in this draft is certain. But with teams drafting ahead of Minnesota eyeing many of the same players that the Vikings covet, the Vikings' decision might be made for them before they deliver their first-round pick to Roger Goodell.
In a previous post, I suggested a scenario by which the Vikings would find themselves in a position to draft Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson without trading up in the draft. That scenario requires every team ahead of Minnesota to draft for need and to understand their most pressing need. And that begins with Oakland taking JaMarcus Russell first overall in the draft after failing to trade for a quarterback capable of throwing the ball.
So far, Oakland has cooperated, failing in its bid to move wide receiver Randy Moss to Green Bay in exchange for quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If, on the clock on draft day, Oakland has yet to land a starting quarterback for 2007, JaMarcus Russell should be their selection.
Detroit doesn't have frightening wideouts, but it does have two very good receivers in Roy Williams and Mike Furrey. With holes on the offensive line and at defensive end, the Lions would be wise to draft either Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams or Wisconsin offensive tackle Joe Thomas. This is probably where things begin to fall apart for the Vikings' prospects of landing Johnson. Millen's infatuation with wide receivers, the prospect of joining Johnson with Williams and using Furrey as a third receiver, and hoping that the offensive line holds up will probably be too much of a temptation for Millen to pass on. While that migh be bad for Vikings' fans hoping to land a high-end wide receiver in this year's draft, it might be one of Millen's best draft picks.
If Detroit opts for Adams or Thomas over Johnson, however, there is every reason to believe that Tampa Bay will forego long-term security at the quarterback position in favor of immediately pairing Johnson with newly acquired Jeff Garcia and hoping that the offense can make a tremendous leap in one season. And that assumes that Cleveland already has passed on Johnson in favor of a defensive end or an offensive tackle--or a greater need. . .
With everyone focused on Johnson, however, another offensive star is quietly hanging out in the top ten of most draft boards, bouncing between fourth and tenth in most mock drafts. Arguably the second most skilled player in this year's draft, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson finds himself in the unique position of being no better than the fourth most coveted player on the board in 2007.
Peterson's predicament is a manifestation of the needs of teams in the top ten falling somewhere other than running back and the logistics of a draft that might make passing on less talented players in the first round too daunting for teams needing players at those positions in the draft but unlikely to uncover anything nearly as good later in the draft. Specifically, Peterson's dilemma is a manifestation of the draft having two highly regarded quarterbacks, one very highly regarded wide receiver, and seven teams in the top seven coveting the three players. Throw in a Gaines Adams and Joe Thomas and Peterson becomes the potential draft-day victim of a logistical squeeze.
Peterson's bad fortune could be the Vikings' good fortune, however, assuming the Vikings take the best player on the board and don't trade down. The key for Minnesota having a shot at Peterson is what Detroit does with the number two pick in the draft. If Detroit takes Johnson, Cleveland likely will take Brady Quinn as a short-term understudy to Charlie Frye. If Detroit takes Quinn, however, Cleveland likely will address its long-standing running back short-coming taking Peterson at number three.
Assuming Cleveland passes on Peterson, the running back should fall at least to the number seven spot in the draft. Of the teams currently slated to select in the top six in this year's draft, only Cleveland has enough of a pressing need at running back to warrant drafting Peterson so high. If Cleveland passes on Peterson, so, too, are Tampa Bay, Arizona, and Washington likely to pass on him.
Cleveland passing on Peterson would open the door for the Vikings to take a back that is both big enough to be an every down back and skilled enough to upgrade a position which, though a secondary concern this year, is a position at which the Vikings most heavily depend for any success in Brad Childress' slow as you go offense.
What's to like about Peterson? Plenty. Despite two serious injuries during his college career, Peterson appears ready to play in the NFL and in no immediate danger of having recurring injuries. If healthy, Peterson is a horse. And the numbers make a good case for drafting him high.
In 2005, his junior and final season in college ball, USC running back Reggie Bush tallied 1740 yards on 200 carries with 16 TDs. Bush augmented his rushing totals, hauling in 37 receptions for 478 yards.
In 2004, Peterson earned Heisman consideration as a freshman by rushing for 1,925 yards on 339 carries with 15 touchdowns. And, despite a collarbone injury that forced him to sit out six games in 2006, Peterson rushed for 1,012 yards on 188 carries with 12 touchdowns. He also added 10 receptions for 136 yards.
Though Bush clearly has the better speed numbers, having racked up a very impressive 8.7 yards per carry and nearly 13 yards per reception in his junior year, he had the decided advantage over Peterson of being but one of many offensive weapons on a solid USC team playing in a conference in which defense was primarily an afterthought.
Against arguably better defensive competition and on a team less laden with offensive stars, Peterson more than acquitted himself, demonstrating that, though probably not the same kind of talent that Bush is, Peterson's talent is unmistakable and likely to translate at the NFL level.
If the Vikings opt for offense in the first round, they could do far worse than drafting Peterson with the number seven selection. Whether that's the best option for a team now contending that it is in re-building mode is the subject of the next column.
Up Next: Elements of Rebuilding. Plus, Jackson versus Quinn versus Waiting.