Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Trading Up To Take Johnson Would Be A Mistake

With Draft Day 2007 fast approaching, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in virtually the same position in which they found themselves at this time last year. The question for the organization is whether they retain their seventh overall slot or attempt to trade up or down.

Last season, the Vikings turned in one of their better draft performances in recent memory, selecting two legitimate starters in Chad Greenway and Cedric Griffin, and another possible starter in 2007 in defensive back Greg Blue. Even if Tarvaris Jackson and Ryan Cook fail to pan out, that's still a nice return for a draft. And it's a far cry better than who the Vikings' drafted in 2005, selecting, in order, Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Marcus Johnson, Dustin Fox, Ciatric Fason, C.J. Mosley, and Adrian Ward.

Still, with two of the three architects of the 2005 draft--Scott Studwell and Rob Brzezinski--still part of the draft-day decision making team, and with the widely disregarded Rick Spielman added to the mix, there's every reason to wonder whether last year's draft was an aberration. With holes at nearly every position, it would be difficult for the Vikings not to follow up their 2006 draft success with another successful draft, but the team's success in the draft hinges on making critical pre-draft decisions, and that might be too much to ask of this organization at this time. Still, we can hope.


Of the primary and general draft options that the Vikings purportedly are mulling--staying put, trading up, or trading down--two make sense, while the other seems too fraught with peril to undertake. While staying put should land the Vikings a bona fide starter for 2007, trading down could land the team a bona fide starter in 2007 and another player or two who will contribute as a starter shortly after the 2007 season begins. Only trading up, which would cost the Vikings draft picks that they desperately need in this era of limited quality free agents and high salary cap figures, makes little sense.

Presumbaly, the Vikings would be interested in trading up only if they could be assured of selecting wide receiver Calvin Johnson. That might be a stretch given that virtually every NFL team has shown an interest in Johnson. Even if it is a possibility, however, it appears to be an unwise move for Minnesota. A cursory review of the success of first-round wide receiver selections in the past five years suggests that taking Johnson would be a risk in general terms. But even looking at Johnson as a discrete entity, rather than as part of a sample of receivers, raises concerns over drafting him with a top-five pick.

Assuming Johnson is the next Randy Moss or anything close, and that he is prepared to contribute mightily for a team that mightily needs a major contribution from a wide receiver in 2007, by drafting Johnson in the top five of the draft, the Vikings likely would be committing $20-25 million in salary cap space over the next three years to a player who plays wide receiver. I've made the point elsewhere, but it bears repeating. Receivers are only worth that kind of money if the team that has that receiver already has a solid offensive line to block pass rushers, a solid running game, and, of course, a quarterback that can be counted on to get that receiver the ball. As of today, the Vikings lack at least two, if not all three, of those components.

Even if the Vikings had the prerequisites for paying lavishly for a receiver, they would still need to be certain that they had the money to keep their defense together and meet the increasing salary demands of players already under contract. That's true no matter who the Vikings select in the 2007 draft. But, unlike receiver, at most other positions, players can show their merit through their individual play. Success at receiver is much more dependent on every other aspect of the game operating well.

The Vikings have too many holes to fill in 2007, and too many holes at critical positions, to waste draft picks trading up for a receiver who could be the next Moss but who also could be the next Peter Warrick or Charles Rogers. Nobody is a sure bet in the draft, but there is something to be said for committing draft dollars to positions that are the foundation of the team rather than to the glamour position that relies on the foundation being set. And there is something to be said for stocking high-round draft picks in an era in which the draft is critical to building a solid team.

Up Next: Staying Put? Plus, Mossy Bay?


Lichty said...

I don't disagree with your general premise, but I think you undersell the importance of good WR as a foundation. We need look no further back than last season. Having at least one reliable receiver is often the difference between moving the chains and a three and out.

Pacifist Viking said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pacifist Viking said...

Isn't it a tad early to consider the 2006 draft a success because Greenway is a legitimate starter? Do we have any idea he's a legitimate starter? Griffin, clearly, was a very good pick; I'm just not ready to chalk 2006 up as a success when the first-round pick (for no fault of his own) has given zero contribution.