Monday, April 30, 2007

Some Question Whether Vikings Got Enough Guys With Good Bubble

As the Minnesota Vikings' personnel people gathered to consider their 2007 draft board, members of the draft committee undoubtedly raised several key concerns. But while the question of whether to take Brady Quinn or Adrian Peterson might have been raised in the dark recesses of the far reaches of the Vikings' draft room, unquestionably there was no bigger concern among Vikings' draft committee members than whether the players on the Vikings' big board had good bubble.

As the draft wore on through far too many hours on day one and then for far too many hours on day two, through several hundred picks of which only a handful are likely ever to start in the NFL, the Vikings' concerns over the bubble undoubtedly grew, with little information available on the bubble of some of the players from which they would have to select.

After the Vikings selected Adrian Peterson, a player with an excellent bubble, and Sidney Rice, a player with an adequate bubble, they drafted several players in succession about whose bubble little was known within NFL scouting circles.

Yes, the Vikings had the beginnings of a scouting report on their remaining picks, but they didn't know everything. And they certainly did not know about the bubble.

They knew, for example, that scouts considered former Fresno State cornerback Marcus McCauley to be a player in need of improvement to play at the NFL level. Scouts touted McCauley as "a player who regressed as a collegiate player in 2006."

They knew, as well, that scouts considered former Texas defensive end Brian Robison a blue-collar player. Robison, who played in twelve of Texas' thirteen games in 2006, started nine. Scouts view Robison as a special teams player if he makes it in the NFL.

The Vikings also learned something about former East Carolina wide receiver Aundrae Allison, a second-team all-conference selection in conference USA in 2006 after starting eleven of East Carolina's twelve games and scoring four touchdowns. Scouts consider Allison to be "not very strong" and "not a good route runner."

With respect to former Oklahoma outside linebacker Rufus Alexander, the Vikings learned that Alexander was inexplicably available in the sixth round in a draft laden with junk after rounds one and two. Alexander was defensive player of the year in the Big Twelve in 2006, amassing 118 tackles. Vikings' head of pro personnel, Rick Spielman, immediately labeled Alexander a "guy on the come."

Of Coastal Carolina quarterback Tyler Thigpen and Florida International wide receiver Chandler Williams, the Vikings learned that some players actually believe that they should not have been taken in the draft. Both Thigpen and Williams expressed excitement that the Vikings even knew who they were. Scouts felt similarly, viewing Williams as a low risk, low reward type player with a low ceiling and having not much of anything to say about the I-AA Thigpen.

Ultimately, the scouts unquestionably helped the Vikings select in round one the player that everyone rated as the best available player, then taking a bunch of wide receivers that unquestionably could make any team's practice squad. But what the Vikings really want to know about their draft picks in 2007, and what they will not know until they bring the players into rookie camp, is whether they have good bubble. If they do have good bubble, half the battle is won. If not, well, ask Ryan Hoag.

Up Next: Desicating the draft.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vikings' Draft

With their first pick in day one of the 2007 NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings selected Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. The move came one pick after Washington selected the player many expected the Vikings to select with their pick, LSU safety LaRon Landry. By selecting Peterson, the Vikings substantially upgraded their running back position from one featuring a hard-working Chester Taylor to one capable of going to a two-back system, despite the woes of the right side of the offensive line.

The question is whether Vikings' head coach Brad Childress will make use of Peterson's considerable talents--assuming Peterson is able to play. Peterson offers a big target out of the backfield and could be a passing target in an offense that throws the ball. The problem, of course, is that the Vikings prefer to run unless forced to pass. If Childress can get his head around a vertical game on first and second downs, Peterson could become more than a mere rushing back and emerge as the face of the Vikings' offense.

The curiousity is that, as good as Peterson portends to be, Childress signed off on this pick. Seemingly entrenched in his extremely short- to negative-gain offensive philosophy that features a bastardized version of the West Coast system, Childress would seem to have no tolerance for a running back whose mold falls outside the traditional West Coast offense back mold. Unlike players such as Roger Craig and Marshall Faulk, Peterson seems better suited to working in crowds rather than squeezing through non-holes to daylight. Perhaps, that's more a function of how Peterson was used at Oklahoma and his large frame than it is a function of ability. Time will tell.

Spielman Versus Childress

After the draft, Vikings' head of pro personnel Rick Spielman appeared on ESPN radio to offer his thoughts on the Vikings' number one pick. More forthcoming than the autistic Childress who, for no apparent reason, mechanically refused to answer any questions regarding Peterson's injury, Spielman suggested both that the Vikings were long high on Peterson and that Peterson was not the Vikings' first choice from among the players that the Vikings had expected to select from before the draft began.

While noting the Vikings' on-going interest in Peterson and stating that the team had had Peterson come to Minnesota so that team doctors could inspect the running back's shoulder injury, Spielman strongly hinted that Landry was the Vikings' primary target in the draft. Despite his early 80s, Don Johnson look, Spielman as a personality is a refreshing relief from the non-personality, automoton that is Childress.

Though Spielman wins plaudits for his relative candor, the jury remains out on whether the Vikings did enough on day one of the draft to improve on the team's weaknesses. Entering the draft, the Vikings were in need of one or two offensive linemen, one or more receivers, a cornerback, and a defensive end.

In round two, the Vikings picked up 6'3", 200 pound South Carolina wide receiver Sidney Rice. The Vikings already have taken pains to note that Rice is a more polished receiver than was fellow South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson. The numbers might bear out that contention. And they might not.

In 2005, Rice caught 70 passes for 1,143 yards and thirteen touchdowns in twelve games. Last season, Rice caught 72 passes for 1,090 yards and ten touchdowns. In his final season at South Carolina, Williamson caught 43 passes for 835 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Raw reception totals appear to favor Rice over Williamson, until one recalls that Williamson played for the stodgy Lou Holtz while Rice played in the wide-open offense of Steve Spurrier. But even comparing numbers suggests that there is not much quantitative separation between Williamson and Rice as it would appear at first blush. In fact, Williamson might even have the edge in raw numbers, boasting a 19.4 yards-per-catch average to Rice's 15.1 yards-per-catch average in 2006.

While the numbers don't tell us how well a player will adapt to the NFL, Vikings' fans ought to be cautioned about one other nit-picky detail about Rice. Despite the front office's purported commitment to character players, the Vikings, in Rice, picked up what more than one scouting agency referred to as an "immature player." That seems like an odd character decision for a team that could have selected either of USC's starting wide-receivers rather than Rice.

Final Nugget

To give you an indication of how much the wonks at ESPN really know about any team's needs in the draft, consider the network's comments regarding the Vikings' selection of Adrian Peterson. While complimenting the Vikings selection of the best player available, ESPN suggested that the Vikings might have been unwise to overlook "more pressing needs at defensive end and running back."

It might have been a typo--in which case one wonders what other type of "back" ESPN had in mind. Or, it might just have been what it is--more of the mailing it in type of garbage for which ESPN and most others covering anything are increasingly known for.

Up Next: The Rest of the Rest. Plus, outside views of the Vikings' draft and how other NFC North teams fared.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Vikings Opt for Offense

With LaRon Landry off the board at number seven, the Minnesota Vikings opted for offense in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft, selecting Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson. The selection suggests that the Vikings are confident both that Peterson's health issues are discrete and on the mend and that head coach Brad Childress can modify his two-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense to accommodate the skilled back.

By selecting Peterson, the Vikings passed on two other players who the team either did or should have considered, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and quarterback Brady Quinn. Okoye appears to be the victim of his youth, with many teams apparently concerned about his limited playing experience and tender age, despite his performance on the field. Quinn, meanwhile, continues what could be a dramatic free-fall, despite his and his agent's best efforts to position him as a can't miss prospect.

While the selection of Peterson adds significant skill to the Vikings' backfield, the team still enters 2007 without a proven quarterback and with the promise of starting a quarterback that looked unready for the NFL, at best, starting at the end of 2006. Even with the quarterback issue unresolved, however, the selection of Peterson over Quinn looks like the right decision.

Up Next: More on the Vikings' Day One Picks. Plus, curious picks.

Longevity and Prosperity

With but a mere few hours to go before the Minnesota Vikings make their first selection in the 2007 NFL draft, it's time to whittle down the list of players that the Vikings should take to one. The assumption is that Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, JaMarcus Russell, and Gaines Adams all will be gone when the Vikings make their selection. That still leaves the Vikings several good options, however.

Rank Order

The following is a rank order of who the Vikings should take with their first pick in today's draft, assuming that they do not trade up or down and that the aforementioned players are not available when the Vikings make their selection:

1. LaRon Landry
2. Amobi Okoye
3. Adrian Peterson

While the Vikings need good offensive players, they already have a running back capable of doing the little that is asked of running backs in Brad Childress' mess of a system. If a more inventive coach had the reigns on this team--and we knew for certain that Peterson were going to be healthy in 2007--a player of Peterson's ability would be a good selection. Alas, Childress is intent on running his offense, an offense that makes Peterson an expensive luxury.

Okoye would be number one on the Vikings should-pick list, but for his relative inexperience. Landry's additional experience gives him a slight edge over Okoye. Landry also happens to play a position that could be of need as soon as 2007, however, while Okoye probably would serve primarily as a sub to both Patrick and Kevin Williams for most of 2007 and 2008.

Boost to Pass Defense

The Vikings' pass defense ranked near the bottom of the league in yards allowed last season. Apologists argue that the stout run defense forced teams to pass against the Vikings, which led to more passing yards against the team. Realists note that truly good defenses--such as New England and Pittsburgh--held teams in check in the passing game, despite having very good run defenses.

The bottom line for the Vikings' pass defense in 2006 was that it was porous between the twenties. And in tight games, the likes of which the Vikings apparently covet under Childress, field position and field goal opportunities are critical. That puts a premium on stopping the pass as much as on stopping the run. As backstops to last year's defense, Darren Sharper and Dwight Smith mostly failed in stepping up to the play, preferring, instead, to sit back and wait for the play to develop in front of them. That led to big chunks of yardage and opportunities for opposing teams.

Landry not only has a quick step to the ball that neither Smith nor the aging Sharper can match, he also has shown the ability to convert blitzes to sacks--something that Sharper once did but now appears too slow to manage. New defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier has promised more blitzing and more creative blitz packages in 2007. If Frazier wants to deliver on that promise, selecting Landry would be a good first step.

Although the Vikings currently have several safeties on their roster, each has his own personal baggage. Tank Williams and Mike Doss are recovering from serious injuries, Sharper has lost a step, Smith disappears during stretches of games--and during nights out on the town, and Greg Blue is inexperienced. Thus, while the Vikings have numbers at safety, there remain serious concerns about the players currently on roster--serious enough to warrant adding a safety that should be prepared to start in 2007.

The added bonus to selecting Landry is that he plays a position at which players generally have shown durability and longevity in the NFL. That can't be said for many running backs, particularly ones that are as big a target as is Peterson.

Final Call: Landry edges Okoye.

Up Next: Who the Vikings Took. Plus, day two.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Peterson Injury Risk Puts Premium on Defense

With one day and change remaining until this year's NFL draft, nearly everyone on the planet has a mock draft posted on the web. And while those mocks range from conventional--with teams taking the best player that they most need--to fanciful--with teams landing players they have no hope of landing, nearly all blogs have one thing in common--they all tend to agree on who the top eight prospects are in this year's draft.

In no particular order, the consensus appears to be that the top eight players in this year's draft are JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Calvin Johnson, Joe Thomas, Adrian Peterson, LaRon Landry, Gaines Adams, and Amobi Okoye, with Okoye the only player of the eight borderline consensus. Of these eight, the consensus also appears to be that all eight will be impact players in the NFL. That means that, no matter what the other teams in the draft do, the Vikings will be in a position to draft a highly regarded player in this year's draft. What the options will be is all that remains to be seen.

Peterson Pickle

This week, word leaked that Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson re-injured his collarbone during the Sooners' bowl game. Peterson long ago revealed the issue to pro scouts but, apparently, word never made it beyond those usually loose lips. The additional rumor is that Peterson will require therapy and possibly surgery on his collarbone, a situation that could lead him to miss training camp--or worse.

Whether Peterson's injury will keep him out of camp or off the field for an extended period is uncertain. What is clear, however, is that the Minnesota Vikings cannot afford to miss with this year's first-round pick. With an agitated fan base and a draft history that has its last four first round selections two players with injury histories who have missed significant playing time, another first-round pick who missed all of last season with an injury, and a fourth first-rounder with, as of yet, no proven ability, the Vikings need to get it right this year.

In my most previous column, I suggested that, given other teams' needs and what is likely to be on the board when the Vikings select at number seven in the draft, the Vikings best three options in this year's draft appear to be Peterson, LSU safety LaRon Landry, and Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye. With concerns arising about Peterson's re-injured collarbone, however, that list should be pared to the two defensive players.

The Vikings would be well-served drafting Landry, a player who could help solidify a shaky pass defense, provide support for a revamped linebacking corps with an inexperienced middle linebacker, and give new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier some options for running the blitz packages that he has promised to install in Minnesota's defensive system.

If the Vikings want Landry, they likely will need to use their seventh pick to take him as several teams selecting immediately after Minnesota would love to have Landry, making it difficult to trade down and still pick-up Landry. If the Vikings are interested in Okoye, however, they might be able to trade down as many as six slots, pick up a second-round pick, and still add the powerful defensive lineman.

Moving down to take Okoye could leave the Vikings without Okoye, Landry, or any of the other consensus starters in this year's draft. But even that might be a blessing in disguise for a team in desperate need of capable players along the offensive line, at wide receiver, at cornerback, and at defensive end. Trading down and missing out on Okoye and Landry would still give the Vikings the opportunity to select Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem or LSU wide receiver Dwayne Bowe--two highly regarded receivers--and give the team an additional pick in the middle of the second round, where they should be able to find a quality safety or corner.

Up Next: Final Pre-Draft. Plus, Post-Draft Review.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Draft Final Take One

Three days away from the 2007 NFL college entry draft, the Minnesota Vikings find themselves in both an enviable and an uneviable position. Selecting number seven overall, Minnesota is assured of having at least two bona fide starters available when they draft. Unfortunately, as seems so often to be the case for the Vikings, those two bona fide starters probably will not be players who can fill any of Minnesota's pressing needs, as numerous as those needs might be.

Two Givens

The two players in the draft on whom the Vikings could most count to be long-term starters beginninng in 2007 are Wisconsin left tackle Joe Thomas and LSU safety LaRon Landry. Thomas would do fine as a converted right tackle until the Vikings come to their senses and move the highly overrated Bryant McKinnie. Given Arizona's desperate need for an offensive tackle, however, there is virtually zero chance that Thomas will be available when the Vikings draft at number seven.

Landry should be available at seven, however, making him a tempting selection for the Purple. Despite depth at safety, the Vikings could be excused for selecting Landry with the plan of moving one of their younger safeties to corner and using Landry at safety in 2007. Landry won't be the highest reward selection that the Vikings could make at number seven, but he should be a safe pick and a great stopper for some time, as safeties tend to wear well in the NFL.

The Next Two

After Thomas and Landry, the next two most certain picks are Adrian Peterson and Amobi Akoye. What Peterson loses in years of service by playing a punishing position, he should make up for in production over the short haul. If the Vikings are in a three-year rebuilding mode, as owner Zygi Wilf recently suggested, selecting Peterson would be an odd choice. Of course, odd choices are what this franchise is all about the past few seasons, so Peterson might fit in nicely regardless of the short-term team prospects.

Akoye, on the other hand, offers both production and longevity, assuming his growth stays within reasonable bounds. At only nineteen years old, Akoye toyed with his college opponents in 2006. He's big, he's strong, he's reasonably intelligent, and he gets to the quarterback playing the interior. That's something that certainly can compensate for a weak outside pass rush. And with Patrick Williams probably looking at retirement sometime in the next two years, Akoye would be a nice full-time replacement and a very nice short-term sub.

USA Today-Like Summary

If the Vikings want long-term contribution from their seventh overall pick in this year's draft and want to limit the risk in their selection, the best two options likely to be available to them are Landry and Akoye. If they want great short-term production from a player with a higher risk attached to his selection, Peterson would be a good selection.

Up Next: Weeding Through the Best of the Rest in Round One. Plus, the picks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

On The Come?

Say what? Last week, Minnesota Vikings' player personnel director Rick Spielman apparently broke ranks and let slip one of the franchise's best kept secrets. During an interview with a local writer, Spielman acknowledged that the Vikings remain $25 million under the 2007 salary cap and noted that the team was interested in spending wisely rather than just spending. "We're looking for players on the come," Spielman said.

If you've followed the Vikings since the Red McComb's era, you've probably heard this song and dance before. When a high-ranking Vikings' official says that the team is interested in value and not largesse--despite obtaining little of value and retaining considerable largesse (more like $30 million by most estimates)--it's clear that the shell game has returned to the Twin Cities.

In Mike Tice's last season as head coach, the Vikings finished 9-7. Frustrated by what he viewed to be an underperforming team, Wilf fired Tice, declaring that the team was poised to contend under new head coach Brad Childress.

From that 9-7 team, the Vikings lost one meaningful starter--quarterback Daunte Culpepper who played half of the 2005 season before sustaining a season-ending injury. The team finished with a better record using Daunte's replacement, Brad Johnson, than it had amassed with Daunte as the starter in 2005. Enter Brad Childress.

With better talent at several positions and an improved defense, the 2006 Vikings nevertheless floundered. And while some, including the head coach, resorted to the cliched "if a few plays in a few games had gone differently" bit to suggest that the Vikings easily could have gone 10-6 last year rather than 6-10, some were bold enough to point out that, by the same logic, the team just as easily could have been 2-14--or worse.

Wilf and Childress responded to fan discontent by contending that the team's changing philosophy--from whatever Tice's philosophy was to whatever Childress' philosophy is--would require time to produce results on the field. Never mind that the change to Childress was, according to Zygi, "going to pay immediate dividends." Now, Zygi is contending that that time it will take for the Vikings to show improvement will be somewhere in the neighborhood of three years. And Spielman is offering cover by digging for diamonds in the rough.

I love a good football yarn as much as the next guy, but spare me another story about a guy who can run fast and has potential. Matt Jones was to have been the next unstoppable receiver with his blazing speed and great athleticism. Skeptics scoffed at the notion that a lanky college quarterback who'd never played receiver in college could make the transition to all-world receiver. So far, the skeptics have proven correct.

Spielman wants us to believe that the Vikings have outdone even what Matt Jones is still attempting to do. For, instead of finding a college football player who the Vikings hope to convert to a wide receiver, the Vikings have simply found a really fast guy who supposedly is athletic. And he's never played football.

When Spielman says that the team's philosophy is to find guys on the come rather than guys who have established themselves and are requesting their due pay day, what he is really saying is that the Vikings are looking to fill obvious voids on their club in as penny ante a fashion as possible. Whatever it takes to meet the salary floor in 2007 will do.

It's not on the come. It's come on.

Up Next: Three Good Scenarios for the Vikings in Round One of the Draft.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dime A Dozen?

In a previous column, I discussed the possibility of the Oakland Raiders drafting Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson to forego selecting the consensus number one quarterback in the draft. One of the likely repercussions of that decision is that Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson would be available when the Minnesota Vikings make their selection at number seven in this year's draft.

For the past two months, Vikings' followers have salivated at the possibility that Peterson might be available to the Vikings. And, at first blush, there is reason to be optimistic that Peterson will be a tremendous NFL player. Despite suffering two serious injuries during his college career, Peterson's numbers have compared favorably to those of Reggie Bush in Bush's final year of collegiate ball.

The numbers make Peterson appealing. The question stands, however, whether it is worth using a high draft pick even on a promising running back prospect in today's NFL, particularly when that back has a history of injuries.

By The Numbers

The greatest draft day fear of most NFL player personnel managers is making a mistake with a high draft choice. As a consequence, most NFL player personnel managers anguish over decisions that, to the regular fan, seem to be no-brainers. Whether a player drafted in the top ten of the draft will become a Hall of Fame caliber NFL talent is one matter. Whether he will fill a pressing need for the team drafting him is quite another. And while the former is a crap shoot, the latter is pretty well guaranteed, with apologies to Vikings' fans, if the drafting team merely does its due diligence and relies on common sense.

The question persists, however, whether, as one reader suggested, quality running backs are worth taking high in the draft or merely are a dime a dozen with quality backs readily available each year in free agency. I address this question by reviewing each of the first round running back selections over the past five years, then considering the alternatives in free agency.

From 2002 through 2006, fourteen running backs were selected in the first round of the NFL draft. In 2002, Cleveland selected William Green with the 16th pick and Atlanta tabbed T.J. Duckett at 18.

In 2003, Buffalo took a chance selecting the previously injured Willis McGahee with the 23rd pick and Kansas City selected Penn State running back Larry Johnson with the 27th pick.

In 2004, three backs were taken in the first round of the draft, with Steven Jackson going at 24 to St. Louis, Chris Perry at 26 to Cincinnati, and Kevin Jones to Detroit at 30.

In 2005, three more running backs went in round one, with Ronnie Brown going to Miami at number two, Cedric Benson to Chicago at four, and Carnell Williams to Tampa Bay at five.

Last Year, four running backs were selected in round one of the draft. At number two, New Orleans selected Reggie Bush who the Houston Texans had by-passed in favor of taking defensive end Mario Williams. Laurence Maroney went to New England at 21 in one of the steals of the draft, with DeAngelo Williams at 27 and Joseph Addai at 30, going to Carolina and Indianapolis, respectively.

What have these 14 running backs accomplished in the NFL? For the most part, plenty. At least plenty enough to merit having taken most of them in the first round of the draft. Of the 14 running backs selected in the first round of the draft since 2002, 11 already are or will be starters in 2007 and 13 remain in the league. Moreover, each of the backs selected in the top ten of the draft plays a prominent role in their teams current and future plans. Only William Green, who is out of the league as a result of substance abuse issues and injuries, and Chris Perry, who continues to battle injuries, qualify as first-round running back busts in the past five seasons of the NFL draft.

Opportunity Cost

The success of the majority of first-round running backs suggests that taking a first-round caliber running back is not the risk that it is often made out to be by draft wonks. But the value of drafting a running back high in the draft cannot be adduced by mere consideration of whether those players panned out in the NFL. Rather, it is necessary also to at least consider the alternatives to having drafted that running back in the first round.

One method of evaluating opportunity cost is to consider the alternatives in the draft. That's a subject to which I already have devoted several columns and one to which I will return leading up to the draft.

Another approach to evaluating opportunity cost is to consider the players available in free agency that play the same position that the player drafted plays. That's the approach I take in today's column.

In 2002, there were 24 NFL running backs available in free agency. Of the 24, three were relatively good players and two of the three--Warrick Dunn and Atowain Smith--proved their worth in years to come. And, in the less than spectacular draft that was the 2002 draft, both Dunn and Smith proved to be better options than either William Green or T.J. Duckett.

In 2004, there were 57 NFL running backs available in free agency. Of the 57, four had respectable years after signing as free agents with only one--restricted free agent Rudi Johnson--worthy of comparison with first-round draft picks. On the whole, the free agent running back pool of 2004 was unremarkable, particularly when considering that Johnson was not really available in free agency. Both Steven Jackson and Kevin Jones are considerable upgrades over all but Johnson.

In 2005, there were 92 NFL running backs available in free agency. Of the 92, seven have had good or better careers going forward and four could make a claim for being worthy of being taken in the first round of the NFL draft--Shaun Alexander, Rudi Johnson, Edgerrin James, and Chester Taylor. The problem with the 2005 free agent running back pool, however, is that, take away the franchised Johnson and Alexander, and you're left with one back with injury issues and one back without a pedigree. With Brown, Williams, and Benson emerging as solid first-round backs from the 2005 draft, on ability alone, the free agency pool of 2005 pales in comparison to what was available in round one of the 2005 draft.

Last year, there were 86 running backs available in free agency. Of those 86, six showed promise but only Alexander was without injury, age, or restricted status concerns. Even throwing Willie Parker and Brian Westbrook into the pool would not have trumped the talent available in the 2006 draft, with Bush, Maroney, Williams, and Addai already performing at high levels in the NFL.

Bottom Line

What this suggests about drafting a running back of Adrian Peterson's caliber in the top ten of the draft is that, at least compared to years past, it appears to be a no brainer. While there have been some good backs available in free agency in recent years, the one signing that everyone points to as an example of great backs being availabe in free agency is Shaun Alexander last year. Alexander, however, remains one of the rare exceptions of healthy, young backs not tagged by their teams with the franchise or transition label. The tags and the punishment of time spent running with the ball in the NFL make free agent backs both hard to obtain and risky propositions.

Even if the only concerns were present injuries and a high price tag for signing a free agent, free agency would lag behind the draft as a means of obtaining a first-round caliber running back. Unfortunately for those not in a position to add such a back through the draft, however, there is another obstacle.

With many teams flush with cap space even after spending in the 2007 off-season, first-round caliber running backs will command considerable attention in free agency for several years to come. If you thought that the rush to sign players such as Patrick Kerney and Visanthe Shiancoe drew interest, imagine the attention that will be paid to players like Reggie Bush, Laurence Maroney, DeAngelo Williams, and Joseph Addai, if, and when they hit free agency. The price will be staggering and the competition fierce.

The bottom line for the Vikings is that if they believe that they have a need for a running back who is first-round material, and if they believe that that need must be addressed this season, they should draft Peterson. And they should do so without the concern that they are throwing away money and a pick on a player who readily can be found in free agency.

Up Next: More Draft Talk.

Monday, April 09, 2007

NFL Draft Rumblings

We are still two weeks away from the 2007 NFL college entry draft and the Minnesota Vikings appear intent on cloaking their targets in the draft. While that probably is the best approach for the organization to take if it wishes to leave open it's numerous draft-day options, it does tend to make for a dull, pre-draft period.

But just because the Vikings' aren't talking much, doesn't mean that we cannot deduce the Vikings' options from what those who are speaking are saying. With representatives of most of the other NFL teams at least leaking rumors, there is more reason to believe that the Vikings' will have the option of drafting Adrian Peterson--a player most insiders believe the Vikings covet much more than they are letting on--than ever there was.

Domino Effect

The hottest rumor in NFL circles isn't really much of a revelation. Rather, it is a contradiction of conventional wisdom that is highly expected. The presumption all along has been that the Oakland Raiders will select LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the number one overall selection in this year's draft. The move would make sense as it would pair a great-armed, mobile quarterback with two wide receivers who can make a difference when healthy and willing to play, Randy Moss and Jerry Porter. Rumor has it, however, that Al Davis simply cannot overcome his infatuation with Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Oakland has numerous holes, including running back and offensive line. But the most glaring weakness is at quarterback. How diseased is the Raiders' quarterback situation? You be the judge.

After benching Aaron Brooks two games into the season, then starting him again, then benching him again, the Raiders finally wised up and cut ties with him. That left the team with two quarterbacks on their roster--neither of whom looks like they would be in the league if not for the Raiders.

If the Raiders select Calvin Johnson, barring trades, they will start the season with Moss, Porter, and Johnson at wide receiver and...Andrew Walter at quarterback? That's pretty tough to accept if you're a sensible Raiders' fan. Last year, Walter compiled these wonderful statistics after replacing the broken down Brooks--1677 yards on 53 percent completed passes with 3 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The 3/13 line is enough to make one shudder--or call for Joey Harrington as the starter next year. Alas, it sounds as though Davis is comfortable in his own skin (yuck!) with Walter throwing misses near a solid corps of receivers. It ought to be fun to watch so much talent at receiver run really fast for one quarter before two-thirds of the trio goes to the bench to rip the rookie coach.

If Oakland selects Johnson at number one, the board opens up dramatically for the Vikings at number seven, possibly giving the Vikings their pick of one of the top two quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson. And that's where things could get very interesting for Vikings' fans.

Up Next: Dominos Falling? Plus, Quinn versus Peterson.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Safety In Numbers?

With Wednesday's signing of former Indianapolis Colt safety Mike Doss, the Minnesota Vikings have created some speculation that the top player most likely to be available to them when they select at number seven in this year's NFL college entry draft, might no longer be a player in whom they have an interest. That assessment, however, appears ill-founded.

Speaking about his decision to sign with the Vikings, Doss threw out the standard cliches, claiming that he signed with Minnesota because "Minnesota's a great organization," "I really like the direction that Minnesota' headed," and "Minnesota wants to win." Notwithstanding the fact that Doss is moving from a team that won the Super Bowl to a team that failed to make the playoffs, his justifications for signing with Minnesota are somewhat comical.

The real reason Doss signed with Minnesota, and the reason that his signing probably has little bearing on what the Vikings will do in the draft, is that nobody else wanted Doss. Coming off a season in which he lost all but six games to a serious injury, there are legitimate concerns about whether Doss will even be able to play in 2007, let alone whether he will be able to beat out a starter for a starting position.

With Doss' status on the Vikings' roster in 2007 tenuous, and his starting status anything but a certainty, the Vikings will thus enter the draft assuming that Doss is not yet a given. That means that the Vikings probably will remain interested in LaRon Landry, if the LSU safety is still on the board when the Vikings draft.

While Doss' signing probably will not effect the Vikings' draft plans, his signing could be the first indication that at least one of the Vikings' current safeties is inching closer to free agent status by virtue of being released. Though Dwight Smith was often missing in action last season, Darren Sharper too often was at the center of big plays going the wrong direction. With Tank Williams returning from a season lost to injury, Greg Blue already with some playing time already under his belt as Sharper's backup, and new defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier promising to use more blitz packages, the writing could be on the wall for Sharper--even if Doss is not able to start in 2007. And if Doss is able to start, that could spell the end for both Sharper and Smith in Vikings' purple.

Doss' signing is a low-risk, high-reward gamble by the Vikings. But given the uncertainty about his recovery from a serious injury, there is little reason to believe that Doss' signing has changed the Vikings' draft-day plans.

Up Next: More Draft Talk. Plus, assessment of talent--bucking the talk?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Still Shakin' Out the Big Board

It's less than one month to the NFL college entry draft and we're no closer to knowing in which direction the Minnesota Vikings will go when they make their first selection in the draft than we were at the end of the 2006 season. With the seventh pick, the Vikings still appear just as likely to trade down, stay pat, or even trade up if they can find a willing trade partner.

What we do know right now, however, is that the Vikings covet several players that could fall to them at number seven. The rank order of those preferences appears to be Calvin Johnson, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Gaines Adams, Joe Thomas, Laron Landry, Jamaal Anderson, Adrian Peterson, and Alan Branch. The numbers bode well for the Vikings. The question is whether the player available at seven will be worth the seventh pick in the draft--or more.

In previous posts, I've discussed the possibility that either Calvin Johnson or Adrian Peterson could fall to the Vikings at seven. Johnson appears highly unlikely to last that long in the draft with all but Arizona being very interested in the receiver and all but Arizona and Oakland currently able to make a rational case for Johnson making more of an impact for them in 2007 than some other top six option. The most likely scenario at this point is that either Detroit or Tampa Bay takes Johnson.

Peterson also seems unlikely to fall to Minnesota, unless Detroit takes Johnson, leaving Quinn available to Cleveland and Thomas available to Arizona. Both Cleveland and Arizona need help at running back but both appear willing to address that need later in the draft if the right alternative is available in the first round--Quinn and Thomas, respectively, appear to be the right alternatives.

Passing on Peterson?

Even if Peterson is available when the Vikings select at number seven, however, if their rank ordered preferences, as stated above, are accurate, they likely will take either Laron Landry or Jamaal Anderson with Adams likely already off the board to Washington.

Though Landry should be a fixture at safety--a position at which the Vikings soon will need a fixture given Darren Sharper's diminishing skills and increasing age--the addition of Landry does not meet a pressing need in 2007. And while Anderson had a solid 2006 college year, there are many scouts who believe that he will need at least one year to adjust to the NFL and that he will still need work on technique and with his strength. If you're a Vikings' fan, that analysis sounds a bit too cautionary given that the two most recent Vikings' first-round, defensive end draft picks were greater pro prospects than is Anderson and neither has done much yet.

Building the Road?

If, as Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf last week contended, the Vikings truly are in rebuilding mode, taking the best available player at number seven might not be in the team's best interests in 2007, even if that player happens to be Adrian Peterson. Rather, trading the number seven pick for a later first-round pick and either a second- and third-round pick or a first-round pick in next year's draft might be the more sagacious move.

The possibilities for the Vikings trading down rather than using the number seven pick are intriguing. Clearly, the possibility for trading down increases if one of the top six players in the draft--Russell, Quinn, Johnson, Peterson, Thomas, or Gaines--falls to the seventh spot. But the prospect for some established team of taking a heavy hitter like Landry or a promising prospect like Anderson should still be enough to tempt a team drafting in the twenties to trade up to get the one piece that they believe they are missing.

Up Next: Let's Make A Deal. Plus, quarterback comparisons.