Sunday, April 27, 2008

Contrary to Conventional Wisdom

Following the Minnesota Vikings' trade for Jared Allen, the Vikings had two relatively acknowledged needs heading into the 2008 season. Those needs were offensive tackle and safety. In the second round of the NFL entry draft yesterday, the Vikings secured one of those two needs, drafting Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson.

Observers and Vikings' fans, alike, might point to more glaring concerns with the team--such as whether quarterback Tarvaris Jackson will rise to the level necessary to lead an NFL team and whether the Vikings' receiving corps will suffice to assist Jackson in that endeavor. That the Vikings' coaching staff and personnel people believe the answer to these questions to be affirmative, however, made the team's decision to draft a safety a logical one.

During the 2008 free-agency period, the Vikings cut ties with safeties Mike Doss and Dwight Smith, while signing Madieu Williams and Michael Boulware as free agents and first-year player Alton McCann from the team's practice squad. That left the team with Williams, Boulware, McCann, veteran Darren Sharper, and the inexperienced Eric Frampton. Given Sharper's age and doubts about the long-term prospects of the team's reserve safeties, there was clear reason for the Vikings to be concerned about the future of the team's safety position--not to mention the current status of the position if either of the team's top safeties were to go down to injury this year.

If there was a surprise in the Vikings' second-round pick, it was not that the Vikings selected a safety or that Childress traded up with his former team to pick that safety, but, instead, that it was Johnson, rather than Miami safety Kenny Phillips, who remained on the board at forty-seven. And even that was only a minor surprise.

Those curious about the Vikings' selection in round two will justly point to the availability of two quarterbacks, Louisville's Brian Brohm and Michigan's Chad Henne, far below where the Vikings would have selected had they not traded up with Philadelphia to take Johnson. Others will point to the availability of wide-receivers Limas Sweed of LSU, DeSean Jackson of California, and Malcolm Kelly of Oklahoma. And still others will note the availability of defensive ends Calais Campbell of Miami and Quentin Groves of Auburn. Many Vikings' fans will point to these players as players more capable of filling a pressing needs than does Johnson.

From the perspective of the Vikings' personnel people, however, the team's picture has been clear since the signing of Bernard Berrian and Allen prior to the draft--the team is set at both wide-receiver and defensive end and the quarterback position is settled, however tenuously.

In the final analysis, the selection of Johnson appears to be a sound one for the Vikings, particularly given the team's assessment of talent at other positions. The fact that quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive ends tend to be among the riskier propositions in the draft while safeties fall on the other end of the risk spectrum, further bolsters support for the Vikings' selection of Johnson.

The question for the Vikings, however, is what to do if Jackson does not progress this year at quarterback. Should Sharper and Williams remain healthy and productive, the question logically will be asked why the Vikings passed on Brohm, a quarterback in whom the team had expressed sincere interest, and Henne, a quarterback that the team liked somewhat less than Brohm but whom most scouts rated higher than where he went in the draft? That's not about hindsight, but, instead, about ability to assess talent. And if comes to that, it might be about the organization's assessment of its own assessment team.

Up next: Picking through the leftovers.


Brett said...

Kenny Phillips was taken #31 overall by NY Giants. And for what it's worth, Mel Kiper wondered why the Giants didn't take Johnson instead of Phillips.

Bill From Arlington, VA said...

And, of course, the Vikes got their long-term alternative to Jackson should he not work out in John D. Booty.