Sunday, April 26, 2009

Vikings' First-Day Picks Ring With Admissions

After learning that Brad Childress last week engaged in his own fact-finding mission to Florida in an attempt to scout the true Percy Harvin, it should have come as no surprise that the Vikings' head coach confirmed his own inclinations about Harvin and opted to draft him with the twenty-second pick in this year's NFL entry draft. What is mildly surprising, however, is what the selection of Harvin--and the subsequent pick of right offensive tackle Phil Loadholt signals.

In 2006, the Vikings selected Cedric Griffin at the top-end of the second round of the draft. They then used a second, second-round pick to select center Ryan Cook out of New Mexico. Taking Cook so early in the draft seemed a head-scratcher, particularly since Cook was a pure center in college but deemed physically ill-equipped to play center in the NFL. But, as if attempting purposefully to compound the questions surrounding Cook's selection, the Vikings then traded two third-round picks for the right to move into the second round to take quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.

In-season moves last year and off-season moves this year suggest that the Vikings, however begrudgingly in some quarters, finally are willing to admit the fiasco that was the latter part of the second round of their 2006 draft. After benching Jackson in favor of recently released quarterback Gus Frerotte and trading for Sage Rosenfels to compete with Jackson in 2009, the Vikings have now used their second pick in the 2009 draft to take Ryan Cook's replacement at right offensive tackle--a move that likely will signal the end to Cook's NFL career.

More illuminating, however, might be the Vikings' decision to select Harvin with their number one pick in this year's draft. Harvin's selection is anathema to everything that Childress stands for. Harvin has a checkered past, he tested abysmally on the Wonderlic test, he smoked dope prior to taking a drug test despite knowing when he would be taking the test, and he has no concrete position on the field. Thus, while Harvin unquestionably has football talent, he is exactly the type of player that Childress and the Wilfs have professed that they do not covet.

While Harvin's addition to the Vikings thus marks Harvin as yet another exception to the Vikings' poorly crafted and even more poorly enunciated culture of accountability, he no doubt will provide the Vikings at least a mild boost in ticket sales--at least until fans have an opportunity to discover what Childress is able to do with yet another talented offensive player. For, despite already having Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor, and Bernard Berrian in the fold, Childress has done the bare minimum to exploit the team's offensive abilities. Adding Harvin thus suggests merely another dangerous option for Childress to ignore.

Childress' use of Harvin aside, Harvin's selection, like that of Loadholt, signals the Vikings' concession that Sidney Rice and Aundrae Allison, taken 44th and 146th overall in the 2007 NFL draft might not ever play to NFL expectations. With Taylor and Peterson already in the backfield, the Vikings will be compelled to use Harvin primarily at receiver. That will leave the Vikings with little playing time for Rice and Allison and probably will spell the end for the latter. And that will leave the Vikings with but one starter left to show for their eight 2007 draft picks.

In a normal system, with even an average coach, Harvin and Loadholt would be strong additions. Given Childress' difficulties crafting an offense and getting the most from his offensive line, however, it is far too soon to draw such modest conclusions.

Up Next: Day Two.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cardinals' Reality Check Makes Boldin Viking Target

One day before the 2009 NFL entry draft, the Arizona Cardinals are finally willing to acknowledge what every other NFL team has strongly signaled since Cardinals' receiver Anquan Boldin went Terrell Owens on his offensive coordinator in the playoffs. Rather than holding to their ridiculous demand of a first- and third-round pick for Boldin, the Cardinals now are admitting that the market for Boldin is much less.

What much less is remains to be seen, though the dramatic drop in Arizona's asking price for Boldin just one day before the draft strongly suggests that the market will reveal itself within the next twenty-four hours. Given the indication that the Cardinals want to move Boldin prior to the draft, it is likely that the current asking price, now down to a second-round pick and some other considerations, could drop even further. A third-round pick no longer seems out of the question.

In 2008, despite a serious head injury that would have kept many other players out for the season, Boldin compiled 89 receptions for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns. The numbers placed Boldin seventh among NFL wide-receivers and twenty-fourth among all NFL players in offensive production--despite Bolding having missed four games. Prorated over a full sixteen-game schedule, Boldin's numbers are an even gaudier 119 receptions for 1,384 yards and 16 touchdowns--good for number one in the NFL at the receiver position.

While Boldin unquestionably benefited from playing with quarterback Kurt Warner and opposite Larry Fitzgerald, his numbers, tenacity, and ability to play through injury suggest his value in virtually any setting. This ability has been evident from the beginning of Boldin's career in the NFL. As a rookie in 2003, he amassed 101 receptions for 1,377 yards and 8 touchdowns. That, despite catching passes from Jeff Blake, having no notable secondary receiver, and operating in an offense anchored in the running attack by Marcel Shipp.

Sideline pouting incident aside, there could not be a better fit for the Minnesota Vikings. And with roughly $16 million remaining under this year's salary cap and much more under next year's, absorbing Boldin's contract, even with new terms, would present little challenge to the Vikings.

The question for Minnesota is what to offer for Boldin. While the Cardinals are seeking a second-round pick and considerations and it might be possible to obtain Boldin for a third and nothing else, there could, ironically, be keener competition for Boldin now that the asking price has come down for the receiver. Rather than guess the potential market and miss out on obtaining what clearly would be the team's true number one receiver, the Vikings ought to do the wise thing and trump all other bids by offering a number one pick in this year's draft for Boldin.

By offering a number one pick this year for Boldin, the Vikings would be making three good moves at once. First, they would be ridding themselves of the opportunity to be tempted to draft Percy Harvin. Second, they would be "drafting" a proven player, Boldin, in the prime of his career for a bit more than they would have had to guarantee an unproven first-round selection. And, third, they would give themselves an opportunity to select an offensive lineman who is truly a second-round talent in the second round rather than in the first round.

If the Vikings had told their fan base that they had a deal in place to land a promising offensive lineman and a guaranteed All Pro with the team's first two picks in this year's draft, the fan base would have salivated. That opportunity is now available to the team. And the ultimate irony is that that opportunity has availed itself in large part because the Vikings failed to sign a less talented wide-receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Up Next: Will They or Won't They?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vikings' First Four Selections Clear

As the Minnesota Vikings put the finishing touches on their pre-draft big board, Vikings' Vice President of Player Personnel, Rick Spielman, already has a good idea which players the team will take with each of the team's first four picks in this weekend's draft. All that remains to be filled in are the names.

Given the Vikings' short-comings along the offensive line and in the nickel and dime defensive sets last year, the Vikings' first four picks ought to be, in rank order, right offensive tackle, cornerback, right offensive guard, and left offensive tackle. If a defensive tackle of merit remains on the board when the Vikings make their fourth pick, an argument could be supported for drafting that player over Bryant McKinnie's replacement--but it would have to be a good player and a very good argument.

The argument for the Vikings going heavy on offensive linemen in the 2009 draft is self-evident. With arguably the worst right side of an offensive line in the NFL in 2008 and an offense predicated on running 90% of the plays within five yards of the line of scrimmage, the Vikings must be stouter than most teams along the offensive line. While Anthony Herrera has improved, he still is far from a top-flight right guard, and even he is leagues ahead of mistake-prone right tackle Ryan Cook, who has averaged one penalty and nearly one sack allowed per game as a starter with the Vikings.

At cornerback, the Vikings have made a long-term commitment to the mercurial Cedric Griffin and have made overtures on an extension to veteran Antoine Winfield. Griffin's uneven play, Winfield's age, Madieu Williams' injury history, and poor performances by most of the Vikings' nickel and dime backs in 2008 makes bolstering the secondary a suddenly pressing need for the Vikings.

Picking linemen and corners with the first four picks in the draft might not energize the Vikings' fan base, but the results very well could, particularly if the Vikings can find a right offensive tackle capable of starting this season.

Up Next: Putting the Kibosh on Percy Harvin.