In 2009, the Minnesota Vikings used their first-round pick in the NFL's entry draft to select arguably the most dynamic player remaining on the draft board. That pick, Florida running back Percy Harvin, became the league's rookie of the year and a major contributor to the Vikings' potent offense.
With significant holes created by injuries in 2009 and the off-season departure of running back Chester Taylor, the Vikings found themselves in a far different environment this year, an environment that compelled the team to draft for need rather than taking either the best player available or a player that could provide depth immediately and a starter for years to come.
After swapping picks with the Detroit Lions--a move that allowed the Lions to draft the running back that they lacked last season--the Vikings set their sights on Florida State cornerback Patrick Robinson.
When Robinson went to the Saints, the Vikings shifted their focus to the sole remaining offensive lineman that they still coveted as a first-round prospect. That player, Indiana guard Rodger Saffold, went to the Rams, however, with the first pick in round two.
By trading down a mere four spots, the Vikings believed that they would do no worse than being left to select one of the two players whom they still coveted as a first-round talent. When the Saints and Rams combined to thwart that vision, however, the Vikings were compelled to look to filling needs, rather than losing any more ground in this year's draft.
Minnesota's curious first-round move--a move that neither saved the Vikings much money nor netted them any significant return, while ensuring that the team would not have the opportunity to select from between two players that the team considered first-round talent--provided Minnesota a player who certainly fills a team need and probably came to Minnesota in the right round, if not necessarily at the right spot within that round.
After missing part of one season with injury and another entire season due to academic issues, Virginia cornerback Chris Cook played well enough in 2009 to be considered a player potentially capable of starting in the NFL as a rookie. His name was not uttered in the same breath as that of Devin McCourty, Joe Haden, Kareem Jackson, Kyle Wilson, or the aforementioned Robinson, but he was not regarded as measurably behind these players, either.
With Lito Shephard in the fold, the Vikings might be able to buy one more year without resorting to Cook as a full-time starter in the base package. That is, unless the team is committed to using Antoine Winfield in the nickel package and/or Cedric Griffin is unable to contribute this season. In short, despite Shephard's signing, the Vikings were in far more dire straits at cornerback than they currently are anywhere along the offensive line.
After selecting Cook, the Vikings immediately moved to shore up their other glaring hole, that left by Taylor's departure to the Chicago Bears. Not surprisingly, the Vikings were not nearly as keen on entering the season with Albert Young serving as Adrian Peterson's fill-in on third-down plays or whenever Peterson fails to protect the ball in a critical situation.
The team's selection of Stanford running back Toby Gerhart as intended understudy to Peterson does not surprise with respect to the team's motivation, but it does surprise with respect to the Vikings' earlier dealings. To obtain Gerhart, the Vikings once again dealt. This time the move was up in the draft.
Had the Vikings committed themselves to need at the outset, they could have retained their first-round pick, and either taken the cornerback that they wanted in Robinson, and then traded up to take Gerhart or they could have traded down to second in round two, taken Dexter McCluster at that point, and then taken Cook with their own second-round pick where, by most accounts, Cook still would have been available.
Clearly, the Vikings have weaknesses, just as do all other teams in the NFL. Drafting Cook and Gerhart ostensibly address those weaknesses, in some fashion or another. And if Chris Degeare measures up as a starting offensive tackle, the Vikings might still show well in this draft. But, had the team opted to be smart over being cute, they might have ended up not only with the players that they needed, but more of those players and players of even higher caliber.
Up Next: The Cost of Being Bad.