On Thursday night, the Minnesota Vikings continued their long tradition of torturing their fans with inexplicable draft day decisions. Such inexplicabilities are far-ranging and numerous.
Last year, the Vikings traded out of the first round and used the return on that trade to trade up in the second round to take superbust fullback Toby Gerhart. In 2005, the year that the Green Bay Packers drafted Aaron Rogers at the end of the first round, the Vikings used two first-round selections to take Troy Williamson and Erasmus James. In 1997, the team used its first three picks on Dwayne Rudd, Torrian Gray, and Stalin Colinet. In 1996, the Vikings used their number one pick on Duane Clemons, in 1995 on Derrick Alexander. And, of course, in 1999, they burned a first-round pick on Dimitrius Underwood, a player that Michigan State's own coaching staff warned the Vikings was, unfortunately, mentally ill and ill-suited for the NFL.
Of course, the Vikings have had their share of solid first-round selections, including Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin, Kevin Williams, Randy Moss, Robert Smith, Randall McDaniel, Chris Doleman, Joey Browner, Chuck Foreman, Ron Yary, Jeff Siemon, Alan Page, and Carl Eller, to name the most prominent. But all of these great Vikings' first-round picks had one very common thread--all were great college players and all came without any questions about whether they would succeed in the NFL. The same cannot be said of this year's first-round pick.
Selecting a quarterback rated sixth or seventh best in the draft on most draft boards with the number twelve selection in the draft defies all logic. Either the Vikings know something about Christian Ponder that nobody else knows, or the team simply does not understand the drafting game at the same level as the contenders in the league.
Entering the draft, the Vikings had numerous needs. Nowhere on that list was there an entry for an unpolished, rookie quarterback. The Vikings already have Joe Webb. Conventional wisdom, if there is such a thing at Winter Park, dictated that the Vikings shore up Webb's surroundings or at least make the offense less harried by shoring up a weakness on defense. Either route was defensible.
Rather than making a defensible, logical move, however, the Vikings opted for the inexplicable. How inexplicable? So inexplicable, so oblivious, that the Vikings' own draft day cheerleaders were dumbstruck, forced to take a commercial break to come up with a rational explanation for drafting Ponder. Alas, even after the break, no such revelations were forthcoming.
What Ponder's drafting means is that Minnesota is content in passing on the best college cornerback in the draft, confident, apparently, that Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield, and Cedric Griffin all will be healthy and good enough to mask the weaknesses in both defensive scheme and safety play, that offensive line issues can be addressed through free-agency, that a veteran quarterback capable of starting in the NFL can be found in free agency, and that the pending suspension of Kevin Williams somehow can be papered over.
Ponder's selection also suggests that Leslie Frazier has stolen one of Brad Childress' most ill-conceived schemes, that the Vikings think that it is more about the scheme than the players, and that the Vikings think they have in Bill Musgrave what nobody else thinks they have in Bill Musgrave.
In short, if, as appears to be the case, the Vikings are intent on beginning the season with Ponder at quarterback--or anyone at quarterback without the athleticism of someone like Joe Webb--the Vikings almost certainly are staring at an NFC North cellar finish yet again in 2011. For a team with so many high caliber players, that truly would be a waste of talent and yet another sign that the Vikings are critically behind their competitive brethren where it most matters--in the planning stages.
Up Next: Picking Up the Pieces.