Friday, April 22, 2011

Vikings' Best Option in Draft Not the One Team Currently is Considering

The Minnesota Vikings approach the 2011 NFL entry draft with a plethora of needs. The team currently has listed atop these needs a starting quarterback. That incorrect assessment has led the Vikings to consider which of a long list of quarterbacks with projected NFL promise, ranging from bust to spectacular, the team should select with the number twelve pick in the draft.

In 2010, with Brett Favre out with an injury and Tarvaris Jackson displaying his limited NFL capabilities, the Vikings were forced to resort to rookie quarterback-turned receiver-turned quarterback, Joe Webb. In five games for the Vikings (two of them starts), Webb completed 60 percent of his passes, threw three interceptions, and had two rushing touchdowns (zero passing touchdowns). Webb also was sacked eight times.

Sacks aside, the bulk of Webb's negative statistics (i.e, the interceptions) came in the first game in which he played meaningful minutes--a 40-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. In that game, which he entered in the second quarter after Favre was knocked out with a concussion, Webb threw two picks. He also ran one in on a nice running play that displayed his agility, athleticism, and speed, and, at times, showed a strong and fairly accurate arm.

Webb improved from there, leading Minnesota to an improbable Sunday night victory at Philadelphia. In that game, he again ran for a touchdown and otherwise protected a Minnesota offense from self-destructing. Despite a continuing porous offensive line, Webb managed to take only two sacks while throwing zero picks.

What the Vikings have in Webb is the quarterback for whom they have been searching--a strong, athletic, young player who makes good decisions and can take some pressure off of his blockers. That the team continues to pursue a quarterback in this draft suggests that the Vikings do not recognize what they already have. It also suggests that the Vikings do not realize their most glaring warts.

Despite a quick release and one of the lowest snap totals in his starting career, Favre endured 22 sacks in 2010. Jackson's and Webb's sacks brought to 36 the total number of sacks allowed by the Vikings' offensive line in 2010. That put the Vikings in the middle of the NFL pack for sacks allowed--twenty behind the league leader--but for a team with a quick-release, West Coast offense and Adrian Peterson at running back, that's nearly the same as leading the league in sacks allowed. Vikings' fans who watched Bryant McKinnie continue to spin on the left side of the line also will attest that the Vikings eluded far more sacks than they allowed, by a combination of fortune, stacking of the line, quick releases, and scrambling.

That suggests that the Vikings' greatest need in the draft is not a quarterback who will need two years to learn under the tutelage of a highly suspect new offensive coordinator, but, rather, a beast of an offensive tackle who can protect the quarterback's blind-side with little to no coaching. Such a person is available in the draft in the form of USC left tackle Tyron Smith.

Drafting Smith would allow the Vikings to shift McKinnie to the right side where his lack of agility could unimpress for several more years without the downside of numerous sacks. And Smith's addition almost certainly would permit an already capable Webb to improve even quicker.

What the Vikings most need at quarterback in 2011 is not another young arm that needs mentoring for two or three or more years before being ready to lead a team already stocked with Percy Harvin and Peterson, but a relatively stable veteran capable of stepping in if Webb falters. The Vikings will have that option in either Kevin Kolb or Donovan McNabb, if and when free agency returns to the NFL. In this year's draft, however, the clear priority is offensive line.

Up Next: Bill Musgrave?

4 comments:

Cabrito said...

I agree, VG. But why, then, do most of the so-called "experts" think the Vikings will draft DL?

vikes geek said...

Cabrito,

I suspect that they ("the experts") are postulating based on what they believe the Vikings will do, not what they ought to do. The Vikings might very well draft a DL in round one. That would be a mistake on every level. DL is not the team's most glaring weakness, DL can be found in round two, and, outside of interior DL, DLs have a poor track record as early round picks--all things that the Vikings ought to know very well.

I suspect that nobody will look back at this draft five years from now and note how deep and talented its pool was. That argues even more strongly for filling need at a position that, Wisconsin Badgers aside, typically yields good early first round results. That's OL.

VG

Wes said...

I completely agree with your statement re: OL help. They can bring in Tom Brady, but he can't complete passes on his back. However, an argument could also be made for bringing in some defensive help for a young QB. If you look at the Flacco model, the defense can help keep them in games. That being said, it would be nice to get a shut down corner if available. We play some pass heavy offenses in the conference and we have 2 corners coming off of injuries and our safeties are suspect. It's really just a matter of philosophy and trusting that Spielman & Frazier pick the right one!

vikes geek said...

Wes,

I agree that arguments can be made for drafting players at several positions--though I think you overlooked an even stronger argument for drafting a player not at a position of greatest need (more on that in the next column).

The problem for the Vikings, as was the case last year, is that they must operate in the draft under the assumption that they will not have the benefit of free-agency this year (more on that later, too).

The best bet for the Vikings is to go with the better known commodity--an offensive linemen. You can argue safety, corner, interior defensive lineman, defensive end, wide-receiver, and running back, but they most desperately need an offensive lineman, particularly someone that can play the left side tackle. There is one such player both worth taking at 12 and certainly capable of starting this year. That's who the Vikings ought to target. I'm not convinced, however, that the team will not target the "best available player."

VG