Sunday, May 01, 2011

Candies and Nuts for Eternal Optimists

When a team leaves a draft with its most ardent supporters--i.e., its Director of Pro Personnel and head coach--mustering little more than the usual self-congratulations, qualified with the statement that "we won't know until 3-4 years from now how this draft pans out," there is little reason for jubilation among the fan base. Nor is there much reason for excitement, even granting the Vikings' most optimistic self(serving)-evaluations of their draft, given what the Vikings did not accomplish in the draft.

For the record, with the number twelve pick in the draft, the Vikings, needing four to five offensive linemen, a defensive end, an interior defensive lineman, a cornerback, a safety, a legitimate number two running back, a safety, and possibly a wide-receiver, selected a rookie quarterback whom head coach Leslie Frazier contends will compete with Joe Webb for the starting quarterback spot in 2011.

I've noted before the absurdity of this contention. There is zero point to selecting Christian Ponder at twelve if he is not regarded as an immediate starter or at least better than what is essentially a seasoned rookie in Webb. If Webb, at nearly the same point in his career as Ponder, truly enters camp on equal footing with Ponder, as a viable candidate for starting quarterback, there was no reason to draft Ponder.

Most alarming, however, is the signal that Ponder's selection sends to the numerous quality veterans on the Vikings' current roster. Drafting Ponder means that the Vikings either are willing to embark on the process of breaking an unseasoned rookie quarterback at the expense of the remainder of the careers of such players as Antoine Winfield, Jared Allen, Adrian Peterson, Kevin Williams, and, possibly, Pat Williams, or that the Vikings intend to pick up a veteran quarterback to start at quarterback in 2011. If the answer is the former, the Vikings may as well trade off as many valuable pieces as they can and truly begin the "rebuilding process."

If the answer is the latter, then, of course, drafting Ponder was an utter waste of a high, first-round draft pick, as, by the Vikings' own admission, they do not yet know what they have in Ponder and it really doesn't matter anyway.

Even if Ponder succeeds as the franchise quarterback that the Vikings must believe him to be taking him with the number twelve pick in the draft and committing to him number twelve pick dollars on his first contract, and even if Ponder is able to start this season, the pick makes no sense not just because the Vikings already had Joe Webb as the quarterback to groom, but, more significantly, because the Vikings failed to shore up their most glaring weakness, the five positions along the offensive line--the positions that protect the quarterback.

Although Minnesota selected offensive linemen late in the draft, there is no reason to believe that any of those linemen will be any better this year than what the Vikings put on the field in 2010. That means that, even if the newly drafted, late-round linemen succeed in wresting away a starting spot from Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, or Phil Loadholt, the result probably will be no better than similar to last year's pathetic performance by the line. For a rookie quarterback, that's a recipe for a short career--either as a result of injury or as a consequence of shock, the kind that ended Joey Harrington's starting career.

There is some hope in this draft, however. At least if one is an eternal optimist. That hope rests in the fact that the Vikings have at least settled on a quarterback, added another blocking tight end who can also catch the ball, and found some bigger bodies ostensibly to compete for positions on the offensive line. And the team drafted yet another late-round safety, either confirming their own assessment of Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson or offering yet another excuse for an outdated defensive scheme.

If the Vikings found even one starter for the offensive line, found a capable starter in Ponder, can move Webb to receiver where he immediately flourishes, have a replacement for Pat Williams, found someone who can put pressure on the (opposing) quarterback, and identified a safety (or scheme) that results in improvements over last year's secondary, the Vikings might be able to compete with the much improved Detroit Lions, the already talented, yet also improved, Green Bay Packers, and the also improved Bears.

But as other teams in the NFC North and NFC clearly upgraded their talent in this year's draft, the Vikings were content, even intent, on selecting a group of players with only one even remotely "sure thing." And that player, former Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph, plays a position where the Vikings arguably already had their greatest depth.

Asked to explain Rudolph's selection, Rick Spielman stated that the team was drafting the "best available player" at that point in the draft and that Rudolph fit that characterization. Why the Vikings were not selecting the best available player early in the first round of the draft, when there were at least five players that arguably fit that bill and fit a critical team need, even ahead of quarterback, was neither asked nor answered.

Up Next: Vikings Need to Make Big Moves in Free Agency, Assuming There is Any Meaningful Free Agency.

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