Minnesota Vikings 2012 NFL Draft Grades
The Minnesota Vikings had perhaps the worst season in franchise history in 2011, going 3-13 and losing running back Adrian Peterson to a torn ACL late in the season. That left them with plenty of holes to fill, as newly appointed GM Rick Spielman looks to start a rebuilding project and make the roster younger.
The Vikings most notable needs heading into the draft included the secondary (both cornerback and safety), wide receiver and perhaps most importantly offensive line. More specifically, a capable left tackle to protect 2011 first round pick Christian Ponder’s blind side.
Round 1 (Pick 4) - Matt Kalil, OT, USC
Kalil was the best offensive tackle in this year’s class, and the Vikings were able to swap top five picks with the Cleveland Browns, accumulate a few more picks and still get their man. Kalil will immediately step in as the team’s starting left tackle, and allow last year’s left tackle Charles Johnson to most likely move to guard and help bolster another weak spot on the offensive line. In any case, the Vikings now have a potential long-term starter at left tackle and a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
Round 1 (Pick 29) - Harrison Smith, SS, Notre Dame
Minnesota traded back into the first round to get Smith, who was widely considered the second best safety this year behind Alabama’s Mark Barron. Smith has limitations in man coverage, but his overall skills and size (6’2″, 213 lbs.) make him almost certain to be the Vikings’ starting strong safety immediately.
Given the fact the Vikings’ base defensive scheme is the Cover 2, Smith’s weaknesses as a pass defender can likely be minimized while his strengths, including good ability to break on the ball, can be utilized well. Ultimately, the overall success or failure of this draft class for the Vikings may come down to how well Smith performs given the fact they thought highly enough of him to trade up for him.
The Vikings have little in place at safety, so adding someone at the position early in this draft was essential. Spielman did that, and added a starting caliber player.
Round 3 (Pick 66) – Josh Robinson, CB, Central Florida
Robinson ran the fastest 40-time at the NFL Combine at 4.33 seconds, so he definitely has the speed to burn as the Vikings try to defend the top tier wide receivers in the NFC North.
Robinson, as could be assumed, is not a big corner (5’10″, 199 lbs.), and his production dropped after having six interceptions as a freshman at Central Florida. But he was a productive tackler during his three collegiate seasons, with 176 total tackles, and he started 36 of 38 career games before choosing to forego his senior season and enter the draft.
The Vikings are likely to put Robinson on the field immediately in some capacity defensively, perhaps as a starter if he has a strong training camp, but he could also contribute as a punt returner (13.1 yards per punt return in college) right off the bat.
4th Round (Pick 118) – Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
Wright had an excellent senior season at Arkansas, setting or tying single-season school records with 63 receptions for 1,029 yards and 11 touchdowns. That performance was highlighted by 13 catches for 281 yards against Texas A&M, and he reportedly once ran a 4.27 40-yard dash at a spring practice while in college. He was a four-year starter for the Razorbacks, and is the school’s all-time leader in receptions with 168.
Wright looks to have similar skills to Vikings’ wide receiver Percy Harvin, but he considers himself versatile enough to play outside and in the slot. No matter what, the Vikings should find a spot for him somewhere on the field and he could earn significant playing time early in his rookie season.
4th Round (Pick 128) – Rhett Ellison, TE/HB, USC
Ellison has reportedly said he did not expect to be drafted, so the Vikings may have reached here as they look to replace the retired Jim Kleinsasser as a run-blocking tight end. He is a more capable pass catcher than Kleinsasser, with 43 receptions over his final two collegiate seasons, and offers some versatility the Vikings may be able to put to use.
Ellison may not see a lot of playing time behind tight ends John Carlson and Kyle Rudolph initially, but he could be an immediate special teams contributor and adding talent around Ponder regardless of position has to be one of Minnesota’s top priorities. Ellison does have the size (6’5″), to possibly become a red zone weapon down the road.
4th Round (Pick 134) – Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas
Childs may have been a first-round pick this year if not for suffering a torn patella tendon in his right knee late in 2010, and that limited him to 21 catches for 240 yards in 2011 as he returned to action too soon. But he is reportedly fully recovered from the injury, as he ran a 4.41 40-yard dash at Arkansas’ Pro Day, and he did have 94 receptions and 13 touchdowns while averaging 16.5 yards per catch during his sophomore and junior seasons.
Childs has the size (6’3″, 217 lbs.) NFL scouts look for, and he seems to be an excellent fit for the Vikings and should get an opportunity to play a lot right out of the gate if his knee is healthy. If he becomes a productive NFL receiver and builds rapport with Ponder, the Vikings definitely got a steal on the draft’s second day.
5th Round (Pick 139) – Robert Blanton, CB/S, Notre Dame
Blanton was not a full-time starter at Notre Dame until his senior season, but was a fairly productive player with 193 total tackles and eight interceptions over his four years. His lack of speed (4.70 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine) makes it likely he will move to safety at the next level, but the Vikings should find room for Blanton somewhere in their secondary at some point.
In any case, Blanton will certainly see the field on special teams from Day 1 of training camp and he may be able to earn significant playing time defensively if he has a good showing during the preseason. He could even fit at cornerback in the Vikings’ Cover 2 defense if he plays faster than his timed speed. The Vikings could easily have two rookie starters from Notre Dame in their secondary at some point in 2012.
6th Round (Pick 175) – Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia
Walsh struggled as a senior, going 21-for-35 on field goal attempts, though 10 of those 14 misses came from 40 yards out or more. But he made 40 out of 45 field goals during his sophomore and junior seasons, and his kickoff ability makes him an NFL-caliber kicker. Walsh made 10 field goals of 50 yard or more during his collegiate career as well.
But the Vikings have veteran Ryan Longwell in place, and the team signed him to a four-year deal prior to last season. So Walsh does not have a direct line to winning a job, and a training camp battle may ensue. Longwell has perhaps the worst season of his career in 2011, making under 79 percent of his field goals (22-for-28), so the Vikings may be open to releasing him if Walsh performs well in training camp.
7th Round (Pick 210) – Audie Cole, LB, North Carolina State
Cole was a three-year starter at N.C. State, and had 108 total tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss as a senior. He played on the strong side until his senior season when he was moved to middle linebacker, and that seems to be where he will fit best at the next level due to his limited ability in coverage.
The Vikings need depth in their linebacking corp, particularly in the middle with E.J. Henderson still a free agent, and Cole seems to fit that bill at minimum. If he earns a job, Cole should at least contribute on special teams and could be very effective in that part of the game immediately.
7th Round (Pick 219) – Trevor Guyton, DE, California
Guyton totaled 10 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss over his final two seasons in college, and he played some nose tackle along with defensive end during his career. That versatility may allow him to find a role at the next level, though how much impact he will make immediately is a big question.
The Vikings seem to have sufficient depth along the defensive line, though perennial All-Pro defensive tackle Kevin Williams is getting older and grooming his eventual replacement stands to become a priority some time in the next few years. Guyton has an uphill battle to make the team out of training camp, but he could find a place on the practice squad as a rookie.
The Vikings were able to address their most glaring needs during the draft’s first two days, which has to be considered a big positive. Kalil and Smith are immediate starters while Robinson, Childs, Wright and Blanton could all make an impact early on.
The picks of Ellison and Walsh bring this class down a rung in terms of grade, as tight end and kicker do not look to be glaring needs at the moment and there were players who address bigger needs available.
Outside of Kalil, failing to address the offensive line and add more competition at guard has to be a concern.
All in all, a solid class of draft picks in Spielman’s first draft as Vikings’ general manager. The success or failure of this class will go a long way to determining his job security going forward.
Overall Grade: B