Thursday, April 28, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Vikings and Packers

Many have asked for my thoughts on the NFL Draft, and now that I've had some time to actually focus on it a bit, I'm ready to throw a few things out there with regard to the Vikings and Packers.

Of course, nothing's easy in the NFL anymore, and there's a chance we won't get through Thursday without a huge bombshell regarding the lockout that is no more but still kind of is.

What if players are allowed to be traded or allowed to enter free agency Thursday? How does that change the draft? Will there still be five quarterbacks taken among the first 12, as some pundits are predicting?

With so much uncertainty, it's hard to get into a ton of detail, but I'll throw a few thoughts out there.

The Vikings should be focused on taking the best available player. They went 6-10 last year, and should be seriously concerned about their secondary, offensive line, defensive interior, wide receiver, and quarterback positions.

The idea of reaching for a second- or third-round value at quarterback -- the highly-respected Rick Gosselin has them taking Andy Dalton in the first round (at least according to Twitter ... the actual mock is behind a pay wall) -- is pure lunacy and a move mainly coming out of panic. I understand the importance of the quarterback position. Every Packer fan does, because we haven't had a bad one since 1991 and therefore have only had two losing seasons since 1991.

Guys like Tyron Smith, Prince Amukamara, Robert Quinn, Da'Quan Bowers, Corey Liuget, and J.J. Watt are better "fits" for the Vikings, because they fill significant needs. They could all be off the board by pick No. 12. They're all good players who could start right away.

But the NFL is a quarterback league, no matter who is on the cover of "Madden '12" (Peyton Hillis). That drives teams to think they need to overvalue quarterbacks, which of course leads us to guys like Alex Smith, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, David Carr, Cade McNown, and a slew of other former first-round quarterbacks who never panned in the NFL, for a variety of reasons.

The league's image is one that is driven by one position. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger got all the attention before the Super Bowl, and the story coming out was how Rodgers so badly outplayed Roethlisberger and how Rodgers took better care of the ball. Forgotten was the job Green Bay's receivers did, overcoming drops to make big plays, or how guys like Sam Shields, Nick Collins, and Jarrett Bush made huge plays on defense while Charles Woodson was lost to injury.

The draft is no different. Former NFL scout Dave Razzano talked to Yahoo Sports' Mike Silver in a great piece about his "rogue" status at this point (how is this guy not employed in the NFL?). He also talked to Silver about what can drive a lot of the first-round busts you see in the draft.

Teams often reach for a perceived need, rather than selecting the player they’ve rated the highest. First-round picks, in particular, can be impacted by an owner and/or general manager’s desire to fall into line with media projections (and to therefore receive high marks from reporters who offer instant draft grades).

“If you look at the drafts from 2000 to 2007, 44 top-15 picks have busted out,” Razzano says. “Why is that? Well, for one thing, everybody wants to hit a home run. My attitude is this: Stay away from red flags; just take a solid player. The same goes for later in the draft. You know what guys look for in late rounds? Projects, guys with potential. Again, just pick solid guys. They’ll be productive.”

Razzano talked about a falling-out he had with the Rams in 2005, the year Alex Smith was drafted No. 1 overall by San Francisco. The issue stemmed from Razzano's unwillingness to give Smith a high grade, because he simply didn't think Smith could cut it as an NFL starter. He's not perfect, because he also downgraded Rodgers in that draft, but he's pretty sharp and consistent in his philosophy of trusting what you see from a player on tape.

The Vikings need to be smart and trust their draft board. It's eye-opening, but not surprising, to consider that some NFL teams bow to media pressure when it comes to draft picks. It's probably also not a stretch to suggest that the teams doing the bowing are the teams picking high in the draft all the time.

In the end, teams will do well in the draft if they trust their board and pick the player who is the best-rated when they have a turn to pick. Nothing else matters but that board. It's what you spent all those months building, and if you're not going to trust it on the days you need it, what the hell did you waste all that time for?

The Vikings were 6-10 last year. They're full of holes, so they shouldn't be reaching for a positional need. They also shouldn't be focused on just taking the new starting quarterback in the first round. There will be the chance to make trades and sign free agents at some point. There's nothing wrong with getting a guy like Nathan Enderle from Idaho in the third or fourth round and then signing a free agent to start a couple games while he gets acclimated.

Hell, I bet Brett Favre would even consider coming back at some point.

Oh, wait.

The Packers will not focus on positional needs in the first round, even though they have a couple. This shouldn't be a surprise to any fans, because Green Bay hasn't drafted that way since Ted Thompson came aboard, and that's one of the bigger reasons he's been as successful as he's been. The Packers could use some more depth at linebacker, and they need to find more help at defensive end since Cullen Jenkins really isn't expected back. Additional depth at cornerback and on the offensive line would be good.

While a guy like Akeem Ayers would be a great fit on defense, don't expect him to be on the board at No. 32, and don't expect Thompson to load the truck for a team so he can move up. It's not that great a value, I don't think.

Expect Green Bay to make a pick to finish the first round, unless they can find a team that wants to move into that spot for a price. I don't see them moving up any more than I see them reaching for a player of need.

And even if Thompson screws up the draft, we're not even four months into a five-year moratorium on criticism of the organization. Such is the reward for winning the Super Bowl.

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