Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Vikings Score With Smarts

The Minnesota Vikings were 3-13 in 2011. There are noticeable holes at wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive tackle, cornerback, and safety. It could be argued that the Vikings needed to get three and perhaps four immediate starters out of this draft to fill the holes that clearly exist.

That they got two out of the first round of the draft is a great accomplishment, one that isn't easy to pull off.

Minnesota traded out of the third spot in Thursday's first round, dealing with Cleveland to swap picks in the top five. The Browns then took Alabama running back Trent Richardson, while the Vikings slid back to the fourth spot, knowing full well that they would still be able to get their guy.

Despite a pretty elaborate smokescreen, many knew that their guy all along was USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil, and he was indeed the fourth pick.

Kalil might not be the prospect at left tackle that Jake Long and Joe Thomas were when they came out, but he is far and away the best left tackle in this draft, and he's a guy who should start immediately as Christian Ponder's blind-side protector. It's a solid, safe pick.

New general manager Rick Spielman wasn't done, though. He maneuvered himself into the 29th position, via a deal with the Baltimore Ravens. Once the Packers didn't select the player Spielman wanted, it was an easy call to make the trade. The player he wanted was Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith, another player who should be an immediate starter.

Smith doesn't have the best hands (he dropped a couple picks as a senior last year). He also had seven picks as a junior, and he's got the athleticism necessary to be a factor covering backs and tight ends. Good size, strong, and a great tackler. He has good instincts for the safety position.

Anytime you can pull two immediate starters out of the first round, it's cause for celebration. Making matters even better was that Spielman actually profited in draft pick currency from the wheeling and dealing.

The Browns gave up three picks -- albeit none of them before the fourth round -- to swap positions for the right to select Richardson, a player they clearly coveted. Minnesota only surrendered two -- a second and a fourth -- to move into Baltimore's first-round pick for Smith.

That leaves Spielman with ten picks. Even though he no longer has one in Friday's second round, it's a win for a team that hasn't had many lately.

You might think Spielman needs four starters out of this draft. Even if that's the case, he has plenty of ammunition to make that happen. Don't be surprised to see Minnesota try to move into the second round if a player Spielman likes falls far enough.

It was a good start for the new GM, and a good start to what fans hope is the kind of turnaround that has become quite common in the NFL these days.

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