It's pretty incredible how the NFL can dominate the sports landscape for a solid month when the league is nearly three months removed from the Super Bowl and over four months away from their next meaningful game. The NFL Draft has evolved into its own super-powered cottage industry complete with full-time draft gurus and popular web sites dedicated to analyzing the draft from every angle. Every year in late April, it almost feels like the NFL season is the stuff that happens between drafts.
But it makes sense that so many NFL fans put so much emphasis on the draft. It's the one time of year when hopes are high for all 32 NFL teams. From the cellar-dwelling Colts to the defending champion Giants, the draft offers the eternal optimism of improving your team with young, eager players.
While I can definitely understand the enthusiasm about the spectacle that is the NFL Draft, there's one aspect that still puzzles me every year--draft grades. We're only two days removed from the ruckus at Radio City Music Hall, yet analysts in every avenue of the media are declaring the draft's outcomes like they were final scores on the ticker. Exactly zero of the new draftees have participated in a single workout much less played a single meaningful snap, but that doesn't stop people from declaring "winners" and "losers".
If you're looking for draft grades for the Minnesota Vikings, you have sadly come to the wrong place. The only grade I feel comfortable handing out for General Manager Rick Spielman's performance this past weekend is "Incomplete". I am not a psychic, nor will I pretend to be by projecting the performance of the new players the Vikings selected.
However, I am more than willing to provide you with first impressions for each of the ten players the Vikings ended up selecting in the 2012 Draft. After all, that's all we really have at this point. Without ado, here are my Official Minnesota Vikings 2012 Draft
Grades First Impressions:
Matt Kalil: This was the pick I had been touting since January, so you won't get any complaints or concerns here. Kalil has the potential to be a franchise left tackle and give Christian Ponder a better chance to develop as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It was a very logical and intelligent pick even before you throw in the fact that Spielman coaxed three free picks from the Browns for taking Kalil fourth overall instead of third.
Harrison Smith: I like that Spielman used his new ammo from the early trade right away to get back into the end of the first round. Some would argue that Smith would have been available with the Vikings' pick early in the second round, but this was a classic "better safe than sorry" deal. Smith has the potential to contribute right away, especially for a team as secondary-hungry as the Vikings.
Josh Robinson: Three picks, three need positions for the Vikings. Makes sense. Casey Hayward and Trumaine Johnson were probably bigger names heading into the draft, but they were snatched up right before the Vikings selected Robinson. The guy is an an incredible athlete--I see Robinson contributing right away as a nickel corner and possibly a return specialist.
Jarius Wright: It's clear that the Vikings wanted to get better athletically in the draft, and Wright definitely helps fill that need. He's small, but he's an absolute burner and put up some pretty gaudy stats at Arkansas. All sorts of Percy Harvin-like potential with this kid. The Vikings can and most likely will line Wright up all over the field and see where he can contribute best.
Rhett Ellison: This was probably the biggest surprise of the Vikings' draft. Most draft boards had Ellison going much later than the fourth round, but Spielman said he "knew for a fact" that Ellison was poised to be picked in the fourth round even if the Vikings didn't select him. Tight end wasn't really on the radar as a need position with Kyle Rudolph and John Carlson already on the roster, but Ellison fits another big theme for Minnesota this past weekend--versatility. He can play tight end, fullback, or the H-back position that the Vikings offense likes to utilize so much. Ellison probably won't ever catch 80 passes in a season in the NFL, but he can begin to fill the (literally) large void left by the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser.
Greg Childs: Apparently Childs is just a package deal with Wright--the two receivers have known each other since the third grade and have been teammates since high school. But in all seriousness, he could prove to be the consistent, big wide receiver target that the Vikings so sorely need. Childs slipped in the draft due to tearing his patella tendon in 2010. His numbers slipped when he returned and Childs himself admits that he probably came back to early. But if he's 100% healthy as he and Vikings management claim, he could prove to be a steal.
Robert Blanton: This one was a head scratcher for a lot of fans, including myself. It definitely fit into Minnesota's allegedly unintended "Bring Your Teammate To The Draft Day" (Blanton completed the third set of teammates drafted by the Vikings this past weekend), but Blanton seems to be a classic "tweener" in the secondary. He probably doesn't have the athleticism to play cornerback in the NFL and the Viking have already said that Blanton will most likely start out playing safety. But again, Blanton fits the versatility bill that Spielman and company were driving home all weekend. Hopefully at the very least Blanton will provide depth to the much-maligned secondary.
Blair Walsh: So apparently there will be competition for incumbent kicker Ryan Longwell in training camp. While Longwell has been a mainstay for the Vikings since 2006, he is 37 and is coming off a sub-par season by his standards. Walsh definitely has the leg to kick in the NFL, but he had his struggles with accuracy his last season at Georgia. Using a 6th round pick on a kicker will seem a little wasteful if he doesn't make the squad, but the pick could result at improved special teams play either way by providing motivation for Longwell.
Audie Cole: Much like Blanton, the Vikings will be trying to find exactly where Cole fits best. Much like Blanton, I think the best way for Cole to make the roster at first may be via special teams. Spielman stated that the potential for special teams play was a big factor on day 3 of the draft, and the Cole pick proves it. He played on nearly every special teams unit for his first three years at North Carolina State. I'm a little surprised that the Vikings added depth at linebacker this late in the draft, but once again versatility comes into play here--Cole played a lot of both inside and outside linebacker in college.
Trevor Guyton: You're never going to guess, but the Vikings like this guy's versatility! Guyton can play all along the defensive line, although I wonder if he's big enough to play defensive tackle in the NFL. He definitely learned from some great players at Cal (Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan) and had a solid senior year after the guys in front of him graduated. I don't think he'll be the next Pat Williams, but this seventh rounder could still help out the defensive line in Minnesota.
The Vikings had specific traits when it came to the 2012 draft and they definitely stuck to them. Rick Spielman put a lot of emphasis on athleticism, versatility, and passion, and he drafted players that fit that bill. Overall, I think the Vikings had a very promising draft. But if you want grades? Come talk to me around 2015 or so.