by Dan Pompei
April 29, 02012
When you have the third pick in the first round and the third most desirous player in the draft is one you have no use for, you are not supposed to be in a position of strength.
But Vikings general manager Rick Spielman turned what looked like a bad hand into a good one.
The Vikings had no use for Trent Richardson because they already have Adrian Peterson. But other teams, most notably the Browns and Bucs, had plenty of use for Richardson. The Dolphins had some interest in the pick too. And other teams were sniffing as well. Because there was more than one team interested, the Vikings had leverage.
The calls were coming all week. Trickling in at first, until a couple hours before the draft. The Vikings could have made a deal early in the week, but they waited.
The Browns made a fine proposal, offering fourth, fifth and seventh for the right to swap first rounders. And the best part about it was the Vikings had to move down only one spot. Spielman told me he assumed the Browns wanted Richardson, but he never asked. He pulled the trigger shortly before the draft.
The Browns took Richardson. Spielman still had his choice of the two top players on the Vikings’ board, left tackle Matt Kalil and cornerback Maurice Claiborne.
“Both are excellent players, the highest rated at their positions,” Spielman said. “They both would have filled a big need for us. Both positions are important. The argument could be made for either.”
Some made the argument for Claiborne. The Vikings could have used him to neutralize Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Greg Jennings, especially given the fact that the Vikes are planning on playing more man-to-man, fire zone and three deep coverage with the new influences on their coaching staff.
But the NFC North had something to do with the Vikings wanting Kalil, too. The Vikings have to deal with Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Kyle Vanden Bosch twice a year.
And Spielman figured it’s more difficult to find an elite left tackle than it is an elite cornerback. “You look at free agency,” he said. “You see some receivers available, some corners. But rarely do you see a left tackle on the open market. The only way to get a premier left tackle is if you are in the position we were in. If we didn’t take him now, when would we get the chance?”
Taking Kalil allowed the Vikings to fill two needs because it enabled them to move previous left tackle Charlie Johnson to left guard. It also enabled them to give second year quarterback Christian Ponder a better chance to succeed.
So Spielman drafted Kalil. And he kept drafting, taking 10 players to help restock his team. In 2011 the Vikings selected 10 players. Nine made the team. The Vikings are getting young in a hurry.
With extra picks in his pocket, Spielman dealt his way back into the bottom of the first round to select safety Harrison Smith. As was the case with Kalil, Smith can make the Vikings better at positions other than his own.
“Our coaches had Harrison at the Senior Bowl,” he said. “We know what he was like in meeting rooms, we understand his character and his intelligence. The players in the middle of your team, you want them to be able to give direction and set the tone from an emotional standpoint. He can do that. Plus there was a dropoff at safety after him.”
For a guy who was supposed to be in a bad spot, Spielman did alright.
Things I Didn’t Used To Know
*People are taking shots at the Seahawks for taking Bruce Irvin in the first round, but the truth is if they didn’t take him someone else would have. Among the teams that coveted him were the Texans and Chargers. Word around the league is the 49ers liked him so much they might have traded up for him. Part of what helped Irvin overcome his questionable character stigma is he wrote a personal email to each of the 32 teams a little more than one week before the draft. It was a letter than came from the heart and was not edited by his handlers. Irvin admitted making mistakes and said he has grown from them, and asked the NFL to give him a chance.
*The fall of Alabama pass rusher Courtney Upshaw to the third pick in the second round was not shocking. Some personnel men anticipated him falling after Upshaw showed up at his pro day weighing 279 pounds. Upshaw looked surprised when his weight was revealed. He may have discouraged 3-4 teams from considering him at outside linebacker, and caused some to question his commitment. Said one front office man, “That weight hurt him.”
*The Bucs didn’t lose anything by trading down in the first round. The player they wanted was Mark Barron. They had the safety and cornerback Maurice Claiborne graded identically, but they deemed safety a bigger need. What’s more, they picked up an extra fourth round selection. Said one national scout: “Tampa Bay did an unbelievable job. Their draft has been great.”
*When the Texas lost Mario Williams, their philosophy was to replace him with a group of players, not just one. That’s why they chose Whitney Mercilus in the first round. He’s joining a group that already includes pass rushers Brooks Reed and Connor Barwin. It’s quite a group. Between the three of them they had 33.5 sacks last year, or more than Williams has had over the last four years. “We have two young players who are very good in Connor and Brooks, but there is always room for a third,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. “We play three guys.”
My Sunday Best: Value picks
There are great picks, and then there are great value picks. These are my best value picks, or picks that represented the most bang for the buck.
Courtney Upshaw by the Ravens, 35th overall. Leave it to Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta to trade down, acquire an extra pick and then draft a pass rusher who at one point was considered one of the best in the draft. Upshaw has produced against top competition over time. Smart move.
Jerel Worthy by the Packers, 51st overall. The thing you have to like about getting Worthy so late is he has as much upside as any player like him in the draft. Trader Ted Thompson got the job done with this guy, who easily could have been picked a round earlier.
Devon Still by the Bengals, 53rd overall. At one point in time not long ago Still was considered the best DT in the draft and a player who was likely to be a high first round pick. And it’s not like Still did anything to hurt his stock.
Chris Givens by the Rams, 96th overall. Givens was a rated a second round talent by a number of teams. He fell because of concerns about his knees and concerns about off field conduct.
Keenan Robinson by the Redskins, 119th overall. A fourth round pick was a cheap price to pay for a linebacker with Robinson’s versatility, production and measurables. He should be an NFL starter.
Nick Toon by the Saints, 122nd overall. If Toon had entered the draft one year ago as had been speculated, he likely would have been a first round pick. Mickey Loomis and the Saints finally had a little luck go their way when Toon fell to them in the fourth.
Josh Norman by the Panthers, 143rd overall. Norman is a second round talent. He went in the fifth because of character concerns.
George Iloka by the Bengals, 167th overall. Based on my conversations with scouts I had him as the third ranked safety in the draft, and figured he would be a second round pick based on the lack of talent at the position. Between the first and fifth rounds, only one safety, Brandon Taylor was taken. That left Iloka for the Bengals in the fifth.
Juron Criner by the Raiders, 168th overall. He was a third round talent that went two rounds later. But Criner comes with some risk because of some character concerns. Nice move by Reggie McKenzie in his first draft.
Alfonzo Dennard by the Patriots, 224th overall. I was not particularly high on Dennard. He was my 12th-ranked cornerback. He ended up being the 31st cornerback selected. Dennard was considered second round worthy going into the season. He had a down year but still was worth of a fourth round pick. He went in the seventh. Score one for Bill Belichick.
Scout Talk: Draft Impressions
Here are some thoughts about the draft from NFL front office men.
*In many draft rooms, there wasn’t the same kind of enthusiasm over who was chose as there normally is. “There were a lot of reaches on the first two days,” one personnel director said. “A lot of teams were not feeling comfortable with their picks, based on my conversations with other personnel people. It wasn’t’ a great year. There are a lot of guys with holes.”
*A number of teams were down on Bruce Irvin, but not all of them were down on him for the same reason. Some had him off the board or downgraded for character concerns. Others had concerns about the player. “He has one unique quality—he comes of the edge,” one front office man said. “We weren’t sure if he can put on weight and be a three down player of if he’s just a situational pass rusher.”
*The Seahawks’ selection of Russell Wilson in the third round also generated some second guesses. One front office man noted Wilson was taken ahead of Kirk Cousins, who is thought to be a better NFL prospect by many. “He is similar to Tarvaris Jackson, and unless they get rid of Jackson, Wilson is going to have to be their third,” one front office man said. “Do you use a third round pick on a third quarterback?”
*One front office man noted the offensive line feeding frenzy in round two. Eight offensive linemen—26 percent of the picks in the round--went off the board in the second. “If you wanted an offensive lineman, it was a brutal run,” he said.
*Multiple front office men questioned the Broncos trading down twice and out of the first round, especially because there were defensive players on the board who others thought the Broncos could have used. For trading down twice from the 25th pick to the 36th, the Broncos ended up with only a fourth round pick.
*Teams were buzzing about the 49ers taking A.J. Jenkins in the first round. More than one evaluator thought the 49ers could have had Jenkins in the late second round or early third. While most see the talent and speed in Jenkins, some questioned his love of the game, his grittiness and his work ethic.
*No one is comfortable questioning Bill Belichick’s judgment, but a couple front office men wondered about the Patriots’ second and third round picks. One personnel man said his team had safety Tavon Wilson, the Pats’ second round pick, ranked as a seventh round pick, and defensive end Jake Bequette, the Patriots’ third rounder, ranked as a free agent. “That was crazy,” he said. It should be noted that the consensus is the Patriots picked very well in round one with the additions of linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive end Chandler Jones.
*A couple of front office men were impressed with the Giants’ draft. One noted running back David Wilson could be an immediate impact player even though he was the last pick of the first round. He also said he thought wide receiver Rueben Randle represented good value at the bottom of the second round.
*Ashton Kutcher never dreamed up something this devious on Punk’d.
*No truth to the rumor that when the Saints visit the Patriots in the preseason in August, these two guys will represent their teams for the opening coin flip.
*Cue the ukuleles. It might be time to sing “Aloha Oe” to the Pro Bowl.
*Scouts say Brandon Jacobs doesn’t accelerate quickly. They apparently never have seen him on the Garden State Parkway.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune. Follow him at Twitter@danpompei