While there are questions about when Christian Ponder will play, there is no doubt where the quarterback will play.
But the pick of Ponder is one of the few Vikings selections over the three-day draft that didn't deal with flexibility. From second-round pick Kyle Rudolph to the team's final pick in the draft, receiver Stephen Burton, the Vikings have options on how to use the newest members of the club.
Rudolph is expected to be an immediate contributor at tight end, but just how he will be used is up to debate, which is just how the Vikings would like to keep their opponents guessing.
"I know how hard it is for me when I'm looking at offenses putting together a game plan, thinking about that team's tight end," said head coach Leslie Frazier, the team's former defensive coordinator. "Is he a factor, or is he not a factor, because that enables us to do some things with the receivers if he's not a factor.
"So I looked at (Rudolph) and said, ‘Boy, if we were to get this guy, it would create some problems for opposing defenses.' But I was thinking all along he wasn't going to be there (with the 43rd pick) because they are so rare, but knowing he had a severe injury as well that it was a possibility. When the opportunity came, although there were other positions there we were looking at, there's no way you could pass on a guy like this. He's the top tight end in the draft and for good reason. We are fortunate that we have him."
Having to wait for their next pick until the third day – the Randy Moss trade left the Vikings without a third-round pick – the Vikings filled more of an immediate need when they selected Iowa defensive lineman Christian Ballard. While vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman and Frazier clarified that Ballard would start his career at defensive tackle, there are possibilities for using him at base end too.
"He gives us some flexibility because of what he's able to do, the fact that he can play in the three-technique or play nose, but he could also slide outside as a defensive end," Frazier said. "He's one of those rare commodities when you talk about big men. He moves extremely well and that flexibility should really help our defense."
Pat Williams, scheduled to be a free agent, said in a text in March that he wasn't planning to come back, and Frazier said Letroy Guion and Jimmy Kennedy are at the top of the depth chart right now for nose tackle. However, Ballard might have a chance to challenge for that position, or more likely fill a four-game void at defensive tackle if Kevin Williams is given a four-game suspension to start the season, as expected. Kevin Williams' three-technique position appears to be the most natural spot for Ballard.
"He can play some end if we needed to, we can play him at an under tackle and he's even slid inside and did some pass rushes at nose this year," Spielman said. "So the one thing we tried to do is, especially on our defensive line and with Ballard, it gives us a lot of options and a lot of different things because very rarely do you get a guy that can line up and play multiple positions up front."
Utah cornerback Brandon Burton "slid" to the Vikings in the fifth round, according to Spielman, but there isn't much doubt where he'll play. With Antoine Winfield turning 34 next month and Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook each coming off multiple knee injuries, Burton offers at least depth for 2011 and maybe starting potential down the line.
DeMarcus Love, the first of four Vikings sixth-rounders, can play offensive guard, but he will primarily be a tackle for the Vikings. Which side of the line he plays on probably won't be determined for months, if not years. At Arkansas, Love played "weakside" tackle, meaning he could slide from right to left tackle from play to play. Being on the side without the tight end left Love exposed without help, which might mean he has the quickness to play left tackle eventually.
Love said he didn't have a very good week at the Senior Bowl, and Spielman said Love's junior year was better than his senior season but also acknowledged that there is eventual starting potential with Love.
Finally, the team's second pick in the sixth round, also has some position flexibility to his game. Mistral Raymond has played cornerback and safety, and he just might project to either position at the NFL level.
"Whenever we start training camp or whenever we come in, we'll look at where our depth is and where we want to start those guys, but we know that he can play corner and he can also play free safety, so that gives us an opportunity to look at him in both areas," Spielman said.
Whether it is the team's desire to move Rudolph around on offense or have seventh-round receiver Stephen Burton look for opportunities in the return game as well, it's clear that the Vikings have options with many of their draft picks.
"One of our goals going into this draft was to create competition at positions and with that being the case and selecting some of the people that we have, there's no doubt in my mind that our team is better than it was prior to this draft and that's a good thing for our football team and for our organization," Frazier said.
But there is downside. First, if there is uncertainty about where a player is best-suited, some interpret that as him not excelling at any one position. Second, with the ongoing labor strife, the chance to develop those skills and home in on a position is getting delayed every week.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings find flexibility in draftees
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