Reflections Of A Solid Draft

After taking time to reflect on the draft and rookie free-agent acquisitions of the Vikings, TFY Draft Preview's Tony Pauline has word on why some talent was still available in the middle rounds and why other selections make sense for the Vikings' scheme.

At first it seemed like déjà vu -- the clock running out, the Vikings confused and another missed opportunity -- but in the end it was not as bad as originally thought. Minnesota came into the selection meeting with several questions on defense, but regardless of what happened at pick number seven the franchise left the draft with many of them answered.

After the mayhem of a trade that went nowhere, Minnesota let two other teams pass them by before taking a card that read Kevin Williams up to the podium, making the big defensive lineman their first pick.

On a straight path up draft boards since Senior Bowl week, Williams watched his stock surge almost 20 slots in the post season with jaw-dropping performances starting in January. Those who watched Williams in college should not be surprised -- he was a force at both defensive tackle and end at Oklahoma State since his freshman campaign and possesses the versatility to play either position at the next level.

With Williams and Hovan on the inside, Minnesota now has as quick and explosive a pair of defensive tackles that you'll find anywhere in the NFL. Many feel Jimmy Kennedy would've been the better choice because his natural bulk offers a better fit next to Hovan and the Penn State prospect has a much greater upside. Those arguments are justifiable, but the fact is Williams exceeded the expectations placed upon him and impressed scouts when it counted most … Kennedy cannot say the same.

E.J. Henderson was great value in round two. Formerly considered a potential top 15 selection after his sophomore season, back surgery and the label of being "a two-down defender" pushed him out of the first round. Henderson displays limited range in coverage and does not get great depth on pass drops, but he's as forceful against the run as any defender in this draft. A great fit for a defense without a big-bodied tackle up front, Henderson should quickly move into the starting line-up.

Drafting a complementary receiver for Randy Moss was a priority, and they may have found an answer in the third round. Nate Burleson is neither big nor fast, rather a natural and consistent pass catcher. His route-running skills are top-notch, as is his feel for the position. The ability to read defenses, find the open spot on the field and get separation should aid in Burleson quickly seeing the field as a rookie, which could cause problems for opponents that double team Moss. The downside to this pick? University of Nevada has provided the NFL with ultra-productive NCAA receivers who amounted to zilch on the pro field. Alex Van Dyke and Trevor Insley were one-man shows in college but did nothing at the next level. We're betting Burleson ends that trend.

Getting back to drafting value, Onterrio Smith was just too good to pass up in round four, and Minnesota selected him at pick 105. Possessing the physical skills to be a first-round choice, his versatility as a runner, pass catcher or return specialist enhances his value to a franchise. Why then was he selected so low? Injuries and stupidity to be frank about it.

Smith played well his first season at Tennessee and looked like the heir apparent to Jamal Lewis before being dismissed from the program. After a brilliant campaign with the Oregon Ducks in 2001 he was off to a sizzling start last season until a knee injury shelved him for the rest of the year. Smith may have had no recourse but to leave Oregon a year early, as word was he was badly failing in the classroom. His rap sheet includes a DUI and reports of marijuana possession, yet when he puts on the shoulder pads Smith is all business. With a lot of Marshall Faulk in his style, Smith is the consummate third-down back that should be a great complement to Michael Bennett. "If" he keeps his nose clean and focuses on the task at hand, Smith will be a productive player that can even be used as trade bait in the future. Unfortunately, history proved "if" can be a dangerous assumption in Smith's case.

Eddie Johnson was the best punter in the draft and a terrific athlete with a huge leg. Far and away the most impressive kicker at the combine, he had the benefit of punting in a dome at Idaho State and was not subject to the outdoor elements, hence teams passed on him. This was another value pick, and Johnson will compete for a spot on the roster.

Sixth-round choice Mike Nattiel could fit in as a back-up nickel linebacker brought onto the field during passing situations, while Keenan Howry, the Vikings' last choice, was a productive receiver at Oregon that must make it as a return specialist.

Undrafted Free Agents of Note:
Colin Cole/DT/Iowa, Rushen Jones/CB/Vanderbilt, James Lynch/FB/Maryland, Ben Nelson/WR/St Cloud St, Juston Wood/QB/Portland St, Steve Farmer/TE/Tennessee St, Willie Miles/CB/Tennessee, Sean Berton/TE/North Carolina St, LaWaylon Brown/DT/Oklahoma St, Adam Goldberg/T/Wyoming

Minnesota added a lot of inexpensive depth by signing several key undrafted free agents. Colin Cole fell out of the seven rounds after a poor showing at the combine and an uninspired Senior Bowl performance but is still a viable prospect that could be rotated into the front four, spelling starters on occasion. Rushen Jones is a nice-sized corner with solid cover skills, but the injury bug hampered his development. James Lynch left Maryland a year early after overcoming personnel tragedies but quite possibly was the most dominant lead fullback available in April's draft. Though not much of an offensive threat, Lynch opens canyon-type running lanes for his ball carrier. Ben Nelson is not fast but a sure-handed receiver that has a real opportunity to stick as a fifth receiver. Steve Farmer is a solid blocking tight end, while LaWaylon Brown is another thumper on the inside at defensive tackle.

Analysis: They took grief after the debacle of the trade that never was and could have difficulty quickly signing Kevin Williams as agent Tom Condon tries to make a stand, yet overall it was a good weekend for the Vikings. In the end they filled needs with value. Don't be surprised if a few of their undrafted free agent rookies contribute in 2003 and several of their selections quickly move in with the first team.

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