Sunday slant: Evaluating trade speculation

The Vikings have been mentioned as a potential team to move up in the draft, but who would they be targeting? There has been decent background interest in one prospect, according to an NFL source.

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has earned the nickname "Trader Rick." He fully admits he loves to make draft trades and he does it often.

Last year, he made two astute trades: He started by creating a market for the third overall pick and making it appear other teams were interested in trading up for running back Trent Richardson – whether that's true or not is up for debate, but all that matters is that Cleveland, which had the No. 4 overall pick, thought it might be a possibility. The Browns surrendered a fourth-round draft choice to ascend one spot and the Vikings still got their man, left tackle Matt Kalil, who as a rookie made the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

The fourth round turned trendy in the trade market for Spielman. He got another fourth-round pick this year when the Detroit Lions were anxious enough to get a fifth-rounder last year in exchange for a fourth-rounder this year (the Lion drafted LB Tahir Whitehead with that pick). That trade looks even better considering the depth of the 2013 draft.

Spielman loves to acquire additional picks, but he also showed a willingness to move up and target a specific player when a few components converge: Need, talent and lack of depth at a position after a specific, coveted player. All three of those factors were in play last year when the Vikings were short-handed at safety, Harrison Smith was available at No. 29 overall, the Baltimore Ravens were willing to move back, and Spielman agreed with the draft analysts in the media that after Smith the safety prospects yielded a drop-off in talent. The Ravens drafted DE Courtney Upshaw and OG Gino Gradkowski with that exchange.

So why all the talk of trading now, more than four weeks before the start of the draft? Because former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, now writing for NFL.com, speculated that "based on what I know and what I'm hearing" the Vikings could be one of three teams looking to move up in the first round this year.

In the season of cloak and dagger (mostly cloak), put everything you hear through the sniff test. In one instance, the speculation makes sense – Spielman is always willing to trade and has plenty of ammunition to do it this year as he currently has 11 picks. But in some ways, the Vikings could be better served to make their two selections in the first round – they have No. 23 and No. 25 overall after trading Percy Harvin – and use some of their additional mid- and late-round picks to move up in the second, third and fourth rounds, where there is plenty of value and potential.

But if we're going off of "what I'm hearing," then there is one player that could be the ripe apple of Spielman's talent-seeking eye: West Virginia receiver Tavon Austin. "What I know" is that Austin has been compared to a smaller Harvin, which would then make sense. What I also know is that Jarius Wright had a solid season working in the slot after Harvin was hurt, catching 22 passes in just seven games active. Extrapolated over 16 games, that would produce 50 receptions for 709 yards, a very solid season for a fourth-round rookie.

Despite that, Austin offers more athleticism and versatility, and that's likely why the Vikings have been inquiring about him behind the scenes despite being more open about their interest in other receivers, like USC's Robert Woods, who are also considered potential first-round picks. The more people have become familiar with Austin, the more they seem to like him.

He has rare ability to stop, start and finish – his change of direction is apparent and his long-term speed was validated with a 4.34-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. In other words, he is a mini-Harvin, but because of his size, like Harvin, there are concerns about his durability.

Then there is this analysis on Austin from NFL Draft Scout: "Good body control to make tough catches look easy with quick hands to pluck. Fearless and confident going up for the ball. Tough, gutsy and can take a hit, working hard to get every yard."

Sounds even more like Harvin.

Jeremiah's speculation is that the Vikings would move ahead of St. Louis Rams, who also have two first-round picks before the Vikings at Nos. 16 and 22. That makes sense if Austin is their target, as numerous draft analysts have the Rams targeting Austin with one of those first-round selections.

In order to move ahead of the Rams to No. 15, the Vikings would likely have to give up their 23rd pick and their second-round pick, but if they believe that strongly in Austin, you know what they did last year with Smith.

That would leave the Vikings with their other first-round pick, No. 25, and still give them five picks in the first 120 selections, including two first-rounders. What it would also do is still leave the Vikings without a big-bodied receiver they've been lacking ever since they let another receiver, Sidney Rice, go to Seattle.

Fortunately, those are the decisions for Trader Rick to execute and those in media to simply speculate on.

QUICK SLANTS

  • If they Vikings don't spend a first-round pick on a middle linebacker, that would make it one of the final positions on the team without a clear-cut starter after Jasper Brinkley signed a three-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals. But Bovada.lv put out the odds on which team former Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher will sign with and the Vikings are among the favorites. Baltimore has the shortest odds to sign Urlacher, at 9/4, and the New York Giants are 5/2. Cincinnati is at 7/2, Denver at 4/1, and the Vikings and Falcons at 6/1. It would go against the Vikings' philosophy of trying to stay young, but if they remain desperate after the draft …

  • Kudos to Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway for remembering his roots. Greenway donated a $1,500 grant from USA Football for football equipment to his high school alma mater in Mount Vernon, S.D. Greenway received the grant when he was named to the USA Football's All-Fundamentals Team in January, one of 26 NFL players honored.

    "We had a genuine need to upgrade our equipment for safety reasons, and this grant not only allows us new compression girdles and knee pads but frees up money to be spent in other areas as well," Mount Vernon High School Athletics Director Eric Denning said in a release. "We are very ecstatic to receive the grant as it will provide the safest equipment for all boys in our football program."


    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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