Are the Vikings heading down the same path that they wound up finding themselves in during the 2011 draft?
For those who don't remember or choose to forget, it was the Cam Newton draft. The Heisman Trophy winner who led Auburn to a national title, Newton was the plum of the draft and not only the clear-cut top quarterback in the draft, but the No. 1 overall pick.
However, beyond him, there were intriguing quarterback prospects, but not sure-fire can't-miss types. There wasn't another quarterback taken until the eighth pick, primarily because the teams picking in between Nos. 2 and 7 either didn't need a quarterback or viewed the post-Newton quarterbacks as not being worthy of a pick.
With the Viking sitting at No. 12, that was good news. Depending on who the team felt was worthy of being drafted at No. 12, there were options available if the draft fell right.
It didn't. Tennessee jumped in and took Jake Locker at No. 8. Jacksonville jumped at No. 10 to take Blaine Gabbert. Ironically, with two AFC South teams jumping on quarterbacks, it allowed Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt to fall to Houston at No. 11. When the Vikings got on the clock, the conventional wisdom was that Locker went a little high and Gabbert was a reach. The Vikings were undaunted and selected Christian Ponder. At the time, Viking Update saw Ponder as a developmental type that would likely go late in the first round if a team wanting a QB traded back up into the end of the first round.
As we start the process of trying to figure out the complicated puzzle that is the draft – a player may have elite value to one team and relatively none to another. A nose tackle in a 4-3 defense has less value than he would in a 3-4 scheme, so how teams assess the value of a draft prospect can vary greatly.
The Vikings liked Ponder's smarts, but the reason why prognosticators saw him as a trade-up late-first round or second-round pick was because he didn't have a cannon for an arm and would have to be a read-and-react finesse QB. They can thrive. Drew Brees doesn't have a gun but more than gets the job done. Peyton Manning's arm strength varies from game to game, but look at the numbers. Ponder wasn't one of those guys. He was a hybrid of Brad Johnson and Jeff Garcia. Could he develop into a good QB? Certainly. Would he ever be a Hawaii regular at the Pro Bowl? Not a chance.
The Vikings knew they were reaching for Ponder. Just about every national draft analyst agreed that the Vikings could have dropped 10 spots and still likely been able to land Ponder – and even then, it would be a little bit of a reach pick.
The Vikings took Ponder and the rest is history. As things stand today, he is the only quarterback from the 2013 roster still under contract. Yet the prevailing opinion is that, despite a cap-friendly contract for a potential starter or key backup, he won't be with the team when training camp opens in late July.
As the first mock drafts from the so-called experts are released – we do our own cannonball into the pool soon – there is a dilemma facing the Vikings.
They are sitting at No. 8 in a draft with no clear-cut quarterback as the undisputed frontrunner, but this draft has three quarterbacks that, if draft shenanigans play out as they often do, may go in the top three picks – in no particular order, Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles. Also in the mix is Derek Carr, who has good intangibles, but, when stacked against the blue-chip talent at all positions, doesn't quite have the pedigree to get selected as high as No. 8.
If one of the Big Three falls, the Vikings would likely snap that player up in a New York minute (at Radio City Music Hall). But one of them getting to the Vikings won't be easy.
Of the teams in the most dire need of a franchise quarterback, almost all of them are in front of the Vikings – No. 1 Houston, No. 3 Jacksonville, No. 4 Cleveland and No. 5 Oakland.
At No. 2 is St. Louis, who owns that pick because it was the final piece in the Robert Griffin III trade. St. Louis was at No. 2 and flip-flopped from No. 2 to No. 6. In the process, Washington sweetened the deal with two first-round picks and one second-rounder – the current equivalent to a Herschel Walker trade. They find themselves in that same catbird seat. If Oakland or the Vikings want to get ahead of Jacksonville and Cleveland, they will have to deal with the Rams, who could build a dynasty with stockpiling premium picks by replicating their 2012 draft fire sale.
Houston holds the cards and might decide to make a QB their franchise player. Johnny Football would sell a lot of jerseys to Texans. You can't underestimate the star factor for the largesse of a franchise. With three QBs and four teams in need, even if one of them makes it past Oakland, the Falcons or Buccaneers could rationalize trading their pick to allow someone to move up and get one of the quarterbacks.
The Vikings could have been better suited if a first-round QB is their goal. But after posting the best record in the division in the second half of the 2013 season, they don't have a top-three option. All three of the quarterbacks viewed as franchise types are likely going to be gone if the Vikings stand pat and don't mortgage the future on a risk-reward pick.
Carr is going to be available at No. 8. Is he worth that pick or will the Vikings roll the dice, try to trade down and still land him? In a QB-driven league, the value of quarterbacks is spiked upward. The consensus is that the Vikings failed on the Ponder selection. Can they justify trying it again with the understanding that another whiff will come back to bite Rick Spielman?
Welcome to the draft, sports fans.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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