As the final days tick down on the NFL draft, the Vikings are currently sitting with the eighth overall pick in the draft and two picks in the top 40. They're going to have the opportunity to select two players that can logically be expected to be long-term starters.
The consensus is that the Vikings are going to take a quarterback with the eighth pick if either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles is still available. But, when teams draft players, they look for the type of difference-makers that can alter the course of a game by having the natural athletic gifts to make plays that average players wouldn't, like throwing the Brett Favre-type pass that threads between three defenders into a bread box-sized completion window. Blitzing and getting a strip-sack fumble. Taking a handoff one way, finding nothing, reversing field and taking it the distance. A battle between a cornerback and a wide receiver for a jump ball in the end zone. They all change games and rare is the athlete capable of doing something most players can't.
The Vikings didn't have a need at running back in 2007. Chester Taylor had signed a big-money contract in 2006 and responded with one of the top rushing seasons in franchise history. But Adrian Peterson was available with the seventh pick. You don't pass on talent like that. The Vikings backed up that pick by taking Sidney Rice, who came to the NFL with some injury red flags, but, when healthy, is a strong NFL wide receiver.
In 2009, the Vikings took Percy Harvin with the 22nd pick because he had too much ability to turn their backs on. The Vikings already had talented wide receivers, but Harvin was just too explosive to pass up and he has lived up to that reputation ever since. In the second round of that draft, the Vikings selected offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. He is playing under his second contract and has become a long-term, permanent starter at right tackle.
In 2010, the Vikings took a pair of players that weren't dynamic playmakers, but college players who had earned their reputation as solid NFL talents – CB Chris Cook and RB Toby Gerhart. Neither of them lived up to their college promise, but it can be argued both were round pegs in square holes. Cook played man coverage in college and never truly adapted to the Cover-2. Gerhart played behind Peterson, the game's best running back. Neither prospered in the Vikings system, seemingly by design.
In 2011, many critics (including us) thought the Vikings reached far too high to take Christian Ponder, who was a solid college quarterback but didn't play with a gunslinger's mentality because he didn't have the arm strength. Those worst fears were realized, as ineffectiveness and injury derailed his early NFL career and have him on the outside looking in a year after being anointed the QB of the present and future. On the second round, the Vikings went back to their best-athlete theory by taking TE Kyle Rudolph. A torn hamstring kept him from working out prior to the draft, but his talent made him too tempting to pass on in the second round. He's had injuries as a Viking, but nobody is questioning the pick or the role he can play in Norv Turner's offense.
In 2012, the Vikings traded back into the first round to have a pair of picks. They used them to lock down the best offensive tackle in the draft (Matt Kalil) and traded up with Baltimore to draft Harrison Smith. Do you think the Ravens wish they had a do-over on that deal?
Last year, the Vikings tripled down in the first round. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was on the board far too long and fell into the Vikings lap. Xavier Rhodes is a big corner the Vikings will need to go up against guys like Megatron, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb twice a year moving forward. Cordarrelle Patterson has already proved he's a game-changer who, while a raw prospect, led the league in kick returns last year and looks to be a much more significant part of the offense in 2014.
There are some impact players that will be available early in the draft. Jadeveon Clowney, Kahlil Mack, Sammy Watkins, Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans come immediately to mind. The Vikings may have their heart set on letting Turner develop a QB like he did with Troy Aikman and Philip Rivers, but, if they stick to the Spielman Plan, taking a QB with the first pick is far from being locked in and guaranteed. If an athlete who is too good to pass up is on the board, don't be surprised if the Vikings go that route and target No. 40 to get a QB.
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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