Vikings 2011 draft review: Only 2 panned out

The Vikings took a number of risks in the 2011 draft, but the only players that panned out were Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco. The others turned out to be journeymen in which many of them are out of the NFL altogether four years later. We review the careers of the Vikings’ 2011 draft picks.

Christian Ponder: First round, No. 12 overall
Ponder was a three-year starter that showed a lot of promise at Florida State, but suffered multiple injuries that delayed his progression. He incurred a season-ending shoulder injury his junior season and he battled multiple setbacks with his health – including a swollen bursa sac in his throwing elbow – throughout his senior year. In the pre-draft process, Ponder was able to raise his stock, but he was still considered a second-round selection in many draft-evaluating circles. He was thought to be physically and mentally tough enough to play in the NFL but needed to improve his decision-making.

The Vikings were among multiple teams in need of a quarterback in the 2011 draft, and when three quarterbacks were already off the board the Vikings took a risk and drafted Ponder. At the time they had Donnovan McNabb as their starter and were planning to have Ponder sit and learn. But as McNabb continued to struggle they were forced to start their first-round pick.

During his four years with the Vikings, Ponder showed flashes that he might have what it takes to be an NFL quarterback. However, inconsistent play throughout his career led to the Vikings choosing to go a different way and draft Teddy Bridgewater in 2014. In four season in Minnesota, Ponder threw for 6,658 yards, 38 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. Now Ponder is a free agent and made it clear that, even though anything is possible, it is likely he will be leaving Minnesota and play elsewhere in 2015.

Kyle Rudolph: Second round, No. 43 overall
Since he first entered college, it was obvious Rudolph was a talented player. He became the first tight end in the history of Notre Dame to start every game as a freshman. During his college days he struggled with injuries, as he suffered a shoulder injury his sophomore year and a hamstring injury his junior year. After his junior year, Rudolph declared for the draft and was considered to be an all-around good talent but needed to work on his blocking.

Rudolph has shown flashes what he can be since being drafted by the Vikings, but injuries have kept him from performing that way on a consistent basis. During the 2014 offseason, Rudolph and the Vikings agreed to a five-year contract extension that could be worth up to $40 million. Early in the year, however, he underwent surgery for a sports hernia and it took him six weeks to recover. If Rudolph is able to remain healthy in 2015, he will be a key component to helping Bridgewater’s development.

Christian Ballard: Fourth round, No. 106 overall
Ballard played both defensive end and defensive tackle during his time at the University of Iowa. In his four years there, he was a full-time starter for three years and also received playing time as a freshman. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Ballard was recognized as one of the most athletic defensive lineman in the draft and even received a first-round grade from many experts. Later he tested positive for marijuana, however, which put up a red flag on many teams and caused him to drop to the fourth round.

During his time in Minnesota, Ballard played in all 16 games during his first two seasons in the NFL. In those seasons, he recorded 29 tackles and one sack. When the 2013 offseason rolled around, head coach Leslie Frazier announced that Ballard would be taking time off from the team to deal with personal issues and he hasn’t played since then.

Brandon Burton: Fifth round, No. 139 overall
Burton played for the University of Utah from 2007-10. In his first year there, he was redshirted and then was primarily used on special teams during his redshirt freshman season. Some believed he had the ability become a very good corner back in the NFL and would do best in a press-heavy scheme.

It’s possible Burton didn’t fit into Frazier’s Tampa-2 defensive scheme, and in 2013 the Vikings decided to part ways with him. He then signed with the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 1, 2013 and played five games with them before being released on Oct. 25, 2013. During the 2014 offseason, he was signed and waived by both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Indianapolis Colts. Burton has played in 15 NFL games and recorded 14 tackles and one pass defensed.

DeMarcus Love: Sixth round, No. 168 overall
While at the University of Arkansas, Love played primarily as a guard but then moved to tackle during his senior season. Love had the size to play in the NFL, and although he had good quickness off the ball he possessed only moderate balance and agility. Because of that, Love was considered a better fit to play right tackle or to be moved back to the interior of the line.

He was primarily used as a backup offensive lineman and was inactive for all 16 regular-season games during his rookie season. In 2013 he was suspended for four games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Once his suspension was over, the Vikings released him.

Two days after being released, Love was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He spent the remainder of the year with them and shared time their practice squad and active roster. He then released by the Jaguars in June 2014 and picked up by the New York Giants 10 days later. The Giants then waived him in July 2014.

Mistral Raymond: Sixth round, No. 170 overall
At the beginning of his college career, Raymond was a walk-on who primarily only got to play on special teams. In his second season at the University of South Florida, he played in all 13 games and started four of them at safety. When he declared for the draft, his size was considered a good matchup with any receiver in the NFL, and while he did play well in pass coverage at times, there was still a lot he needed to improve.

He played with the Vikings for three years and in that time even found himself starting at safety on multiple occasions. He played in 32 games and recorded 53 tackles, one forced fumble, one interception and six passes defensed in Minnesota. After his three years on the team, the Vikings decided it was best to part ways with the young player and move in a different direction.

Brandon Fusco: Sixth round, No. 172 overall
There weren’t a lot of opportunities coming out of high school for Fusco because of his lack of playing time at the prep level and his 6-4, 240-pound frame. He ended up attending Slippery Rock, a Division II school, where he played both offensive tackle and center. At the end of his collegiate career he became the first player in school history to compete in the Senior Bowl. After bulking up in college, he had good size to play on the offensive line at the NFL level, but playing at the Division II level concerned some NFL talent evaluators.

When the Vikings drafted him, they moved him to offensive guard and he had the opportunity to play in three games during his rookie season. Then in his second season he became a full-time player, starting in all 16 regular-season games. On Sept. 6, 2014 the Vikings showed they wanted to stick with him for the foreseeable future when they signed him to a five-year extension worth $25 million. Unfortunately for him, though, he tore his pectoral muscle in the first half of the season and had to spend a majority of the season on injured reserve. He should be ready to go Week 1 of the 2015 season and is expected to hold down the right guard position.

Ross Homan: Sixth round, No. 200 overall
Homan was a three-year starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes in college and even saw the field as a true freshman. When it came time to declare for the draft, many teams thought of him as being too small to play in the NFL. He was still a tough and intellectual player, though, and it was thought that if a team could overlook his size that he could become a valuable swing linebacker or be able to play on the weak side.

He didn’t get much of a chance to show the Vikings what he was capable of – they released him during the team’s final set of cuts in September. Later that month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers placed him on their practice squad, but he there for less than a week before being released by them as well. Homan eventually decided to retire early due to concussions that he had suffered over the course of his career.

D’Aundre Reed: Seventh round, No. 215 overall
In college, Reed was a defensive end for the Arizona Wildcats. He had a lot of athleticism and upside, but was often too slow off the snap. That was his primary reason for lack of production in college.

Reed spent two full seasons with the Vikings and was active for six games during the 2012 season. The Vikings, however, decided to move in a different direction before the 2013 season began, as he was part of the team’s cuts to get down to a 53-man roster. He then spent time on the practice squads of the Jaguars and the San Francisco 49ers before playing in the Arena Football League for some time. On July 29, 2014, he was signed to the Miami Dolphins but didn’t receive any playing time there.

Stephen Burton: Seventh round, No. 236 overall
Burton spent a majority of his college years playing at West Texas A&M. When it came time to the NFL draft, he was thought to be a developmental receiver who had some good size and toughness that could translate into the NFL. The problem was that he lacked consistent hands, the ability to separate and big-play potential.

With their final pick of the 2011 draft, the Vikings decided to take a chance on Burton and he was able to see the field as early as his rookie season. He spent two seasons with the Vikings and was then part of preseason cuts during the 2013 season. He was picked up by the Jaguars but placed on the injured reserve in December 2013 with a concussion. Then in April 2014, Burton announced his retirement from the NFL due to concussion concerns. On Jan. 26, 2015, Burton came out of retirement and signed a contract with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

Overall Analysis
The Vikings’ picks in the 2011 draft would have just finished their fourth year in the NFL, and ideally they would make up a good portion of the team. That is not the case for the Vikings, as only two of the players taken in this draft – Fusco and Rudolph – remain in Minnesota. The Vikings made a couple risky moves during the 2011 draft, and it started with them reaching for Ponder in the first round. Besides Rudolph and Fusco, those picks didn’t pay off for them and the Vikings were unable to take advantage of their high number of accumulated picks in the later rounds.

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