Between now and the draft, we’ll take a look back at previous drafts to determine how different the Minnesota Vikings or some other teams would have been if they had the benefit of hindsight. Some are triumphs. Others are disasters (see Troy Williamson).
This time around we go back to 2011, the year that was supposed to start the Christian Ponder era in Minnesota. The NFL was on strike. Rookie salaries were going to get slashed – it was one of the few things both sides agreed on. Carolina and Denver were picking 1-2 and five years later they ended up in February’s Super Bowl.
Perhaps it was that general managers and coaches had more time to devote to the draft with no players around or any free agency, but the top six picks all have hit it relatively big.
The first six picks that year were Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus, A.J. Green, Patrick Peterson and Julio Jones. There isn’t a team in the group that wouldn’t take what they got, given the hit-and-miss nature of the draft.
The list would have hit seven if not for the numerous off-field issues that derailed Aldon Smith’s career. Based purely on talent, Smith would have been a multiple Pro Bowler by now, but it’s the risk teams take.
After the top six (or seven if you allow an asterisk) it gets iffy. Three of the next five picks are quarterbacks – Jake Locker at No. 8, Blaine Gabbert at No. 10 and Christian Ponder at No. 12.
The other two picks? Three-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Tyron Smith of Dallas and three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of Houston. At least the Vikings can say that they didn’t have the choice between Watt and Ponder so the point is moot, but what do you suppose they’re thinking in Tennessee and Jacksonville.
What makes the Ponder pick ponderous is that other quarterbacks who quickly got playoff experience – Andy Dalton (No. 35) and Colin Kaepernick (No. 36) and an unlikely starter who has outlasted all of the Gang of Three from picks 8-12 (Tyrod Taylor at No. 180) – and Locker, Gabbert and Ponder never played in a playoff game, despite being given a loose leash to keep their jobs.
One good note for Vikings fans in the first round was that Chicago didn’t take defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson at No. 29. The Bears took offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, who played two years with Chicago and was out of football last year. The Jets took Wilkerson with the next pick.
The Vikings were thrilled to land Kyle Rudolph in the second round. His stock had dropped because of a serious hamstring injury he suffered at Notre Dame, but he was one of the shining stars of a second round that didn’t produce a lot of big time contributors. A lot of good players, but not stars. Aside from Rudolph, the only players that ever made a Pro Bowl are Dalton and Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb, who was taken with the last pick of the round.
There was no complaint in Minnesota about Rudolph. Cleveland and Denver didn’t complain when they took Jordan Cameron with the 102nd pick and Julius Thomas with a 129th pick, respectively.
The third round had a couple more hits as Day 2 wound down. Dallas hit again with DeMarco Murray (No. 71), the pick after the Chiefs took linebacker Justin Houston. But the big-name stars haven’t materialized. A lot of decent players and quite a few starters
The last three rounds mean nothing, right? A bunch of who-dats who are camp bodies. Not so fast, my friend. Heard of Richard Sherman? He went to Seattle in the fifth round (No. 154) in a trade they made with Detroit to get the pick.
The only two Vikings left standing are Rudolph and Brandon Fusco (6th round, No. 172 overall, from little Slippery Rock University).
History won’t look too kindly on the 2011 draft because the Vikings missed on their first-round pick and, the vouching for Donovan McNabb that Leslie Frazier did may have been a major contributor to his demise. But the Vikings came away with two starters out of the deal, so it clearly isn’t great, but it wasn’t a disaster either.
Draft picks are a dice roll and, at times, getting lucky – like pairing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady – is part of the process. This one wasn’t a disaster for the Vikings per se, but the Triangle of Authority was done after McNabb was recommended by Frazier and Rick Spielman became the man who makes the final call.