It’s funny how the NFL draft works. There are certain players that are viewed as clear blue-chippers. There are talents taken later in the draft that are athletes someone in the scouting department is endorsing and trying to get the decision-makers to take a second serious look at.
This week’s key matchup is a classic matchup of having players with a college pedigree taken in the first round and those actually selected during commercial breaks, as Detroit Lions tackles Taylor Decker and Riley Reiff go up against Minnesota Vikings defensive ends Everson Griffen, Brian Robison and Danielle Hunter.
Detroit invested heavily with the “obvious” choices on draft night when the big names, heavy hitters and future bust discussions take place. In 2012, the Lions had the 23rd pick in the draft and selected Reiff, who was slated to be a left tackle but has proved to be an elite right tackle for Detroit.
Wanting to make sure their investment in Matthew Stafford, a former first overall pick, stayed upright, in this year’s draft, the Lions used the 16th pick in the draft to select Decker, giving the Lions a pair of bookend tackles they hope will be fixtures on the Detroit offense for the rest of the decade and beyond.
When it came to the Vikings’ defensive ends, it was a completely different story. In 2007, after the Vikings made a splash by drafting Adrian Peterson is the first round, they selected Robison in the fourth round (No. 102 overall) with hopes of developing him into a potential starter.
In 2010, the Vikings used the 100th pick of the draft to select Griffen, whose stock had dropped due to a couple of off-field incidents at USC. An athletic talent with no pressure to be an immediate starter playing behind Jared Allen, Griffen was given time to develop and become a star.
In 2015, the Vikings used the 88th pick of the draft – a third-round selection – to take Hunter, a player many speculated would take time to develop in the NFL because he was a part-time player at LSU who was viewed primarily as a pass-rush specialist.
With Stafford as a pocket passer who tends to let plays develop and is willing to hang in the pocket and absorb a hit – or take a sack – the Vikings know that there will be opportunities for big plays and few teams have the firepower coming off the edge as the Vikings do. Stafford has improved his ability to get rid of the ball quickly this year, but there will still be opportunities.
The three Vikings defensive ends have combined for 18 sacks – seven from Hunter, six from Griffen and five from Robison. The team works on a rotation system that keeps all three of them intimately involved in the defensive game plan and will be critical to the Vikings’ success or failure against Detroit Thursday.
The battles in the trenches will be a classic case of teams taking two different approaches to success. The Lions have invested two premium draft picks from the last five years to set the foundation for their offensive line for the next decade. The Vikings have mined talent from the college ranks to use mid-round picks on players who have far exceeded their pre-draft grades.
Something will have to give Thursday. Will Detroit’s blue-chip draft picks win the day? Will the Vikings’ three mid-round picks with upside dominate the game and pressure Stafford into making mistakes? One of the two scenarios will happen, making this the matchup to watch on Thanksgiving Day.