Early Draft Gazing

It may be a good thing the Vikings pick seventh in the draft this year, because V.P. of player personnel Frank Gilliam says there is deep quality but some dropoff after the very top guys. At 27th last year they got Michael Bennett. At seventh in 1982 they got Darrin Nelson.

With the NFL's full-year schedule these days, thoughts are turning to turning to the April 2002 NFL draft and how the Vikings might come up with the help they need in order to return to their contending ways.

There's no arguing the fact that the Vikings' most pressing needs are on the defensive side of the line, and in that regard there seems to be some good news concerning next spring's crop of college recruits. There are a number of quality players at defensive back and linebacker, according to Frank Gilliam, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, who was recently given more authority (or regained the authority he lost over the last few years) in selecting draft picks.

Gilliam has played a key role in the Vikings' drafts since joining the organization in 1971. He assumed his current position in 1994. He told VU that "there is quality all the way down the line, the way it looks now, but there will be some drop-off after the very top guys are taken. Also, the quality of players could get better as we get closer to the draft, the reason being that some guys are going to blossom between now and then, and you'll also have underclassmen coming out."

With the possibility that Cris Carter will not be on the roster next season, Gilliam reckoned as how the Vikings will be scanning the list of wide receivers that may be eligible for the draft.

"We always look at wide receivers," he said. "You never know when you're going to need one. We like to stay current on who's out there even if we don't get 'em in the draft. Then at least we know about them in case it comes around that we might consider a trade for 'em. So we keep track of all of them."

Gilliam and long-time personnel department head Paul Wiggin will work together with new head coach Mike Tice in the coming months to evaluate both the free-agent needs and the draft preparation. Those two areas of player-improvement, combined with a new coaching staff and the restructured personnel department, is injecting a renewed sense of hope at Winter Park.

The resurgence has started already, but April's draft will be the time for the personnel department to shine.

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