Vikings Looking Up Front In First Round

Red McCombs has a new hierarchy for the war room and, with the draft less than three months away, VU is taking an early stab at who will be available and who will be gone when the Vikings pick.

When Dennis Green assumed complete control of the Vikings after the 1998 season, he was solely in charge of making final draft decisions. To his credit, he was the only person in the 1999 war room that wanted Daunte Culpepper over Jevon Kearse -- a move that has set the foundation for the Vikings offense for years to come.

Now that has all changed. Mike Tice will have full input from draft guru Frank Gilliam and college scouting director Scott Studwell in making the final decision on whom the Vikings take with the seventh overall selection in the 2002 draft.

Unlike recent years when the Vikings had to wait and watch 15 or 20 players go off the board before they could make their first pick, this year they have a pretty good idea who will go and fewer questions as to who will be available at No. 7 as opposed to who might slide into the low 20s where the team typically selected players.

For those new to VU, we will be following the draft closely with mock draft updates and player profiles, but today's first draft installment looks simply at the first pick the Vikings will have. Since the pick is a premium pick that will likely cost plenty of money, there is every chance that the Vikings may entertain trade offers to stockpile picks in the first three rounds to move down a few slots in the draft.

However, barring trades, this is how we see the draft shaking out at this early date.

1. HOUSTON TEXANS -- Bryant McKinnie, OT, Miami. The Texans may trade down, but McKinnie is a massive OT that will be the cornerstone of an expansion offense and, if the pick is traded, he will be the most likely player taken by whomever makes this pick.

2. DETROIT LIONS -- Julius Peppers, DE, North Carolina. The Lions need plenty of help, but Peppers is arguably the best athlete in the entire draft and, despite having a lack of experience, he could be a dominant NFL player and shouldn't make it past the second pick. Besides, DL fills a need.

3. CAROLINA PANTHERS -- John Henderson, DT Tennessee. The Panthers need help on both lines, but Henderson is likely the best interior lineman available. The Vikings would love him to slide to No. 7.

4. BUFFALO BILLS -- Joey Harrington, QB Oregon. This may be too high for Harrington to go, but the Bills left Rob Johnson unprotected in the expansion draft -- sending a clear signal they're ready to move on. Harrington comes in as NFL ready as any QB on the board and, barring a trade down a few slots to take him later in the round, the Bills may be forced to pull the trigger -- good news for the Vikings, who have no interest in a QB on the first round.

5. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS -- Mike Williams, OT, Texas. A real crapshoot, since they could go in several different directions, but offensive tackles are always at a premium and Williams is the next best thing after McKinnie.

6. DALLAS COWBOYS -- Wendell Bryant, DT, Wisconsin. The Cowboys have an improving young defense, and Bryant could give them the interior presence they need to compete at a higher level.

7. MINNESOTA VIKINGS -- Mike Pearson, OT, Florida. There's no way McKinnie or Peppers will fall to No. 7, but if Henderson or Williams do, the Vikings wouldn't hesitate to snap either of them up. But, with needs of the six teams in front of the Vikings dictating drafting, the Vikings will likely go with the best athlete on their board, which should be Pearson.

As always, the Senior Bowl, free agency, the Combine in Indianapolis and individual workouts will raise and lower player rankings in the coming weeks and months, but, as of now, this is the most likely early scenario for the Vikings.

* VU doesn't ordinarily go overboard with giving props to another website, but a friend of VU has moved his website to a new location that can feed the fix for any draft nut. Miguel's draft links has been without question the best draft clearing house, with almost 100 mock draft sites on his website by the time the draft rolls around. It is one of the best draft sites ever, is one-stop shopping for those interested in different takes on the draft and is constantly updated. Miguel has moved his draft links page to the NFL Draft Blitz website and VU strongly recommends it to anyone interested in seeing who the draft experts have going where.
* Miguel's site is already loading up with draft sites and, if the early returns are any indication, more people agree with VU that Pearson will end up with the Vikings. Of 20 mock drafts examined, six have the Vikings taking Pearson, four have Bryant as the pick, three have Texas cornerback Quentin Jammer, two have Henderson slipping to the Vikings, two have them taking DE Kalimba Edwards of South Carolina and two have Williams sliding to No. 7. One has the Vikings taking Miami CB Phillip Buchanon.
* A look at the full list of exposed players in the expansion draft left this interesting note: Since many NFL teams exposed high-priced free agents, it is probably possible that the Houston Texans could load up to $200 million above the salary cap if they selected the highest priced players to form their 53-man roster from the players exposed. Of course, that isn't possible, but it shows just how many starting running backs, quarterbacks and other high-priced veterans have been exposed.
* Former Viking linebacker and current Baltimore Ravens linebacker coach Jack Del Rio may not have to wait for defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis to get a head-coaching job in order to move up the coaching ranks. Del Rio is said to be a leading candidate for defensive coordinator in Carolina, which just hired former Giants defensive coordinator John Fox as its head coach.
* Trading places: It is very possible the Vikings and Ravens could be switching special teams coaches. Head coach Mike Tice has showed interest in Ravens special teams coach Russ Purnell, who has apparently fallen out of favor with Brian Billick. And former Vikings special teams coordinator Gary Zauner is on Billick's short list. The buddy system lives.

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