Why Williamson? An In-Depth Draft Review

The Vikings surprised nearly everyone by selecting wide receiver Troy Williamson with their seventh overall selection … and then spent much of the weekend defending the pick. They explained their decision there, as well as other decisions throughout the weekend, and we take a look at the best value and the one who could surprise on our way through a complete draft review.

The Vikings came out of the draft with some of the speed they lost at receiver in the Randy Moss trade (Troy Williamson, No. 7), potential starters at right defensive end (Erasmus James, No. 18) and left guard (Marcus Johnson, No. 49), depth at safety (Dustin Fox, No. 80), a quality running back who could be a starter in 2006 (Ciatrick Fason, No. 112), a 314-pound nose tackle (C.J. Mosley, No. 191) and a cornerback who might help on special teams (Adrian Ward, No. 219).

"We love how our draft board came together," coach Mike Tice said. "We had our top three picks rated as first-round picks, and our top four all were rated in the top 54 on our board."

The only obvious disappointment was not finding a kicker to fill one of the team's most glaring needs.

If you believe the Vikings, their draft was a smashing success that began with them fooling several opponents and countless experts by selecting South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson with the seventh pick when more-heralded receiver Mike Williams of Southern California was still on the board.

They might be right about Williamson, and their recent success in the draft suggests they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But at the very least there is room to second-guess the pick that the Vikings acquired from Oakland as part of the Moss trade.

Williamson, after all, had 91 catches and 13 touchdowns in his entire career, while Williams had 95 catches and 16 touchdowns in his final season at Southern Cal.

"Regardless of who everyone in the country liked, (Williamson) is who we liked," coach Mike Tice said. "That's who we liked production-wise, that's who we liked upside-wise and that's who we liked for our football team."

Williamson, a 6-1, 203-pound junior, ran a 4.34 40, while Williams ran a 4.58. That, combined with Williamson's potential in a wide-open offense and ability to run after the catch, is the reason the Vikings chose Williamson.

Tice, receivers coach Wes Chandler and director of college scouting Scott Studwell fell in love with Williamson's ability to "blow the top off" of defensive coverages with his speed.

"There are only a handful of players in the league who can do that," Tice said. "Randy was one of them."

The Vikings had spent the last two months suggesting they were going to change their offense and be more of a power running game. But selecting Williamson shows the Vikings aren't going to go completely away from a vertical passing game.

The Vikings said they had Williamson ranked ahead of Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards, who was selected third by Cleveland, and as the No. 2 prospect overall behind Auburn running back Ronnie Brown.

But the team is being careful not to put too much pressure on Williamson. The Vikings haven't named him a starter and said he comes in as a role player.

But there will be plenty of pressure. He will be compared to Moss and Williams.

James and Johnson will fly under the radar and should beat out less talented players at their positions. Fason might be good enough to run off Michael Bennett and challenge Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore for a starting job as early as this season.

BEST PICK: Taking Marcus Johnson in the second round with the 49th pick doesn't have the sex appeal of taking a receiver with 4.34 speed at No. 7 (Troy Williamson) or a pass-rushing defensive end at No. 18 (Erasmus James). But it could be the move that helps the Vikings the most. Johnson is a 6-6, 321-pounder who started 45 games at Mississippi. He spent all of his college career on the right side, mostly at guard, but he has the athleticism and quickness to make the adjustment to left guard, which is the pulling guard for the Vikings. He also has a nasty streak — the Vikings call him a "finisher" — that could make him a starter in 2005. His competition is Adam Goldberg, a converted tackle and former practice squad player, and second-year pro Anthony Herrera, who was a rookie free agent last year. From a pure talent, size and strength standpoint, Johnson is superior to both of them.

COULD SURPRISE: Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, who was taken in the fourth round with the 112th selection, could be a second-day sleeper who plays a significant role this season. The myth about the Vikings is they're loaded at running back. Yes, they have depth. But they don't have a true feature back. Michael Bennett can't stay healthy, Onterrio Smith is one positive drug test from being suspended for an entire season, Mewelde Moore has durability issues and Moe Williams is an aging third-down back. Fason was a very productive runner at Florida and is dedicating his NFL career to his wife and two young children. The Vikings traded their picks in the fourth (120th) and fifth round (154) to move up eight spots. If Fason can develop as a pass protector, he could push Bennett out the door and challenge Smith and Moore for the feature back role.

A closer look at the Vikings' picks:

Round 1/7 — Troy Williamson, WR, 6-1, 203, South Carolina

The Vikings said they had him rated as the top receiver in the draft and the second-best player available behind Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. The team preferred Williamson's 4.34 speed and ability to run after the catch to the more-heralded talents of Southern California receiver Mike Williams, who some experts had rated as the top player in the draft. Williams fell to NFC North rival Detroit with the 10th pick.

Round 1/18 — Erasmus James, DE, 6-4, 266, Wisconsin

The Vikings were hoping Georgia safety Thomas Davis or Georgia defensive end David Pollack would fall to them at 18. But when Davis was selected 14th by Carolina and Pollack 17th by Cincinnati, the Vikings were happy to pick James. Coach Mike Tice said the Vikings had James ranked as a top 10 player who fell because of concerns about a dislocated hip that cost James the entire 2003 season, and an ankle injury that slowed him at the end of last season. The Vikings' concerns about James' health weren't put to rest until James visited Winter Park for a closer examination the week before the draft. James gives the Vikings their best pass rusher at right end in the base defense since Chris Doleman. James should be able to beat out Darrion Scott for the starting job.

Round 2/ 49 — Marcus Johnson, G-T, 6-6, 321, Mississippi

Even after weeks of intensive draft preparation, the debate over picking Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent continued in the Vikings draft room as the 49th pick neared. Desperate for a place-kicker, Tice wanted to take Nugent. Scott Studwell, the team's director of college scouting, didn't want to use a draft pick on a kicker or punter, especially on the first day. The Jets made it a moot point when they selected Nugent with the 47th selection. The Vikings had a sense the Jets might select Nugent, but even Tice didn't feel Nugent was worth trading up three spots.

Round 3/80 — Dustin Fox, DB, 5-10, 190, Ohio State

The Vikings used their last pick on the first day on a player who will give them speed (4.47), athleticism and youthful exuberance in the secondary and on special teams. Tice compared Fox's attitude to that of former Vikings WR Chris Walsh, whose hard-nosed style on special teams made him a virtual legend among Vikings fans. Fox was switched from safety to corner as a freshman at Ohio State. The Vikings see him as someone who will compete with first-year player Will Hunter at the fourth safety position and possibly push No. 3 safety Willie Offord. He also can be an emergency cornerback. The pick also allows the Vikings to move Ken Irvin back to cornerback.

Round 4/112 — Ciatrick Fason, RB, 6-1, 209, Florida.

The Vikings traded the 120th pick and the 154th overall pick in the fifth round to move up eight spots to select Fason, who they had rated as a second-round pick. It's the third consecutive year they've selected a running back in the fourth round, following Onterrio Smith (2003) and Mewelde Moore (2004). Fason will start off competing with fifth-stringer Butchie Wallace, but don't be surprised if he moves up quickly.

Round 6/191 C.J. Mosley, DT, 6-2, 314, Missouri.

The Vikings couldn't resist taking a legit 300-pound plus lineman with quickness and athleticism at this point in the draft. Mosley had 30 tackles for loss the past two seasons. The Vikings can wait for him to develop. They already have two nose tackles ahead of him, Pat Williams and Steve Martin. But Martin is in the final year of his contract.

Round 7/219 Adrian Ward, CB, 5-10, 175, Texas El-Paso.

The Vikings had hoped to draft a developmental center in the sixth or seventh rounds, but there were none left that they liked. Ward, who had five interceptions and 59 tackles at UTEP last season, might have a chance to contribute on special teams. He also could end up on the practice squad.

Viking Update Top Stories