Despite the long-range uncertainty of Tarvaris Jackson as the team's solution at quarterback, the table remains set for him to get every chance once again to become "the guy" in 2008. If he can turn the flashes he has shown into consistency, the Vikings' patience with him will pay off big-time. If not, this position will become the No. 1 priority for the organization a year from now.
That said, the team's interest in drafting a quarterback very early this year would seem remote. In all likelihood, the only thing that would change that would be a Brady Quinn-type slide with top prospect Matt Ryan (6046, 225, 4.92) from Boston College. Most mock drafts have Ryan going No.3 (Atlanta), No. 5 (Kansas City) or No. 8 (Baltimore) at this point. If he begins a free-fall after that, the Vikings could become interested.
After all, the team was well represented at BC's Pro Day last month, with vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers all in attendance.
I would have Michigan's Chad Henne (6027, 228, 4.92) next on my board, but he would be a reach at their slot in Round One, and he will likely be gone when their turn comes up in Round Two. Plus, there will be higher-rated players available at positions of greater need. Henne might have Tom Brady potential in the right environment, but he is more of a classic pocket-style passer than a West Coast Offense guy.
Brohm (6031, 230, 4.74) could be very successful in the right situation with time to develop, but he could really struggle if he's thrown to the wolves without a strong supporting cast. For the Vikings, he would be a significant reach in the first round, but perhaps a steal with their pick in the second. Brohm has some physical limitations, but so did a guy named Joe Montana, who had a very successful career in an ideal situation over the years as a WCO with the 49ers in their heyday.
Flacco (6063, 236, 4.84) is an intriguing physical talent but needs a lot of development. In my opinion, they already have this kind of prospect in Jackson. Plus, Flacco seems more like a traditional pocket-style passer, as well, not a WCO prospect. Legitimate interest by the Vikings is a smokescreen.
USC's John David Booty (6023, 218, 4.93) is a well-coached West Coast type quarterback with okay, but not great, physical tools. He fits the system but has limited upside potential. Still, he would merit consideration for the Vikings anytime from the fourth round and on.
Despite a lot of playing time in the SEC, Woodson (6040, 229, 4.88) still has considerable mechanical flaws, concerns about his ability to absorb a pro offense and a propensity to hold the ball too long that may all require more patience than the Vikings could possibly afford.
Ainge (6054, 225, 4.98) impresses me as more of a streaky performer who will make a better relief pitcher (i.e. career backup) than a dependable starter someday.
That essentially leaves the following list of players who could be a nice fit with the Vikings as a developmental-type quarterback prospect a la Tyler Thigpen, who they let slip away following training camp last year:
Johnson (6026, 213, 4.53) would be a very interesting pick for the Vikings, in my opinion, particularly in the fourth round or later. He needs a lot of work still, but he is "a very athletic, quick-footed playmaker," according to Pro Football Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki. "[He] could take a few years to digest an NFL playbook, but could be very effective in a West Coast offense and develop into a dynamic starter. [He] has as much upside as any passer in the draft." Unfortunately, the Vikings aren't likely the only team for whom Johnson would be a good fit, so it wouldn't be at all surprising if he was taken much earlier.
Scout.com NFL Draft Analyst Chris Steuber offered this insight into why you'll hear Johnson's name on Draft Day.
O'Connell (6050, 225, 4.61) is another prospect who good tools for a West Coast offense. He is big, smart, competitive and athletic. He has a good arm and he moves around well. He has all the tools to develop into a team leader and legitimate starter with good patient coaching. He needs work on his mechanics and accuracy, but would make a fine developmental project for Brad Childress, Bevell and Rogers. I'd really like him for the Vikings anytime fifth-round or later.
Ditto for Dixon (6032, 195, 4.60 pre-injury), who is coming off a torn left ACL knee suffered late in the 2007 season. He's a raw passer but a dynamic playmaker with the running threat dimension as well; another good option for Minnesota in Round Five or beyond. Plus perhaps an easier "redshirt" possibility given that he's still recovering from a major knee injury. It might be easier to "stash" him on injured reserve or the Physically-Unable-to-Perform list than a guy coming in who is perfectly healthy.
Wright (6033, 218, 4.85) never fully lived up to his high school hype in college but is a talented prospect who suffered through a revolving door on the coaching staff with the Hurricanes. His best football could still very well be ahead of him. He's a high character kid with intelligence, stature, arm strength and enough mobility within the pocket to develop nicely in their system. Wright made Steuber's All-Sleeper Offensive Team for this year's draft. He too would be a solid late-round selection for the Vikings.
The last tier of prospects on my board would include Matt Flynn (LSU), Bernard Morris (Marshall), Nick Hill (Southern Illinois) and Colt Brennan (Hawaii), all of whom I see as seventh-round to priority free agent types.
Flynn (6022, 229, 4.79) has enough tools to work with. Morris (6030, 217, 4.68) has ability but might lack the character. Brennan (6023, 207, 4.84) has productivity but also has some character concerns. Hill (6027, 219, 4.84) has a lot of intangibles.
It is most likely that Minnesota will take a flyer on a developmental-type prospect in the later rounds who could potentially show enough promise in training camp to challenge Brooks Bollinger for the No. 3 spot on the roster, particularly with a more proven No. 2 in Gus Frerotte now in the fold.