Safe picks? Three possibilities

Recent reports indicate the Vikings have already removed at least 78 players from their draft board due to character concerns, and rumors continue to fly regarding other potential first-round prospects. How might that affect the direction the Vikings take in the first round of this year's draft?

Character issues affect draft board

Last week when Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman talked with the media, he indicated that there were 78 players the team would NOT take as a result of injuries or off-field concerns.  That list of “red-dot” players on their draft board may have grown after some final due diligence during player visits to Winter Park last week.

That said, the Vikings still have some quality players on their radar that appear to get a clean bill of health and deportment for consideration at the No. 22 slot in the first round.

“There’s two or three guys there that we would be very happy to get,” Spielman said.

The general consensus is that in terms of needs, the Vikings are looking for an offensive tackle, a wide receiver and a cornerback.  But they are also on the record saying they will not run a player up their draft board just to fill a need.

Here’s a look at three players who have legitimate first-round talent, fit the team’s scheme and culture, could contribute early, and do not bring any off-the-field baggage or serious character concerns:

CB Darius Butler (5-10 ½, 183, 4.41) Connecticut – Has terrific athleticism, quick feet, natural cover skills and the hands of a wide receiver.  Butler could contribute immediately as a nickel cornerback, pay immediate dividends as a return specialist, and perhaps even see some snaps on offense if the Vikings wanted to get creative.

“Butler is a tremendously versatile player who’s a quality defender and return specialist,” according to Scout.com’s Chris Steuber.  “He has good ball skills and is extremely instinctive in the secondary.  He’s physical and fluid in coverage and positions himself well to break up the throw.  He has great vision and is elusive with the ball in his hands.”

Even with Cedric Griffin re-signed and veteran Antoine Winfield apparently in the team’s plans beyond 2009, Butler would really solidify the team’s coverage unit and potentially bring some excitement to the return game.  If he’s still on the board at No. 22, it might be hard to pass him up, despite more pressing needs at other positions.

OT Eben Britton (6-6 ½, 310, 5.14) Arizona – He might not be a truly elite athlete and perhaps a borderline first-round talent, but there’s little question as to whether he would be a perfect fit for the Vikings or not.

“Britton is a durable, consistent performer who’s solid in many aspects of the game,” Steuber says.  “He has great size, long arms and mauls the opposition at the line.  He has good balance and uses his hands effectively.  He moves well laterally, despite not possessing the quickest feet, and uses his wingspan to force defenders off their course of action.  He’s a solid run blocker.”

Given the team’s draft slot, nobody fits their needs better than Britton.  A likely starter from day one at right tackle, he can become a quality starter for more than a decade and would represent a very safe, solid pick for the Vikings.

DT Peria Jerry (6-2, 299, 4.98) Mississippi – He is a quick-twitch, active, penetrating defensive tackle who can consistently shoot the gaps and cause disruption in the opponents’ backfield.

“Jerry is an explosive interior force who generates a quick first step and creates havoc in the backfield,” Steuber adds.  “He has good size, but it’s his quickness that makes him stand out.  He uses his hands and speed effectively and is able to gain leverage instantly.  He does a nice job with double teams by disengaging and flowing to the ball.  He plays a little too upright, which hurts him when defending the run.”

Another mature citizen who is married with two kids, Jerry fits the quickness/penetrating style one-gap scheme that the Vikings deploy.  With veteran Pat Williams approaching 37 years old, Jerry could give Minnesota some quality snaps behind Pat and Kevin Williams inside as a rookie and eventually step right in to succeed the elder statesman on the team’s defensive line.

There might be flashier talents still on the board when the Vikings pick in the first round, but given the numerous character concerns of some of those players, don’t be at all surprised if these three players are on their radar.

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