Sunday slant: Fifth-round finds

The Vikings were awarded a fifth-round compensatory pick last week, so what is a fifth-rounder really worth? Recent and ancient Vikings draft history shows that solid starters, even a couple of Pro Bowlers, can be produced in the fifth round.

The NFL is adept at drawing out suspense throughout the offseason.

Even before the Super Bowl is the Senior Bowl college all-star game. Then a month later is the NFL Scouting Combine. Shortly afterwards is free agency, followed by pro days for college prospects and then the draft. It doesn't end there, either, as organized team activities (OTAs) are followed by minicamps and more OTAs before – finally – after a month off … training camp.

Vikings players have been off since their NFC Championship loss more than two months ago, but younger players report Monday for the start of their offseason conditioning program. However, the game really never ends for people in the personnel department.

Rick Spielman, the Vikings vice president of player personnel, has been working the frequent-flyer miles making personal appearances at pro days in hopes of maximizing every draft pick the team executes. Last week, he learned they would have one more to work with, as the Vikings were awarded a fifth-round compensatory pick for the net result of their free-agent losses and gains from 2009.

The equation was pretty simple, really, given that the team only signed one compensatory free agent (Karl Paymah) and lost two (Matt Birk and Darren Sharper). Some hardcore fans looking for every Vikings advantage didn't want to believe that the NFL's formula of "Vikings-Birk-Sharper+Paymah=fifth-rounder" could be justice. But the NFL doesn't release its complete formula for figuring the compensatory awards, but we know it is based on the "net loss" of free agents from the previous year.

"The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four," according to an NFL release briefly explaining the process. Salary, playing time and postseason honors of those signed and lost all figure into the formula, but since the Vikings lost two and gained one compensatory free agent last year, they were only given one pick this year. Every year, 32 picks are awarded, and this year those went to 19 clubs, meaning that 13 teams weren't given any compensatory picks.

The Vikings' fifth-round pick (No. 167 overall) is the eighth-highest compensatory pick this year. Three teams were given picks at the end of the third round, one at the end of the fourth and the Vikings were part of six teams that were awarded fifth-round picks.

In fact, the Vikings might consider themselves fortunate that T.J. Houshmandazeh shunned them for Seattle. Had he signed with the Vikings, they might not have any compensatory picks – and they might not have picked Percy Harvin in the first round if Houshmandzadeh was on board.

Some Vikings draftniks feel that Minnesota has gotten the short of the stick in the awarding of the compensatory picks, but the Vikings fall somewhere in the middle of the total picks awarded since the compensatory system started in 1994. While the Vikings have received 13 picks since then, Cleveland has only been given one, Houston three, the Jets five, Denver eight and the Saints nine. Nine teams have been awarded 20 or more compensatory picks in that time, with Baltimore leading the way with 29.

But the biggest danger is to think that the Vikings' fifth-round compensatory can't be counted on for much. Surely Spielman would contest that, and you would get an argument from Brad Childress as well. Both of them saw last year's fifth-round pick, LB Jasper Brinkley, perform reasonably well when he was thrown into a starting role after E.J. Henderson was lost for the season.

Brinkley started the final four games of the regular season, led all Vikings rookies with 32 tackles and was the only rookie on the team to play in every game.

But Brinkley is far from alone when it comes to fifth-round finds in the draft.

The Vikings' original fifth-round pick in 1961 was cornerback Ed Sharockman, who was a solid starter and played for 11 years. For the next 10 years, the Vikings traded away a lot of fifth-round picks to move up in the draft or acquire other players (compensatory picks can't be traded). In 1973, their fifth-round pick brought running back Brent McClanahan. In 1979, the fifth-round pick didn't make the team but their sixth-rounder, tight end Joe Senser, became one of the better tight ends in franchise history and he was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1981. In 1984, running back Allen Rice was a solid fifth-round choice, and two years later wide receiver Hassan Jones joined the team via the fifth round.

More recently, the fifth round of the draft produced linebacker Ed McDaniel (1992, who was elected to the Pro Bowl in 1998), offensive lineman Everette Lindsay (1993), defensive tackle Tony Williams (1997), wide receiver Aundrae Allison (2007) and defensive tackle Letroy Guion (2008).

On a roster where the front-line starters are pretty well established, the Vikings could turn their compensatory pick into a solid backup with the hopes of finding a gem in the Sharockman-Senser-McDaniel mode.

So what about the future of the compensatory selections? With no Collective Bargaining Agreement in place beyond 2010, we wondered if the compensatory system would even be around in 2011. An NFL executive tells us that the CBA does cover the 2011 draft and that compensatory picks are scheduled to be awarded next year for this year's net losses in free agency, and so far the Vikings have lost compensatory free agents Chester Taylor and Artis Hicks without signing any free agents that qualify under the system. If that scenario remains throughout the offseason, we could be back breaking it down again next year.

Compensatory stats: Only Green Bay (DT Colin Cole) and Oakland (Jake Grove) lost fewer compensatory free agents than the Vikings' two last year, and Green Bay and Indianapolis were the only two teams that received compensatory picks that didn't sign any compensatory free agents last year. New England was awarded the maximum number of compensatory picks (four) while Carolina, Pittsburgh and Tennessee were each given three compensatory picks.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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