Sunday slant: Filling for the future

The Vikings have produced two offensive rookies of the year with their last two first-round draft choices, but this year the draft could be as much about the future as it is finding immediate starters on the depth chart. We explain the factors in the Vikings' decisions and how that could influence which positions they select later this week.

The Vikings are on a roll with their draft picks of late. The last two years that the Vikings have had first-round picks – in 2007 and 2009 – they ended up with the offensive rookies of the year with Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin.

With the 30th pick and likely looking away from the high-profile skill positions this year – offensive line and defensive back are two of the bigger needs – it's unlikely the Vikings' pick in 2010 will be as decorated as their last two first-rounders (Jared Allen was acquired for their first-round pick in 2008).

In fact, after having all five of their draft picks start at least one game last year, this could be the draft where the Vikings find solid players but no immediate starters. The Vikings aren't forced to choose any one specific position this year because of need and can instead concentrate on adding depth for now with players who can step into starting roles at some point in the next year or two.

"Hopefully you have success with the draft, bringing in young players, even if it is a first-rounder who may not start his first year – not because he's not good enough to start but because you have someone who he is eventually going to replace," said Rick Spielman, vice president of player personnel. "When you draft, you draft not only to hopefully fill needs you have this year, but also you have to look into the future too."

Beyond the arduous task of lining up 500 prospects and assigning them a draft value, Spielman takes into account several other factors when considering who the Vikings should select, and he starts that planning well before the draft.

One of the factors is the quality of the draft at each position. This draft is considered deep at cornerback, so while the Vikings are probably looking for help at the position after Cedric Griffin's torn anterior cruciate ligament and Antoine Winfield's foot issues last year (and his age), they don't have to feel pigeonholed into selecting a cornerback in the first round. They might be able to find a player in the second or third round that can develop into a full-time starter in a year or two.

Another factor that enters into the draft decision is the future contract status of the current Vikings.

Brett Favre's age and the fact that his contract expires after the 2011 could combine to have the team looking hard at a developmental QB. Pat Williams has the same two issues as he nears retirement and the mid-30s.

Drafting a linebacker early might shock a lot of fans, but Spielman is well aware of the fact surrounding that position on the current roster: E.J. Henderson is attempting to come back from a fractured femur and the other two starters – Ben Leber and Chad Greenway – both have contracts that expire after the 2010 season.

Filling for the future is always part of the draft plan.

"Draft picks are very valuable. Where we're at as a football team, we have a lot of our core guys under contract, but you also have to build your roster as you bring up young guys," Spielman said. "Those guys are eventually going to be the replacements as the older guys faze out. We have some guys towards the end, we have some guys at the prime of their career, but that's how you keep your roster competitive year in and year out."

To make it all happen and keep the Vikings competitive into the future, Spielman has as many picks as he's had since he was hired to run the team's personnel department after the 2006 draft. In 2007, his picks included Peterson, Sidney Rice and Brian Robison in the first four rounds. The following year the Allen trade limited Spielman's options, but he came away with a starting safety (Tyrell Johnson) in the second round and a starting center (John Sullivan) in the sixth round. Last year, the infusion of contributing talent continued with Harvin, Phil Loadholt, Asher Allen, Jasper Brinkley and Jamarca Sanford – all of whom made at least one start during the season.

Spielman also has enough picks (eight) to look at trading them to move around when a player he likes is still available and meets the value the Vikings placed on him. He's done it in the past in the middle rounds.

"We felt very strongly about Jasper Brinkley last year as he was sliding," Spielman said. "That's when your game plan is, OK, we're sitting here in the fifth round and you've got five teams ahead of you in the fifth and two of them need Mike linebackers. We feel this is a good football player, too good to pass up. Then you go ahead and hopefully those picks that you have in the lower rounds help you and you use them as chips to get up and get that player that you want. We did that with B-Rob (Brian Robison), where we felt that strongly about B-Rob. When we feel that strongly about a player, as long as you have some chips, whether you use them for a player or you use them to go up and get someone that you think is a pretty unique talent, then that's what those chips are for."

This year, those chips might not find immediate starters, but that's as much a function of a roster that has been adequately filled at the front by drafts of the past.

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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