EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — In the consensus view of this year’s NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings will select USC’s Matt Kalil with the third pick to be their cornerstone left tackle for the next decade.
They have a young quarterback in Christian Ponder they need to protect, and Kalil is considered a can’t-miss blocker with a mean streak and a prototype body, whose older brother is a Pro Bowl player.
But general manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings have Kalil graded equally with two other players, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who will be available after quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are gone.
Though cornerback and wide receiver are positions of depth in this draft, they’re also places on the roster where the Vikings need a lot of help. So what if the Vikings decide to spoil all those mock drafts and pass on Kalil? Not only could they decide to take Claiborne or Blackmon, but there’s also the possibility they trade out of the top five to stockpile more picks for either this year or the future.
“Looking at our draft board and the depth of the board, we still think there is a lot of good value in that first round. If you go back X amount of spots, you can still get an impact player,” Spielman said Tuesday, trying his best to pump up the worth of that third pick.
Spielman said the market for it has “heated up,” and there are certainly other teams interested enough in, say, Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill or Alabama running back Trent Richardson to make a deal to move up.
“Just about every pick in every draft I would try to dangle. I don’t see any harm in trying to get a deal. Why just bury your head in the sand when there may be a team out there, especially when you have a situation like we have with Tannehill?” said ESPN analyst Todd McShay.
Spielman declined to directly answer a question this week about whether there’s a spot in the first round the Vikings are unwilling to go below. But while a rebuilding team can always use more draft picks and no one truly knows how each player will ultimately perform, there’s also a danger of missing out on those sure-fire, first-tier rookies and settling for the next-best player at a certain position.
Claiborne would be an instant starter, with Chris Cook and Antoine Winfield also returning to the lineup after absences for very different reasons down the stretch last season. Zack Bowman and Chris Carr were also signed as free agents, and with the addition of Claiborne suddenly that group could be in decent shape in a division where poor pass coverage is almost impossible to overcome.
Though the lack of quality safeties on the roster is another story, Claiborne would be a big boost for a team that must play against quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler a total of six times each season.
“When the ball is in the air, it’s his,” said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Said Spielman: “Mo Claiborne is maybe one of the most talented corners I’ve seen come out in a long time.”
Then there’s Blackmon, who had 38 touchdowns in his final 25 college games. Ponder needs more people to throw to, too, and he’d form an intriguing tandem with Percy Harvin.
“Our philosophy is trying to get our young quarterback as many weapons around him as we can,” Spielman said.
The bust rate for wide receivers is higher than most other positions, though, recalling all those high Detroit Lions picks who didn’t pan out before they finally got Calvin Johnson. And Vikings fans aren’t ever going to forget the failure of Troy Williamson, the seventh overall selection in 2005. McShay cautioned against assuming Blackmon will be the next Johnson — or Larry Fitzgerald.
“Does that mean he’s not a really, really good football player? Of course not. But you have to make that decision and then look at the other players in the draft,” McShay said.
The Vikings could find a game-changing receiver in the second round in Claiborne’s college teammate, Rueben Randle. Or Stephen Hill from Georgia Tech, if he slides.
“If he’s available in the second round, you really have to look at him. He’s really raw, but boy is he talented,” said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock.
So would it make sense for the Vikings to wait on a cornerback and a wide receiver given the bevy of options in the middle rounds? Spielman said no. The Vikings wouldn’t simply take Kalil, he said, assuming they could players close to the caliber of Claiborne or Blackmon in the second and third round.
“If you have the opportunity to take one of those three, those are players you can’t pass up,” Spielman said.
Then the work will have just begun. The Vikings have 10 picks to start, and they need every one of them.
“It doesn’t necessarily matter where your All-Pros comes from, which round, it’s about how many you get,” Mayock said. “It’s about your entire draft, and free agency. We put way too much attention on these high-level guys.”
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