Thursday, March 3, 2011

Vikings' Draft Q&A

In just one calendar year, the Minnesota Vikings have gone from heavy Super Bowl flirtation, to an aged 6-10 team likely to be hit hard by free agency. Somehow, the team that boasted a league-leading eight 2010 Pro Bowlers now has just one position solidified (running back). With the cliched window all but closed, the Vikings find themselves staring into the abyss that exists somewhere between "retooling" and "rebuilding." It's a fork in the road, with the direction of the franchise hinging on April's NFL draft -- their most important in recent memory.

To help sort through the prospects I've called on Michael Schottey, a managing editor for Bleacher Report. Also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Schottey (@Schottey on Twitter) is an NFL Featured Columnist and an NFL Draft Expert. He's professionally covered the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, the Senior Bowl, and the Scouting Combine.

OML: Ray Edwards could be on his way out of Minnesota. In your pre-Combine mock draft, you pegged California DE Cameron Jordan, the son of former Vikings' great Steve Jordan, at No. 12. With the Combine behind us, is Jordan still a viable option at No. 12 for the Vikings? Additionally, how do you feel about him compared to a couple other DE's in that same projected range -- Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and Iowa's Adrian Clayborn?

MS: I think Jordan would be a great pick for the Vikings, if he's there. The Vikings' game plan has always been predicated around a great defensive line, and I don't think that is going to change. With half of the Williams Wall leaving, and Edwards up in the air, it is time to reinvest in the defensive line. That being said, the Vikings aren't one player away like they once were -- they need the best player on the board.

Quarterback is offseason priority No. 1 for the purple, and the consensus seems to be that both Blaine Gabbert and Cam Newton will be off the board before No. 12. The next two guys on most boards are Ryan Mallett and Jake Locker. Many fans believe the Vikings could trade back into the late 20's for either of them, at the same time recouping the 3rd rounder they wasted in the Randy Moss debacle. Are either Mallett or Locker worthy of the No. 12 pick in your estimation, or would that be a reach?

MS: I don't think Mallett or Locker are worth anything near the Vikings' first round pick. The Vikings have to use that pick on the best player available that isn't a running back. I like Jordan, Tyron Smith, or even Julio Jones.

If the Vikings decide to address other needs in the first round, the next wave of quarterbacks is deep: Nevada's Colin Kaepernick, TCU's Andy Dalton, Delaware's Pat Devlin, Florida State's Christian Ponder, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, and Idaho's Nathan Enderle, to name a few. Which of these guys jumps out to you as someone who will eventually outperform his draft position?

MS: I think Christian Ponder is the prototypical quarterback for the "Bill Musgrave Offense" in this draft -- good athleticism, enough arm strength, tons of accuracy on the move. He could be a great second round pick, as could Colin Kaepernick.

Sidney Rice's future in Minnesota is on uneven ground, and Bernard Berrian is reportedly on the chopping block, so wide receiver could very well be another position of need. It was a roller coaster week for Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. He got rich with a breakout showing at the combine, but before the dust had even settled on his sub-4.4 40, news broke that he'll need surgery to repair a fractured foot. Could the injury cause him to slide to No. 12?

MS: I'm pretty sure the injury won't hurt him. He's played through it and tested through it at the Combine and should be ready to go once mini-camps hit. If he's there at No. 12, the Vikings need to take him. If not, they need to work on getting actual receivers on the field because Percy Harvin, although ridiculously dynamic, isn't anyone's No. 1.

Due to Phil Loadholt's regression and Bryant McKinnie's indifference, offensive tackle has become a liability for the Vikings. Of the four probable first rounders, who do you like the best: Colorado's Nate Solder, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, USC's Tyron Smith, or Boston College's Anthony Costonzo?

MS: I really like this entire tackle class. No one jumps out as the Jake Long or Joe Thomas of the class, but that doesn't mean it's weak! As many as seven offensive lineman could (easily) go in the first without much surprise. Tyron Smith looks like the top guy now, but any of those guys you mentioned could start right away.

Trading back in the first round is a definite possibility for a team looking to get a third rounder back. What should fans know about Florida C/G Mike Pouncey, twin brother of Steelers' stud center Maurkice Pouncey?

MS: Mike isn't Maurkice... that's the first thing people have to remember. Mike is actually a much better natural athlete, but Maurkice is more mature, more technically sound, and can play center. Mike is a guard through and through and I can't foresee him playing center at the next level.

OML: Top to bottom, which positions have the best depth in the draft?

MS: I think this is a trenches draft. Look at the offensive line prospects again and start comparing guys like Ijalana (Villanova) and Rodney Hudson (FSU) to late first/early second rounders in years past. On the defensive side of things, very few guys are labeled "tweeners" this year, and many can be studs along the 4-3 and 3-4 fronts.

Schottey's post-combine mock draft is now up at Bleacher Report. Check it out here.

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