Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vikings Mock Draft: Inside the War Room

1.06 - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
1.29 - Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
2.03 - Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
3.03 - Markelle Martin, FS, Oklahoma State
4.01 - Antonio Allen, SS, South Carolina
4.03 - Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami
4.33* - Juron Criner, WR, Arizona
4.39* - Tank Carder, ILB, TCU
6.05 - Evan Rodriguez, TE/FB, Temple
7.39 - Greg Zuerlein, K, Missouri Western State

For the second consecutive season, I’m proud to be a part of the Vikings’ war room in the Twitter-based MockOne series. Each of the 32 teams are represented by a contingent of NFL tweeters that range from paid NFL Draft analysts, to amateur draftniks, to lowly bloggers like myself. I’m joined in the purple trenches by Josh Deceuster of “Mocking the Draft,” and Brett Anderson and Adam Warwas of “Vikings Territory.”

The following are my notes.

  • After Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were selected, we immediately made the No. 3 pick available. We were fully prepared to select USC OT Matt Kalil, but wanted to see what kind of package the pick might fetch, as the team is in desperate need of an across-the-board youth infusion.
  • Miami was the only team we outwardly approached, thinking they’d be interested in Ryan Tannehill, but they weren’t. However, we were a bit surprised to get serious interest from the Rams (1.06). We assumed that Kalil was their guy, so making a trade meant he wouldn’t be available for us at No. 6. 
  • The Rams’ best offer for pick 1.03 was a package of 1.06, 2.07 and 4.01. Ultimately, we felt that by moving back just three spots, we’d still have the opportunity to select one of the top three non-quarterbacks on our board (Kalil, LSU CB Morris Claiborne or OK State WR Justin Blackmon) while adding valuable picks to begin rebuilding our porous roster. The picks would also give us flexibility to move back up if the right player slid in the first round. 
  • We accepted the offer, knowing there were three acceptable outcomes that we ranked in this order: (1) Select Claiborne at No. 6; (2) Trade back again, amass more picks and target Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd or Iowa OT Riley Reiff; (3) “Settle” for Justin Blackmon.
  • As expected, Kalil went third to the Rams, Alabama RB Trent Richardson went fourth to the Browns and the Bucs snatched up Claiborne one spot before us. 
  • We tried feverishly to move back, targeting teams picking 8-13, but garnered no interest.

With the sixth pick (1.06) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Oklahoma State.

  • This pick was not unanimous, as there was a push for both Floyd and Reiff. Ultimately, we concluded that the Blackmon (6’ 1/2”, 211 lbs.) was the draft’s premier perimeter playmaker, and could provide Christian Ponder more firepower in an attempt to keep pace in the high-octane NFC North. While he wasn’t a Combine workout warrior like fellow receivers Michael Floyd or Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill, Blackmon’s on-field domination couldn’t be denied. He’s no Troy Williamson in the 40, but he’s an incredibly strong athlete who boasts jaw-dropping body control. He runs good routes, and we felt that his elite YAC ability would be the perfect outside compliment to Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph/John Carlson and a strong run game in our West Coast Offense. He’s an instant starter opposite Harvin, relegating Michael Jenkins to spot duty.
  • We were happy with the Blackmon selection, but felt a bit uneasy after passing on Kalil, knowing that Reiff, Stanford’s Jonathan Martin and Ohio State’s Mike Adams would all potentially be off the board before our next pick.
  • When we reached 2.20 and Jonathan Martin, our consensus No. 3 OT, was still on the board, we began discussing cashing in some of our quantity for quality.
  • With Martin still on the board at 26, we took action, offering Houston picks 2.07, 4.01 and 6.05. They rejected. The Patriots then rejected the identical offer for pick No. 27. 
  • With the Ravens on the clock at 29, and Martin still available, we finally struck a deal, sending picks 2.07, 5.03 and 7.03 to Baltimore.

With the 29th pick (1.29) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Jonathan Martin, offensive tackle, Stanford.

  • After dealing with the Rams and Ravens, the Vikings essentially swapped Matt Kalil (1.03), 5.03 and 7.03 for Justin Blackmon (1.06), Jonathan Martin (1.29) and 4.01. 
  • We were ecstatic to pull this off, and while Martin (6’6”, 305 lbs.) is no Matt Kalil, he does project as a good left tackle at the next level. It’s been well documented that recent Super Bowl champions have been winning with less-than-dominant left tackles. Martin’s not a brute like bookend Phil Loadholt, but Andrew Luck’s former blindside protector is quick, athletic and very smart. Charlie Johnson slides inside to left guard, and we’ve now added two crucial pieces at two positions of dire need that will help Christian Ponder succeed in his second season.
  • With two massive boxes checked, our conversation quickly shifted to the secondary and pick 2.03. Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith was the popular name, but none of us were convinced that he was anywhere near BPA at this point, so we again discussed sliding back. Despite adding Blackmon, we toyed with the idea of South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. In the end, we kept coming back to one name: North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

With the 35th pick (2.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, North Alabama.

  • As a pure cover corner, Jenkins has as much ability as anybody this side of Morris Claiborne. He’s a touch small (5’10”, 183 lbs.), but he’d be a potential top-10 pick if not for his off-field issues. We felt that we’d nailed two major needs prior to this pick, so with our third pick—a second rounder, no less—the reward greatly outweighed the risk with Jenkins. While cornerback isn’t as desperate a need as safety after the additions of Chris Cook (aquitted) and stopgaps Zach Bowman and Chris Carr, this pick has the potential to pay long-term dividends in the league’s best passing division. Names like Randy Moss, Chris Carter and Percy Harvin kept coming up; supremely talented players who were worth the risk. Here’s hoping that the God-fearing Leslie Frazier can mold a man (and perennial Pro Bowler) out of Jenkins. 

UPDATE: 4/17, 9:38 AM
  • After furiously maneuvering our way through the first 35 picks, we felt that we'd secured three top-20 talents at positions of need, and finally had a chance to catch our breaths and regroup. At this point it became clear that we needed to make safety a priority at 3.03 (Mistral Raymond/Jamarca Sanford would arguably be the worst safety tandem of the modern era).
  • We had a long list of BPA that we could potentially consider if they slid to us, which included North Carolina OLB Zach Brown (2.22 to Detroit) and Clemson DT Brandon Thompson (2.28 to Green Bay).
  • Mississippi OT Bobby Massie, a right tackle, was also a very popular name in our war room. However, we expect mauler Phil Loadholt to take the next step in his contract year, and we're still optimistic about 2011 sixth-rounder DeMarcus Love.
  • Boise State safety George Iloka was atop my wish list, and I was a bit heartbroken when he was selected by the Patriots at 2.31.
  • When we reached the on-deck circle, our war room was split between Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin (my choice) and Montana cornerback/safety Trumaine Johnson. Knowing that there were two players we'd be happy with, we entertained the notion of sliding back, but found no takers.

With the 66th pick (3.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Markelle Martin, safety, Oklahoma State.

  • Considering that we'd already added Janoris Jenkins to a secondary that included Chris Cook, questions about Trumaine Johnson's character and work ethic didn't do him any favors in our war room.
  • The moment we called Martin's name, he became the best safety on our roster. At 6'1", 207 lbs., he'll be able to play either safety spot in our Tampa 2, and has the ability to be a major contributor on special teams as well. He's a big-time athlete with an NFL body who hits like a truck. He's also a low-risk, pro-ready prospect. He has some technique/fundamental flaws, but like OSU teammate Justin Blackmon, he's a smart, hard-working kid who's passionate about the game. For this reason, we think his warts can be corrected relatively easily with NFL coaching.

UPDATE: 4/17,11:50 PM
  • With one of the extra picks (4.01) we added from St. Louis via the Kalil trade, we held both 4.01 and 4.03. We'd addressed major needs prior to these picks, so we were in favor of drafting BPA regardless of position.
  • We unanimously had Jamell Fleming (CB, Oklahoma) queued up as our pick at 4.01, and were shocked that he was sill available late in the third. Sadly, he was plucked by the 49ers at 3.30, sending us into a bit of a tizzy. 
  • My three teammates had South Carolina safety Antonio Allen as their next best player. I was not thrilled, and offered up Michigan St. quarterback Kirk Cousins as my choice. I think he'd be an outstanding developmental West Coast Offense quarterback and long-term Ponder insurance. Or, I could have envisioned him as the next Matt Schaub/Kevin Kolb/Matt Flynn—a guy we'd turn into a second rounder in a couple of years. Drafting him would require the Vikings to carry four quarterbacks, however, and it simply didn't add up. 
  • Without tipping our hand, I also fought hard for another player who I've been promised will be a Viking if he lasts to 4.33. There was more dissent than ever before this pick. Thanks, San Francisco.

    With the 96th (4.01) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Antonio Allen, safety, South Carolina.

      • I was the final holdout on Allen (6'2", 202 lbs.), and it took some serious convincing. My primary concern was his ability to cover deep. What I wasn't worried about was his ability to lay the wood. He was a hybrid S/LB at South Carolina, and was excellent in run support and coverage of opposing tight ends.
      • A tailor-made special teamer to boot, we've now addressed the secondary with three consecutive picks. While most boards would probably rate both Markelle Martin and Antonio Allen as moderate stretches where they were selected, I look at it as a matter of low supply and high demand. Safety is a league-wide problem—it's not exclusive to the Vikings. This is a thin safety class, which drove up the value of both Martin and Allen.
      • In this scenario, there'd be a very good chance that Minnesota would be starting a rookie safety tandem, and while there would surely be growing pains in coverage, there'd be no free passes over the middle for opposing offenses.

      UPDATE: 4/18,8:42 AM
      • We fully expected to come out of this draft with at least two wide receivers, and after selecting three consecutive defensive backs, we shifted our focus back to Christian Ponder.

      With the 98th pick (4.03) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Tommy Streeter, wide receiver, Miami.

      • Streeter was not our BPA. In fact, he wasn't even our highest rated wide receiver. However, his mouth watering blend of size (6'5", 219 lbs.) and speed (unofficial 4.34 40) was just too enticing for us to risk waiting until 4.33. Streeter is a very raw, inexperienced and inconsistent prospect, so he's a long ways away from reaching his ceiling as a bonafide No. 1 receiver. In the meantime, we'll be more than happy to ease the developmental project into the mix by utilizing his speed on "nines" and his size in the red zone. 
      • Two years from now, Ponder's arsenal of Percy Harvin, Kyle Rudolph, Justin Blackmon and Tommy Streeter will be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. 

      UPDATE: 4/19,10:24 AM
      • Approaching our two compensatory picks we'd acquired in compensation for the departures of Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards, we felt that we'd done very well in addressing needs and would attempt to go BPA regardless of position for the remainder of the draft.
      • I was desperately hoping that my guy, Nevada ILB James Michael-Johnson, would last to 4.33, but the Redskins snagged him at 4.07.
      • We'd already taken part in the huge run of wide receivers with Streeter (between picks 3.27 and 4.30, 11 receivers came off the board). However, true to our board, we went back to the well for Ponder one more time.

      With the 128th pick (4.33) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Juron Criner, wide receiver, Arizona.

      • Criner was far and away the best player on our board. In fact, we had him rated ahead of each of the previous 13 receivers selected (we'd elevated Streeter due to his unlimited ceiling). At 6'4", 215 lbs., with a 38" vertical, Criner is a huge outside target with second-round talent. He doesn't have top-end speed—he's more in the mold of Sidney rice in terms of size, leaping ability, hands and body control. His stock was hurt by an appendectomy that dented his numbers, and a rumored (undisclosed) mental condition, so he's a bit of a wild card. While he's more pro-ready than Streeter, he'll still need to polish his game and improve his consistency.
      • We love the talented competition we've added to a depleted receiver group in Blackmon, Streeter and Criner.

      With the 134th pick (4.39) in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Tank Carder, linebacker, TCU.

      • The rest of the war room was higher on this guy than I was—I preferred Emmanuel Acho—but I'm happy to have added much-needed depth and competition at MLB. At 6'3", 237 lbs., Carder's a different breed from the guys we've targeted to this point. He's not a tremendous athlete with a ton of untapped potential, but instead an overachiever that's oozing with instincts, passion, effort and leadership. We think he can grow into the mold of Heath Farwell—a solid backup and standout special teamer.

      UPDATE: 4/23,12:10 PM
      • There were four players we were keying in on with this pick: linebackers Emmanuel Acho (Texas) and Travis Lewis (Oklahoma), running back Chris Rainey (Florida) and defensive tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste (Baylor). None of them made it to us, so we again went with the best player on our board. 

      With the 175th (6.05) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Evan Rodriguez, tight end/fullback, Temple.

      • Laugh it up. We'd already added tight end John Carlson and fullbacks Jerome Felton and Lex Hilliard to the mix via free agency, but Rodriguez brings something completely different to the table. At 6'2", 250 lbs., Rodriguez possesses the athleticism and versatility to move around the formation (both inline and in the backfield) and create mismatches as an "h-back." He needs to mature, but with a little coaching creativity, there's no doubt that he has the talent to carve out a role in this offense. He's another multi-faceted weapon for Christian Ponder and Bill Musgrave. 

      With the 223rd (7.16) pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the Minnesota Vikings select Greg Zuerlein, kicker, Western Missouri State.

      • We concluded our draft by selecting the overall top kicker on our board. Zuerlein has a cannon for a leg (last year he set an NCAA record by going 9-of-9 from 50+ yards, including a pair from 58). The aging Ryan Longwell is on the decline, so Zuerlein's 60-yard range could come in handy sooner rather than later.


      1. Good write-up, Ryan! It's been a blast so far. I'm very happy with what we've managed to do so far. Passing on Kalil was hard, but I think we've more than made up for it.

      2. Agree my man. There've been some tense moments, but right now I couldn't be happier with where we're at.

      3. As Ryan will attest, I have been a backer of Martin from the start. I think teams are foolish to look at his pro day, which was still good by some, and disappointing by others. He is the best run-blocking LT, and forgive me for reminding me he protected Andrew Luck very well in the same conference as Kalil. It is comparing apples to apples. This scenario you guys did is 100% my agenda.

      4. I can definitely attest—Martin is one of several athletes with a restraining order against the TUSE.

      5. This is exactly what I want and I'll cry tears of joy if this happens!

      6. In 1980, Bill Walsh was starting to turn around what had been a hideous San Francisco franchise, but the defense - particularly the secondary - was atrocious. He made defensive backs Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright and Carlton Williamson three of his first four picks into the 1981 season. And the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl that season, starting a semi-dynasty that lasted for about a decade-and-a-half. Boser and Co. are clearly on that same path with this draft.