This post marks the second in a series of reviews of team drafts. I will probably issue a set of grades as the reviews conclude. For now, hope the content is helpful, and of course, spurs a little conversation.
I have thought a little bit about the Vikings draft over the past few weeks. For my troubles, I was rewarded with the title of “Last on the Bandwagon.” But I like their draft overall.
Setting aside the trade with New England for a moment and focusing on the first two picks, I thought they got appropriate value for the selections. I have never thought of Sharrif Floyd as a transcendent talent, but I do see him as a good addition where they picked him. His strengths are obvious: good quickness off the ball, generating momentum into the backfield using his strong base and active hands, and decent athleticism overall. I think Vikings fans should keep their expectations modest, however, even in the long term. Floyd has never been a pass rush force. And while he beat most interior linemen off the snap in college, he’s probably in for a different story in the pros, meaning some of his other weaknesses — principally, taking on blockers at the point of attack and disengaging from them to make the tackle — will come into play.
Barring injury to someone above him on the depth chart, Floyd may have trouble cracking the starting lineup at first. Kevin Williams’ game, even this late in his career, is far superior, and Floyd can’t play the one-tech. Brian Robison, Jared Allen, and Everson Griffen will all initially make better candidates to start in sub-packages. But Floyd may slide into the three-tech spot when Williams leaves or retires, and any drop-off may be masked by Jared Allen’s presence on the outside.
I like Xavier Rhodes a lot — maybe even more than my pre-draft rankings would suggest. The Vikings immediately gain flexibility they didn’t have last year with Antoine Winfield on the outside, as I think Rhodes can play man coverage in the NFL. He played a lot of boundary at Florida State, and sometimes got a bit turned around when he couldn’t redirect the wide receiver where he wanted at the line of scrimmage, but I think his hips and speed are plenty good enough to stick with receivers on a variety of routes. He breaks well on the ball, too, and played well in zone when asked. The Vikings will take a hit in the run game, though, as Winfield was just superb at diagnosing runs and short passes and blowing them up; Rhodes, by contrast, seemed tentative at times and reluctant to use his hands to shed blocks.
As to the trade back into the first round: indisputably, the trade value calculators show New England getting by far the best of the deal, but I don’t think that tells the whole story here. No attempt to quantify draft pick values has ever claimed to apply irrespective of situational considerations — the players remaining on the board, a team’s roster composition, etc. The ‘Skins gave up an absolute haul to draft RGIII last year, for example, but one year on, people wonder whether Saint Louis made the wrong move by trading down. So there’s room for debate here.
In this case, I think Minnesota made out okay. The sportsthink team doctor didn’t examine Patterson during the combine, and our offensive consultant never got the chance to sit down for a chalkboard session with the guy. But, based on tape and workout numbers, this much is sure: Patterson is much better with the ball in his hands in space than any other player that was left in the draft at that point, with the possible exception of Denard Robinson. Patterson also possesses top-end speed and good size, and undervalued ability to adjust with the ball in the air. Some of his plays made you question his concentration and effort, but overall, this appears to be incredible value at the end of the first. And that’s not accounting for whatever improvements he makes in his understanding of offensive schemes.
What approach might I have liked in an ideal world? Maybe the Vikings take Rhodes and Patterson with their first two picks, and if they really think that some of the players available to them on Days 2 and 3 will have trouble making the roster, look to trade for future picks.
As it stands, the Vikings next pick fell in the fourth. Gerald Hodges was a reasonable pick given what remained on the board: he lacks the speed and agility to add much more than depth at the 4-3 outside linebacker spot, although he flashes some athleticism, and is undeniably tenacious. Hodges came at the end of a fourth-round run on inside backers, although he’s looks better in coverage than guys like Nico Johnson and Sean Porter drafted ahead of him, even if he lacks Johnson’s impact in the run game.
I think the teams that maximized their value in this draft, however, recognized that the value for cleaner prospects really dropped off right before the Vikings picked here and reacted accordingly. Some took calculated risks: You saw Marcus Lattimore and Denard Robinson both go within a handful of picks. Other teams (Giants, to name one) jumped up to make sure they got their man. Given the landscape, I thought the Vikings could have done more here.
Of the Vikes’ late round picks, Everett Dawkins has the most developmental upside: although he lacks any real explosion, he’s athletic enough for a big man, and he would be fun to watch if he could transform himself into a zero- or one-tech. As it is, I’m not sure the Vikings have the roster space to keep him.
One of the most confounding aspects of the Vikings’ draft is their insistent neglect of the quarterback position. This is a team that just converted their backup QB to wide receiver full time — and their starter isn’t even that good! The Vikings watched Matt Scott and Tyler Bray slip completely out of the draft: Scott has far more talent than Christian Ponder, and Bray might be better than him one day, too, if he could ever get his accuracy problems under control. Neither one was worth a seventh rounder?
This isn’t some hypothetical argument about the value of draft picks, either. General Managers who miss on quarterbacks lose their jobs. Buddy Nix, for example, presided over several respectable drafts in his limited time at the helm of the Bills, but he bet on Ryan Fitzpatrick. Rick Spielman is simply too good a talent evaluator to doom himself to Nix’s fate.
The Vikings scored good value in the first round. Only the draft-management issues highlighted above prevent me from really getting behind this year’s crop.