Combine workouts start next week in Indy, so its time to sneak in a last look at some draftable players for the Vikings before they go to market. We're going to go a little off the pace with the mysterious first round pick. It's still so early in the process, that any number of scenarios are realistic. One of the top two QBs, Dan Williams, Mike Iupati could all fall due to injury, bad combine, etc and be great pick ups, but as of now they kind of seem out of reach. With the rest of the picks, I'll try to both hit on Vikings needs and show some other names to keep track of through the next few months.
Round 1. Rob Gronkowski TE, Arizona 6'6'' 265 - I know what you're thinking, "The Vikings don't need a TE, Isn't this guy hurt, Why him?" First, the Vikings have shown they will draft early at a position of strength if the talent value is there. There are more pressing positional needs, and we'll get to those too, but if Gronkowski's back checks out healthy at the combine, he has the potential to be the first TE taken.
Even ahead of Jermaine Gresham, and here is why: Both are highly proficient at running routes, getting open, catching the ball, and being a load to take down. If you click on their names and look at both their career numbers, they compare across the board once you take into account that Gresham played in a offense that used him more (and that he played 21 more games than Rob). Both average over 14 yards/catch (14.7 for Jermaine, 15.9 for Rob G.) and they both caught TDs at the same rate (TD:4.7 catches for Rob G, TD:4.3 catches for Jermaine). But there are two big areas that Gronkowski has over Gresham: He is a willing and able blocker, and his injury and injury history aren't as scary. The biggest deficiency in Gresham's game is that he can't block. At all. Rob was a big blocker for his team and he routinely handled LBs in space. Couple that with the fact that this is the 2nd ACL surgery for Gresham (he had on on his other knee is high school). Gronkowski is coming off surgery to his back, but I haven't been able to find a link to anything other than that Gronkowski had a "back injury", but I know that his surgery was preformed by Dr. James Andrews (yes, that Dr. James Andrews). I worry less about that injury than having had two knee surgeries like Jermaine.
Again, assuming his back checks out at the combine, Gronkowski could be a top 25 player, but because he is a TE could fall to the VIkings. He would be great in two TE sets right away where the defense has to account for his size and athleticism in the passing game, along with all of the other Vikings weapons, and that same size and athleticism can help to seal the edge in the run game. He would also be a great target in the red zone for whoever ends up at QB.
Round 2. Cam Thomas, DT North Carolina 6'3'' 330 - North Carolina was blessed on defense last year. Surely you've heard of DT Marvin Austin, LB Quan Sturdivant and LB Bruce Carter, all of whom surprised a lot of draftniks when they decided to go back to school. All of these guys were allowed to fly around and make plays because Cam Thomas took on the double teams and stuffed the run. Sound kind of familiar? Thomas's body build is also similar to the Viking's resident run stopper, Pat Williams. Doesn't put up a lot of numbers on the stat sheet, but makes those around him better and he is no slouch in the athleticism department.
Round 3. A.J. Edds, OLB Iowa 6'4'' 244 - Edds is a tall, instinctive linebacker that matches up well against TE's in both the run and pass game. Linebacker is another position that doesn't need an immediate upgrade (assuming Henderson continues to do well on his journey back and Brinkley continues to improve), but at this point in the 3rd Edds, will be too valuable to pass up. The reason he falls is because he isn't going to be a 3-4 outside guy because his forte is pass/run defense, not pass rush. After some time rotating with Leber, Edds has the potential to step in with little drop off in production.
Round 4. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, CB Indiana of Pennsylvania 6'1'' 205 - "Finally", I can hear some of you thinking, "a CB." I have contended since the off season began, that depth was more the issue at CB, than who the top two CBs are. Griffin will be back before the season starts and Winfield, though old, should be healthy again. The real problem is that two of the 5 corners on the roster are free agents and most likely only one (Benny Sapp) will be resigned. On top of that, take a quick look at the CB depth. Asher Allen, Benny Sapp, and Antoine Winfield are all listed at 5'9''. Griffin (who again will be recovering from off season knee surgery) and Karl Paymah (also a free agent and haven't heard his name when the Vikings beat writers talk resigning free agents) are both listed at 6' and have been decent match-ups against the taller receivers both in the NFC Norse and the league as a whole. The Vikings don't just need another CB, they need one with the size to match-up against the bigger receivers (6'5'' Calvin Johnson, 6'2'' Devin Aromashodu, 5 Packer WRs listed at 6' or taller). AOA is a big bodied CB, but has the speed to make big plays in the return game averaging almost 30 yards/kickoff return and 13/punt return with 5 special teams TDs. An instant impact on special teams and great for depth at the CB position.
Round 5. Lindsey Witten DE UConn 6'5'' 260 - Was a leader on the Husky defense, but considered to need more development at the pro level. Doubled his sacks from his junior (5 sacks) to his senior year (11.5) despite being the big name defensive player on the team. Ray Edwards maybe be mad to have to play for only 3 million this year, which will probably lead to him wanting big money when he get to go on the open market next year. With him gone, the Vikings have Brian Robison and Jayme Mitchell as the only other DEs on the roster (other than Jared of course, but he isn't switching sides of the line). Some depth could definately be used here.
Round 6. John Skelton QB Fordham 6'5'' 258 - I still think there is a chance the Vikings don't use a draft pick on a QB and instead sign one right after the draft ends. The QB class is pretty bad and unless one of the top two falls into reach for them, every other QB is a project that will need time and coaching before they should play a down in the NFL. Skelton has the size and arm to play in the NFL, but his decision making and accuracy need some work. Which describes just about every QB in this draft, but Skelton is farther along than most.
Round 7. Lonyae Miller RB Fresno State 5'11'' 220 - It saddens me to think about it, but Chester Taylor is more likely to be wearing a different jersey next season. This will dramatically change how the RB depth should be held. Peterson made huge strides as a receiver out of the back field this past season (43 receptions, one less than Taylor) and along with his fumbling issue, work on his pass pro more this off season so he can take a bigger role on 3rd downs. With Harvin/Young/Johnson as the speedy compliments, what the RB depth would lack is a wreaking ball, pound the defense RB that puts a hurt on defenders trying to tackle him, wearing them down over the course of a game. My personal favorite in the draft who does that best is Toby Gerhart out of Stanford, but I don't think the Vikings will have a chance at him, but Lonyae is a large bodied RB with the low center of gravity and good weight (got to be at least 220lbs for this kind of role) to develop into that role.
I am sure this will look drastically different by the time the draft finally rolls around. The only position I had trouble fitting in was a OG, but unless the Vikings have a chance at an elite OG that can start immediately, I don't think it is that big of a need compared to other positions. Kiper has Maurkice Pouncey going to the Vikings in his mock as a OG, but I am not sure about that yet. Pouncey is definitely good, but he played every single snap of his college career at center. Is the transition from center to guard really so easy that he can just big moved there and be expected to start at a high level right away? I think the Vikings are happy with Sullivan and wouldn't have another place on the line for him if Pouncey is played at C as a Sullivan is a true center and wouldn't be as effective as a guard with his shorter arms and compact body. Can anyone think of a guy who played Center his whole college career and went on to be a Pro Bowl guard? I think if you take a guard in the 1st round he better have that potential. If he can be, replacing him in the first round would probably make this draft better, but I wanted to do something different while its still early to see what people think.