The Vikings, The NFL Draft Since 2004, And Some Generally Disturbing Trends

Yesterday I was curious to know why the offensive line of the Minnesota Vikings was, well, offensive.  I did a little digging through past drafts to get an answer, and what I found is that generally, the Vikes have whiffed--in a big way--when drafting offensive linemen.

And then I looked at this team again, and re-watched part of the Great Chicago Dumpster Fire we had to witness on Sunday night, and realized that what talent the Vikings do have on this team, for the most part, isn't home grown.  Visanthe Shiancoe, every receiver besides Percy, 60% of the offensive line, 50% of the defensive line, and the best player in the secondary were acquired by means other than the NFL draft.  Only the linebackers are home grown, and not coincidentally, it's the best overall unit on the team.

And that got me thinking, just how good (or bad) have the Vikings drafts been over the last several seasons?  I was under the impression that for the most part, the Vikings have done a good job, at least since 2006, but as I dug deeper and deeper, what I found was pretty depressing.

So let's break this down, and see where the Vikings have failed, and where they have succeeded, and what they'll need to do to address those needs moving forward. 

So, where do we begin our analysis?  Well, I think 2002 is too far back to go when addressing the current roster, as an 11 year NFL career is not the norm for the average NFL player, although Bryant McKinnie was a member of the class of 2002 and is still in the league.  And even though 2006 is the year the current front office as currently contructed (for the most part), began conducting the draft, I don't think that's going back far enough because of the relative recency of the 2010 and 2011 drafts to give them a fair assessment of their staying power and career.  So let's back it up to 2004, for a couple of reasons:

1)  It gives us enough time to really do a comprehensive roster evaluation, without getting too bogged down with raw data while still giving us a large enough sample to do a fair evaluation,

2)  Guys who were drafted around 2004 are right around age 30, give or take, the demarcation line for when a player is considered in his prime,

2)  We get to include the unmitigated disaster that was the 2005 draft, which will be my poster child for Vikings front office incompetence.

First, let's do a couple of things.  Let's look at the total number of draft picks, and then we'll look at the total number of what we used to call 'day one' or high value picks, rounds 1-3.  And we'll break those two categories down by position.  For simplicity sake, offensive linemen will be one category, as opposed to breaking it down between C, G, and T, and ditto defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.  Guys can get moved from guard to tackle, defensive tackle to end, inside to outside LB, and CB to S and vice versa, so I'll just lump them all together within the general overall position. 

Since 2004, the Minnesota Vikings have drafted 57 players.  It breaks out this way:

Year

# Picks

2004

8

2005

7

2006

6

2007

8

2008

5*

2009

5

2010

8

2011

10 Total=57

*Jared Allen draft day trade

Now, let's break those 57 picks down by position and divide them into rounds 1-3 and then rounds 4-7:

Position

Round 1-3 Picks

Round 4-7 Picks

QB

2

3

RB

2

2

WR

3

4

TE

1

2

OL

4

4

DL

3

7

LB

2

6*

DB

6

6

*Ryan D'imperio was officially listed as a LB but was converted to FB

Of those 57 guys, let's do a rundown of who is still on the roster, or if they're gone, who is still a starter or contributor in the NFL.  Guys emboldened and italicized  are starters with the Vikings:

2004:  RB Mewelde Moore (currently with Pittsburgh, TE Jeff Dugan

2005:  None

2006:  LB Chad Greenway, CB Cedric Griffin, QB Tarvaris Jackson (Seattle), DE Ray Edwards (Atlanta)

2007:  RB Adrian Peterson, WR Sidney Rice (Seattle) DE Brian Robison

2008:  S Tyrell Johnson, DT Letroy Guion, C John Sullivan

2009:  WR Percy Harvin, T Phil Loadholt, CB Asher Allen, LB Jasper Brinkley (IR), Jamarca Sanford (S)

2010:  CB Chris Cook, RB Toby Gerhart, DE Everson Griffen, OL Chris DeGeare (practice squad), QB Joe Webb, FB Ryan D'imperio

2011:  QB Christian Ponder, TE Kyle Rudolph, DT Christian Ballard, OL DeMarcus Love, DB Mistral Raymond, OL Brandon Fusco, WR Stephen Burton (practice squad).

So, what does all of this data tell us?  Well, it tells us a few things.  If there were no trades and the Vikes used all of their early picks, the Vikings should have received 24 first day picks, and they've actually gotten 23.  When you throw in the 2008 trade that brought in Jared Allen, that's right on the mark.  So the good news is that the Vikings aren't trading away their high value picks for veteran guys that are over the hill...like the Washington Redskins had a tendency to do in recent years. 

But that said, the Vikings have been doing a very poor job overall of utilizing those picks.  Players that should be peppering the roster, either as starters or significant reserve/role players, should be coming from the drafts from 2005-2009.  There are 8 in all, none from 2005, and with all of the early round picks selected on defensive back, 2009 7th rounder Jamarca Sanford should not, by rights, be one of them.  And nearly half of those guys that are starting are from later rounds.

And let's talk about that 2005 draft.  That season the Vikings had 8 picks, with four of them in the first three rounds.  They also had two first round picks, including the #7 overall, which they received from Oakland in the Randy Moss trade.  The Vikings managed to whiff on every single pick, and the four high value picks--Troy Williamson, Erasmus James, Marcus Johnson and Dustin Fox in a rather spectacular fashion.  Fast forward to today and those 4 players should all be integral parts of the Vikings offense and defense, or if they left via free agency after a typical rookie contract like Ray Edwards did, at least we should be able to look back and say 'hey, that guy gave us some pretty good years'.

And since DB was one of those positions the Vikes missed on in 2005, let's use the DB position as a prime example of their inability to correctly identify and/or develop talent.  In the 8 year sample we're using, the Vikings have drafted 12 defensive backs, with 6 high value picks.  Those guys were/are:  Dustin Fox ('05), Cedric Griffin ('06), Marcus McCauley ('07), Tyrell Johnson ('08), Asher Allen ('09), and Chris Cook ('10).  That's right, for six straight years, the Vikings have used a high value pick on a defensive back, with another half dozen in the later rounds.

And the result of that six year streak?  Their best player is STILL Antoine Winfield, a free agent acquisition back in 2004. 

The Vikings SHOULD have a secondary that rivals the New York Jets in talent, yet in reality they have Winfield, a hobbled Cedric Griffin, and two safeties that shouldn't even be smelling the field if the Vikes had drafted correctly.  In fact, the two starting safeties are an undrafted free agent and a 7th rounder that beat out a 2nd rounder.

Really?

And those poor choices have a ripple effect.  Failure makes you have to re-draft at a position you didn't anticipate, like, ahem, defensive back, while at the same time neglecting positions you should be addressing.  We've already talked about the offensive line at length, so we don't need to go back to that well, so let's look at defensive line, the position with the next highest amount of high value picks.

Since 2004, the Vikings have drafted Kenechi Udeze ('04), Darrion Scott ('04), and Erasmus James ('05) in the first three rounds, and none of them are still with the team.  Now Udeze can be excused, since he had to retire due to being diagnosed with leukemia and all, with Erasmus James washing out big time, the Vikings were forced to make the trade for Allen.  On one hand, it was a great trade for the Vikings, as they acquired a guy that is one of the best defensive ends in the NFL, and has been a fan favorite since the day he got here.  But on the other hand, the Vikings shouldn't have been forced into the position to having to make that trade, but because of poor selections and player development, they were.  

So we end up with the biggest stars being guys that were acquired by means other than the draft, for the most part, and in reality, guys like Winfield, Steve Hutchinson, and Jared Allen should've been the final pieces of the championship puzzle and the opening of a Super Bowl window that should last three or four seasons.  But the Vikings had to go all in in 2009, and that run wouldn't have occurred if they hadn't gotten Brett Favre to come out of retirement and make a one year deal with the Devil to turn back the clock. 

If that all in strategy works and you win the Super Bowl, fans can live a two, three, or even four years rebuilding in the aftermath of the Super Bowl glow.  But failure to get to and win the Super Bowl makes that rebuilding period all the worse, which is kind of where we are now.   

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