A fellow Viking fan and I have been debating what to do if USC's Matt Kalil does in fact return to school as has been reported. He thinks we should take Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, if available, no matter what because he believes he's the best talent available in the draft plus he fills a need. I think we need to focus on two other positions of need, more important positions, before we go receiver.
In my opinion, taking a WR like Blackmon amounts to almost nothing as we pass on fixing one of the biggest holes on the team, O-Line. Since '07 when current Vikings’ Vice President of Player Personnel Rick Spielman assumed the role of being responsible for overseeing the Vikings’ pro and college scouting departments and thus drafting, the Vikings have picked 5 offensive linemen. One 2nd rounder, one 5th rounder and three 6th rounders.
Going back all the way to 2002 shows that nearly a decade has gone by with the Vikings having used mostly late round picks on offensive linemen. That pattern of neglect has led to the Vikings having one of the worst offensive lines in it's entire 51 year history, with one of the worst, IF NOT THEE WORST win/loss records by the end of the season.
Offensive lines must be built through the draft! Look at this years free agents and show me an offensive lineman worth signing. In fact I can't remember the last time a healthy, productive, elite lineman became available through free agency? Certainly no offensive tackles. My point is when rebuilding you must start from the ground up and as everyone knows you also must win the battle in the trenches. The one unit in football that has the most members and either makes the offensive side productive or not is the O-line. The Vikings starters here are considered mediocre to poor at each and every position.
The offense wouldn't look that much different if we just added another receiver. Ponder wouldn't be able to progress as much in his second year because he would still be worried about pressure and probably still throw all kinds of picks. Not only that though but Peterson wouldn't receive as much help because the line would still fail to open up and sustain running lanes for him on a consistent basis. Blackmon might make defenses respect the pass threat more, which would in turn open things up for Adrian Peterson a bit but ultimately a offensive lineman is the only way we can improve our ability to control the line of scrimmage and pick up 3rd and shorts or goal line dives.
If Kalil is not in the draft I would like us to trade down with a team in need of a quarterback. Robert Griffin III would likely be the second quarterback, assuming Barkley returns with Kalil to USC, to be drafted and I would think teams like Miami, Washington, Seattle, and even Kansas City would look to trade up for the Heisman Trophy winner. The Vikings would be in perfect position to trade down and acquire additional picks, mainly a second second round choice, and still pick in the top 10.
There I would like to see us target Stanford's Jonathan Martin. Martin is by no means a "sure thing" at LT at the next level but who honestly is ever a sure thing? Even Kalil could disappoint. First of all Martin's much larger than Kalil at 6'6" and well over 300 pounds. Where Kalil would have to bulk up Martin doesn't have to worry about his size. The big, burly left tackle is nicknamed "Moose" for gods sake. Has there ever been a more appropriate nickname for a LT than "Moose?" It leaves little to no room for interpretation about size or demeanor.
Hopefully Martin could come in and take over the left tackle spot from day 1 but at the very least he can be an all-pro caliber right tackle, which is also a big need for the Vikings with the way Loadholt has played. If Martin struggles with speed on the left side he can easily make the move over and become a probowl RT with his mauling ways. I think this alone makes him a very safe pick over anyone at another position we could draft.
Martin has made a name on being a tenacious run blocker who sets the edge well and is a good enough athlete to hit blocks on the second level. "He has natural tools," said head coach David Shaw. "An old coach once told me you have to find the guy that can do the things that you can’t teach. And you can’t teach a guy to be 6-5, 304-pounds and be athletic. And that’s what he is. He’s long. He’s got long arms. He’s tall, but he’s flexible. He can kick and punch, and a lot of the publicity he’s gotten is from NFL draft rankings, because he looks like an NFL tackle. Guys like that don’t come around very often to be able to do the things he can do."
Many say he has the ability to be as good a pass protector as he is road grading beast of a run blocker. since players are never finished products coming out I would have to give Martin the benefit of the doubt here. Either way, if he plays LT or moves to RT he is still considered a better run-blocking tackle prospect than many former high first-rounders. He's dominated the PAC-12 as a run blocker and pass protector for Andrew Luck. "He’s a tireless worker," Luck said of Martin. "He takes a lot of pride in being consistent and using the right technique … he sets such a great standard for the younger guys. He’s very meticulous, which I appreciate, obviously."
Unlike so many college powerhouses, Stanford does not spread the field to pass the ball. By all means Stanford is a power running team that happens to have the country’s best quarterback. They just jam the line of scrimmage with tight ends in a pro-style offense and run a metaphorical fullback dive behind DeCastro and Martin. The play that best encapsulates the revival of Stanford’s football team, which has gone from 1-11 in 2006 to a national title contender in 2011, is called 97 Power. Right guard David DeCastro pulls hard to his left to bulldoze a linebacker, and left tackle Jonathan Martin blocks a defensive end to clear the way for a simple inside running play. "You know it’s coming," Shannon Turley, Stanford’s strength coach, says. "If you don’t like it, do something about it. That’s the mind-set we’ve tried to instill in our players." "The roles those two guys played were so vital," head coach David Shaw said. The younger players speak highly of Martin, calling him, among other things, an impressive leader. He’s made it an emphasis that as a line and a team, he won’t accept anything but their best effort. "I really like those drives at the end of games when you get to run the ball for 10 straight plays," Martin said. "It’s a pretty gratifying feeling."
ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s thinks Martin still needs some work on his pass protection (Luck would disagree), but he might be the best run blocker in this year’s draft class. All that being said, I agree with those who would say neither Martin nor Riley Reiff, the other LT prospect worth considering, should be taken if we sit still but if we trade down a bit (still pick in top 10) I think Martin is more than worth that pick.
While a decent LT or CB prospect might be able to be found in the 2nd round, the level of talent is typically very different, usually with prospects projecting to have more extended development periods, or having more limited skillsets.
That's why I think we should trade down and take Martin if Kalil isn't in the draft.
Now if we are forced to sit still and can't find a trade down partner, and with Kalil not in the draft, I would want Morris Claiborne over everyone else.
Giving Ponder some protection or more weapons to work with seems to be a good direction for the franchises first round pick but as important as it to start making life easy on Ponder they must start making life tougher on Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler as well if they are going to have any kind of success within the division. Playing in a division with some of the leagues best quarterbacks, not to mention guys like Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings, means they can’t go wrong with getting an elite cornerback the likes of LSU's Morris Claiborne.
Sure taking Justin Blackmon, if he's even available at our pick, wouldn't be a bad pick by any means. He is after all a great talent. That being said, his impact on the game is not bigger than that of a LT or CB. A WR is not as big a need as either of those two positions for the team.
The Viking's secondary has been just as big a weakness over this season, if not more so, as the receivers have. Our secondary is simply atrocious. We've had all kinds of troubles at cornerback over the years. Injuries to soon to be 35-year-old Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, and Chris Cook each have played a role. However much blame you want to place on the injuries taken their toll and slowing them down you cannot ignore their inability and just plain sloppy play that has caused the Vikings to lose many a lead the past two seasons. Cedric Griffin simply cannot be relied upon any further and I hope is going to be let go.
I hope we give Cook a second chance though. If Cook can turn his life around and manage to stay out of trouble he may have a future with the team. He's still young enough and talented enough to start. Antoine Winfield is good when healthy but his age will have him declining going forward and with his salary being around 3-4 million it might be best to let him go. The Vikings should look for an upgrade at corner early in the this years draft and as luck would have it one of the drafts best corners happens to be the best talent available.
Claiborne, who was named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Year by the SEC coaches, has helped lead a team that reached perfection this season against the toughest schedule in the nation as it has defeated six teams currently ranked in the BCS — No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Oregon, No. 6 Arkansas, No. 16 Georgia, No. 23 West Virginia and No. 25 Auburn.
Claiborne is a better coverage corner than Patrick Peterson was coming out of LSU. He's not as talented as a athlete but not many players are. Look at what Peterson has done as a rookie for proof. Claiborne is more similar to Revis than Peterson actually. A good athlete, but not the freak that Peterson is, he plays with better footwork and smooth transitions and flip of the hips to man up with a receiver. Now that doesn't mean he's as good as Revis, yet, it's just saying he compares to his game more. If Claiborne really is the next coming of Champ Bailey or Darrelle Revis and is that shutdown type of corner than they simply cannot pass him up. Assign him to cover and basically take away our opponents best receiver and immediately the defense should find more success.
Claiborne also is known as a playmaker for that LSU defense. He has tremendous ball skills with long arms allowing him to make a break for and a play on the ball, knocking it down or picking it off. He leads LSU in passes defensed with 12 and has added six pass breakups, a quarterback hurry, a tackle for loss and 46 tackles in all for a defense that finished No. 2 in the nation in total defense and points allowed and third nationally in pass efficiency defense. Aside from Antoine Winfield our secondary has always been lacking playmakers.
He alone could create a few turnovers which is something the Viking defenders slack at. Whether it be simply not having the hands to catch it or just not having the reaction time to jump in front of the pass or maybe it's the scheme but not one member of our secondary can make a play on the ball let alone cover anyone. This season, Minnesota ranks near the bottom in team defensive interceptions (6) while Morris Claiborne has 6 himself this season and leads the nation in interception return yardage with 173, including a 45-yard touchdown return in the Tigers' 42-10 victory over Georgia Saturday in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. His six interceptions rank second in the SEC and ninth in the nation. He had 5 a year ago as well.
Claiborne also is a dangerous returned threat. He returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the Tigers' win at West Virginia and is third in the SEC in kickoff returns with a 26-yard average. We do have Harvin but it never hurts to add more talent who can return if need be.
While the Vikings are known to run a Cover-2 base scheme, the plan at the beginning of the season was to run more man-coverage this year, which fits with some of the stuff we've saw when Chris Cook was keeping his hands off his girlfriend and on opposing wide-outs. Even with him out they have been running a lot more man-coverage then in seasons past. Obviously you create the scheme to fit the players talents so I think if we drafted Claiborne we could go down that road next season as his talents would allow us to run more man coverage.
Claiborne and Cook would be the ideal man-to-man coverage CB tandem but Winfield could also come back cheap for another season and possible play the slot and blitz more often. Teams can still run a lot of cover 2 (with the safeties) but play man under with their CBs which would allow the rest of the defense to be more aggressive overall. The pass rush would get home more often with better coverage and 2 deep over the top.
Plus man coverage against teams like Green Bay means they wouldn't be able to take advantage of those quick passes. You need a guy that can play press-man if you want to neutralize teams like the Pack that feast on quick slants in between the zones. With QB's allowed to get rid of the ball on the quick slants so fast the pass rush is rendered useless as well. Taking some of our best players on defense, mainly the D-Line, out of the game.
With the league becoming more and more passing orientated it makes having a quality corner more and more important because the studs that can jam and play man coverage are the only way to stop some of those offenses. You have to have CBs who can play man in today's NFL. You must. You still play zone with your safeties, but have your CBs jamming at the line and playing man bump and run. That's how a good, aggressive defense does it nowadays.
So if Kalil stays in school, and we can't trade down, Claiborne is the easy pick. Claiborne would give us a much needed playmaker in an otherwise abysmal secondary.