Draft weekend is over, and the Vikings have done an excellent job of matching picks to strategy. In the big picture, the Vikings needed to do more than fill a bunch of gaps. They needed to do at least three things:
- Generate some excitement
- Add some depth
- Prepare for the future
The reality is that the Vikings need to get the fan-base engaged. The stadium bill seems to be bogged down. The last season was a big letdown primarily because expectations were so high coming into it. To go from NFC Championship one year to last in the division the following year can suck the life out of a fan base. The collective bargaining negotiations seem like kids screaming in the back seat of the car. The fans need something positive to focus on and look forward to in the upcoming Vikings season.
Will Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph generate excitement immediately? Probably not. Their names aren't quite at the Cam Newton level. Interestingly, by "reaching" a bit for Ponder, the Vikings have gotten a bit more attention than they might have otherwise in the draft. The split among the experts on how Ponder will work out may actually keep the Vikings more visible in national coverage. To really generate some excitement, the Vikings need the opportunity to have some kind of OTA or mini-camp where they can show their new quarterback throwing to Rudolph, Shiancoe and Harvin.
Drafting these two guys covers clear needs. In addition to getting the potential franchise quarterback, they also improve both the passing and running game (and they show the fans that are paying attention that some creativity is coming to the offense). So these are very pragmatic, short-term choices. But they are also likely to generate a lot more excitement than drafting Prince Amukamara. As great of a corner as he will be, it's easier for the fan base to get excited about offense - especially a new quarterback. (Side note - I really like Joe Webb. I like his confidence and competitiveness even more than his athleticism. I hope he competes with Ponder for the QB job, and I hope the Vikings find a role to take advantage of his skills.)
So the first couple of picks fill real needs and create the potential for some excitement. The next part of the draft that the Vikings executed well was creating depth. Watching the success of the Patriots and Packers teaches one key lesson - championship teams find a way to deal with the injuries. In this draft, not only did the Vikings add players at every position that had need (QB, TE, DL, OL, DB, LB), but they also added players that could cover multiple roles. Ballard can play inside or outside. Love has played guard and tackle on both sides. Raymond can play corner or safety.
In the short term, adding ten players will create competition at every position. Careers are short in the NFL. While it's easier for fan to have some consistent names to cheer, the beating takes a toll pretty quickly. By adding competition at every position, it shows who can still make the necessary plays. It's not the way most of us would like our jobs to work, but the NFL is an incredibly competiive business.
And speaking of competitive businesses, it's important to be able to see beyond the immediate issues. Planning for this year alone is a monumental task - imagine the possible difference between re-signing every free agent and losing every free agent. But you can give the Vikings some credit in terms of looking ahead beyond this season.
Drafting Rudolph as Shiancoe enters the last year of his contract is a good example. I like Shiancoe, and he had a good year two seasons ago. But when his contract ends, he may feel like he will do best taking his skills and work ethic to another team. With Rudolph on the roster, hopefully the Vikings can demonstrate success in the two-tight-end sets that will involve the ball going to both Rudolph and Shiancoe. But even if Shiancoe decides to move on, you've got less of a gap to fill.
Probably more important in the longer-term thinking is how successful you can make Adrian Peterson this year. Last year saw injuries to every starter on the offensive line. While AP was still extremely talented, the Vikings never really looked dominant running the ball. If the Vikings can get to the point this year where the line is healthier and the opposing linebackers have to respect the tight-ends releasing for quick passes over the middle, Peterson could have a great rushing year. That kind of experience can go a long way to making another multi-year contract look more appealing.
At the end of the day, the Vikings drafted to fill gaps. You can argue about the order they chose to fill those gaps, but they added at least one player in every position of need. And when you look at some of the bigger picture needs and the players available at the time, it's hard to fault the Vikings for any of their picks.
So, for my first fanpost, I just want to say thanks to Rick Spielman, Coach Frazier, and all the other folks who worked so hard to make this a great draft. Looking at the picks (and at the schedule for next year), I feel very optimistic about the Vikings.
Let's hope the CBA discussions can be moved along so that these future Vikings can get out on the practice field, and we can get some more experience with these players to keep us excited until the season starts.