Needless to say, the Minnesota Vikings were the talk of the NFL on draft weekend last year when they ended up with three first round picks: DT Shariff Floyd, from Florida, CB Xavier Rhodes, from Florida State, and WR Cordarrelle Patterson, from Tennessee. From most corners of the NFL Internet, the Vikings received high marks, but a lot of people were hedging their long term bets to see how Patterson would turn out. At the bottom of the draft, they ended up with Penn State linebackers Gerald Hodges and Mike Mauti, and UCLA punter Jeff Locke.
At the time, ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., gave the Vikings a B, scoring an A- under needs and a B- under 'value'. He said:
The Vikings got a gift when Sharrif Floyd fell to them at No. 23. We heard going into Thursday that he might tumble a little, but that was a pretty big drop. My guess is they'll rotate him in with Kevin Williams, who will be 33 when the season starts. The top two needs on my board for the Vikings were wide receiver and cornerback, and that's where they went with the next two picks. Xavier Rhodes at No. 25 made sense, because several teams after that could have targeted corner. The Vikings then gave up a tremendous amount to move into Round 1 again at No. 29 overall, where they got Cordarrelle Patterson. He needs work in terms of learning how to play the position, but Patterson is a player who can create explosive plays once he gets the ball, which is what they lost when they dealt Percy Harvin. Thing is, Patterson needs to work out because they sent New England a few picks to get him. But the strategy makes sense: They saw a chance to add a starter and took it. Jeff Locke was the best punter available, so I don't mind the use of a fifth-round pick to get him. Gerald Hodges, who they took at No. 120 overall, could push to start at middle linebacker. Hey, they got starters, but they needed to add impact in this draft considering they dealt Harvin and had a few pretty big needs. I also thought they should've found a way to get their hands on Manti Te'o in this draft.
Mel with the Te'o love, remember that? He seemed genuinely upset we didn't draft him at the time. Glad that didn't pan out. Anyway, with the season over, Kiper has gone back and reviewed the draft, and given out new grades. He downgraded the Vikings draft, now giving it an overall C+. His rationale:
If you say the Vikings got a lot of reps from their rookie class in this draft, let's just keep one thing in mind: They drafted three times in Round 1. Considering they had some holes and depth questions at several spots, it's a given they were going to get some guys who should be playing early. But they also needed decent impact, and so far I think it's fair to say we don't yet know what they have. I loved the Floyd pick, but he's just been solid depth behind Kevin Williams. I think Rhodes will be a pretty good NFL corner, but he had his share of hiccups and was a liability early in the season. Patterson was dynamic in the return game, but he was more of a tertiary threat in the passing game. I think he'll grow there, however, as we knew he needed some refinement as a route runner, and QB play in Minny was a mess. The Vikes also got a good punter, but that's it. They did get players, but the return is marginal so far given the pick placement they had, so I think they drop a little.
Overall, I can't disagree with Kiper's assessment, and I highlighted a few phrases that jumped out at me. They both refer to playing time, as in 'solid depth' and 'tertiary threat', when talking about Floyd and Patterson. And those phrases could have just as easily been applied to Rhodes as well.
And that's my beef with the former coaching staff in a nutshell. Their refusal to replace guys that weren't getting the job done was aggravating, and all three of the first round picks could have, and should have, seen the field early and often in 2013. We can have a legitimate and helthy debate about whether Patterson was brought along too slowly, or whether or not he played the right amount of snaps. It must be pointed out that early in the season Jerome Simpson played well, and for awhile was the Vikings leading receiver and only legitimate downfiled threat. Granted, it usually came via a pass interference call, but still, he was having a good season.
Yet I can't help but think back to Percy Harvin's rookie year in 2009, and how he had almost the same scouting report (explosive speed, dangerous returner, sloppy route runner), yet the Vikings integrated him into the offense right away. Granted, they had a rejuvenated Brett Favre throwing the ball, but the point is the Vikings found a way to get his talent on the field. It became apparent later in the season that with a hobbled Adrian Peterson, Patterson was the main offensive threat, and if he had played earlier and often, the Rookie of the Year would be a lock for him.
With Rhodes and Floyd, it's the same thing. Kiper's assessment of Floyd is dead on--he was just rotational depth, for the most part, splitting time behind Williams. After the draft, a lot of us wondered if the Vikings would find a way to get Floyd and KWill on the field at the same time, and we were largely dismissed. They played the same position, and playing either Williams of Floyd at the NT position (where Guion and Fred Evans waste roster spots) would be counter productive. Yet, about midway through the season, Williams did, in fact, move over to the NT slot due to injury, and had 2.5 sacks against Washington. That was due in part to Floyd having a good game and drawing a lot of attention by the interior line. But no sooner did the Vikings find something that worked well, the staff quickly put Williams back at UT, rotating him in with Floyd.
And I could write almost the same paragraph of frustration with Rhodes, except that because of injuries, the Vikings were forced to eventually start him, and it paid off. Kiper's assessment about his spotty play early on is accurate, but I would argue part of that was due to not being on the field consistently, and that the stops and starts of playing time contributed to him not playing well. But once he was put into the starting lineup, Rhodes was far and away the best cornerback on the team, and often on the field. He lead the Vikings in pass breakups, and looks to be the shutdown corner for the Vikings heading into training camp next year.
And in the 'I sound like a broken record' category, this also applies to later round picks Gerald Hodges and Michal Mauti. We've discussed the horrible linebacker play here ad nauseum, and to not let those guys see the field to just get a long term assessment of the position was borderline negligent.
Hopefully, those days are past us, and the best players will see the field, whether they're a rookie or a veteran.
Oh, and I just highlighted the punter comment to tweak Mark. Mua...mua...MUAHAHAHAHA!!!