I know everybody and their mother has posted their "offseason plan" these last few weeks….here’s my take:
It’s been the talk of the sports media for the last week but what the Seattle Seahawks did last Sunday cannot be overstated. They completely shut down (with the added benefit of a few fortunate breaks) the GREATEST OFFENSE IN THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. This offense also happened to be led by, in my opinion, the GREATEST QUARTERACK OF ALL TIME. What does this prove? When an unstoppable force meets and immovable object, the immovable object doesn’t budge.
Now, how did the immovable object accomplish such a paradoxical task? Amongst other things, (like a few incredibly valuable guys still on their rookie deals – including the most valuable contract in the NFL: Russell Wilson) the Seattle front office has been stellar at drafting defensive studs. And it seems John Schneider and Pete Carroll have a certain kind of stud in mind: Bigger, Faster, Stronger. Since 2010, Seattle has landed guys like Earl Thomas and Bruce Irvin in the first round, Bobby Wagner in the second, Walter Thurmond and KJ Wright in the fourth, KAM CHANCELLOR AND DICKY SHERMAN IN THE FIFTH, and finally Byron Maxwell and Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith in the sixth and seventh rounds respectively. Phew, that’s quite a list. If you weren’t counting, that is nine defensive contributors (including a few all-pro level guys) in the span of three drafts. Super Bowl winning caliber work.
It would be a Moneyball-esque omission if I didn’t mention that the Seahawks’ defense has also benefited from a few very shrewd trades and free agent signings to bolster their defensive line as well. Seattle have been able to sign Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Tony McDaniel along with trading for Defensive End Chris Clemons in recent years to add to a defensive line that already housed veterans Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane. This incredibly deep group of lineman has yielded a suffocating run defense while also having a relentless pass rush that clearly had a huge impact in their victory last weekend.
All right, enough about Seattle’s defensive depth chart. What can other teams – specifically the 2014 Minnesota Vikings – learn from this model? In all, Seattle drafted 19 defensive players (out of a total of 28 picks) from 2010 to 2012. Only three of those picks were from the first three rounds (Earl Thomas, Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner). The fact that they were able to hit three home runs – or, at least, two home runs and a solid double that you could try to stretch into a triple and eventually be thrown out on – with their early defensive picks allowed Seattle to target a high quantity of high potential guys in the later rounds. These last few years have been a perfect template on assembling a hugely dominant (and incredibly young!) defense in a very short amount of time. All while have a third round QB run the show…
In all honesty, while I think Russell "Off-brand" Wilson is and will be a great QB for years to come, there is no doubt his team could have won the Super Bowl without him. If he was replaced with an average-to-mediocre QB like, let’s say, Mike Glennon, I think they are still the Super Bowl champs. EASILY. I would even go so far as to say that if you swapped out the entire Seahawks offense for the Jacksonville Jaguars entire squad they would still have been major playoff contenders and may have had a shot to win the Super Bowl. In theory, the Jaguars’ offensive (pun?) average of 15.4 points per game would have been enough to outscore the opposition given that Seattle’s D allowed a league-low 14.4 ppg. My point? If you have one of the best defenses of the decade, the offense really doesn’t matter. (Just ask Trent Dilfer and Rex Grossman).
So, what does this all mean for the Vikings in relation to the 2014 draft? First, I think there is no question the SHOULD NOT take a QB with the eighth overall pick unless his last name is Bridgewater or Manziel. It is simply not worth the risk given the safer options that would be on the board on the defensive side. After all, we were all just shown that even if you have the greatest offense to ever step on the field, it is not enough to overcome a dominant, physically imposing defense.
The defensive players that could be worth taking would be:
Jadaveon Clowney - I know, I know, this isn’t gonna happen but: what if he pulls a Shabazz Muhammad and gets kicked out the Combine for "bringing a female guest into his hotel room" causing an improbable slide to #8? It could happen.
Khalil Mack - I have never seen him play but draft mockers seem to like him a lot. I know he’s listed as a DE/OLB…can he play as a 4-3 OLB? If so, he could be a GREAT pick.
Anthony Barr – Another DE/OLB. He seems more like a pass rusher though, right?
CJ Mosley – Alabama’s staring MLB. What more do you need to know…
And let’s throw in Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Kony Ealy just to be thorough.
I don’t think any of these guys would be bad picks (and all of them would be better than Bortles or Carr if you ask me) but I would prefer to avoid taking a pass rusher given there isn’t much need there. (Unless, of course, Clowney miraculously falls). Linebacker and secondary are the biggest needs and I think there is some solid depth at DB in this draft so my preference would be either Mack or Mosley – in that order. They both seem like safe, high-impact players that could start right away and be around for a long time.
With one of the next two or three picks, I am hugely in favor of taking either Stanley Jean-Baptiste (GBR) or Pierre Desir at corner. They fit the big, physical prototype set by Seattle that the league is sure to copy in the coming seasons. Either pick would hopefully make a dominant pair with Xavier Rhodes that could lock down the NFC North for the next decade. Given that I am not a draft scout, my knowledge of late round value is essentially non-existent unless the player has name recognition from playing at a big school. My generic advice would be to take another physically imposing LB and then a few flyers on high-risk, high-reward guys like the Seahawks did with Chancellor and Sherman.
Now it is time to address the elephant in the room – the quarterback. Honestly, I’m not too worried about QB. If the Vikes don’t take one until the fourth or fifth round I wouldn’t mind at all. You have to think one of the SEC guys (McCarron, Mettenberger, Murray) or Garrappolo or Insert-Current-Late-Round-Sleeper-of-the-Month might fall to the point that they become a good value pick instead of a reach. And if the Vikings don’t find their Quarterback of the Future for 2014, I’m not sure what the problem is. Strengthen the defense and look forward to the very intriguing 2015 draft. It’s not like we’re going to win the Super Bowl this year any way. Why does the QB need to be the first piece of the puzzle as opposed to the last piece that finally brings the Lombardi Trophy into the picture?
Imagine this (unrealistic) dream scenario for the 2015 season:
WR: CP84, Jennings, Jarius, a resurrected Greg Childs
Rudolph, O-Line, Whatever…
AND NOW, YOUR INTIMIDATING MIKE ZIMMER LED DEFENSE STARRING:
Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, Sharrif Floyd, Khalil Mack, Chad Greenway (if he gets restructured), Xavier Rhodes, Jean-Baptiste/Desir, Harrison Smith….and players to be named later at DT, MLB, SS!!!!
That means the Vikes need to hit on five defensive starters and land a starting QB in the next two drafts. In theory, they should have 15 picks (seven in the first three rounds – remember Seattle’s success with those early picks. I also saw an article recently that Spielman is planning on trying to stockpile picks for this draft.) That is doable! By not getting enamored with a QBoTF and a few cagey free agent signings, the Vikings could easily be on their way to a top five (or even top three?) defense and have a legit shot at the Super Bowl. And a new stadium just two years away!! I know, dare to dream…