The college football season is over, and the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2011 NFL Draft is only a few days off. So, now it's time to earnestly start talking about which position the Vikings should be looking towards in the NFL Draft.
The prevailing logic is that the Vikings should be looking for their quarterback of the future in the first round this year. While they're in a draft position to possibly be able to do that, the declaration by Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. . .a player the Vikings had no shot at getting anyway. . .that he's returning to school throws a bit of a wrench into that equation. Luck was thought to be, by far, the #1 quarterback prospect in this class, and as of now there's a group of four quarterbacks that were jockeying for the #2 spot, depending on who declares and who doesn't. Those players are Missouri's Blaine Gabbert (who has already declared), Auburn's , Washington's Jake Locker, and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett (who has also already declared).
What Luck's declaration does is jumble up the quarterback draft class. Whichever of the four quarterbacks listed above would have been the #2 guy. . .and, in my estimation, right now Gabbert is that player. . .is now the #1 guy. Whichever of them was #3 moves up to #2, and so on. It degrades the potential quality of the quarterback class in this year's draft. . .not to say that the quarterbacks that will be available aren't talented, but Luck not being a part of this group drops the quality of the talent at the position as a whole. As I said, I'm not particularly enamored with any of the four above prospects, but there are teams drafting ahead of us that could be.
Of the eleven teams ahead of us on the draft board at this point, at least seven of them could be in the market for quarterbacks. From a first glance at the board, I would think that the following are going to be at least peripherally thinking quarterback this April:
Not to mention Denver (depending on how sold their new coach is going to be on Tim Tebow) and Cleveland (depending on their new coach's faith in Colt McCoy). Even Dallas could be looking for a quarterback, although I think that's a long shot. The only team ahead of us in the current draft order that I think we can safely declare is absolutely, positively not looking to draft a quarterback in the first round is Houston.
With the quarterback situation now being what it is, and the needs of the teams ahead of us, it's entirely possible that Gabbert, Newton, Mallett, and Locker will all be gone by the time we get to #12. From there, you start getting into quarterbacks like Pat Devlin, Christian Ponder, Greg McElroy, and Andy Dalton, who might be decent options in the second round, but aren't really worthy of the #12 overall selection.
From where I sit, the two biggest needs this team has, outside of quarterback, are on the offensive line and in the secondary (and possibly wide receiver, depending upon Sidney Rice re-signing with the Vikings. . .more on that later). There really aren't any safeties that look like they're at the first-round level yet. . .UCLA junior Rahim Moore is the top safety prospect at this point, and he carries more of a second round grade. However, there are a couple of cornerback prospects that could possibly fall if there's a quarterback run in LSU's Patrick Peterson and Nebraska's Prince Amukamara. The latest projection from the folks at the Great Blue North actually has Amukamara available when the Vikings select at #12, which is one of the few projections I've seen that doesn't have him in the top ten. Amukamara is a lights-out corner prospect, and if he's there at #12, regardless of whether or not one of the big four quarterbacks is there, I don't see any way Minnesota passes on him.
As far as the offensive line, this year's draft class appears to be a bit on the strange side in that aspect. Usually there's at least one offensive tackle that is classified as a franchise or cornerstone left tackle, but this year's class doesn't appear to have that, unless someone tests incredibly well at the combine and rockets themselves up the board a bit. If the Vikings could trade down with somebody and pick up another pick or two, they could be in the market for someone like Boston College's Anthony Castonzo, Colorado's Nate Solder, or Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi. They could even look to somewhere like Penn State center Stefan Wisniewski if they can drop down a bit in Round One.
Where do you all think the Vikings should be focusing in the first round of the draft this year?