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Rookie Of The Year? How About Most Valuable Rookie?

Taking a look at the two rookie first round picks, and who's been more valuable to the team through the halfway point.

Hannah Foslien
Rookie LT Matt Kalil was the much ballyhooed first round draft pick for the Vikings. The expectation was that he would help solidify a line that had been racked with departures (Matt Birk, Bryant McKinnie) and injuries (everyone else at some point) over the last few seasons, and he was a guy you could ‘pencil in for a decade’.

He has not disappointed at all.

But less was made…well, actually, more was made of the Vikings other first round pick, S Harrison Smith out of Notre Dame. The Vikings used their second round pick and an extra fourth round pick they had when they traded down one spot with Cleveland at the top of the first round to swing a trade with the Baltimore Ravens. That got them back into the bottom of the first round, and although it was generally perceived that Smith was one of two NFL caliber safeties in the draft, there was a lot of disagreement as to whether or not GM Rick Spielman made the right pick.

But through 8 games so far, Smith has arguably been more valuable to the defensive secondary than Kalil has been to the offensive line. It’s tough to gauge how 'better' one guy might or might not be over the other--measurable, comparable statistics are tough to come by for players at such different positions on different sides of the ball. To be sure, Kalil has performed very well for the Vikings. He didn’t have a particularly great game against Tampa Bay, but other than Adrian Peterson, no one did. But Kalil has more than passed the ‘eye test’ for me. You rarely hear his name called, Christian Ponder’s blind side is now safe, and he has had no injury issues. The line play as a whole is better, too. Is the Vikings offensive line better because of Matt Kalil? Obviously, the answer is yes

But Smith, along with super vet Antoine Winfield, has seemed to breathe life into what was one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, and arguably the worst secondary in team history. Currently, Smith is tied for second on the team tackles with LB Jasper Brinkley (both trail Chad Greenway), is as hard hitting a safety that the Vikings have had in a while, and has as many TD receptions as Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, and Jerome Simpson—combined.

Yeah, obviously that ‘TD reception’ was a pick-6 against Arizona, but it was also the first interception returned for a touchdown by a Vikings player in several years. And that goes to another aspect of his game that had been sorely lacking in the Minnesota secondary--big plays. Smith has several, to include that pick 6. For example, his brutal but clean hit on Detroit's Calvin Johnson prevented a TD pass, and was a big play in the game that stunted building Lions momentum.

I’m not trying to downplay the value of Kalil in this, but let’s face it—we expected this from him, and anything less than the level he’s performed at would be a troubling development 8 games in to his rookie season. With Smith, we thought he would at least compete for a starting job, but not necessarily win it right away. Well, he did, by the second pre-season game, and he’s added an attitude and level of talent that the Vikes secondary hasn’t seen from the safety position since Darren Sharper left.

Which is why at the halfway point, I cast my vote for Smith as the Most Valuable Rookie.