Larry Warford looks to peek into the third round, but not for long. If the Vikings want to be serious about securing a few, high-quality players for the next season, they may want to consider trading a player and their fourth-round pick (pick 120 in the draft).
In this case, trading a backup and a pick for a starter will allow the Vikings to select Larry Warford, the best guard available and potentially the third best guard in the draft.
While the run on offensive linemen in the first round severely depleted the available talent, a first-round type player in most years finds himself going undrafted entering the second half of Day Two. Warford has been a mauler for Kentucky and is hard to move around.
Warford cut weight in the offseason in order to resolve some concerns and also has shorter arms, but is still a good talent. Warford plays intelligently, knowing exactly how to attack pads and to stay low. A natural knee-bender, Warford excels at winning the battle to get low while still driving forward. In fact, only Chance Warmack could have a better leg drive when pushing off the line.
As a pulling guard, he hits fast and hard, almost always neutralizing his defender and paving the way. Despite low general athleticism, Warford has the agility and footwork to play s an excellent multi-purpose guard. Given the fact that the Vikings run both power and zone blocking schemes, his ability to run trap blocks, pull laterally or grade the line forward gives him a unique set of skills particularly suited for the Vikings. He has instinctive knowledge of how to control the point of attack in a solo block or on a double team and can get to the second level quickly. Keeping his head on a swivel, he's also a very aware blocker who rarely misses his assignments.
Despite missing some explosiveness when pushing out, is technical capability and constant drive make him a dominant run-blocking guard in the league.
As a run-first offense that relies on Adrian Peterson, finding a guard to replace the mediocre Charlie Johnson could be considered a high priority. From Day One, he would be a better run blocker.
But Johnson also struggled at giving up interior pressure, not providing John Sullivan the help he needed to maintain a clean pocket. Warford serves as an upgrade here as well. With relatively short arms, it might be easy to think of Warford as a player who can be exploited by stunts or speed rushers, but that's not the case. Excellent footwork resolves this issue and he hasn't really been dominated by the excellent nose tackles in the SEC, including Jonathan Jenkins, Kwame Geathers, Jesse Williams, etc.
Sliding his feet well and recovering quicker than most guards, Warford would be a definite first-round pick in most years. That Kyle Long and Justin Pugh went before him is a tragedy, but there is no way Warford makes it to pick 120. His intelligence and play diagnosis alone should have given him an advantage, but Warford finds himself on the outside looking in. Every so often he might lose an angle on a block, but Warford is a definite talent. Stamina issues may have held him back, but even a tired Warford should be better than Charlie Johnson.
Should he be available to the Vikings, they would miss out on a fourth-round pick, one they could use to secure a bigger need at a more important position. But with A.J. Klein, Michael Mauti, Kevin Reddick and Jake Knott all projected to go late, losing the fourth-round pick may not be a big deal.
In order to make this trade, the Vikings would not only have to give up their 120th pick, they may have to give a running-back needy team Toby Gerhart, a 6th-round pick and a 7th-round pick. Even with four running backs gone in the second round, Gerhart carries value that the remaining linebackers don't, particularly given his stellar 2011 season. In my estimation, that would be well worth it, sacrificing a backup and two late-round picks to grab a sure-fire starter.
And if not Warford, why not Keenan Allen?