The Minnesota Vikings need to find an answer at the quarterback position. We know this. I know this, you know this, everybody knows this. In a perfect world, the Vikings would find the answer to that quarterback quandary in the 2014 NFL Draft. They currently sit at #8 in a draft that appears to be very top heavy at the quarterback position. . .so much so that the "Big Three" at the position stand a very good chance of being off the board before the Vikings have an opportunity to make a selection.
As it stands right now, before the Scouting Combine and all the pro days and the things that go with the NFL's off-season, the top three guys at the quarterback position are Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida's Blake Bortles, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. A lot of people seem to be mixed on Fresno State's Derek Carr at this point, but his name has entered discussions as a first-round selection as well.
Quarterback is the most important position in the National Football League, and quite possibly in all of professional sports. And the Vikings, really, have been looking for an answer at that spot since Daunte Culpepper got his knee shredded in Carolina in 2005 (Brett Favre's one season renaissance not withstanding). But if the draft were to be held today, the Vikings could find themselves either a) "reaching" for a quarterback at the top of the first round or b) giving up a ridiculous amount of capital to move up and acquire one.
Both of those approaches could prove to be disastrous.
To the first point, Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN did an article towards the end of the regular season about the "success rate" of quarterbacks relative to where they were on the hierarchy of drafted quarterbacks. The further down the chart a quarterback was drafted, the lower probability of success they seem to have.
For example, the first quarterback off the board (going back to Peyton Manning in 1998) has a 73% chance of being "at least very good" by Mackey's estimation. I really don't see any reason to argue his grading of the quarterbacks listed. That success rate drops to 47% for the second quarterback taken, 20% for the third quarterback taken, and a mere 7% for the fourth quarterback taken. The only "fourth quarterback taken" that amounted to anything on that list? Culpepper, who came off the board to Minnesota after Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb, and Akili Smith in 1999. (But ahead of Cade McNown. . .thank goodness we dodged that bullet, am I right?)
Now, not all of those quarterbacks came off the board in the first round. Some were second and third round picks, and there was even a fifth-rounder thrown in. But the point seems to remain that the further down the quarterback hierarchy you get in a given draft class, the lower your probability of success.
This plays into the second scenario, which would involve the Vikings "reaching" for a quarterback at the #8 spot. I want to take a look at five current "big boards" that are available from some of the draft gurus out there in this pre-Combine period.
|Todd McShay||Mel Kiper||DraftTek||CBS Sports||SB Nation|
|#1||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina||Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina|
|#2||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M|
|#3||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M||Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville|
|#4||Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo||Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville||Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo|
|#5||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson||Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo||Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson|
|#6||Timmy Jernigan, DL, Florida State||Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn||Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson||Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn|
|#7||C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama||Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina||Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida||Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA||Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M|
|#8||Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M||Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan||Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA||Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida||Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri|
|#9||Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville||C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama||C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama||Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama|
|#10||Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville||Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida||Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota||Marqise Lee, WR, USC||Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA|
|QB in Top Ten||1||2||2||2||1|
I understand that "big boards" aren't the be all and the end all of the NFL Draft, particularly at this point in the process. But so far, in the eyes of talent evaluators that know a hell of a lot more about this game than I do, there appears to be one sure-fire Top Ten caliber prospect (Bridgewater) and one guy that might be (Bortles, who is #11 on both the boards he didn't crack the top 10 in).
The other two quarterbacks that have been in the first round discussion? Well, Manziel appears anywhere from 11 to 20 on the five big boards listed above, while Carr shows up at #20 on CBS, #27 at DraftTek, #36 at SB Nation, and not at all on either of the ESPN Big Boards (which only go up to 32).
To put it more simply. . .barring a trade all the way up to #1 overall, the Vikings could be "reaching" for a quarterback regardless of what they do. The Texans, Jaguars, Browns, and Raiders could all be in the quarterback business ahead of the Vikings at #8, and if that's the case, there's no reason to think that any of them would move back. The only shot then would be moving up to #2 with the St. Louis Rams. Based on the trade down that they made with the Washington Redskins a couple of years ago, the Rams could extract a pretty high price for such a pick, but if Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Oakland all want quarterbacks, that might be the only recourse the Vikings have.
But is that wise? Look, if the only hole the Minnesota Vikings had on the roster was the quarterback position, I would say "Yes, absolutely." But it's not.
Lest we forget that the 2013 Minnesota Vikings defense allowed the second-highest number of points that has been given up in the history of the franchise. They were a mere four points away from surpassing the 1984 squad for the distinction of the most points allowed by a Minnesota defense. And, need I remind you. . .the 1984 defense (and team, for that matter) thoroughly and utterly quit on Les Steckel. This year's defense was trying, and they were still awful at pretty much every level.
Four of this team's ten losses (and their one tie) came in games where they had a lead with under two minutes remaining. In seven of the ten losses (and the one tie), the Vikings scored at least 20 points. And unlike the offense, which has a lot of young and talented pieces that are already in place, the defense is a disaster right now. They need young, talented bodies at every level, and the way to acquire them is not by giving up a bunch of picks to move up the draft board.
There's also the Norv Turner factor to consider. If the Vikings' offensive coordinator was anybody but Turner, I'd be worried about bringing in someone that isn't a "top prospect" at this point. But given his track record, I have a great deal of confidence in saying that if he sees a guy that he likes and thinks he can mold to his system, regardless of where it happens on this draft board, the Vikings will be bringing him in.
Now, look at the big boards above. Leaving the quarterbacks out of the discussion for a moment. . .
Do the Vikings need an offensive lineman? Well, sure, but not an offensive tackle. They need guard help, but they're not taking a guard at #8 overall. So scratch Matthews, Robinson, and Lewan from consideration.
Do they need a wide receiver? Not really, as far as I can tell. With Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, Jarius Wright, and the possible returns of Jerome Simpson and Greg Childs, the Vikings could use some depth, but they're not using #8 on a wide receiver. Scratch Evans, Watkins, and Lee then as well.
What does that leave? A whole lot of defense. Mack, Mosely, Barr, Clinton-Dix, Hageman, Ealy, Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert, Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix. . .all guys that could come in and immediately contribute. (Clowney isn't falling into their laps. . .sorry.) And at that point, it might be the Vikings that are in a position to move down and collect extra picks rather than giving them up to jump up the board. Mike Zimmer's a defensive guy, and I'm sure he would love a collection of young defenders to mold like he had in Cincinnati. Would spending the #8 overall pick on the third or fourth-best quarterback be better than getting a defender that could immediately start and contribute at a high level and/or acquiring extra draft choices to that end?
I get that, barring Norv Turner being nothing short of a miracle worker, the answer to the Vikings' quarterback situation is not Christian Ponder. It's not a returning Matt Cassel. It isn't Josh Freeman. It isn't Josh McCown or Michael Vick or another member of the current "blech" crop of free agent quarterbacks. But the answer is not "reaching" for a quarterback, either, and the consensus appears to be that anyone outside of Bridgewater (and possibly Bortles) would be classed as exactly that.
The Vikings need to focus as much energy on fixing the defense as they do on acquiring a quarterback, because if the 2014 Vikings are forced to go into every game knowing they need to score 30 to even have a chance at winning, no quarterback is going to be successful. There's a very good chance that the process could. . .and probably should. . .start with the #8 overall pick.