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Vikings Draft Grades

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If you're looking for draft grades of the 2015 NFL Draft, less than 24 hours after it has finished...then you're looking in the wrong place!  As I've done for several off-seasons now, I'll be offering draft grades for the draft that happened FOUR YEARS AGO, or in other words, the 2011 draft.  Why am I looking back four years ago?  During the 2010 lockout the NFLPA calculated the average length of an NFL career to be about 3 years, while the NFL pushed a number closer to 6 years.  A blogger over at Sharp Football Analysis calculated that it was probably closer to 5 years, at least since 2002.  If an average NFL career is somewhere between 3 and 6 years (and probably closer to 5 depending on how you calculate a "career year") it means we need to wait at least 3 years before we pass judgement on a draft prospects career.  I prefer to wait even longer to see if they have a career length that is longer than average, which is why I grade drafts 4 years after they happen.  So you can expect to find my grades for the 2015 Draft in...let's see...2019!  In the meantime, now is the perfect time to pass judgement on the 2011 draft.

Let's flashback to the 2011 off-season, shall we?  It was a tumultuous time for an NFL that was still enduring an embarrassing lockout during a tense collective bargaining period at the time of the draft.  Not only was it a tough time for the NFL, it was a tough time for the Vikings.  The team decided to give Brett Favre one more run in the 2010 season after a heart-breaking loss in the NFC Championship game the year before, and while hopes were high that the Vikings could repeat a magical 2009 run, it fell horribly short.  Brett Favre looked like a shell of his former self and didn't even last the full 16 games.  We burned a third round pick to trade for Randy Moss, who also looked like a shell of his former self.  After pissing off the team and a caterer, head coach Brad Childress cut him and "Chilly" ultimately lost his job over it.  Defensive Coordinator and player favorite Leslie Frazier took over as interim head coach to close out the year and inspired the team to a few unlikely wins, which ultimately cost them a few precious draft slots.

Because of the lockout, the draft happened BEFORE free agency, which meant that the team roster needs were not completely known.  It created an unusual dynamic for the NFL that made it incredibly difficult to identify roster needs since unrestricted free agents could not have contact with any teams.  In addition teams were not allowed to trade players for draft picks and were not able to sign or negotiate with their draft picks or undrafted players until the lockout was lifted (which wouldn't happen until months later).  The Vikings went into the offseason with the following big name players not under contract: QB Brett Favre, QB Tarvaris Jackson, WR Sidney Rice, LB Chad Greenway, DT Pat Williams, DE Ray Edwards, DE Brian Robison, CB Lito Sheppard, S Husain Abdullah, K Ryan Longwell, LB Ben Leber, WR Greg Lewis, OL Ryan Cook, DT Fred Evans, LB Erin Henderson and a slew of other depth players.   That said they did place the franchise tag on Chad Greenway, and signed Brian Robison to a 3-year contract extension a month prior to the draft.  Here is my best attempt at recreating the state of the roster prior to the 2011 draft (again it was messy due to free agency happening AFTER the draft):

QB: Joe Webb
RB: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Lorenzo Booker
WR: Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Greg Camarillo
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe, Jimmy Kleinsasser, Jeff Dugan
OL: Bryant Mckinnie, Phil Loadholt, John Sullivan, Anthony Herrera, Jon Cooper, Patrick Brown, Chris DeGeare

DE: Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen
DT: Kevin Williams, Jimmy Kennedy, Letroy Guion
OLB: Chad Greenway
MLB: E.J. Henderson, Jasper Brinkley, Heath Farwell, Kenny Onatolu
CB: Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Chris Cook, Asher Allen, Marcus Sherels
S: Madieu Williams, Jamarca Sanford, Tyrell Johnson
P: Chris Kluwe
LS: Cullen Loeffler

Identifying the team's biggest draft needs was difficult since the team had so many directions it could go in free agency afterward.  It seemed likely that the team would try to resign DT Fred Evans, S Husain Abdullah, K Ryan Longwell and maybe OLB Erin Henderson, but again it was nothing but uncertainty at this point. Fans were split on resigning WR Sidney Rice.  In short, there was a laundry list of team needs with quarterback at the very top.  Favre was likely retiring and Tarvaris Jackson was likely going elsewhere.  While the team franchised Greenway, Ben Leber was a free agent and the team didn't really have an option at outside linebacker (or so we thought).  Pat Williams was likely to retire and defensive tackle was also near the top of the needs list.  The safety position was in need of an upgrade with Madieu Williams and Tyrell Johnson leaving a lot to be desired and it was uncertain whether Abdullah would return.  We also needed an infusion of youth along the offensive line.

The Vikings ended up with 10 selections in the 2011 draft, although only two of them were in the Top 100.  Six out of the ten picks came in the 6th round or later.  So with all of those needs and picks, how did the Vikings attack this odd draft situation?

Round 1 - Pick #12: QB Christian Ponder, Florida State

Christian Ponder was viewed by some as the most "Pro Ready" quarterback in the draft.  He was incredibly book smart, having earned both a Bachelors and Masters degree while at Florida State.  But he was also viewed as mostly a high second round selection due to multiple arm surgeries and was therefore a "reach" in most draftnik circles.  But with the following quarterbacks all going before the Vikings pick: Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert, it put the Vikings in a bind.  Rumor had it that the Vikings tried to trade down, but couldn't get good enough value.  Rather than risk waiting until the 2nd round the Vikings went ahead pulled the trigger on Ponder. After Cam Newton, I liked Andy Dalton the best out of this draft and hoped that the Vikings would take him in the 2nd round.  That didn't happen, but I also wanted the Vikings to draft DE Adrian Clayborn as well, so you win some and you lose some.  In any case, at the time this didn't look like a terrible pick, but it did look like a desperate team being forced to take a quarterback higher than they wanted.

Grade: D-

While the Vikings addressed their biggest need with this pick (and didn't have a lot of options after teams ahead of them took Cam Newton, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert), as it turns out Christian Ponder busted as a first round quarterback.  He probably shouldn't have been taken in the first round at all.  Ponder started 10 games his rookie year in 2011, the entire 2012 season and had an "on-again, off-again" role as a starter during the 2013 season sharing starts with Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman.  He had a career 75.9 passer rating, completed only 59.8% of his passes and averaged a paltry 6.3 yards per attempt.  He put up career backup numbers, and has signed in Oakland as the backup to Derek Carr this offseason.  According to older Draftmetrics data, at pick 12 in the draft, Ponder should have had about an 89% chance to be at least a 3-year starter and a 68% chance to be a 5-year starter with a 44% chance to become a Pro Bowl player.  His 36 career starts during his 4-year tenure with the Vikings puts him under the threshold for expected starts at his draft position and it's safe to say that he disappointed as a starting quarterback and was over-drafted.  The fact that the Vikings addressed their biggest need in the 1st round of the draft is the only thing that prevents this from being an all-out ‘F' grade.

Round 2 - Pick #43: TE Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame

At the time this was a bit of a head-scratcher.  The team had Visanthe Shiancoe and Jimmy Kleinsasser already on the roster with Jeff Dugan waiting in the wings.  Tight End was not seen as a major team need at the time and this pick was derided by most fans.

Grade: B

But upon closer examination, Shiancoe would end up on the last year of his deal in 2011 and would also turn 31 heading into that season (and be 32 when his contract ended after the 2011 season).  Kleinsasser was also already 34 years old with retirement on the horizon when Rudolph was drafted and in reality the tight end position was a pretty big need.  Kyle Rudolph was viewed as one of the best tight end prospects in the 2011 draft and he flashed enormous potential and talent during the 2012 season (his first as a full-time starter).  But over the two most recent seasons he's dealt with injuries and has had a tough time staying on the field.  Never-the-less, the Vikings signed him to a contract extension last year and he has shown that he can be very good when he's healthy.  According to Draftmetrics, a prospect chosen at #43 overall has a 78% chance of playing for at least three years, 44% chance of starting at least three years and a tight end specifically also has a 35% chance of starting more than five years.  If it weren't for the injuries this pick would have been graded an ‘A' as Rudolph surely would have exceeded those expectations.  As it stands he has only garnered 40 starts in four years, or exactly two and a half years' worth of game action.

Round 3 - Pick #73: TRADED for Randy Moss

Earlier in the 2010 season the Vikings traded this draft selection to the New England Patriots for Randy Moss.  There was a lot of excitement about Moss finally returning home and getting a chance to catch passes from no less than Brett Favre.  But, he ended up starting only four games and caught all of 13 passes for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns before being cut by Brad Childress before the season ended.

Grade: F

While the Moss trade didn't work out on the Vikings end (the second time  a trade involving Moss turned out badly for the Vikings), the Patriots meanwhile used that pick to select quarterback Ryan Mallett.  Mallet has been nothing but a career backup at this point, but it begs the question what if the Vikings had kept the pick and used it themselves on Mallett and gone after someone else other than Ponder in the first round?  Would things have really been that much different with Mallett instead of Ponder?  Even if we hadn't taken Mallett, any player taken #73 overall has at least a 75% chance to play in the NFL for 3 years and a 30% chance of becoming a 3-year starter.  To give up that pick for Randy Moss who played all of 4 games was a complete waste.  Any way you want to look at it this trade was terrible and earns an F.

Round 4 - Pick #106: DT Christian Ballard, Iowa

At the time Ballard was seen as a falling draft prospect, a second-third round prospect that fell into the Vikings lap.  He was brimming with potential, but was a bit undersized for the Vikings 4-3 defensive scheme.  We weren't sure if he would bulk up and play DT, or slim down and play DE, but he was viewed as a value pick.  With a need at defensive tackle too, this was seen as a good selection by most.

Grade: D

As a 4th round draft selection his odds of becoming a three-year starter were pretty low, only 19% (10% for defensive tackles to start at least 5 years).  But his odds of simply playing in the league for at least three years was quite high: 61%. He even saw snaps in every game during his short two-year career. Unfortunately, Ballard quit the team prior to the 2013 season for personal reasons, meaning he only lasted two years in the league.  While it's tough to predict a situation like that and expectations were not that high in the 4th round, the fact is that he failed to meet even the lowest threshold expectation of lasting three years in the league.  The pick simply ended up not working out, hence the D grade.

Round 5 - Pick #139: CB Brandon Burton, Utah

Burton was viewed as having potential to develop into an effective Cover-2 cornerback in the NFL, but was a bit undersized and needed to adjust to the speed of the game.  He was more of a depth signing, but with Winfield and Cook returning and Cedric Griffin coming back from injury, not to mention having Marcus Sherels, cornerback wasn't seen as a huge need.

Grade: D

At pick #139 there was a 61% chance he would play for at least three years with a 19% chance of becoming a starter for at least three years. After being cut prior to the 2013 season, he was picked up by the Bills and played in a few games, and then caught on with the Bengals towards the end of the 2013 season.  In 2014 he was with the Colts in training camp, but didn't make the team and is now out of football.  While he was never expected to become a starter, he should have stuck with the team a little longer.  In other words, he didn't meet his draft expectations because his third season was incomplete, and it wasn't with the Vikings.

Round 6 - Pick #168: OT/OG Demarcus Love, Arkansas

With this pick the Vikings addressed their offensive line need, expecting the shorter Love to compete as a swing backup.  This was viewed as another value pick as many drafniks had him ranked higher than a 6th round pick.

Grade: C

I think many fans hoped for Love to eventually become a starter on the offensive line, but his expectation was barely as a backup for three years in the NFL.  As a 6th round pick he had nothing more than a 47% chance to last as a three year starter, just under a 50/50 shot.  Love never amounted to anything though.  He went on IR one year, and then was suspended for four games prior to the 2013 season and was subsequently released after only two years with the team.  He caught on briefly with the Jaguars in 2013 and participated in training camp with the Giants last year but did not make their squad.  For a 6th round pick, he pretty much met expectations, but failed to exceed them.

Round 6 - Pick #170: S Mistral Raymond, South Florida

The Vikings again addressed a team need by selecting a safety deep in the draft.  It wasn't expected that Raymond would push to start, but he had a unique story in his path to the NFL and looked to be a special teams contributor right away at the very least.

Grade: B-

The expectations for Raymond were nearly identical to that of Demarcus Love, but unlike Love, Raymond saw the field for some significant time as a rookie and started a total of 10 games during a three-year career with the Vikings.  Unfortunately he didn't fit Mike Zimmer's new defensive scheme and was cut prior to the 2014 season, but for a 6th round draft choice to play for three years and start 10 games, that exceeds expectations and earns a grade higher than "average."

Round 6 - Pick #172: C/OG Brandon Fusco, Slippery Rock

The Vikings double dipped with offensive lineman in the 6th round, taking the small-school prospect with high upside in Brandon Fusco.  Fans weren't sure if he would backup John Sullivan at center or be groomed at the guard position.  But expectations were pretty low regardless.

Grade: A+

When the team eventually slotted in Brandon Fusco as the starting guard in 2012 after parting ways with Geoff Schwartz, many of us (myself included) questioned the move.  While he had a rough first year as a starter, he grew by leaps and bounds in 2013, and had his 2014 season not been derailed by injury he was on track to be one of the highest graded guards in the NFL.  He's a road-grader in the run game and an adequate pass blocker.  For a 6th round pick he has far exceeded expectations and earned a 5-year contract extension last year as a long-term starter on the offensive line.

Round 6 - Pick #200: LB Ross Homan, Ohio State

With the fourth sixth round pick of the draft the Vikings again address a major need by selecting a linebacker.  While he was undersized and dealt with concussions in college, he was also the leader of the Ohio State defense and many thought he could serve as a backup to EJ Henderson and help out on special teams.

Grade: F

While expectations are very low for a pick this deep in the draft (only a 39% chance to play at least three years in the league), the fact that Homan didn't even make the team his rookie year says a lot.  This was a big whiff by the Vikings at a position of need.

Round 7 - Pick #215: DE D'Aundre Reed, Arizona

The Vikings didn't necessarily have a need at defensive end with Jared Allen and Brian Robison locked up and Everson Griffen waiting in the wings.  But he had prototypical size and strength and was a developmental prospect.

Grade: C

Reed had identical expectations as Ross Homan, but unlike Homan he actually made the team and stuck as a backup for two years.  He bounced around with the 49ers and Jaguars in 2013 before landing in the arena league last year, and then being signed by the Dolphins.  He essentially met the expectations of his draft position.

Round 7 - Pick #236: WR Stephen Burton, West Texas A&M

With Berrian failing to live up to contract expectations, Percy Harvin seemingly always injured, and Sidney Rice possibly departing for free agency, the Vikings again address a potential need late in the draft.  Burton was a project, possessing prototypical measurables, but unrefined technique.

Grade: C

Burton stuck with the team for two years, even starting a game and amassing 7 career catches for 73 yards and a touchdown over those two years.  While he flashed potential in every preseason game he just couldn't seem to put it all together.  He caught on with the Jaguars in 2013, even starting a couple games.  For a late 7th round pick he certainly met expectations.

Overall Draft Grade: C-

In looking at the grades of all eleven draft picks (includes the Moss trade), six out of those eleven picks ended up with passing grades, or just over half.  Averaging together the rough grade percentages of all picks puts this draft at something close to 71% overall.  This was basically an average draft or just a little worse.  Looking a little deeper, there was only one ‘A' grade and the most important pick: 1st rounder Christian Ponder, was a bust.  While Spielman hit on Rudolph and Fusco, and got some decent short-term depth out of a few late round picks like Mistral Raymond, Demarcus Love, D'Aundre Reed and Stephen Burton there just wasn't anything that stands out in this draft.  The negatives (Moss trade, Ponder, Burton, Ballard, Homan) really do kind of stand out in stark contrast.  Like I wondered above, can you imagine if we had taken Nick Fairely, Robert Quinn or Nate Solder instead of Christian Ponder in the first round, and then held onto that 3rd rounder and drafted Ryan Mallet instead of trading for Randy Moss?  That would have been a much more successful draft that could have changed things dramatically for the Vikings franchise.

So, what did the media "experts" have to say about the Vikings draft immediately afterwards way back in 2011?  Well, utilizing the magic of "The Google Machine", (as well as the convenient SB Nation historical stream) here are a few choice nuggets:

Rob Rang over at CBS Sports Loved the Ponder Pick

Minnesota Vikings: B+

Full disclosure: I am higher on Christian Ponder than most, so if you're thinking I'm going to knock them significantly for their perceived "reach" of him at No. 12, you're wrong. I will certainly admit that the No. 12 overall pick higher is higher than a quarterback coming off two arm surgeries should go, but the Vikings needed a passer who could play right away and Ponder is, in my opinion, the most pro-ready passer in this draft. If -- and it is a big if -- he can stay healthy, he'll prove worthy of this pick. Arm-strength, intelligence and mobility are not questions, in my mind. The Vikings found solid talent throughout the rest of the draft, as well. The selection of Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph was a surprise considering the emergence of Visanthe Shiancoe. Versatile defensive lineman Christian Ballard (4th round), competitive cornerback Brandon Burton (5th) and developmental center Brandon Fusco (6th) highlighted a busy Day Three for the Vikings.

At the time, Mel Kiper over at ESPN liked the draft only marginally more than I do now, grading it a C+

The Vikings clearly need an answer at the quarterback position, but they reached for Ponder at No. 12. They clearly believe he's their guy long-term, but the draft is about value too. When you saw Dalton land all the way down at No. 35, you had to wonder if Ponder could have been had later. The Rudolph pick was a pretty solid value and Ballard could be a good defensive lineman. The Vikings also landed some needed help at cornerback and along the offensive line. Minnesota reached for a quarterback, in my opinion, and like Tennessee, still doesn't know who will start the season at quarterback. However, the Vikings rebounded nicely on Days 2 and 3.

Evan Silva over at Rotoworld mostly liked the draft, giving us a B+

Overview: We've seen Todd McShay bash the Ponder pick. The reality is, Minnesota needed a quarterback, Ponder played in a pro-style offense at FSU, and he is NFL-ready with perhaps the most accurate arm in the draft. We don't have a big problem with the selection. Behind Ponder, you can't question the value of any of G.M. Rick Spielman's remaining selections. Love won't stay at tackle in the pros, but he could be a mauling right guard. Rudolph is a day-one starter in two-tight end sets. Burton and Ballard were second-day prospects, at least according to draftniks. Fusco is a developmental center. Homan, Reed, and Burton are great late-round fliers.

Grade: B+

Jason Cole over at Yahoo Sports HATED the Vikings 2011 draft, grading it a D:

Grade: D
Analysis: Let's start off by noting that the Vikings didn't have a third-round draft pick because of the ill-fated trade they made last season with the New England Patriots to get Randy Moss. When you start off from that position, it's hard to move up quickly. The Vikings compounded that by reaching for Ponder. People can talk all they want about how impressive Ponder was in the bowl games and in the Senior Bowl (a glorified 7-on-7 contest). He was projected as a second-round pick and Minnesota took him No. 12 overall out of desperation. Ponder may end up being great, but that's just not how to handle the draft. Teams like Cincinnati and San Francisco waited until the second round and got passers with just about as much upside as Ponder. Worse, New England got Ryan Mallett in the third round. As risky as Mallett might be, he's as good a gamble to succeed as Ponder. In fairness, it should be noted that second-rounder Rudolph is a very good player.

Adam Caplan at Fox Sports didn't really like the draft either:

Minnesota Vikings: C+

Analysis: The Vikings failed to address their weak offensive line until the sixth round, which was a big mistake. They will have to look toward free agency to improve in that area on offense.

Walter Football mostly liked the draft, giving us a B:

The Vikings panicked. When they watched Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert come off the board at Nos. 8 and 10, they reacted by reaching for Christian Ponder at No. 12. I gave the selection a D, and deservedly so.

Having said that, as one person commented below, "If Ponder is good, no one will ever care where he was drafted." That's pretty much true, although Minnesota missed out on a blue-chip player like Nick Fairley, Robert Quinn or Cameron Jordan in the process. Still, you can't blame them; they were desperate for a quarterback, so they pulled the trigger.

I loved the rest of the Vikings' draft. They didn't reach for anyone, and they were able to fill needs by selecting the top players available.

Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: B

So there is the round-up of draft grades handed out immediately following the 2011 draft.  The general tone was based around whether taking Ponder at #12 overall was a reach or not.  Overall the Vikings 2011 draft had opinions that were largely split between "like it" or "hate it" with every little in-between.  So while Ponder did end up busting, for all the talk about "value" and "late round gems" the rest of the draft was pretty much a bust too, outside of Kyle Rudolph and Brandon Fusco.  And more should have been made out of the complete and utter failure of the Randy Moss trade.  What are your thoughts?  What grade would you give the 2011 Draft now that we've had ample time to evaluate the outcomes of our eleven picks from the 2011 draft?