Last week I took a trip down memory lane to see just how well, or as the case may be not well, Rick Spielman fared in his first attempt at free agency as the General Manager of the Minnesota Vikings. That article and the grades can be found by clicking here.
Even more important than free agency, at least for a rebuilding franchise, is the NFL Draft. In 2012 the Vikings made 10 selections and I want to take a look at the first half of those. Here are the individual breakdowns:
1.4 Matt Kalil, LT: One goal of the 2012 offseason was all too obvious to anybody that paid the least bit of attention. Upgrade at the left tackle position, kick Charlie Johnson inside, and keep Christian Ponder healthy for 17 weeks.
As a rookie Matt Kalil has not only impressed, he has dominated in a way that shoots him to the top five of anybody’s rankings of NFL left tackles. Christian Ponder has survived an entire season, in large part because of Kalil’s near-perfect protection, and Kalil has also contributed plenty to Adrian Peterson’s incredible year. Kalil is the type of player, barring major injury, that the Vikings can look forward to sending to the Pro Bowl year after year.
Oh, and they traded back a spot for extra picks just before selecting him.
1.29 Harrison Smith, S: The trade back to number four gave the Vikings some extra firepower for the remainder of the Draft and it didn’t take long for Spielman to cash some of that in and grab Notre Dame’s stud safety Harrison Smith.
Smith was a welcomed sight for Vikings fans that had simply had it with watching mediocre-at-the-very-best play from the team’s safeties ever since Darren Sharper stopped being a good football player.
Smith has added quite the spark to this defense and is already making his mark in Vikings lore with 98 tackles, a sack, 11 broken up passes, three interceptions, two touchdowns, a forced fumble, plenty of fines, and an ejection.
Smith isn’t always perfect, but no safety ever is, especially in a cover-2 defense. Smith could improve his follow through on tackling a bit, and has a few other areas to refine, but the kid is just plain exciting to watch. A bruiser with ball skills was just what this Vikings defense needed to hang with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and [insert any cheese curd receiver here].
This pick has, at least this year, been a major success despite the added cost of trading up. The only argument against this move of any merit is that the Vikings could have drafted cornerback Casey Heyward, who is having a Rookie of the Year type of season for Green Bay, by simply staying put where they were in the second round.
3.3 Josh Robinson, CB: If the Vikings have learned anything from their last gazillion seasons, it’s that you can never really have too many good cornerbacks. The Ponder critics might point to the third round of this Draft and say the Vikings “missed” by not selecting either Russell Wilson or Nick Foles when they had the chance, but in a season where Christian Ponder was simply not going to be dethroned, cornerback Josh Robinson has proven to be very useful.
He has played in every game, including four starts during Chris Cook’s stint on the injured reserve, and has held up far better than most would expect from a third round rookie. He excels, of course, in a role that pits him against secondary or slot receivers instead of the opponents number one, but he has been able to stay fairly solid no matter where Alan Williams lines him up.
He adds speed to a secondary that lacked it, and has at times done his best Antoine Winfield impression while making a “missile” tackle, and is a big reason that we can be hopeful that the improved secondary we see in 2012 is not just a fluke. He has 55 tackles, three defended passes, and two interceptions on the season.
Robinson could end up being the best non-quarterback selected in the third round of this Draft.
4.23 Jarius Wright, WR: Jarius Wright was apparently too raw to put on the field for the first nine weeks of this season, until the Vikings were forced to do so due to a Percy Harvin ankle injury, but his absence was frustrating to fans that were growing tired of seeing short passes land in the hands of receivers possessing little ability to run after the catch.
Wright’s debut was a major success and he has been fairly consistent ever since, albeit still showing that he is unpolished at times. Through six games he has netted 19 receptions for 220 yards and a score. He has also run on a pair of “Percy plays” for a total gain of 11 yards.
Wright isn’t as explosive as Harvin (yet, anyways) but he should prove to be an adequate replacement should Harvin end up playing elsewhere or once again landing on the injury report.
It is really tough to point at anyone else selected in the fourth round that the Vikings should have targeted over Wright. He has had considerable impact compared to most of these guys.
4.33 Rhett Ellison, TE/FB: If you would have told me at the end of last season that the Vikings would have a fairly easy go of it when it came to filling the shoes of retired tight end Jim Kleinsasser I probably would have snickered a little.
Well, I was wr-wr-wr-mistaken.
Ellison, wearing Kleinsasser’s old number 40, has been a spectacular role player that seems to be every bit the blocker that Kleinsasser was. He has contributed key blocks on numerous occasions in both the run and passing game, as both a fullback and tight end, and he has been able to fend off considerable competition for a roster spot. He also plays very well on special teams.
On the season he has played in all 15 games so far and contributed seven tackles, six receptions for 58 yards, and the previously mentioned blocking prowess.
CONCLUSION: Rick Spielman and his staff deserve credit for finding these talents, and Leslie Frazier and his staff deserve credit for putting them in a position to be productive, and this Draft class appears to be a huge part of why this team is surprising NFL observers in 2012 and a major reason for us all to be hopeful about the future.
The bottom of the Draft wasn’t as productive, and we’ll get to that later, but that is to be expected. I just gave Spielman straight A’s for his first five picks, and that is coming from a pretty picky dude, but I honestly cannot find anything to complain about. Well, other than the glaring absence of a true #1 receiver, but can anyone honestly look back through this Draft and tell me there is a #1 receiver in the whole bunch?