Wednesday, May 27, 2015
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Matt Kalil

The Vikings return all 5 starters on the offensive line that was ranked 2nd in the NFL in rushing last season. In 2012, under second year offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, the big boys up front took important steps forward in production and consistency. The team saw all 5 guys as a unit start all 16 games, while giving up just 32 sacks compared to 49 the previous year. I would not be surprised to see all 5 guys win the starting jobs again this year and continue to improve as a unit.

Center John Sullivan, a 6th round draft pick in 2008, is the longest standing offensive lineman on the team and has been the leader and anchor in the middle as a starter since 2009. If Sully can stay healthy, he might have a chance to earn a spot in the Pro Bowl before his career is over.

Tackle Phil Loadholt owns the next longest tenure as a Vikings’ lineman. The Mammoth 2009 2nd round pick made headlines this off-season by signing a new 5 year contract. Loadholt is one of the top run blockers in the league and will lock down the right tackle spot again this season.

The left tackle spot belongs to 2012 first round pick Matt Kalil. The former USC star was chosen for the Pro Bowl after debuting as a rookie starter. The Vikings are counting on Kalil to have another Pro Bowl year protecting Ponder’s blind side.

[Note From Adam:  One of my favorite sources of Vikings analysis and opinion comes from the “Kick Ass Blog” run by Darren Campbell.  Check them out often (they are on our blogroll forever)!  Darren was kind enough to provide us with a guest post outlining the successes and failures experienced in the NFL Draft since Rick Spielman has been with the Vikings.  Enjoy!]

Rick Spielman is in his eighth season with the Minnesota Vikings. He first joined the team as the club’s vice-president of player personnel. One of his jobs was preparing for the NFL’s college draft, which is something he continued to oversee after being named the Vikings general manager in 2012.

Up until he became GM last year, Spielman didn’t have full control over who made the Vikings roster. However, it’s fair to say he still had considerable influence on the process and over whom the team did and didn’t pick in each of the six drafts he’s been a part of.

This April’s draft will be Spielman’s seventh with the Vikings. And as it is April 1, I wanted to drill down and take a closer look at the players Minnesota has picked since 2007 and when they’ve picked them. Here is what I found.

1st round (#23 and 25th overall in 2013 draft)

Draft picks: Adrian Peterson (2007); Percy Harvin (2009); Christian Ponder (2011); Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith (2012)

Commentary: Your first round picks should be the ones you get right the majority of the time and that’s been true under Spielman. The Peterson and Harvin picks (even though things turned sour with Percy) were masterstrokes and though it’s still early, Kalil and Smith look like exceptional selections also. And let’s not forget the Vikings used their 2008 first round selection to help take defensive end Jared Allen (74 sacks in 80 games with Minnesota) off Kansas City’s hands. The only first rounder during Spielman’s tenure who looks iffy is Ponder- and this would be a huge whiff that could set the franchise back several seasons if CP7 can’t cut it as a starter. Still, given Spielman and the Vikings track record since 2007, there’s an excellent chance they will get some good players if the team keeps both the #23 and #25 overall selections. Spielman has chosen well in this round regardless of whether he’s had a top 10 pick – Peterson (#7) and Kalil (#4)  -or a late first rounder like Harvin (#22) or Smith (#29).

Back when mid-season reports broke that the Vikings were in talks with right tackle Phil Loadholt I opined that they need not rush into a blockbuster deal with a simply above-average option that played better during his contract year, especially with a whole lot of options existing in free agency and the Draft.

A Pro Football Talk article recently confirmed that this notion exists in NFL front offices.  With so many tackle options, especially right tackle options, set to be available to teams there seems to be little reason to shell out the big money.

Loadholt is not a bad option moving forward, especially with continuity always acting as an added bonus, but he is far from the only option.

Left tackle isn’t going to be a priority this offseason, with Matt Kalil looking like the real deal, but things are unsettled on the right side and towards the bottom of the depth chart.  Lets take a look at what options exist:

Top Tier

1.  Sebastian Vollmer, NE

You are going to see most rankings have Jake Long or Ryan Clady in this spot, but they will demand left tackle money, and the Vikings are set on the left side with Kalil holding down the post.  It isn’t that Kalil or one of these guys couldn’t play on the right side, it’s that the Vikings probably don’t want to pay them to.  Vollmer is arguably the best right tackle in the NFL and will demand a fair amount of money, but in my mind would present a clear upgrade over Loadholt.

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Adrian Peterson, Jerome Felton, Kyle Rudolph, Blair Walsh, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, and now Matt Kalil.

Those are the guys that will represent Minnesota during Sunday’s Pro Bowl.

Due to a mysterious fight that resulted in Washington left tackle Trent Williams having to get stitches, Kalil has been selected to replace Williams in the NFC’s lineup for the scrimmage.

The fact that the Vikings have seven guys playing in the Pro Bowl, and that two of them are rookies, is a very encouraging sign for the future of this young playoff team.

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.

Mission accomplished.

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.

GRADE:  A+

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.

GRADE:  A

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