On Thursday, the Vikings weeks of posturing ended up right back where everyone assumed it began, with them selecting USC left tackle Matt Kalil with their first pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. The only caveat was, after picking up three extra picks, he was selected one spot later than we all expected.
While Rick Spielman had enough media types bamboozled into thinking they might take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, but instead they took the player they likely targeted all along. Then, they snuck into the end of the first round and selected Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Following the Draft I will dust off my old “Welcome to the Big Show” features and we’ll look at every prospect selected very closely. For now, however, I want to provide some instant reaction to the selections and give you an idea for how I feel on each guy.
The Vikings expect that they have found themselves a cornerstone for the organization that will be around for at least a decade, protecting quarterbacks and paving paths for runners.
Kalil’s real strength matches well with the weaknesses of the Vikings current tackles. He is a superb pass protector who utilizes his athleticism and quick feet to ensure that if the quarterback gets hit, it won’t be from his side. USC often left Kalil by himself and he held up great despite the lack of help.
His run blocking has been pointed out by many analysts as needing improvement, but somewhere along the line “needing improvement” turned into “a huge weakness” within media circles. The truth is, Kalil’s smaller frame and upright style seldom affected his game negatively in college, and his ability to get to the second and third level in the run game to take on linebackers and safeties far outweighs any negatives. Sure, he can add some bulk and a little strength (which he probably will) but there is no denying that this kid is an elite prospect as a left tackle.
Left tackle is where he will immediately be plugged in. With Kalil manning that spot, the Vikings then plan to slide Charlie Johnson inside to left guard, thus upgrading two positions with one choice.
I couldn’t be happier about this pick and while he won’t single-handedly win Minnesota a Super Bowl, he should prove to be a huge step in the right direction for this offense that needs to be built around Christian Ponder and Adrian Peterson.
Adam’s Grade: A+
The Vikings desperately needed help at the safety position. If they went into the season with Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond as their starters, well, I just wouldn’t be expecting much… we’ll put it that way.
To me, the top two safety prospects in this Draft were clearly Mark Barron from Alabama and Harrison Smith from Notre Dame. After that, I felt like there was a great disparity between them and the second tier of safeties.
Barron went to the Bucs very early on in the Draft and the Vikings gave up a fourth rounder to move to the 29th spot from their original second round position and grabbed Smith. In doing so, they filled a huge need with a very solid prospect.
Smith has a nice, big frame and is known to be kind of a jack-of-all-trades type of player. The Vikings liked the versatility from what they saw of him at the Senior Bowl. His athleticism and range should be of benefit to a Vikings secondary that needs some positives added to it. He truly is a sideline-to-sideline type of player.
Having even played some linebacker in the past, the Vikings surely like Smith’s tackling abilities and physical style of play. He is at his best when playing downhill and is plenty capable of delivering a jarring hit. Smith will event present the Vikings with a good ability to blitz on occasion.
Most attractive, however, were the leadership abilities he displayed within Notre Dame’s defense. He is known as an ultra-competitive guy that is going to give you everything he’s got and then some.
There has been some knocks on his coverage ability, however, which would be why he never was considered a “blue chip” type of player. His tape reveals some stiffness in his game and his interception totals went from seven as a junior to none as a senior.
Overall, Smith seems like a day one starter, especially for the Vikings. He has room for improvement, but looks to be like an investment that could be well worth it. I am looking forward to seeing him matchup against some of those big tight ends in our division.
The Vikings filled a need and got a very promising prospect. Tough to find many complaints about this one, other than perhaps the fact that they had to trade up to get him.
Adam’s Grade: A-