Monday, May 2, 2011

2011 NFL Draft: Minnesota Vikings Draft Recap

After watching the 2011 NFL Draft unfold over three days, I couldn't help but think about the movie Dumb and Dumber with each pick made by the Minnesota Vikings -- and I mean that as a compliment. There's a scene in the movie where Jim Carrey trades Jeff Daniels' van (the shaggin' wagon) for a moped. It's an absolutely ridiculous trade, but Daniels' character (who had been feuding with Carrey's character) says "Just when I thought you couldn't get any dumber, you go and do something like this...and totally redeem yourself!" That's how I see the Vikings draft.

I'm not saying the Christian Ponder pick at #12 was dumb, but it was a reach and the Vikings left a lot of talent on the board. As for the rest of the Vikings draft, Minnesota did a great job landing value players with their post-first round picks.

First round:
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State (#12 pick overall)
With three quarterbacks taken in the top 10 on Thursday night, the Vikings had no choice but to draft Ponder at #12. The Vikings made it clear they were going to draft a quarterback this draft and they took the best one available. Ponder's stock soared after his senior season at Florida State, with a great showing at the Senior Bowl and a very good performance at the NFL Combine in late February. While Ponder was projected by most to be a late first-round or second-round pick, the Vikings reached to fill a most pressing team need.

The reason Ponder was considered a reach at #12 is because of his durability concerns and arm strength. He had trouble staying healthy during his career at Florida State, battling various shoulder and elbow injuries. He has a tendency to telegraph too many throws and doesn't have the arm strength to make up for those mistakes. I noticed from watching his films, he has difficultly throwing with velocity when his primary target is covered and he's forced to throw off schedule (when he's not in rhythm).

Ponder does possess excellent overall intangibles, including the smarts to quickly pick-up a complex NFL offense. He earned his undergraduate degree in two and a half year and earned an MBA before his senior season at Florida State. He served as the Seminoles team captain for two years and was named MVP of the Senior Bowl.

Ponder is at his best when he can make a three, five or seven step drop and throw. He has great tempo to his game and showed good anticipation with his throws. He has great command of his passes in 10-15 yard range, but struggles throwing the deep ball. His throwing mechanics are adequate and he does a great job of getting out from underneath center. He does have the ability to scramble, but he needs to do a better job of protecting his body.

Verdict: He's the most NFL-ready quarterback of the draft class and he fits very well into the new Vikings offensive scheme. I expect the Vikings offense, under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, to resemble the Atlanta Falcons offense of last year (where Musgrave was quarterback's coach). That offense will be run heavy, include multiple tight end sets and feature quick timing routes 5-15 yards down field. Ponder should be able to manage that type of offense well and I expect him to be the starter in week one.

Second round:
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame (#43 pick overall)
Tight end wasn't a glaring need for the Vikings heading into draft weekend, but Rudolph was too talented to pass up in the second round. He is a prototypical pass catching tight end who does a great job of finding the open area of the field. He will be a great target for Ponder in the 5-15 yard range and has excellent body control when battling for the ball. At Notre Dame, he played a majority of snaps flexed out instead of in a three-point stance. He will need to work on his release moves when working from on the line.

Like Ponder, Rudolph has durability concerns. He missed the final two games in 2009 due to a shoulder injury and played in only six games in 2010 before undergoing season-ending hamstring surgery (his hamstring tore away from the bone).

Verdict: Rudolph is a fantastic value pick if he can stay healthy. He was projected to be a first-round pick by some talent evaluators, so getting him in the second-round may prove to be a steal for the Vikings.

Fourth round:
Christian Ballard, DE/DT, Iowa (#106 pick overall)
The Vikings defensive line is going to have a new look in 2011, and Ballard could have a role in that transformation. The Iowa senior has the ability to play multiple positions along the D-line, which the Vikings desperately need. He has good quickness off the ball and has the upper body strength to get off blocks. He's a big hitter and is durable, he hasn't missed a game since the start of the 2008 season.

Ballard was considered by most draftniks as a second-round pick, but a failed drug test before the NFL Combine likely sunk his draft stock. He has plenty of natural talent, but lacks the technical skills (footwork, hands, etc.) that make a defensive lineman effective in the NFL.

Verdict: Another great value pick and could be added to the defensive line mix immediately. He has second-round talent and it's up to the Vikings coaches to bring out his best -- because it's there.

Fifth round:
Brandon Burton, CB, Utah (#139 pick overall)
The Vikings needed to add depth to their secondary and they may have stolen another player in Brandon Burton. Burton was considered by some draft experts to be a third-round talent. He's a tall cornerback (6'0"), which the Vikings like, and he doesn't shy away from contact -- another trait the Vikings like in their d-backs. Burton is a player who can defend the outside passing game, but also move into the box and stop the run. His versatility will be welcomed in a Vikings secondary that was decimated by injuries last season. Burton was also a very good special teams player in college, a role he'll almost certainly play for the Vikings.

Verdict: The only real concern with Burton is his speed. He doesn't possess great recovery speed and will struggle against fast receivers. But he is a very active player and I expect him to be a special teams contributor right away. Also, look for him to maybe see the field in some nickel or dime situations.

Sixth round:
Demarcus Love, OT, Arkansas (#168 pick overall)
It's hard to get excited about a sixth round pick, but Love has ability to be an impact player for the Vikings. He was a projected fourth- or fifth-rounder and he's the perfect addition to an offensive line that struggled in all phases of the game, including with injuries. Love is a high character player -- on and off the field -- who was twice named captain Arkansas. Love can play both tackle positions, but is perhaps best suited to play guard. He played guard in Arkansas' run-heavy offense in 2007 and 2008 and excelled at that position. He was moved to tackle when Arkansas moved to a pass-heavy offense in 2009. Love is a better run blocker than he is a pass blocker and he's physically strong and plays with a mean streak.

Where Love will need to improve is with his footwork. He's too inconsistent and has difficultly with speed rushers off the edge. Most of his mistakes are due to his poor technique, which can be fixed in the NFL.

Verdict: With his ability to play guard and tackle, Love gives the Vikings flexibility on the offensive line. Don't be surprised if Love finds his way onto the field early on in his career.

Mistral Raymond, FS, South Florida (#170 pick overall)
At 6'1", Raymond is another tall defensive back in Minnesota's secondary. He played safety and cornerback at South Florida, so his role with the Vikings is undefined as of right now. He has the size to match-up with pro-size receivers and is fast enough to cover the middle of the field as a safety. His height and vertical allow him to compete with receivers when the ball is in the air.

Much like Brandon Burton, the Vikings fifth round pick, Raymond is an active player who plays fast. According to Raymond, the Vikings plan on using him as a cornerback. If that's the case, he'll need to work on his press coverage, which he struggled with during his career at South Florida.

Verdict: Raymond adds depth to a Vikings secondary that woefully underachieved last year and was decimated by injury. Raymond will start the season in a back-up role and likely on special teams.

Brandon Fusco, C, Slippery Rock (#172 pick overall)
Fusco didn't start playing football until his junior year in high school and he started because he wanted to take his frustration out in a controlled environment. His decision to seek out football as a stress reliever has now earned him a spot in the Vikings 2011 draft class. Fusco is a big, physical offensive lineman, who has played multiple positions on the o-line. During his senior season at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania, Fucso won the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year Award. He also participated in the 2011 Senior Bowl and showed he was physically gifted enough to hold-up against better competition.

Verdict: The Vikings have a question mark at center in John Sullivan, but Fusco is not an immediate solution to that problem. Fusco plays with a mean streak and he has strength to move bigger defensive tackles, but he's raw. He will need to work on his technique and footwork at the next level. He appears to have good upside and might be a late round steal for the Vikings at a position they need -- center.

Ross Homan, OLB, Ohio State (#200 pick overall)
Homan comes to the Vikings from Ohio State where he was a three-year starter. Homan had a great career at Ohio State, including a junior season when he led the Rose Bowl champion Buckeyes with 108 tackles. He has very good football instincts and does a good job of diagnosing plays quickly. The biggest knock on Homan is his size, he's small for a NFL linebacker. He doesn't possess elite strength or anchor and is often swallowed up by bigger offensive linemen. One of his strengths is his ability to drop back into pass coverage and read quarterbacks.

Verdict: He's a high effort player who will fight to the end of the whistle. But until he adds strength and some weight, look for him to be a special teams contributor at most.

D'Aundre Reed, DE, Arizona (#215 pick overall)
Reed was the third defensive end from the University of Arizona to be taken in this draft. While with the Wildcats, he was part of a three-end rotation playing behind Brooks Reed and Ricky Elmore. D'Aundre Reed is an impressive athlete with some upside. He plays fast and uses his long arms very well to get around offensive linemen. Reed will need work on getting off the line of scrimmage more consistently and he's not very good against the run.

Verdict: If Reed makes the team, he will likely be a situation player for the Vikings, probably a third down pass rusher. More than likely he will end up on the Vikings practice squad.

Seventh round:
Stephen Burton, WR, West Texas A&M (#236 pick overall)
Burton is an intriguing prospect because of his size and speed (6'1"; 4.5 40-yard dash). He also isn't afraid to work the middle of the field and make catches in traffic. He has a natural feel for the soft spots in the defense and does a nice job of running routes in the 10-15 yard range -- which will fit well in Musgrave's offense. His hands are a bit inconsistent and he doesn't have great body control when the ball is off target. He's another high character player who's earned praise for his play on the field and his work in the community.

Verdict: He's a young receiver who the Vikings should be able to develop on the practice squad. He's too raw to contribute this year, but he does have the potential to play on Sunday.

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