As successful NFL personnel people will attest, NFL games are won as much in the front office as on the field, for it is the successful front office that tends to correlate with the successful team. In the NFL, a successful front office is measured by three criteria—contract management, free-agent signees, and draftees.
With few meaningful contract issues this season, the Minnesota Vikings’ personnel people are most aptly judged in 2006 on the basis of their free-agent signings and their draft acumen. After a respectable free-agency period, whether the Vikings would keep pace with their division rivals came down to a question of how the Vikings did in the draft. And upon further review, the returns are as much disappointing as they are promising.
In yesterday’s column, I noted that one could argue that the Vikings had a respectable draft. After selecting a consensus starter in Chad Greenway in the first round, the Vikings proceeded to add two more players in the second round—Cedric Griffin and Ryan Cook—who potentially fill extant holes. But it is with these picks that questions begin to arise about the draft skills of the Vikings’ draft coterie—head coach Brad Childress and personnel men Scott Studwell and Fran Foley. For beginning with the Griffin pick, the Vikings tranformed from a team intent on optimizing their selections to a team bent on proving that counter-intuitiveness trumps conventional wisdom. And that transformation could be the difference between the Vikings merely keeping pace with their division and conference rivals and gaining an edge on those same adversaries through a draft in which the Vikings purportedly had a numbers edge.
The problem with the Vikings’ draft picks from the second round on is not necessarily who they drafted—though there are some clear concerns in that area—but what the team paid to get those players and whether the team optimized its selections. And no matter how one dissects the draft, it is clear that the Vikings’ personnel people made several gaffes once they moved from selecting, in round one, a consensus player at a position that they desperately needed to fill, to drafting in the murkier waters of the post-round one realm.
The Picks and the Prices
Having addressed their primary need at linebacker with the selection of Chad Greenway the Vikings next moved to address their need at cornerback. With Brian Williams gone the Vikings needed a corner capable both of starting at nickel back and pushing the enigmatic Fred Smoot. There were several comparable cornerbacks of reasonable quality still on the board when the Vikings selected at forty-eight. But rather than selecting the more highly regarded Ashton Youboty, the Vikings opted for Cedric Griffin. That Youboty lasted until the seventieth pick suggests that taking Griffin at forty-eight was an unnecessary reach.
As I’ve said many times in the past, a reach is only a reach if it adversely affects your bottom line. And Griffin’s selection at forty-eight affected the Vikings’ bottom line. For, had the Vikings not drafted Griffin at forty-eight, they still could have taken him at fifty or drafted any number of other comparable cornerbacks in round three. The reach on Griffin would be virtually meaningless, however, were it not for the Vikings’ desperation to select a quarterback in round two and the team’s subsequent comedy of errors made in an attempt to ensure that they landed a player that they could have landed without having to trade away a valuable third-round pick.
Purportedly, the Vikings had Oregon quarterback Kellen Clemens as their target in the second round. The Vikings erroneously assumed that Clemens would still be available when they next selected at fifty-one. When the N.Y. Jets swung a deal with the Dallas Cowboys to move into the number forty-nine position to take Clemens, the Vikings’ draft room imploded, with those who wanted to take Clemens at forty-eight at odds with those who did not.
The Vikings reacted to the Jets’ move by making two moves of their own. First, they inexplicably took center Ryan Cook with the fifty-first pick. Barring either a revelation that Matt Birk will not be ready to play at the beginning of the 2006 season or a determination to move Birk to right guard, a position that the Vikings purportedly filled with the trade for Artis Hicks, the move makes little sense as center is not a need for the Vikings. With several legitimate NFL players still on the board at positions of need for the Vikings, the selection of Cook—widely regarded as a round-five pick before the draft—therefore is mystifying.
Adding to the Vikings’ second-round intrigue was the Vikings’ trade of their two third-round picks, numbers eighty-three and ninety-five, to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the Steelers’ number sixty-four pick. With the sixty-fourth pick, the Vikings selected a major quarterback project, Alabama State quarterback Tarvaris Jackson.
To summarize the Vikings’ round two blunders, it is easiest to work backwards at this point. If the Vikings had wanted Clemens there was no excuse for not taking him with the forty-eighth pick. If that meant that another team snuck in between forty-eight and fifty-one to nab Griffin, so be it. There were many other viable cornerbacks still available—Youboty among them.
If the Vikings were content with obtaining Jackson, however, Griffin was a credible selection at forty-eight and the Vikings still could have had Jackson at fifty-one. And that would have left the Vikings with picks eighty-three and ninety-five—where they could have selected Cook or, if Cook was gone, another center such as the much more highly rated Greg Eslinger, or another player that filled a need.
Who would have been available to the Vikings in the third round? To name just a few, Rashad Butler, Maurice Stoval, Greg Eslinger, Dominique Byrd, Will Blackmon, Elvis Dumervil, and Mark Setterstrom. Even if the Vikings believed that these players were redundant or stretches, they were free additions—the price was merely proper management of selections in round two. That the Vikings failed properly to manage their selections in round two meant, at a minimum, that the team forfeited the opportunity to add at least one more third-round caliber player. That’s a peculiar luxury to afford oneself in an era in which third-round picks more often than not make the squad and stay with a team for at least three years.
Ultimately, what might be a decent draft for the Vikings on the basis of a solid first-round pick might as well be regarded as a highly disappointing pick for the loss of at least one pick in the third round without benefit of any meaningful return. And if the purported return is a bust, the second-round maneuvers in this year’s draft will look even more amateurish and could lead to a recall of personnel people.
Up Next: More Questions. Plus, remaining needs.Posted by maasx003 at May 2, 2006 6:07 AM