Tuesday, June 14, 2011

KD's NFL Draft Grades - Minnesota Vikings

Perhaps no team made a more shocking pick than the Vikings selection of Florida State Quarterback Christian Ponder with the 12th overall selection. Many draft experts were left shaking their heads at the pick, but we know now that had Minnesota not taken him, Miami had him atop their draft board at the 15th selection. However, I believe that Ponder was worth a 1st round pick in the middle of the round, so I don't consider it much of a reach for Minnesota, especially since they had a huge need at the position. Minnesota ended up with 10 total selections that they used to help fill in some of the holes on their roster. At a quick glance on paper, Minnesota's roster is pretty complete, and the horrific play of Brett Favre just showed how important quality play at the quarterback spot is.

1st round, 12th overall) Christian Ponder - QB - Florida State
You'll recall that I liked Ponder better than just about every quarterback prospect in the draft except Ryan Mallett when it comes to on-field skills, and unlike Mallett, Ponder's record is as clean as a whistle. Ponder's extremely smart having already completed his undergraduate degree in finance and his MBA, and he was working on a Masters of Sport Management in the spring of 2011. Most of Ponder's struggles at FSU were due to injuries, coaching changes, and very inexperienced wide receivers in Tallahassee.

How he fits in: Ponder should be in the mix to start from day one as Brett Favre is finally done, we think. Joe Webb and Rhett Bomar probably won't stand in Ponder's way, so unless a veteran is brought in via free agency or traded for, Ponder should get a handle on the job right away. Ponder's got decent size at 6'2" 229lbs and comes from a pro-style offense at Florida State. Jimbo Fisher kept the offense pretty simplistic due to the young receivers and skill players. Ponder's got decent arm strength, and his athleticsim is very good. You sort of have to color him as a crossbreed of Aaron Rodgers and Chad Pennington.

Outlook: Ponder will certainly benefit from being able to hand the ball of to Adrian Peterson. Minnesota has some nice weapons in Percy Harvin, Visanthe Shiancoe, and Sidney Rice, if they're able to re-sign him. The offensive line is good, but it's getting old. Bryant McKinnie is still a mountain of a man but he's lost a step. Steve Hutchinson isn't the best guard in the NFL any more, and Phil Loadholt looks great one week and like a turnstyle the next. That's where Ponder's athleticsim will factor in as he can extend the play outside the pocket and still keep his eyes downfield, much like Favre did running all over the field. Ponder will see action early, and he's my favorite of the first 4 guys drafted to succeed.

2nd round, 43rd overall) Kyle Rudolph - TE - Notre Dame
I won't profess to know how the Vikings will use the dynamic tight end early on, but one of my old co-workers was Rudolph's basketball coach in high school and still keeps in touch with him, and in fact, was with Rudolph when he was drafted. He relayed that the plan was for Minnesota to use Visanthe Shiancoe as the starter and rotate Rudolph and veteran Jim Kleinsasser based on the situation (Rudolph in passing sets, and Kleinsasser in running sets). Then, they'll make a decision to keep one of the two between Shiancoe and Kleinsasser to team with for the future going forward after the 2011 season. Rudolph brings tremendous size, athleticism, and hands to the position. He's an adequate blocker, and he'll get better over time. The key for him is to stay healthy. At 6'6" and 259lbs, he's a nightmare mismatch for anyone in a defenses back seven. He just has to stay on the field.

4th round, 106th overall) Christian Ballard - DT - Iowa
Ballard's stock took a hit when it came out when he failed a drug test at the Combine in February, which is pretty dumb to say the least because you know it's coming up. Regardless of his off the field habits, which are frequent among players anyway, Ballard is a legitimate top 50 talent, so Minnesota got a nice value pick here. Ballard's undersized compared to the "Williams Wall" made up of Kevin and Pat, who've been shutting down run games since the mid 2000s. Ballard stands in at 6'3" 284lbs, but like most Hawkeye defenders, he displays great technique to make up for the lack of size. He's versatile and can be lined up as a strongside DE in short yardage situations, and that may be what the Vikings have in mind as Ray Edwards, who is following Tom Zbikowski into professional boxing, is a free agent. Ballard will see plenty of snaps, be it at end or tackle, and he should make an immediate impact.

5th round, 139th overall) Brandon Burton - CB - Utah
The Vikings traded away Benny Sapp just before the season started last year and Antoine Winfield is getting pretty old. Asher Allen, Lito Sheppard, and Frank Walker are little more than average depth at this point, so Minnesota decided to add a potential future starter to its lineup. Utah's program has been churning out solid defensive prospects over the last several years, and I think they'll really surprise people in the new Pac-12 conference. They'll miss Burton's presence as he opted to entre the draft a year early. Obviously, Burton could've benefited from an extra year at school, but he brings nice size 5'11" 190lbs to the table. A two-year starter, he's gotten his hands on a lot of footballs notching 18 pbus and 3 picks the past two seasons. He'll probably start as a dime or nickel player as a rookie and will have the opportunity to learn from a savvy vet like Winfield, which will help him in the future. Getting Chris Cook and Cedric Griffin back from injury will make it harder for Burton to earn playing time.

6th round, 168th overall) Demarcus Love - T - Arkansas
Playing through a leg injury, Love had a horrendous showing at the Senior Bowl and dropped way down draft boards. He might even have to switch inside to guard at the NFL level because of his lack of athleticism. At 6'4" 315lbs he's stout enough to anchor against a bull-rush, but has trouble mirroring and sliding his feet against quicker rushers. He bounced back and forth between left and right tackle at Arkansas (switching sides in certain series thanks to a strange gimmick in Bobby Petrino's offense). His technique leaves something to be desired and he'll get caught lunging after defenders and struggles in space. Minnesota might be a good fit for him, but he'll have to compete with a slew of guards on the roster to earn playing time.

6th round, 170th overall) Mistral Raymond - S - South Florida
Minnesota had a need at safety after some dissapointing play from Tyrell Johnson and an injury to Madieu Williams. Raymond was an off-the-radar pick and was a one year starter for the Bulls. He notched 43 tackles (4.5 for loss) and an interception as a senior. He has just average size and might just be purely a competition pick for one of the reserve safety spots. He'll have to show something in the preseason either on defense or special teams just to make it through final cuts.

6th round, 172nd overall) Brandon Fusco - C - Slippery Rock
Fusco was an intriguing player at the Senior Bowl as he more than held his own against a much higher level of competition. He showed decently well at the Combine and even showed up with some added muscle from the Senior Bowl, checking in at 6'4" 306lbs. He's very athletic and is a very quick learner, so coaches will like him a lot. His technique is raw, as he often plays too high and has trouble finding and sticking with work at the second level. While I don't think he'll push the incumbent John Sullivan this year, he could very well push him next year or even be the eventual successor to the great Steve Hutchinson at left guard.

6th round, 200th overall) Ross Homan - LB - Ohio State
Minnesota's had a strong group of linebackers the past couple of seasons led by E.J. Henderson and Chad Greenway. Ben Leber is capable of holding his own, but there's almost zero depth aside from Jasper Brinkley. Homan was a tackling machine for the Buckeyes recording 108 stops as a junior and 72 as a senior. He's also decent when going back into coverage, but he's short so you can throw over the top of him to backs and tight ends. He dispelled a lot of concerns showing up to the Combine at 240lbs, up from the 225lbs he was playing at in Columbus. Homan won't start as long as Chad Greenway is a Viking, but he's certainly a player who is smart enough to grasp the defense enough to take Leber or Henderson off the field on 3rd downs and in nickel situations.

7th round, 215th overall) D'Aundre Reed - DE - Arizona
The third DE from the Wildcats program behind Brooks Reeds and Ricky Elmore, D'Aundre provides the Vikings with another option for depth along the D-line. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison currently hold the top two spots, but they're not much to write home about. Reed played in 34 games with 7 starts over his final two years at Arizona, and was an adequate player. He brings a nice combination of size and athleticism to the table, but he just hasn't been able to put everything together yet. He might have his best football in front of him still, but he looks like he's destined for the practice squad at this point.

7th round, 236th overall) Stephen Burton - WR - West Texas A&M
It's pretty rare to have two players from the Lone Star Conference go in the Draft, but that's what happened with Miami's Edmond Gates and the Vikings Stephen Burton. Burton is a big receiver at 6'4" 215lbs and has decent speed. Prior to his arrival at West Texas A&M, he was a kick returner for Long Beach Community College averaging 23.9 yards per return. He'll give the Vikings a tall receiver to throw to, but he's a project at best for right now.

Overall Grade: B
As Ponder goes, so goes this draft grade. I really like the pick, he's just got to prove it out on the field. Kyle Rudolph and Christian Ballard are both solid players who will see a lot of action right away. After that though, the Vikings added a lot of depth. They owned the 6th round with four selections, the best of whom will be C Brandon Fusco. Demarucs Love has a long way to go, but he might shape himself into a useful player for the Vikings, perhaps a swing tackle or 3rd grade with possible starting potential down the road. However, there's not a whole lot to be excited about having so many late round options and just three picks in the first four rounds. However, all three of those picks should be good, and if they can develop Brandon Burton and Brandon Fusco, this draft will have shaped up pretty nicely. Any additional production they can get from the likes of Mistral Raymond, D'Aundre Reed, and Stephen Burton is a bonus.

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