The Minnesota Vikings had a really tough year. As a team coming off of a deep playoff run in 2009, they seemed like a real contender last year. That great 2009 team stayed largely intact, returning a lot of good players who’d had spectacular years. To give you an idea of this team’s talent, let’s take a look at some of those players:
QB: Brett Favre had a renaissance year in 2009, playing like a man possessed for most of the year, hardly ever turning the ball over, and leading their playoff run. It looked like Favre was going to play ‘til he was 50, but if he retired the team still had the talented (if somewhat raw) Tarvaris Jackson to back him up.
RB: Adrian Peterson had some fumbling issues, but he was still arguably the top RB in the game.
WR: Sidney Rice had a breakout year, making himself a top 15 WR in the league. Percy Harvin tore it up as a rookie (when healthy), both as WR and KR. Berrian had an off year, but his history with the Bears indicated a rebound in 2010.
TE: Shiancoe was coming into his own at TE; not a single worry there.
More after the jump...
OL: Bryant McKinnie and rookie Phil Loadholt were excellent bookends for a solid o-line. Herrera and Hutchinson held down the guard positions
DL: The Williamses’seses were still a dominant duo at DT. Jared Allen and Ray Edwards were equally great at DE, which convinced FOX to create the unfortunate acronym, "Shock and AWWE."
LB: Henderson, Leber, and Greenway were a more than serviceable group.
DB: The safety spot was solid, while Antoine Winfield, Cedric Griffin, Asher Allen, and former Eagle Lito Sheppard created an above-average group at CB.
We all know what the 2010 season amounted to… So what the heck happened? Well, Favre came back, but unfortunately he came back wearing his 2008 hat and then (mercifully) got injured. He tried to fight through it (humiliating for all involved), but Favre was a big stumbling block. And to make matters worse, he sent pictures of his junk to a few women he wasn’t married to, embarrassing the team (but mostly himself). Thankfully he appears to be retired for good. Jackson? He got injured too. Joe Webb, the Vikings WR project, took over and was hot and cold as QB. QB is now a need.
Adrian Peterson had a good year, and former Stanford monster Toby Gerhart is backing him up. So RB is fine. The wideout spot, on the other hand, is in trouble. Rice missed most of the season with an injury and is likely headed to free agency. Harvin struggled with migraines and other ailments, but managed to produce nonetheless. Berrian failed to rebound. Randy Moss had a brief and excruciatingly awkward revival in purple. He was traded, and HC Chilly eventually lost his job, (supposedly) because of the whole Moss debacle. The football-playing Iglesias, Camarillo, and two former Eagles round out the WR depth in sub-par fashion. WR is now a need.
Tight end is fine, as Shiancoe is still playing well. While McKinnie’s career is in decline, the guy can still play, and Loadholt is doing just fine on the right end. Herrera missed the season with a torn ACL (yes, non-Eagles players sometimes tear their ACLs too) and also required triceps surgery, while Hutchinson also spent his season on the IR. Both are at risk of being released, and depth/youth is a must. OG is now a need.
The defensive line did great in 2010, but Ray Edwards is looking for a big payday, and is likely leaving via free agency. Pat Williams is getting older, but he’s still playing well. Everson Griffen and Brian Robison can adequately replace Edwards, but his pass-rush production will be sorely missed. In my opinion, DE is now a need.
The linebacker position may be the best position on the team, outside of RB. Greenway is an absolute monster, and the Vikings were smart to slap the franchise tag on him. Leber is probably on his way out of town, but the Hendersons and Jasper Brinkley can make up for the loss. LB is not a need.
Now on to DBs. The safety saw a few injuries (the Vikings had a rough go with that in 2010, and I think most of us can sympathize there), and even before the injuries it was a weaker position for the team. At CB, Winfield is not getting any younger, and Cedric Griffin was also injured. Asher Allen is a solid player, but CB may also be a need. In general, DB is a need.
So we can gather that QB, WR, OG, DE, and DB are all needs. Given all the info you’ve seen above, I’d say these needs can be ranked as follows:
QB OG DB WR DE
The only QBs worth a 12th overall pick are Newton and Gabbert, both of whom are already gone. Pouncey and Watkins are the only OGs I’d take in the first, but I wouldn’t take either before pick 20. There are no safeties worth a first rounder, and arguably only one who should even go in the 2nd (Rahim Moore). At CB, Peterson and Amukamara are both elite prospects, but both are gone in this draft. Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris are possibilities, but both have their concerns. Brandon Harris has size issues and misses a lot of INTs, but he’s still a solid player. Jimmy Smith could be the best CB in this class, but he has character concerns. In my opinion, either of these players could be smart choices for the Vikes, but I think there are better players on the board at other positions of need. Also, if Griffin recovers well from his injury, the Vikings will be okay at CB for another season or two. I still don’t know how Bowers and Quinn lasted as long as they did, but with Aldon Smith, JJ Watts,Cameron Jordan, and Ryan Kerrigan, it’s still a tough choice. Robison and Griffin should be able to hold down the LE spot for now, with Pernell McPhee, Greg Romeus, and Ugo Chinasa available in the mid- to late- rounds.
For of all of the above reasons, the best pick for the Vikings is Julio Jones, the stellar wideout from Alabama. The Vikings are getting a steal here, as Julio Jones is one of the most talented players in this draft. I think Julio Jones will be a better player than AJ Green, and will probably be the best player to come out of the 2011 class. He can immediately fill in for Sidney Rice and will be an excellent weapon for whoever the Vikes decide to start at QB.
At 6’3" 220lbs, Jones is an absolute monster at the WR position. He ran a 4.34 at the combine and posted a 38.5 inch vertical – all on a broken foot, no less. He has shown great burst off the line and can use his strength and quick hands to manhandle CBs at initial contact. He’s not an amazing route runner and can be a little slow coming out of his cuts, but he makes up for it with his strength and size. Jones is an absolute beast after the catch, breaking tackles like a running back, and shows a great competitive drive as a downfield blocker. He’s a tough player and an outstanding citizen, known for his community service. His hands are suspect at times, but this is likely due to lapses in concentration rather than naturally bad hands. This is the sort of thing that can be coached up, and he’s too dynamic of a player to skip because of a few drops.
Julio Jones’ production throughout his college career is solid. As a freshman he racked up almost 60 receptions for 924 yards and 4 TDs, earning SEC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American selection. He struggled with injuries his sophomore year but still managed over 40 catches, 596 yards and 4 TDs. He also came up big when he needed to, including a monster game against LSU at the end of the season. His senior year was his most productive, as he caught 78 balls and managed over 1,100 receiving yards. He’s an impact player who makes huge plays when it counts the most. The biggest concern, however, is his injury risk. He dealt with leg injuries during his sophomore year and, as previously noted, participated in the combine with a broken bone in his foot. He’s played through the injuries, but he needs to remain healthy to make a big impact in the NFL.
With the exception of the whole "outstanding citizen" thing, Jones bears a remarkable resemblance to another talented wideout that we Philly fans are familiar with – Terrell Owens. The first similarity is size, as Owens is also 6’3" and weighs 230lbs. Neither are great route runners (although Jones certainly isn’t bad) and both have questionable hands at times, but both players compensate with their strength and after-the-catch explosiveness. Jones’ best-known play was a huge touchdown on a WR screen against LSU in 2009, and TO was (in his prime) also very good on WR screens. I think Julio Jones will be Terrell Owens without the drama – the only concern is his injury history. But I think the risks are far outweighed by the rewards at the #12 pick overall.