With the third pick in the 2012 BGN Community Mock Draft, Dave King selects...
Morris Claiborne: CB, LSU
Everyone expects Matt Kalil. Heck, I think I would choose Matt Kalil here. But I don't think the Vikings would agree with me.
Minnesota is a team in a full-scale rebuilding program. They have essentially zero hope of a playoff berth this year, and probably not the next, especially when you consider that they share a division with three NFC contenders in the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, and Detroit Lions. Minnesota's not a team where you can say, "Alright, we're strong in these areas; if we can upgrade at these positions, we might be good enough to eke out a wild card this year." Other teams, like the Cleveland Browns and the Seattle Seahawks, can claim that, because they have young, strong defenses and decent offenses sorely lacking a true franchise quarterback. Minnesota has only two strengths - Jared Allen, who led them to 50 sacks, tying with Philadelphia for the league lead, and Adrian Peterson, who suffered an ACL tear in Week 16 and probably won't be back at full strength this year. They've got dire needs at a number of areas - they have an awful offensive line, and perhaps one of the league's worst secondaries (only eight interceptions last year, six before they ended the season against Rex Grossman and Josh McCown).
So, if you're Vikings GM Rick Spielman, where do you go from here? Do you draft #1 tackle Matt Kalil, and protect the investment you've made at quarterback, giving Christian Ponder the chance to succeed in a functional offense? Or do you go after a possibly generational prospect at cornerback, giving the Vikings the cornerstone they need in the defensive backfield in order to actually give the offense a chance in a game?
More after the jump...
At the same time, you also have to consider what players you can get in the second round, and how large the dropoff is in talent. Which cornerbacks will be available at the second round, which offensive tackles will be available, and which pick at #3 will help you accrue more overall talent in the draft?
Originally, I was going to say Kalil, no question. But then, as I was doing my research, I came across an interview of Rick Spielman by Vikings beat man Bob Sansevere. Here's a selection from the ensuing article:
"Last time I ran into Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, he quizzed me. He asked if I knew the starting left tackles for the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. I shrugged. He wanted to make the point that a left tackle doesn't have to be an all-pro or even well known for a team to be successful."
This is true - the Giants offensive line was a shambles this year, and they still won the Super Bowl. Who was the Packers' left tackle last year? The Saints' in 2009? Spielman has a valid point - the left tackle doesn't need to be an All-Pro or even a Pro Bowler, just good enough for the team to succeed. On the other hand, what's the old adage? Defense wins championships. Claiborne is being touted as a generational talent at cornerback. The Vikings secondary was atrocious last season - I know numerous posters at the Vikings blog Daily Norseman claimed it was the worst secondary they had ever seen in Minnesota.
And despite the NFC North featuring pass rushers like Cliff Avril, Julius Peppers, and Clay Matthews, they're not nearly as threatening as the passing offenses - there needs to be someone to go up against Brandon Marshall, the Packers, and Megatron, and Claiborne has the skillset to be one of the few able to hold his ground against them.
In the previously linked article, Sansevere responded to Spielman's questions by claiming that those tackles played for elite quarterbacks, who masked those deficiencies. That's also true - posters at Daily Norseman mentioned that the 2009 incarnation of the Vikings line was almost as hideous as last year's, but the elite play of Brett Favre was enough to cover it up.
So my ramblings come back full circle - Christian Ponder is not an elite quarterback yet, though the Vikings believe he can become one. But what helps him and the team more - drafting an elite offensive tackle to anchor a horrible line, or an elite cornerback to anchor an equally, if not more abysmal secondary? And again, we ask ourselves, can we get good value at tackle or cornerback in the second?
You can win in this league with an average offensive line - the Packers went 15-1 this season with a revolving door at tackle, though that caught up with them in the playoffs. But think back - when has a team won a championship with a mediocre secondary? Not the Giants, they stepped up their game in the playoffs.
Ultimately, I remain divided on this question. So I'm left to analyze Rick Spielman, and see what he thinks. Sansavere has another quote that highlights what Spielman might be thinking:
"With each passing day, the argument builds that Spielman prefers Claiborne over Kalil. For one thing, the Vikings haven't pursued a cornerback in free agency. For another, they have expressed interest in offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz, who is nothing special and missed all of last season after hip surgery. Presumably, he fits the type of lineman Spielman thinks you can win with in the NFL."
While I still am uncertain on the matter, Rick Spielman's views are more pronounced. My task is to represent the Minnesota Vikings' decision as accurately as possible, and the choice is clear: The Vikings select Morris Claiborne.
Next on the clock will be FloridaEagle with the Cleveland Browns.