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With Ponder in place, Vikings need to draft LT Matt Kalil

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

The Vikings have turned their offense over to Christian Ponder. (US Presswire)  
The Vikings have turned their offense over to Christian Ponder. (US Presswire)  

We know what Indianapolis and Washington will do with the first two picks of the NFL Draft, and I can tell you what Minnesota should do with the third -- because, like Indianapolis and Washington, the Vikings have no decision to make.

The choice is a slam-dunk, and the slam-dunk is Matt Kalil.

Kalil is the best tackle in the draft and one of its best three or four prospects. More important, he's a left tackle whose strength is pass blocking, which means he's the ideal choice for Minnesota. Reason: The Vikings need someone to protect the blind side of quarterback Christian Ponder, and Kalil is that someone.

Look, if you're going to build your club on the shoulders of a promising young quarterback -- and the Vikings are trying -- you do what you can to protect him. Kalil is the best offensive lineman in this year's draft, so connect the dots.

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"Unless [the Vikings] get a real strong offer at 3 to move out of there," former Indianapolis president Bill Polian said, "I think they'll stay right where they are and get him."

Good. They should.

Nevertheless, there's a debate going on as to whom makes more sense for Minnesota -- Kalil or LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne -- and you don't have to look far to see why. The Vikings not only have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL; they play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford and Jay Cutler -- and if you can't defend them you're doomed to fail.

My guess is the Vikings probably are doomed, anyway, this season, but this isn't about 2012. This is about the next five to 10 years. This is about doing what's best for a franchise that's been the division doormat the past two seasons, and doing what's best for the Vikings is giving Ponder the weapons and protection he needs to help him succeed.

The Vikings have a head start on the weapons. They have the franchise running back in Adrian Peterson, and they have a franchise wide receiver in Percy Harvin. What they don't have is an offensive line to protect quarterback Christian Ponder, and choosing a bodyguard like Kalil goes a long way toward solving a front five that surrendered 49 sacks last season and was about as airtight as the S.S. Minnow.

The value of protection for a young quarterback cannot be overstated, and I offer St. Louis as Exhibit A. Sam Bradford was one of the league's promising young quarterbacks as a rookie, yet he and the Rams regressed last season, and I can tell you why in one word: Protection. He didn't have it.

His offensive line sprung unexpected leaks, his receivers couldn’t catch and Bradford became a piñata. The result was predictable: Everyone suffered. Bradford missed six starts, his completion percentage dropped, his passer rating dropped and his confidence took a hit. But he wasn't alone. St. Louis lost all but two games, and the team's head coach and GM lost their jobs.

Now look at the clubs that were successful in 2011. More specifically, look at last year's conference championship games. All four teams had quarterbacks that didn't miss a start. That should tell you something about the value of protecting that position, and what it tells Minnesota is loud and clear.


As poor as the Vikings were defending the pass in 2011, they were worse throwing it. They ranked 28th, and that can happen when you start a rookie at the most important position. But there should be improvement -- and considerable improvement -- the second season, with Eli Manning a textbook example. In his first season, he was 1-6 and had one game with a 0.0 passer rating. In his second, he led the Giants to the playoffs.

Ponder may not be Manning, but he's talented enough that the Vikings think they can win with him. That means that, along with Peterson, he becomes a foundation of an offense that needs to move forward to keep up with the rest of the NFC North. It also means the Vikings must do what they can to protect him.

"Coming out of the season," coach Leslie Frazier said of Ponder, "it felt like we had a guy who has a chance to be something special for the long term. He's got the qualities you look for in a quarterback, and we expect him to take big leaps as a leader of our offense and our team over time. We really expect him to take off and be a much improved quarterback."

It's not often you have an opportunity to draft a franchise left tackle, and when you do you don't waste it. Look at Miami in the 2008 draft. It made Jake Long the first overall pick. A year earlier, Cleveland made Joe Thomas the third. In 2010, Washington made Trent Williams the fourth choice.

I know, none of those clubs had much success, but they didn't really settle on a quarterback, either. Minnesota has. So give him the protection he didn't have a year ago. Give him Matt Kalil.


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