First draft as Vikings general manager goes well for Spielman

The Sports Xchange
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Basically, Rick Spielman couldn't have had a better start to his first draft as Vikings general manager.

Moments before the draft, he got three picks for nothing when he moved down one spot, allowing the Browns to take running back Trent Richardson, a player the Vikings didn't want or need. Spielman then selected Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil, the player he coveted all along at a position of gigantic need.

Then, with a league-high 13 picks, Spielman turned around and upgraded another massive need by trading back into the first round to take the second-best safety, Notre Dame's Harrison Smith, with the 29th overall pick.

Within a span of 25 picks, the Vikings had significantly strengthened their two weakest areas - offensive line and secondary - with two first-round picks.

In the third round, the Vikings then grabbed some quality cornerback depth and the heir apparent to Antoine Winfield when they selected Central Florida's Josh Robinson, who ran a Combine-best 4.29 40-yard dash.

They addressed their need at receiver by taking Arkansas teammates Jarius Wright and Greg Childs in the fourth round. More secondary help came in the fifth round when Spielman took Notre Dame's 6-1, 208-pound hybrid corner/safety.

A somewhat puzzling pick came in the sixth round when Spielman took Georgia kicker Blair Walsh. There was no indication that veteran Ryan Longwell was in trouble, but he does turn 38 soon and is coming off a season in which he missed six field-goal attempts (22 of 28).

BEST PICK

Left tackle Matt Kalil: He was the best and safest pick at a position of great need and importance to second-year quarterback Christian Ponder's development. Nothing else the team does matters if Ponder isn't well protected.

COULD SURPRISE

Cornerback Josh Robinson: A 199-pound corner with a Combine-best 4.29 40-yard dash, Robinson, the third-round pick, provides depth and an heir apparent to Antoine Winfield. If he puts that speed to good use, he could end up starting and/or returning kicks as a rookie.

A closer look at the Vikings' picks:

Round 1/4 - Matt Kalil, LT, 6-6, 308, Southern California

Kalil has the prototypical left tackle build, a passion for the game and the quickest feet that Vikings scouts have seen in years.

Round 1/29 - Harrison Smith, S, 6-2, 213, Notre Dame

Smith, a former college linebacker, has the size and strength to play in the box and the speed and instincts to cover the athletic tight ends that are spreading throughout the league.

Round 3/66 - Josh Robinson, CB, 5-10, 199, Central Florida.

Robinson can play man or zone, has the desire to come up in run support and also ran a Combine-best 4.29 40-yard dash.

Round 4/118 - Jarius Wright, WR, 5-10, 182, Arkansas.

A slot receiver who set school records for catches (168) and receptions (2,934).

Round 4/128 - Rhett Ellison, TE/FB, 6-5, 250, Southern California.

A fullback-tight end hybrid in the mold of a Jim Kleinsasser, who retired after 13 seasons.

Round 4/134 - Greg Childs, WR, 6-3, 219, Arkansas

Caught only 21 passes last year after tearing his patella tendon the year before. But is now healthy.

Round 5/139 - Robert Blanton, CB, 6-1, 208, Notre Dame

A tall corner who's the kind of hybrid type the Vikings covet.

Round 6/175 - Blair Walsh, K, 5-9, 187, Georgia

Will be groomed to eventually replace 37-year-old Ryan Longwell.

Round 7/210 - Audie Cole, ILB, 6-4, 246, North Carolina State

A big middle linebacker who runs a 4.8, he'll help on special teams and provide backup behind middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley.

Round 7/219 - Trevor Guyton, DT, 6-3, 285, California

The Vikings are loaded at the position, but have a history of not passing on promising young pass rushers.

--The first round of Rick Spielman's first draft as Vikings general manager went exactly as he had hoped and planned through months of expert subterfuge designed to disguise the team's intentions while drumming up trade interest in the third overall pick.

When Spielman convinced the Browns that teams were coming to him with an interest in Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Cleveland agreed before the start of the draft to send the Vikings three picks to move down one spot. Because the Vikings had no interest in Richardson, Spielman gave up nothing to get extra picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds. At that point, he had a league-high 13 picks and was moments from selecting Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil, an immediate starter and a player the Vikings feel is a safe bet to become a multiple Pro Bowler at a key franchise-building postion.

"I was like, 'Wow!'" coach Leslie Frazier said when asked for his reaction to the trade. "That's pretty good. I think Rick did a great job of setting the table leading up to the draft, just making people aware that we were willing to move and that we had three different guys (Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State Justin Blackmon) we were talking about and discussing. So it worked out like a charm for us."

Spielman wasn't done. With extra picks in his pocket, he began targeting Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith when the draft reached the 20th pick.

Finally, he was able to get Baltimore to give up the 29th pick for the Vikings' second-round pick (35th overall) and the highest of their four fourth-rounders (95th overall).

In the span of 25 picks, Spielman had significantly strengthened the two weakest areas of the team - offensive line and the secondary. With Kalil on board, Charlie Johnson slides from left tackle to left guard, where he's far better suited to play. As for safety, the Vikings had only three on the roster before Smith was selected. And one of them, Eric Frampton, is strictly a special teamer.

Asked if this is how he envisioned the first round unfolding, Spielman said, "You can say that was a fair vision."

Spielman has run the Vikings' draft the past six years. But this was his first with final say. Former coach Brad Childress had final say, while Spielman and Frazier shared authority during last year's draft.

"It was just a lot smoother," Spielman said of having a clear-cut decision-making voice in the team's war room.

Spielman will ultimately be judged on this draft and whether Christian Ponder, last year's No. 11 pick overall, develops into a franchise quarterback.

Signing former Bengals receiver Jerome Simpson two days before the draft gave Ponder another playmaker. And Kalil should provide Ponder with the time and comfort level needed to make plays in the pocket.

"We saw (Kalil) as a guy who could be a Pro Bowler for a long time," Frazier said. "That was obvious from our standpoint. Along with what we're trying to do with our quarterback. We wanted to make sure we do the things that are necessary to ensure that he has success. This gives us a chance to take that step in that direction."

Meanwhile, at safety, the Vikings haven't had an instinctive playmaker there since Darren Sharper left after the 2008 season. Spielman believes that will change with Smith.

A two-time captain at Notre Dame, Smith has the size (6-2, 213) to play in the box and, according to Spielman, the speed to play deep in coverage.

"He's a very smart football player, very smart in his angles," Spielman said. "He's a big safety (6-2, 213) that plays fast. But I also know how smart he is in coverage and just watching the angles he takes on a pass. The anticipation to watch the quarterback and get a jump on the ball as it's coming out. He has a lot of those instincts and that ability to make plays because he's so smart and so instinctive."

And now the Vikings head into Day 2 with 10 more picks. They don't have a second-rounder, but don't be surprised by anything Spielman tries to pull as he looks to fill more holes.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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