Pelissero: Draft another step for Vikings improving 'abysmal' depth
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Injuries didn't doom the Minnesota Vikings in 2011, but they did contribute to just how ugly things got on the road to 3-13.
Forty players started at least one game on offense or defense. By the end, the list included far too many guys who either weren't ready (Brandon Burton, Mistral Raymond, Christian Ballard) or simply have no business starting in the NFL (Devin Aromashodu, Kenny Onatolu, Marcus Sherels).
"We had some situations where our depth at certain positions was abysmal," coach Leslie Frazier said on Sunday. "You lose one guy and, man, you're virtually playing with guys who should only be playing special teams."
It's in that way the Vikings' activity in the second wave of free agency, coupled with the 10-man draft class they compiled last week, may make the most immediate impact.
Take the cornerback group, which was so depleted last season coaches stuck with Cedric Griffin past his expiration date, used a player they almost cut (Asher Allen) to shadow opponents' best receivers and got spot starts from Sherels, Burton and Benny Sapp.
Signing Chris Carr and Zack Bowman weren't game-changing moves. Using a third-round draft pick on speedy Central Florida product Josh Robinson might not be either, at least not in the short term. But the quality and quantity of options do appear to be improved in several spots from a year ago.
"We're starting to shore up our roster now (such) that we can be competitive if we suffer an injury at a certain position," Frazier said. "If for no other reason, we think we'll be much more competitive and win a few more ballgames because our talent level and our depth has improved."
The following is a position-by-position look at how we expected the Vikings to address the draft and what ended up happening. (Note: Undrafted additions still must pass physicals and thus are subject to change.)
What we were saying: "The only quarterback the Vikings care much about in this draft is Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill, whose supposedly rising stock is their primary hope for collecting a king's ransom for the No. 3 pick. The chances of that happening appear relatively slim, though -- and the chances of the Vikings selecting a quarterback with any of their 10 picks are even slimmer."
Analysis: No surprises here. Tannehill went No. 8 to Miami. Ponder, Webb and Rosenfels remain atop the depth chart, in that order. Spencer Ohm, a Blooming Prairie native who played quarterback for Concordia University in St. Paul, will run the offense on a tryout basis at this weekend's rookie camp.
Unsigned: Lorenzo Booker (non-tendered).
What we were saying: "Coach Leslie Frazier has hinted the Vikings may draft another halfback to provide insurance if their starter isn't ready to start the season. They already have a lot invested in Peterson and Gerhart, though, making it unlikely they'd take another back earlier than Round 4, if not later. Fullback probably won't be addressed at all."
Additions: Undrafted -- Derrick Coleman, UCLA.
Analysis: The Vikings ended up passing on halfbacks altogether, putting Todman and Hilliard in the thick of a competition for the No. 3 job behind Peterson -- who remains on schedule in his return from knee reconstruction surgery -- and Gerhart. Felton remains the favorite to unseat D'Imperio as the fullback, and the way offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave moves his tight ends limits the role of that position anyway.
Unsigned: Greg Camarillo.
What we were saying: "The Vikings need a vertical speed threat. They don't appear to have that player on the roster. And speculation has mounted in recent days they might take a receiver -- Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon or perhaps even Notre Dame's Michael Floyd -- with the No. 3 overall pick. But doing so would mean passing on a potential long-term answer at left tackle in favor of a player who's far from a consensus star at a position believed to be among this draft's deepest. Position scarcity alone suggests the Vikings would be better off drafting Southern California tackle Matt Kalil with their top pick and then looking to upgrade the receiver corps in Rounds 2, 3 and/or 4."
Additions: Fourth round -- Jarius Wright, Arkansas (118th); Greg Childs, Arkansas (134th). Undrafted -- Kamar Jorden, Bowling Green.
Analysis: In the end, the Vikings never really considered trading lower than No. 5. The signing of Jerome Simpson to a one-year deal days before the draft gave them a true split end who, if all goes to plan, will start opposite Harvin once he has served his three-game suspension. There will be quite a competition for the reserve jobs, with Jenkins on the inside track and Burton in the mix with the draft picks. Wright will get most of his work in the slot and Childs at the boundary.
Departures: Jimmy Kleinsasser (retired).
Unsigned: Visanthe Shiancoe.
What we were saying: "The Vikings don't have a road grader to replace Kleinsasser, but 272-pound tight ends with limited receiving skills are rare in the modern NFL. Kleinsasser only played 38.9% of the snaps last season anyway, and many of those could be replaced with more competent fullback play. The resources they've already invested in tight ends make it unlikely the Vikings would consider drafting another before the late rounds, although they've shown before they won't hesitate if they think they can get a bargain on a playmaker."
Additions: Fourth round -- Rhett Ellison, Southern Cal (128th).
Analysis: Ellison is a try-hard, movement-type H-back who figures to flex in and out of the backfield. Rudolph and Carlson sit atop the depth chart, but Musgrave uses so many extra-tight sets there will room on the roster for three and maybe even four players in this group.
Unsigned: Scott Kooistra.
What we were saying: "If the Vikings keep the No. 3 overall pick, the prohibitive favorite is Southern California left tackle Matt Kalil (6-6 5/8, 306), a polished pass protector who has the length (34½-inch arms), athleticism (4.65 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle, 7.33 seconds in the 3-cone drill at the combine) and pedigree (son of onetime NFL draft pick Frank Kalil, brother of Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil) to be a star. Left tackle is a core position that must be addressed, and there is no consensus on the draft's second-best option, since some believe Iowa's Reilly Reiff (6-5¾, 313) is destined for the right side or perhaps even guard. Any trade that pushes the Vikings past No. 5 probably would take Kalil out of the picture. Are they really willing to take that chance on a young quarterback's blindside? If they do take Kalil, the Vikings wouldn't devote much more of their resources (if any) on this group, perhaps targeting another developmental player in the late rounds."
Additions: First round -- Kalil (fourth). Undrafted -- Austin Pasztor, Virginia; Quentin Saulsberry, Mississippi State; Darrion Weems, Oregon.
Analysis: The Vikings did the logical thing, trading down one slot for extra picks and then locking down Kalil, whose presence at left tackle allows Johnson to move to left guard. Sullivan and Loadholt return as starters, leaving one spot up for grabs at right guard, where Schwartz and Fusco are the front-runners. The backup slots are wide open.
Departures: Remi Ayodele (released).
What we were saying: "This still is one of the more talented groups in the NFL, but it remains to be seen if Guion can stabilize the nose tackle position and if Ballard can be Williams' successor at the three-technique. The Vikings have had a lot of success drafting defensive linemen in the middle rounds. It wouldn't be a surprise if they address the interior with one of their three fourth-round picks this year -- or perhaps even pounce sooner if they feel they can get a bargain at the nose."
Additions: Seventh round -- Trevor Guyton, California (219th). Undrafted -- Chase Baker, Boise State; Kevin Cyrille, Florida Atlantic; Eric Latimore, Penn State; Ernest Owusu, California; Tydreke Powell, North Carolina; Terrell Resonno, Missouri.
Analysis: Apparently, there weren't many bargains to be found, although Guyton fits the mold of a wave player at end and three-technique. Allen and Robison are locked in as starters. Williams doesn't have much competition. The nose still seems shaky, considering Guion remains a projection there. Four of the undrafted additions -- Baker, Cyrille, Powell and Resonno -- are interior players who weigh 290 pounds or more.
Departures: Kenny Onatolu (signed with Carolina).
What we were saying: "The Vikings have selected four linebackers over the past five drafts and only one of them (Brinkley) has even become a contributor. That has left the position in need of an influx that could begin on the draft's second day, barring a significant trade down in Round 1 that might bring Boston College middle linebacker Luke Kuechly into play. More likely, they'll take a mike linebacker in the middle rounds and perhaps add another body late."
Additions: Seventh round -- Audie Cole, North Carolina State (210th). Linebackers -- Tyler Nielsen, Iowa; Corey Paredes, Hawaii.
Analysis: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the draft was the lack of additions here, given Frazier's repeated statements the position had to be addressed. The Vikings liked Cole after working with him at the Senior Bowl, though, and Nielsen might surprise in camp. The chances are better than ever Brinkley will get his shot as a two-down starter, with Greenway and Erin Henderson handling the nickel.
On the roster: Asher Allen, Zack Bowman, Brandon Burton, Chris Carr, Chris Cook, Eric Frampton, Reggie Jones, Mistral Raymond, Jamarca Sanford, Andrew Sendejo, Marcus Sherels, Nick Taylor, Antoine Winfield.
What we were saying: "LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne may have the highest ceiling of the three players Vikings general manager Rick Spielman says he's considering with the No. 3 overall pick. Drafting him would suggest the Vikings are moving away from coach Leslie Frazier's Tampa-2 defense, since Claiborne's strength is press-man coverage and teams that employ zone-based coverage schemes rarely use 'blue' resources in the secondary. Can Spielman justify such a move at what is widely regarded as one of the draft's deepest positions? Failing that, the Vikings probably would draft offense with their top pick and select the best available defensive back in Round 2. That could be one of a handful of cornerbacks or perhaps a safety such as Notre Dame's Harrison Smith. Regardless of when they do it, the Vikings almost surely will add two or three bodies to this group."
Additions: First round -- Harrison Smith, Notre Dame (29th). Third round -- Josh Robinson, Central Florida (66th). Fifth round -- Robert Blanton, Notre Dame (139th). Undrafted -- Bobby Felder, Nicholls State; CC Whitlock, South Carolina.
Analysis: No position group got more attention. Smith is penciled in as a starter at safety, Robinson could contribute immediately as a subpackage corner and Blanton will get a long look as a cover safety. Sanford remains the starter at the other safety spot, but it seems like only a matter of time before somebody replaces him. Cook figures to start at one corner and Winfield might end up starting at the other, although coaches probably would prefer to preserve him in a subpackage role. A lot depends on Robinson's progress and what they're able to get out of Bowman and Carr. No matter what happens, some experienced players figure to be out of jobs.
Unsigned: Matt Katula.
What we were saying: "The odds are against the Vikings drafting a specialist, but Longwell's age and rocky 15th season could compel them to look at kickers in the seventh round or rookie free agency."
Additions: Sixth round -- Blair Walsh, Georgia (175th).
Analysis: The Vikings only had draftable grades on three players, so they jumped on Walsh even sooner than expected. He'll compete with Longwell in camp. Wright will get every opportunity to contribute in the return game.