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Updated: April 27th, 2012 12:24am
Pelissero: Trade 'set the tone' for Vikings to execute Round 1 plan

Pelissero: Trade 'set the tone' for Vikings to execute Round 1 plan

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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Rick Spielman's week was made an hour before the NFL Draft began.

The Minnesota Vikings weren't even interested in the player who compelled the Cleveland Browns to fork over three picks for the right to move up one spot and take Alabama running back Trent Richardson third overall.

"That trade with Cleveland kind of set the tone of this draft and us being able to do some things," Spielman said late Thursday night, shortly after the conclusion of a first round that went according to plan for the Vikings and their new general manager.

"That was a huge, huge thing to get done right before the draft started."

It gave them the value they craved from the No. 3 pick before taking the player they always wanted, Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil, fourth overall.

It gave them the ammunition to feel comfortable packaging two choices to move up and snare Notre Dame strong safety Harrison Smith at No. 29.

It gave them a boost in the draft room, too -- a sort of preliminary pat on the back that, yes, things just might work out now with Spielman in full control.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is pretty good,'" coach Leslie Frazier said. "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 the fact that we had three different guys we were talking about."

In reality, the Vikings were going to make sure they got Kalil. They weren't doing a deal with anyone except Cleveland or Tampa Bay, which also coveted Richardson at No. 5.

They were committed to protecting Christian Ponder's blindside, regardless of whether LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and/or Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon had marginally better grades or they fabricated the debate entirely to stir up a market.

"I'll say Matt Kalil was very high on our board," Spielman said.

In Kalil, they get what appears to be an immediate solution at a core position that otherwise would have been difficult to fill through a thin draft class.

"I don't think Matt Kalil is (Pro Bowl tackle) Jake Long," an AFC scout said. "I don't think any evaluators believe (Kalil is) Jake Long, and in my heart, I don't think Rick Spielman would (compare him to) Jake Long.

"But I think (Kalil) will be a solid pro. There's some strengths of his -- naturally, his athletic ability, his feet, his mobility, his ability to pull and get to space and get to the linebacker level and slide his feet. He can pass protect. ... I wouldn't say he'd be the best left tackle in every year's draft. It so happens this year, he would be."

In Smith, they get the sort of consistent, instinctive player they sorely missed on the back end during last season's defensive debacle.

"I'm a big fan of Harrison," an NFC scout said. "Obviously, he's big (6-foot-2, 213 pounds), smart and strong. The beauty of Harrison is this kid can do everything. He's shown that at Notre Dame, whether you want him to play close or play back off the hash. I don't have any concerns in terms of the scheme. You have two safeties, and usually, you like them to be interchangeable, and I think he's pretty versatile in that aspect."

And now the Vikings head into the draft's second day with their two most significant needs addressed and plenty of chances to add competition at cornerback, receiver and elsewhere.

Moving up for Smith cost them their second-round pick (No. 35 overall) and their original fourth-rounder (No. 98). Thanks to the Cleveland deal, though, the Vikings still have 10 selections remaining -- one in the third round (No. 66) on Friday and the rest on Saturday, with Spielman almost certain to be on the move again.

"It may be hard to believe, but I have been turned down before," Spielman said, laughing. "You just keep working the phones. You don't know who's going to bite and who's not going to bite."

The Browns bit hard enough on Thursday for Spielman to land two players he targeted, at least briefly taking the edge off a rebuilding operation that still has a long way to go.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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