Pelissero: Smart money says it's QB at No. 12 or Vikings trade down
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A veteran NFC personnel man, usually quick with an opinion on any roster matter, was stumped by the question.
What will the Minnesota Vikings do with the No. 12 overall pick when the NFL Draft begins on Thursday night?
"I don't know," the personnel man said finally. "They got so old, so quick. I think they could do any number of things. It's probably easier to say what they won't do."
One year after patching holes on a roster the Vikings considered championship-caliber, this is where they stand: admittedly "retooling" and perhaps needing more than that to climb back from the depths of their 2010 descent.
"Obviously, they're not going to pick a running back," the personnel man said. "I don't think they're going to pick a tight end. Probably not a linebacker."
And that's about it. Kicker and punter, sure, but those don't count in Round 1.
The offensive line is declining. The receiving corps lacks punch on the perimeter. The defensive line is likely to lose two starters. Save for one player, the secondary is a mess.
Oh, yeah -- and the only players on the Vikings' roster at the most important position are a 24-year-old who was drafted as a receiver and a practice-squad refugee whose failure to secure a backup role forced his old team to sacrifice a fifth-round pick for Sage Rosenfels.
"The main focus and emphasis, obviously, is quarterback," an AFC executive said. "I don't know and I personally don't believe the futures quarterback is on the roster. They have a young guy (Joe Webb) they have some hopes for. But if you don't have a quarterback, you can struggle in this league, and I think they need to answer that here."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier offered similar thoughts on Tuesday when asked about the offensive line, saying that "in our league, until you answer the bell at that (quarterback) position, it really doesn't make a great deal of difference about some of the other positions. You really want to identify and get the right guy under center. That's key in our league to long-term success."
Webb is a project. Rhett Bomar is a developmental player at best. Acquiring Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia -- regardless of whether Wednesday's legal developments clear the way for teams to resume shopping players -- appears a long shot, and the likes of Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselbeck and Marc Bulger hold value only as placeholders while a younger quarterback develops.
Nearly half the league is a similar situation, meaning every quarterback in this year's draft class is bound to be overvalued. And that's one more reason why, for all the scenarios that could play out by the time the Vikings go on the clock around 9 p.m. Thursday, logic suggests one of two outcomes:
1. If Washington quarterback Jake Locker remains on the board, having gotten past Tennessee at No. 8 and Washington at No. 10, the Vikings stand pat and draft him 12th overall; or
2. If Locker is gone, the Vikings do everything they can to trade down, take a lineman to fill one of their other holes and add ammunition to move up from their second pick at No. 43 and grab a quarterback from the next tier.
Maybe that's oversimplifying. The Vikings like Locker, but do they think enough of his skills -- and are they comfortable enough with his flaws -- to make him one of the first 12 players selected when so many other positions need help, too?
"We're going to have to have some young guys step up," said Rick Spielman, the Vikings' vice president of player personnel, "(where) we knew last year we had pretty much the same roster and the rookies that we brought in were probably going to play more of a role type than become an actual starter. ... This year, the guys that we pick are guys that we plan on hopefully coming in and making a contribution either as a starter or for sure a role-type player.'"
Then again, Frazier brought in offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and quarterbacks coach Craig Johnson specifically because of their track record with young passers. And without a can't-miss quarterback ready to start from Day 1 in this class, the Vikings' goal has to be to get the guy with the best chance to succeed in the long term.
Maybe Missouri's Blaine Gabbert falls, turning the situation into a no-brainer. An improbable slide by a playmaker such as Alabama receiver Julio Jones would create a different dilemma altogether.
Most likely, the choice will be Locker or some combination of players -- Florida guard Mike Pouncey, Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, Clemson end DaQuan Bowers, among others -- who could help immediately but might not be difference-makers in the big picture.
"You can get by with a lot of other things," the NFC personnel man said. "I don't think you can get by without a quarterback in today's football."
The Vikings don't have one. They need one. Their best chance to get one they want may come early on Thursday night.
And if it doesn't, the smart money is on the Vikings squeezing all the value they can out of No. 12 and taking their shot on a quarterback sometime in the next 30 picks.