Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's See How Drafting for Need Works Out

I guess it was a mistake discounting all of the rumors about the Vikings drafting Percy Harvin. It wasn't a stupid mistake (he says, having made it), what with the Vikings over zealous efforts to play the misinformation game in previous years, the "culture of accountability" and Brad Childress' statements about not wanting to draft wide receivers in the first round, but it was a mistake.

But was it a mistake by the Vikings? That, I'm not sure about. Harvin has a lot of red flags. There's his positive test for marijuana at the Combine, which says a lot about his decision making, none of which is good. There's his issues in high school, where he was suspended for fighting. And there's his injury history. He's never had the kind of career changing injury that Daunte Culpepper or Willis McGahee had, but he's been constantly hurt through out his college career. He didn't miss a lot of games, so you can't say anything about his toughness, but when your injury history inspires posts like this one, its not a good sign, especially when you're 5'11, 195lbs and constantly handling the ball. Then again, drafting an "injury prone" running back with the 7th pick worked out well two years ago. Let's just hope the Vikings did their homework.

What you can't deny about Harvin is his game breaking speed and agility. He has all the upside (drink!) you could possibly ask for. If you get him the ball, he'll make things happen, just like he did at Florida. Of course, at Florida, he had an offensive genius running a system that isn't very compatible with NFL systems, featuring him as a running back and on a lot of short patterns at wide receiver. It wasn't exactly the West Coast offense, and he wasn't having to share the focus of the offense with Adrian Peterson and Bernard Berrian. And I'll let you make the comparison between Urban Meyer and Brad Childress. There's been a lot said about Childress' inability to use Chester Taylor properly, and he now has to figure out how to use a RB/WR hybrid as well. And make no mistake about it- Harvin's a hybrid (at least for now), another example of the effect of the spread on college football. Can he transition into the NFL as a wid eout, where his route running ability will be a much larger factor on his success than it did in college? Especially considering he's coming from the spread? Can he become what Devin Hester (he's probably the best comparison, both due to explosiveness and his raw offensive skills) is now?

And then there's the Vikings' Second round choice, Phil Loadholt, a massive tackle that will hopefully solve the Vikings problems at right tackle. And Loadholt should be a good one, starting two years at left tackle for Oklahoma, where he showed all of the skills needed to be a very good right tackle. At 6'8, 332, Loadholt is huge, he's strong and he can create huge holes for Adrian Peterson to run through. In his 822 snaps at OU, he had 94 knockdowns, eight down
field blocks and a league-high 16 touchdown-resulting blocks. He's a quality pass blocker as well and only allowed just one quarterback pressure and two sacks on 438 pass plays. Of course, there are questions about him as well. Some scouting reports question his intelligence, while others believe that along with his size come a pair of slow feet (there's a reason he wasn't seen as a first round left tackle) that could lead to a lot of holding calls once Loaderholt starts to face improved competition that is big and quick. He’s definitely not the prospect that Michael Oher was, but he looks to be good enough to step in and replace the mediocrity that is Ryan Cook.

The Vikings finished up their first three rounds by addressing their corner depth and return game (so, if anything, you have to give them credit for addressing their four biggest needs in the first three rounds) by drafting Antoine Winfield, I mean, Asher Allen from Georgia. Allen is Winfield, if Antoine Winfield had been drafted his junior year instead of his senior year and returned kicks and punts. He was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award as a junior (Winfield won the award as the best defensive back his senior year), he’s a sure tackler and while he may not have the ridiculous athleticism of some corners, he’s a solid cover corner and he’s tough, playing the last five games of the season with a fractured hand. And even more importantly, he has the ability to contribute in the return game, something the Vikings desperately need. Of course, like any other third round pick, there are some question marks (even aside from his height). He only had three interceptions in his three years at Georgia, one against Troy and two against Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl (not exactly elite competition, especially when you remember that Colt Brennan was getting knocked down every single play by Georgia’s pass rush in the Sugar Bowl). And he’s only returned 10 punts, meaning he’s likely not the punt returner the Vikings need even more than they need a kick returner.

Overall, this draft could be a good one for the Vikings. If the fears about Harvin are overblown and Childress can figure out how to get him the ball where he can make plays, he can be the offensive weapon the Purple need to compliment Peterson and Berrian. If Loadholt’s transition to the right side allows him to overcome or hide his problems with quicker pass rushers and he uses his bulk to create huge holes for Peterson, Taylor and Harvin, he could be answer to the Vikings’ right side issues. And Allen could develop into Antoine Winfield, Jr., providing amazing run support and solid coverage all while returning kicks and punts. It could also be a 2005 style disaster, with Harvin using the deadly combination of injuries and poor decision making to play himself out of the league, Loadholt’s slow feet forcing him to clutch and grab his way to holding penalties galore and Allen showing why there aren’t more good defensive backs Antoine Winfield’s size in the NFL.


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