|USC's Matt Kalil projects as a franchise left tackle, making him an enticing target for the Vikings at No. 3 overall.|
The Minnesota Vikings are on the clock. Yes, I know neither the Indianapolis Colts nor the Washington Redskins have officially submitted their selection, with the Colts claiming they still haven't made a decision on the first overall pick. (I'm not buying it.) Regardless, we all know the first two players coming off the board -- it's either Andrew Luck first, then Robert Griffin III at No. 2, or vice versa. Thus, the 2012 NFL Draft really begins with the Vikes' third overall pick.
New Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has made it known that he is willing to listen to trade offers right now or the day of the draft. Spielman would love to parlay the No. 3 pick into more than one star player because the Vikings clearly need more than one player to be competitive going forward. This draft will be critical for the Vikings' long-term future, yet in reality they will need two more solid drafts to be able to compete for a division title in the brutal NFC North. The erosion of talent in Minnesota did not happen overnight; therefore, no one can expect the rebuilding project to happen quickly.
The Vikings' problems started -- like most do -- when they misjudged where they were as a franchise in terms of talent and leadership. As good as the 2009 season was for Vikings fans, it tarnished the front office's judgment on many decisions regarding players and coaches. Thinking the team could make another run in 2010 with essentially the same cast of characters was not a sound decision -- not only did they go 6-10 that season, but also suffered a horrendous 3-13 campaign in 2011. However, if Vikings fans think the worst is over, they might want to think again.
In the past, the Vikings were talented in both lines. Big and physical, Minnesota could control the line of scrimmage, making it difficult to beat, at home and on the road. But now, both lines have regressed (the offensive side more than the defensive front). In the NFC North, the Vikings have to block some really good pass rushers, from Green Bay's Clay Matthews to Chicago's Julius Peppers to the wave of rushers in Detroit. If they are weak in the offensive line, forget about beating any of those teams on the road. And to win that division, road wins are vital. Therefore, fixing the line should be the No. 1 requirement on Spielman's list of things to do this offseason. And this is why most people predict Minnesota will take USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3.
The Vikings' struggles aren't limited to the trenches, though. Minnesota has a poor set of skill players beyond Percy Harvin and running back Adrian Peterson. (Unfortunately, Harvin is fragile, and Peterson tore his ACL in Week 16.) Outside of Harvin and Peterson last season, the Vikings had no one else capable of making a play, perhaps with the exception of backup quarterback Joe Webb. Webb might be the most gifted athlete on the roster and it is no lock that Christian Ponder (last year's first-round quarterback) can even win the job outright from Webb. Ponder might be given the job in training camp, but that does not mean he won the job.
With holes on the line, a dearth of dangerous (and healthy) skill players and a potential debate at quarterback, the Vikings have many offensive issues to sort out this summer. The team can address some needs in the draft, but not all of them -- it will take time.
Defensively, the Vikings logged an NFL-high 50 sacks last season, but could only intercept eight passes (tied for worst in the NFL). Opponents were able to throw the ball at will on their porous secondary. No one in Minnesota's back seven could make a play on the ball, so unless the rush was able to sack the quarterback, the opposing offense had its way with the Vikings. Minnesota lacked speed and playmakers in the back end, and they have yet to solve this glaring problem in the offseason. Which is why some folks believe the Vikings are seriously considering LSU CB Morris Claiborne with the third pick.
With such a large number of concerns, though, it's easy to see why Spielman would make the third pick available. The Vikings are not a few players away from competing. Spielman, who was promoted to general manager in January, must recognize this is not a one-year fixer-upper. He has to have a two-year plan to patch up the team's numerous holes. He must take a broad look at the talent pool in the next two years -- both in the draft and in free agency -- and then decide where the answers might come from.
Franchise left tackles are hard to find in any draft, so Kalil is very attractive as the top blind-side prospect on the board (by a good margin). But playmaking corners also come at a premium in today's pass-happy NFL, making Claiborne an appealing option for Spielman, as well. Meanwhile, wide receivers are always available, so I find it difficult seeing the Vikings opting for Justin Blackmon at their current draft slot.
Barring a bountiful trade haul for the No. 3 pick, the Vikings are down to just two viable options: Kalil and Claiborne. My hunch is Kalil.
Follow Michael Lombardi on Twitter @michaelombardi