EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. The Minnesota Vikings enjoyed the advantage of picking early in the 2012 NFL draft by selecting what they hope is a longtime starter at left tackle in Matt Kalil and using their early second-round pick as leverage to move back in the first round and grab safety Harrison Smith.
Kalil and Smith started every game and played key roles in their rookie season. Minnesota is thankful it's not at the top of each round again this year, instead pleased with its unexpected playoff run last season. The Vikings pick 23rd in the first round but surprisingly could be sitting in a good spot again this year. The overall depth and lack of any elite, big-name talent at the top has created a different dynamic entering April's draft.
"That's why I wouldn't want a top 10 pick this year," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call before February's Scouting Combine. "I think the fifth pick in the draft and the 25th pick in this draft are very similar."
With a record 73 underclassmen declaring for the draft adding depth, value will be found later than usual. The depth also suits Minnesota's interests. Defensive tackle might be the deepest position in the draft, offensive line is considered strong and there is also a quality group of receivers and defensive backs, fitting what the Vikings might be looking for as they continue to build a young roster.
Though the names might not initially excite Vikings fans, Minnesota can add to its young nucleus, which includes 10 players from the past two drafts who have started games as well as Pro Bowl kicker Blair Walsh.
"I think this draft is, I don't know if I want to say sexy, but how splashy it's going to be from a media standpoint or from the fans' standpoint," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at the Combine last week. "But there is a lot of very, very good football players in this draft that are going to have a major impact on a lot of teams that may not be those recognizable names or those splash positions."
The Vikings likely won't be looking to make any splashes. Instead, they'll settle for adding steady, important pieces to the puzzle and look to continue the momentum from the past two drafts. They can only hope next year's crop of rookies has the same first-year impact in 2012, when Kalil, Smith, third-rounder Josh Robinson, fourth-rounders Jarius Wright and Rhett Ellison and sixth-rounder Walsh all played big roles.
The splashiest move Minnesota would likely make is at receiver, but there appears to be depth at that spot in later rounds, so the Vikings don't necessarily have to go there first.
Defensive tackle, in particular, could offer solid playmakers later in the first round, and the Vikings could be looking for Kevin Williams' eventual replacement or a solid run-stuffing tackle to place next to Williams. Spielman told reporters before the Combine that the defensive tackle depth in this draft is among the best he's seen in years. There could also be options at linebacker for the Vikings, who have starters Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson both hitting unrestricted free agency.
"Especially this year, if I had to list a top eight or 10 players, they'd probably be offensive linemen or defensive linemen," Mayock said. "I'm not seeing some of those impact guys in some of the skill positions. I keep kind of banging on the table that the quality of this first round, I think, is going to be, I've got six offensive tackles with first-round grades. I've got six defensive tackles with first round grades. I only have one corner with a first round grade, and I only have, really, two wide receivers with first round grades."
The Scouting Combine, which wrapped up in Indianapolis on Tuesday, was more vital than ever this season because of the number of underclassmen. The past week offered the first chance for NFL teams to speak with those players. The deeper the draft, the better it plays into Minnesota's hand picking toward the end of each round.
"I think this is going to be a deep draft with all the juniors that entered in and there are a lot of good players of the juniors that came out that will I think give it the depth ," Spielman said before the Combine. "It's going to be pushing some guys down that were good football players, that you're going to get some quality players where we're picking."
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