Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NFL Draft 2012 Preview: Kal-eels Like the Very First Time

As the great baseball Hall of Famer and football enthusiast (?) Yogi Berra once said, "It's deja vu all over again."

On Draft Day 2009, I howled for the Vikings to take Ole Miss LT Michael Oher when he slid down the board to us at the 22nd pick. Dreams of an immovable bookend duo that could relocate more flurries than Mr. Plow danced in my head for about 12 minutes...until the Triangle of Authority pegged skill position guy Percy Harvin as the pick.

On Draft Day 2011, I pleaded by myself in a basement apartment in southern Maryland for us to take a lineman--this time, it was Auburn DT Nick "The Thick" Fairley. Again, I dreamed, this time of the 2nd incarnation of the Maulers' Wall, starring Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, and Fairley. Again, my dreams were dashed by the organization's choice of skill position guy Christian Ponder as the 12th overall selection.

(I'd rather not go into detail about Draft Day 2010, which I spent on a plane coming home from Tampa, and at the end of which I was fooled by several mischievous texting friends into announcing to my cohabitants that the Vikes had taken Tim Tebow with their late first round pick.)

And here we sit again, with the Vikings essentially on the clock, and again I clamor for us to make the (to my eyes) obvious selection of another lineman; this time, it's Mount Matt Kalil, the 6-foot-7 left tackle from USC who several scouting services are comparing favorably to Cleveland's perennial Pro Bowler Joe Thomas.

Kalil allowed zero sacks of Matt Barkley in 2011 and was a first-team All-American. He possesses a Neanderthal's dream combination of qualities: a hunter's strength and a gatherer's nimble footwork. He could add instant credibility to an offensive line who tied for 5th in most sacks allowed in 2011 with 49. (Their troubles against pass rushes were well documented last year, but it should be mentioned that our O-Line was actually 2nd best in generating rush yards per attempt, even as Adrian Peterson missed on gaining 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.)

Kalil's so good, he stole another top 10 pick's starting job in 2010 (Dallas' Tyron Smith).

And adding a top-end left tackle to a sketchy offensive line can pay immediate dividends. Take Thomas as an example. In 2006, the Browns were 30th  in the league in yards per pass attempt and 29th in yards per rush attempt. After taking Thomas with the #3 pick in 2007, the Browns improved the next season to 9th and 6th respectively in those two categories.

I loved what we saw out of Ponder in his first couple games as a starter last year. He showed terrific moxie by challenging Charles Woodson several times in his first Packers game and made some great throws (along with a couple poor ones) against Denver. But any fan could see that he got gun shy and became a bit of a Checkdown Charlie as the season progressed and the sacks started piling up. Only two quarterbacks attempted as few passes and were sacked as many as the 30 times Christian went down last season.

If we're truly committed to keeping Ponder around long-term as our starter (and, honestly, if we're committed to starting any quarterback for more than six weeks in a row before the inevitable Clay Matthews-induced concussion), then we need to also commit to keeping him upright with as clean a jersey as possible. The number-one thing you can do to ensure that Ponder is slammed to the turf less next year is to protect his blind side with a prospect that is already considered by some to have more potential and ability than his All-Pro brother, Panthers' center Ryan.

Yes, our secondary last year was atrocious. Silky's statistics were borne out in the number of times I lost my voice screaming at Husain, Jamarca, Tyrell, and Mistral to JUST DO SOMETHING. But our offense wasn't much to write home about last year, either. Often, Silky, Tony and I would comment on the Coach Klein-ian "pretends-to-fake" over-thinkiness that Bill Musgrave's offense embodied. And in what has largely become a passing league, we finished 28th in the league in passing yards.

I really, really want us to take Kalil. However, given the Vikes' recent history of disappointing me personally with our first-round selections, we won't. So please join me in a premature celebration of the newest Minnesota Viking, LSU cornerback and skill position guy Morris Claiborne.

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