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Deep draft lacks star power for Vikes

There are basically three ways to upgrade an NFL team: free agency, trade or by the draft.

The first is expensive, and can put a team in salary cap hell for many years if that free agent player does not produce like he did prior to the big contract.

That happens a lot.

Wise and secure teams use free agency to supplement their lineups, not necessarily to buy wins with one or two big free agent signings.

Trading is a rare commodity in the NFL, because of contracts and teams wanting more for a player than what most want to give.

It does happen, for sure, with the Minnesota Vikings trading wide receiver Percy Harvin and the New York Jets shipping off cornerback Darrelle Revis to Tampa Bay.

Which brings us to the third form of restocking an NFL lineup, the draft.

When a player gets traded, the majority of the time it’s for draft picks and not a player-for-player swap.            

For the Vikings, trading Harvin made them important players in Thursday’s NFL Draft, which runs through Saturday.

They now have 11 picks in the seven-round affair, with two in the first round of No. 23 and No. 25, with plenty of holes to fill in the next generation of players.

There is a quite simple science to the draft. First, there are two ways to draft, one based on need and the other by best player available (BPA).

With this draft being weak on blue-chip talent, but heavy in depth, the Vikings are in a nice situation of drafting for both need and BPA at the same time.

In truth, although the draft is the proverbial crapshoot, picks 10 through 32 do not have a lot of separation of rankings and talent between the players.

For the Vikings, they have big needs at middle linebacker, wide receiver and cornerback.

They also need to address defensive tackle, but that’s just a smidgen less urgent than the above three positions.

Trading up from No. 23 or 25 shouldn’t be an option, simply because they can draft just as a good of a producer there as they can in the top 15.

Save the picks to trade up in the second round. It would make more sense and will be addressed later here.

Now there are some players the Vikings would love to add, but they more than likely will be gone early.

At cornerback, Alabama’s Dee Milliner (6-1, 198) has been slated as a top 10 or even top five pick. His stock has been slipping a little as of late, but he will not last until No. 23.

The next three options will be intriguing, because all have been forecast to be picked from No. 14 all the way out of the first round.

Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes (6-1, 217) is a perfect fit for the Vikings’ Tampa Two defensive scheme. He is a potential pick at No. 23, but odds are against it.

Rhodes has good arm length, is strong in press coverage and an excellent tackler with his bulk.

It would be hard to pass on Rhodes at No. 23, if he was to fall. The key for him to make it that far is how teams rank Houston’s D.J. Hayden (5-11, 191), because Rhodes could fall as the fourth CB in the draft.

Washington’s Desmond Trufant (5-11, 190) is another cornerback who has range and is fluid in pass coverage. His stock has been steady and more than likely, he is a top 20 pick.

Hayden has been this draft class’s riser, despite suffering a very disturbing injury at Houston. He tore his inferior vena cava, a large vein, which carries blood from the lower half of the body to the heart, after a freak hit in practice.

Personally, I am very wary of late risers like Hayden, and rank Rhodes well ahead of him, especially in the type of defense the Vikes run.

Two other secondary players who would be prime picks at safety, but more than likely gone early, are Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro (6-1, 218) and Florida International’s Jonathan Cyprien (6-0, 209).

The other big defensive need is at middle linebacker, and it’s a rather deep class, without a flat-out top stud leading the pack.

It will be interesting to see which one goes first, with the Vikings possibly getting the second or third one in the first round.

All are possible picks at No. 23 or No. 25, too, but with the New York Giants and Chicago Bears also needing a MLB, two could be gone by then.

Georgia’s Alec Ogletree (6-3, 234) probably has the highest ceiling and skill ability of them all.

A former safety (i.e., Brian Urlacher), Ogletree has a solid 4.63 40-yard time and has terrific range, which is needed to run the Tampa Two defense at MLB.

He’s quick around the edges and will be a bothersome threat in the backfield. Covering tight ends down the seam would be no problem for Ogletree.

His red flag is his character issues. He was tagged for a DUI just before the combine and has had other violations during his time as a Bulldog.

Chicago is a real threat to take Ogletree at No. 20, as is New York at 19.

The next name will make fans cringe, but too bad for them, he makes sense for the Vikings.

Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o (6-2, 225) is another good fit at MLB. He is a playmaker with plenty of interception ability and good coverage skills.

Yes, there is the fake girlfriend story, of which the usual worn-out, lame jokes will be made, but he has zero character issues.

Another mark against Te’o was his performance against Alabama in the National Championship game, where he still had 10 tackles, but was smothered up for most of the game.

One can’t take into account just one game out of a terrific four-year career, however. One should also take into account the NFL-level offensive line Alabama had in that game and as even the Tide admitted, their game plan was to contain Te’o.

He is a three-down linebacker, who can cover and make the tackle in the gaps. He has leadership quality in him.

If he is mentally unstable, Viking general manager Rick Spielman has made sure to cover that, since Te’o spent two days in Minnesota last month interviewing, as well as enduring hours of questions from the team during the combine.

There are other issues such as his ability to hit the edges, and some teams look to Te’o having a pedestrian career.

If the Vikings let Te’o slide past them at No. 25, be certain Baltimore will nab him at No. 32, to replace a certain Hall of Famer middle linebacker.

LSU’s Kevin Minter (6-1, 245) is also a very good possibility if he falls. Minter is a bit smaller and not as physical, and his coverage skills are not as superior as Ogletree’s  and Te’o’s.

He would also be a legit player to trade up for in the second round.

If the Vikings decide to pass up on MLB altogether in the first round, Kansas State’s Arthur Brown (6-1, 228) would be a solid second rounder, as would Iowa’s A.J. Klein (6-1, 246).

Wide receiver is wide open this year, both in the draft and on the Vikings’ roster.

The addition of Greg Jennings would solidify the No. 1 WR the team didn’t have in Harvin, who is the perfect slot receiver.

The 2013 WR class doesn’t have a Justin Blackmon in it or even a blue-chip player, but the depth is good, with not much of a difference between the first one taken and the fifth one.

The Vikings also could legitimately snag two of the top 10 WR’s in the first four rounds, as well.

There are really two WR’s, though, which would fit their first-round slots, with West Virginia slot Tavon Austin probably not falling past St. Louis’ No. 16.

Grabbing DeAndre Hopkins (6-1, 200) of Clemson or Tennessee’s big man Justin Hunter (6-4, 200) would be a good fit for the Vikes.

Leave the raw Cordarrelle Patterson (6-3, 205) of Tennessee and California’s Keenan Allen (6-3, 210) to some other team to develop.

Hunter is that big, ranging red zone receiver like Sydney Rice, while Hopkins is a crisp route runner who can contribute as the Vikings’ No. 2 instantly.

If the Vikings do decide to go defense in the first round, they can trade up in the second round to nab one of the other WR’s in USC’s Robert Woods (6-1, 190), Marshall’s Aaron Dobson (6-3, 203) or Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton (6-0, 202).

Adding Woods to an all-defense first round would be a nice bounty for Spielman, who hit a homerun last year with seven contributors out of the 2012 draft.

Defensive tackle also is a possibility, but only if studs Sheldon Richardson (6-3, 290) out of Missouri or Utah’s Star Lotulelei (6-3, 320) fall.

Good second or third round DT’s could be had in Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins (6-3, 320), Alabama’s Jesse Williams (6-3, 320) or Purdue’s Kawann Short (6-3, 308).

So which path will the Vikings and Spielman go?

There is no possible way to say how the draft will fall and who’s left over, but here’s just a synopsis of a potential good draft in the first two rounds.

At No. 23, Rhodes would be a steal. If he falls, the Vikes need to take him first, since at No. 24, the Colts could easily take him.

The No. 25 pick needs to be considered for a WR or MLB. With the depth of WR prevalent, the second or third best linebacker would be a sincere improvement in the middle.

The preference will be Ogletree, with Te’o a close second.

Now, the scenario if Rhodes and Trufant are gone?

At No. 23 take the Ogletree/Te’o choice, with No. 25 being Hunter or Hopkins.

That changes things in the second round, where the Vikings could address their defensive tackle slot, with Williams, Hankins, Short or a steal in North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams (6-3, 313).

The first scenario of Rhodes/Ogletree/Woods would be a fantastic start, with all three being very good possibilities as starters.

The second scenario of Ogletree/Hunter/Hankins is less spectacular, but holes will be starting to get filled.

Worthwhile trade-up scenarios: Defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei; cornerback Dee Milliner.

The best (and reality) top three picks for Vikings scenario: 1. Xavier Rhodes/Alec Ogeltree/Robert Woods.

Second round trade-up possibilities: Woods, Manti Te’o, Arthur Brown, Johnthan Banks (CB), Hankins, Patton.

Later round gems: Markus Wheaton (WR, Oregeon State), Da’Rick Rogers (WR, Tennessee Tech), B.W. Webb (CB, William & Mary), Blidi Wreh-Wilson (U-Conn), Kiki Alonso (LB, Oregon), Jon Bostic (LB, Florida), Marcus Lattimore (RB, S.C.) and EJ Manuel (QB, Florida State).

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.