Will the ghost of Christian Ponder scare Vikings off this year’s top QB prospects?
The 2011 NFL draft will be remembered for Carolina hitting it big with quarterback Cam Newton as the No. 1 pick. But three other first-round quarterbacks had a major impact on the NFL, as well. Just not in a good way.
Those picks went so badly, the teams that made them — the Vikings, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars — are still nervous about taking a quarterback early.
The No. 8 pick in 2011, used by Tennessee to select Jake Locker, started a run on quarterbacks. Jacksonville took Blaine Gabbert at No. 10, and Minnesota fell in by taking Christian Ponder at No. 12.
All those decisions proved to be reaches.
“The ghosts of that (2011) draft are Christian Ponder, Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert,” said NFL Network analyst Charles Davis.
Because of that, it’s no surprise that the same three teams have top 12 picks in next month’s 2014 draft — the Jaguars at No. 3, Vikings No. 8 and Titans No. 11.
With questions marks on all the top quarterbacks, those teams must decide whether to go with a signal caller for need or a player at another position who might be rated higher on their draft boards.
Further confusing the issue, Davis said, is the fact that Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were 2011 second-round picks, and Russell Wilson went to Seattle in the third round in 2012. Kaepernick and Wilson have led their teams to the Super Bowl, and Wilson, who played his final season at Wisconsin, already has a ring.
“It makes the whole league a little bit skittish about, ‘Do I draft a quarterback if I’m not totally convinced in the first round?’ ” Davis said. “So if you’re Minnesota picking at No. 8, you’d better be convinced about getting an impact player.”
Judging by recent comments, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman isn’t convinced when it comes to a quarterback. Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, the top QB prospects in the May 8-10 draft, could be available at No. 8.
“The torture part of it is you see a player sitting there when you pick who you know can help you right away — a significant player at another position, an impact player as a rookie — then you ask yourself, ‘How do we feel about our options at quarterback in the second round or third round?’” Spielman told the MMQB website.
“There’s no Andrew Luck, no Peyton Manning,” he continued. “It is such a mixed bag with each player; every one has positives; every one of them has negatives. ... It is torturous this year.”
The Vikings last month re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel to a two-year deal, giving them the flexibility to use their top pick on another position and take a quarterback in a later round. They also still have Ponder, though he doesn’t appear to be a long-term solution after three erratic seasons.
There are questions about whether Bortles is too raw, whether Manziel is too injury-prone and Bridgewater is too small — among others. For that reason, many believe the Vikings will trade down.
“I think if they’re not interested in a quarterback, I’d move off eight,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said. “They have some personnel issues at a couple of spots. Move down from eight and pick up some extra choices, then maybe get a C.J. Mosley at No. 15.”
Davis has Mosley, the Alabama inside linebacker, going to the Vikings in his mock draft. However, some believe that No. 8 might be a bit high for someone with durability questions.
There’s no question Minnesota needs help at linebacker, but the top one in the draft, outside man Khalil Mack from Buffalo, figures to be gone by No. 8. The Vikings have interest in UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, but he is a bit raw and probably still could be selected after trading down.
But if the Vikings don’t make a deal and don’t take a quarterback, what might they do in the first round under first-year coach Mike Zimmer? Dane Brugler, a senior analyst at NFLDraftScout.com and CBS
Sports.com, offered his take.
“I think if they don’t take a quarterback, Aaron Donald makes a lot of sense,” Brugler said of the Pittsburgh defensive tackle.
“I think Donald can be Mike Zimmer’s Geno Atkins (the all-pro defensive tackle Zimmer previously had as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator). So I think, if they don’t go quarterback, Aaron Donald or possibly one of the safeties.”
If the 6-foot-1, 290-pound Donald is the pick, it could be an indication the Vikings are not enamored of the long-term prospects of Sharrif Floyd, a defensive tackle they took with the No. 23 pick in the 2013 draft.
The safeties Brugler mentioned include Louisville’s Calvin Pryor and Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. However, taking either at No. 8 could be a bit high.
The Vikings could go with a cornerback, either Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard, though they like Xavier Rhodes — the 25th overall pick last year — and recently signed Captain Munnerlyn to a free-agent deal.
Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, No. 29 overall, was the last of last of Minnesota’s three first-round picks in 2013, but Brugler said if Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans is available at No. 8, he might be too enticing for the Vikings to pass up.
“You can’t rule that out,” Brugler said. “When you’ve got a top-10 pick, you want to make the team better, and a guy like Mike Evans, he’s going to do that. He’s only 20, and he’s coming into his own. If you’re going to go with Matt Cassel another year (as the starter), Mike Evans would be a guy who would help that offense.”
Wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony if the Vikings, after all the hype about possibly drafting Johnny Manziel, instead end up taking his top receiver? Then again, with the Vikings skittish about drafting a quarterback high after missing on Ponder, it might not be that much of a surprise.