LANDOVER, MD - DECEMBER 24: Christian Ponder #7 of the Minnesota Vikings prepares to take the snap during the first quarter against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on December 24, 2011 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Vikings have the third pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and the first pick that offers any element of surprise. Which way should they go with their pick?
The graphics on the screen change. Your team's logo is now featured in one corner of the box. They're on the clock. Eyes glued to the television, feet rooted in the floor, no amount of discomfort, not even a bladder full of PBR, is moving you for the next two minutes. The card is in, the commissioner steps to the podium. And the pick is ...
Anticipation and realization are the most enjoyable parts of the NFL Draft. Pundits and fans start gaming out scenarios in January. We all fall for a particular player that our team absolutely has to pick, the future of the franchise absolutely depends on it.
Colts and Redskins fans will get none of that excitement in the next two weeks. The first two picks in the 2012 NFL Draft have been settled for a while now. The Colts will take Andrew Luck with the first pick and the Redskins will follow by taking Robert Griffin III with the second pick.
In a way, it makes the Minnesota Vikings the de facto first pick. The question now is what will the Vikings do with that pick.
Minnesota has several options, some more far fetched than the others, but plenty of possibilities nonetheless. The first and most obvious pick for the Vikings is ...
Matt Kalil, OT, USC
After the two quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, Kalil is the best prospect in the draft this year. He is the best offensive tackle in the draft since at least Jake Long. Almost every team in the league would get an upgrade at the position if they had Kalil wearing whatever angry animal they have on their jerseys.
Minnesota has Charlie Johnson at left tackle. In 16 games last season, Johnson allowed eight sacks, nine hits and 32 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Not exactly the kind of blind side protection ideal for bringing along a young quarterback like Christian Ponder, the Vikings' first-round pick last year.
Kalil would instantly improve the Vikings' pass blocking, giving their quarterback a fighting chance to make a play. With time, he projects as one of the league's elite at the position as he learns the art of run blocking.
This pick, more than any other option, is what should be written on the Vikings card when they hand it over to Roger Goodell on draft day.
It seems like every team wants to trade down this year, meaning one of the half dozen or so trying to move will actually get to do so. Minnesota could certainly use the extra picks with big holes to fill all over the roster. The trick with trading down is finding another team that wants to move to the third spot.
Ryan Tannehill, the Texas A&M quarterback, has become the consolation prize for quarterback-needy teams. Minnesota's best hope for trading down is hoping one of said teams wants to move up for Tannehill. The rookie salary scale in the new CBA takes out much of the risk, or at least the financial risk, of trading up for a quarterback.
One possible trade partner is the Cleveland Browns, who could move up from the fourth spot at a relatively reasonable cost, the 22nd pick in the first round perhaps. They would do this to avoid another team leap-frogging them into the third pick to select Tannehill, if that's who the Browns have their hearts set on. Then again, Cleveland could just wait, but that risks another team like Miami or even Kansas City moving up to the third spot for Tannehill.
As mentioned above, Kalil would be an upgrade at left tackle for most teams, but nobody trades up for an offensive tackle. Morris Claiborne, the LSU cornerback, is another player that might entice some dealing, as he is sure to be gone by the time the fifth or sixth picks happen. Cincinnati, with two first-round picks and a need at corner, could be one team to watch. Then again, this is a deep class of corners, and teams can find suitable starters elsewhere in the first round.
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
Speaking of Claiborne, the Vikings themselves could use a player of his caliber in the secondary. He is not a pass rusher, but Claiborne is the top defensive player available in this draft. The rookie salary schedule removes some of the stigma of drafting a cornerback this high in the first round.
Chris Cook was found not guilty on the charges related to a domestic violence incident that got him suspended last season. The Vikings have little choice but to bring him back, given their needs at the position. The team has let Cedric Griffin walk away in free agency. Chris Carr, signed as a free agent this month, upgrades the position, but he is not a starter on the outside.
With a pick at the top of the second round, Minnesota can easily find cornerback help there. They might even find a plug-and-play guy in the third round; the draft is that deep with corners.
Percy Harvin is the team's top receiver, and he is dealing with offseason shoulder surgery. It's minor, a scope, but the lack of skill players on offense after Harvin and the injured Adrian Peterson should concern Minnesota.
Leslie Frazier had a contingent of team brass in Stillwater, OK, for Blackmon's pro day. He praised the Oklahoma State wide receiver, and started a round of speculation about whether or not the Vikings would select him with the third pick.
Without a doubt, the Vikings could use Blackmon. He would thrive in their version of the West Coast Offense. A high-end possession receiver is quite the complement to a healthy Harvin and the second-year tight end Kyle Rudolph. The third pick is a little high for Blackmon, especially with Matt Kalil on the board. If they want to add a receiver, they can find other well-qualified possession types in the second or third round.
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
It's possible but I'm saying very unlikely. Minnesota does need to think about a running back to carry some of the load for Adrian Peterson, who is recovering from a surgically repaired torn ACL, a troubling injury for a running back like Peterson. But capable backs await in the middle rounds.
On paper, the Vikings have options for the third pick in the draft, anyone other than Luck or Griffin III really. In reality, they have two options to choose from this year -- trade down or select Kalil. If they can find a trade partner, they probably should take whatever reasonable offer they can get. Minnesota is at least a couple years away from a return to the playoffs, and extra draft picks would speed up the process just a little. With no trade on the table, the pick has to be Matt Kalil. Developing quarterbacks does not require an elite tackle protecting the blind side, but it sure helps.