Every team faces a dilemma at some point or another in the NFL draft. Who to select with the top choice? Safe choice or high ceiling? Defense or offense? This is the predicament that the Minnesota Vikings now find themselves in.
Thanks to the power of the big board, most teams can narrow their selection agony down to a couple of key players, but rarely is a team so off-point that only one out of three choices would be the truly safe pick.
The Vikings, as is common knowledge, have narrowed their choices down to three players: OT Matt Kalil out of USC, WR Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State and CB Morris Claiborne out of LSU.
The fact that they have not announced Kalil as their choice at No. 3 overall is nothing short of mind-boggling. The USC product is just about the surest thing in the draft, as are the majority of left tackles who project as solid NFL players. Just ask Jake Long.
Kalil has all of the measurables and intangibles a team could want in a powerhouse blindside protector, and he has the bloodlines to back it up; brother Ryan Kalil is a stud center for the Panthers, and father Frank Kalil played in the NFL as well. He has the athleticism to block in the open field, and the power and nastiness to pancake defenders and make sure nobody ever gets by him.
Rick Spielman, the GM of the Vikings, made a rather big investment when he panicked last season and drafted Christian Ponder at No. 12 overall in the 2011 NFL draft. The next thing he has to do is not give him weapons or help the defense, but give him protection.
Ponder was sacked 30 times in 11 games last season. In a full year, he would have been sacked close to 43.5 times, which would have put him squarely in second place to Alex Smith with 44. That is not a sustainable number. Anybody remember David Carr? Without a solid, reliable guardian, Ponder could be heading down the same path.
Ponder's Vikings play in the same division as Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Cliff Avril and Ndamukong Suh. That's six games per season against some of the best quarterback-killers the game has to offer. Kalil can stop those men from literally beating Ponder into retirement.
The notion that the Vikings should select Justin Blackmon with this No. 3 pick can be dispelled in a simple sentence: There are plenty of good receivers in this draft.
With patience, the Vikings can use the 35th pick of the draft on one of the many receivers likely to be available at that point, not the least of whom could be South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery or Georgia Tech's Stephen Hill. Percy Harvin is a viable receiver alongside Jerome Simpson, and the Vikings still have the ever-dangerous Adrian Peterson.
Receiver is simply not a pressing enough need to use the No. 3 pick on Blackmon. They are in a division that features some truly terrible pass coverage after all, as the Lions and Packers were both in the bottom 10 in that category. (Actually, the Packers had the worst statistical pass defense of all time in 2011.)
As for Morris Claiborne, no idea could be worse for the Vikings. First and foremost, the Vikings are a Cover 2 football team, and Cover 2 teams do not select cornerbacks in the Top Five. Secondly, defense was one of the only things about the 2011 Vikings that was bearable to watch, so once again, we come back to a need for offensive upgrades.
Claiborne is a terrific talent, but his acquisition will not be a game-changer in a division featuring Matt Stafford, Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers. Kalil, on the other hand, is capable of changing the landscape of the Vikings' matchups with their divisional opponents and beyond.
The simple fact is, the Vikings invested in Christian Ponder to be their signal-caller. Now they have to buy the insurance policy and protect his blind side.
Matt Kalil is not Minnesota's best option; he is their only option.