Minnesota Vikings 2011 Draft Grade and Pick-by-pick Analysis


The Minnesota Vikings had a disastrous season in 2010, finishing 6-10, last place in the NFC North. Although they had an off-year, Minnesota still has a promising team. Going into the 2011 draft, Minnesota had plenty of options in the first round.

Ultimately they decided to take Christian Ponder, which surprised many people, but I felt like it was the smart choice for the Vikings to make at the time.

Minnesota started off the draft strong, and they never looked back from there.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at Minnesota’s picks from April’s exciting draft.

First round (12): Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Florida State

Ponder, believe it or not, was very high on many teams’ boards. The Vikings were well aware that Ponder was going to go off the board soon after they picked, so they had to make the move by taking the young signal caller.

It shocked many people, which I expected it to, but the harsh criticism that he received wasn’t deserved. Ponder had been written off a mere ten minutes after he’d been drafted.

Despite a weak arm, Christian Ponder is one of the most accurate quarterbacks that I’ve ever seen. He’s able to tell where his wide-outs are going next, which allows him to be one step ahead of the defense.

Ponder also has injury and durability concerns. He underwent several arm surgeries during his high school and college career. Hopefully the injury issues are a thing of the past, though.

Pick grade: B+

I give this pick a B+ because it’s what Minnesota needed to do. While Ponder may not have been the best option available, the Vikings’ organization and coaches clearly see something in this kid.

He’s incredibly intelligent, and with the proper training, Ponder can become an elite-level quarterback in the NFL. There are certainly enough play-makers on Minnesota’s roster for Christian to have success.

2011 season outlook:

I see Ponder taking the reigns from the get-go. Joe Webb is a talented athlete, but he’s not ready to step in as a full-time starter, and he may never be.

If Ponder succeeds in the preseason, he will undoubtedly be the starter in week one. Expect Minnesota to bring in a veteran (Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger, David Carr, Matt Hasselbeck, Vince Young, etc.) to compete with Ponder and Webb for the starting job.

Second round (43): Kyle Rudolph, Tight End, Notre Dame

Steve Wyche of the NFL Network reported in February that the Vikings had their eye on nearly every tight end prospect in the draft. Minnesota was clearly in the hunt for a tight end early on.

When Minnesota was on the clock with the 43rd pick, many expected the Vikings to take a cornerback (Brandon Harris) or a defensive end (Da’Quan B0wers). Instead, Minnesota chose Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph.

With Bill Musgrave as the Vikings’ new offensive coordinator, he intends to run many two tight end sets. This will almost certainly cause mismatches for the defense.

Pick grade: A-

Although tight end wasn’t one of Minnesota’s biggest needs, it makes a whole lot of sense. Visanthe Shiancoe was extremely mediocre last year, and the Vikings wanted to add some weapons for Christian Ponder.

Rudolph was great in college at Notre Dame, and I expect his talents to translate over to the NFL level.

2011 season outlook:

Rudolph will see a lot of time early on. The Vikings are very high on him at the moment, which should equal quite a few snaps in his rookie season.

Kyle will have to improve his blocking if he wants to be on the field as much as Shiancoe, but his pass-catching ability will be key for the Vikings.

Fourth round (106): Christian Ballard, Defensive Lineman, Iowa

Being the Iowa Hawkeyes fan that I am, I was able to see Christian Ballard complete on numerous Saturday’s. Even though he was often overlooked because of Adrian Clayborn, Ballard was a success on Iowa’s defensive line.

Ballard was projected to be a second-rounder, until it was reported that he failed a drug test for marijuana at the combine back in February.

Christian wasn’t known for being any sort of trouble in college, so this is likely a one time mistake by Ballard that will soon be forgotten.

I was surprised to see him fall this far, but it was a tremendous gift for Minnesota. They got a first round talent in the early fourth round.

Pick grade: A

Based on what round it was and the value that Ballard had, this pick deserves an A. I was praying Minnesota would take Ballard, because the Vikings’ defensive line looked atrocious at times last year.

Hopefully Minnesota can make a lot of teams regret not taking him. Put the drug issues to rest, people. I doubt you’ll be seeing any of those shenanigans from Ballard again

2011 season outlook:

I don’t know how much playing time he’ll get in his rookie campaign, but he’ll almost certainly see the field on situation downs.

With Pat Williams and Rey Edwards both unlikely to return, Ballard will move up a couple notches on the depth chart. Although it’s not likely, he could wind up starting next to Kevin Williams at defensive tackle.

Fifth round (139): Brandon Burton, Cornerback, Utah

Yet another steal for the Vikings. I actually had Burton being drafted to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round back in January. Clearly something went wrong along the line, which caused Burton’s stock to significantly fall.

He was burned a time or two in his college days with Utah, but he still has great ball-skills and awareness. Tackling could be a slight issue, however.

The Vikings needed depth in the secondary, and they got plenty of help with Brandon Burton in the middle of the fifth. He could push Asher Allen off the roster if he performs well in preseason.

Pick grade: B+

Burton was clearly a steal in the fifth round, but I’m just not sure if he has the potential to start in the NFL. The Vikings also have two other young cornerbacks on the roster that won’t see the bench too often (Cedric Griffin and Chris Cook).

At 6-feet, 190 pounds, Burton certainly has the size to play cornerback in the NFL.

2011 season outlook:

Barring injury, Burton will likely be a special teams player. There’s a decent chance he could see some time in the nickel spot, but that will likely be taken by Chris Cook.

Brandon has the chance to work with one of the greatest cornerbacks in the NFL today in Antoine Winfield, which will be a huge boost to his young career.

Sixth round (168): DeMarcus Love, Offensive Tackle, Arkansas
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Love was one of the few offensive tackle prospects that I thought Minnesota would look at late in the draft. I expected Love to be off the board in the fifth round, so this is clearly a great value selection.

Minnesota’s offensive line has been dreadful over the past two seasons. Whether you want to blame it on age or lack of talent, something needs to be done to cure this problems.

While I don’t see Love as an instant starter, he’s a project in the works that could be in the starting rotation by his third or fourth year.

Pick grade: B

I don’t want to go any higher or lower on the grade I give Love, because I’m simply not sure if he’s better or worse than a solid B, at the moment.

Truthfully, I would have preferred to have taken an offensive tackle earlier on in the draft, but the Vikings were able to get their hands on a steal in the sixth round, therefore I’ll take it.

2011 season outlook:

I strongly doubt Love will crack the starting rotation in his first year. Give him a season or two behind Phil Loadholt and Bryant McKinnie, and then see what happens from there on out.

I’m excited to see what he can bring to the field for the Vikings this coming preseason.

Sixth round (170): Mistral Raymond, Safety, South Florida

To be honest, I had never heard of Mistral Raymond before the draft, which I wish I would have. That being said, after some hefty research, I found that Raymond is a very solid athlete.

At 6’2″, 195 pounds, Raymond has great size for a free safety. Coming into the draft, Mistral was labeled as a defensive back, but the Vikings intend to use him at safety only.

Minnesota’s secondary has plenty of holes in it that need to be filled. Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams may both be on different teams next year, allowing Raymond to move up on the chart.

Pick grade: C+

I think there were better options the Vikings could have went with here, but it’s the sixth round, and teams like to take risks in the later rounds.

The fact that I had never heard of him means that he wasn’t a star in college, which he wasn’t. Mistral is simply a good cover-man, but doesn’t offer much else.

2011 season outlook:

Give him a shot on special teams. He won’t be starting any games for the Vikings, but he’s too talented to let go to waste on the bench. They’ll get him involved in one way or another.

If you can’t find him, look for the man with dreadlocks that doesn’t have the name “Rice” on the back of his jersey.

Sixth round (172): Brandon Fusco, Center, Slippery Rock

Slippery Rock is one of my favorite colleges of all time. Had I ever heard of Slippery Rock before the draft? No. But is it one of the coolest names for a college that I’ve ever heard of? Absolutely.

Brandon Fusco is probably most known for his play in the senior bowl, but not much else, unless you watch Slippery Rock take the field on Saturday’s.

Leslie Frazier was a big fan of Fusco leading up to the draft. Frazier wanted Fusco, but figured he would be gone in the fourth or fifth round, due to the lack of talent that was available at center this year.

Pick grade: B-

The fact that Leslie Frazier is glowing over Fusco leads me to believe that this kid truly does have the talent it takes to succeed at center in the NFL.

Hopefully Fusco can become like Jeff Saturday, who was a virtual no-name in college that wound up being one of the best centers in NFL history.

2011 season outlook:

Fusco won’t have much for competition at center, obviously. John Sullivan has been lackluster at best in his first two seasons in the league and Jon Cooper hasn’t exactly been that impressive.

I honestly won’t be shocked if Fusco is awarded the starting job in training camp. He’s a tough, physical kid that has the tools to dominate a defensive tackle.

Sixth round (200): Ross Homan, Outside Linebacker, Ohio State

The Vikings have had great success with one outside linebacker from the Big 10, so why not make it two?

Ross Homan was one of the most underrated outside linebackers in the draft. He was the signal caller on defense for the Buckeyes last season, which makes me feel great about his leadership skills.

Homan is very instinctive and intelligent. His passion for the game of football will allow him to do whatever it takes to further along his career.

Pick grade: B+

The Vikings need a replacement for Ben Leber if he’s allowed to walk in free agency. I’m not saying Homan will be the fill-in by any means, but there’s certainly a possibility.

Minnesota needed plenty of depth in their front-seven, which they got with the selections of Ballard and Homan.

2011 season outlook:

I actually see Homan’s role being expanded outside of just special teams. Minnesota doesn’t have many other linebackers that are better than Homan right now.

If Leber isn’t resigned, Homan will be a strong candidate to start at weakside linebacker.

Seventh round (215): D’Aundre Reed, Defensive End, Arizona

Not many people had heard of Reed because he wasn’t a starter that often with the Wildcats last year. However, when he was on the field, Reed was hard to stop.

I didn’t think Minnesota would wait until the seventh round to find some depth at defensive end, but at least they didn’t ignore the need entirely.

Reed is a 6’4″, 265 defensive end that will bring energy and depth to the Vikings’ defensive line.

Pick grade: B-

Reed has the size and mechanics to be a start at some point in the NFL, but I’m not sure if he’ll get that chance right away with the Vikings.

Brian Robison, Everson Griffen and Christian Ballard will all be considered for the d-end spot on the opposite side of Jared Allen before D’Aundre Reed.

2011 season outlook:

Reed could be a practice squad addition, which wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I think he makes the team. Minnesota’s depth situation on the defensive line is too scare for Reed to not make the squad.

If Minnesota carries five defensive ends on the roster, Reed will likely be fifth that they choose.

Seventh round (236): Stephen Burton, Wide Receiver, West Texas A&M

The Vikings were going to take a receiver at some point. I assumed it would be earlier than this, but that’s quite alright with me, because I’m quite intrigued with Stephen Burton.Z

Minnesota will likely cut Bernard Berrian this offseason and Sidney Rice is a free agent. This leaves Percy Harvin, Greg Lewis, Hank Baskett, Greg Camarillo and Jaymar Johnson as the Vikings’ wide receiver core.

I expect Lewis, Baskett and Camarillo to be let go this offseason, which will open the door for Burton to make the roster.

Pick grade: B

Burton is the definition of a project. There’s a slim chance that he’ll make any kind of impact in his rookie season, but learning the ropes for a season or two will be beneficial.

At 6’1″, 220 pounds, Burton has great size for a receiver. That said, he has a lot of other issues that he needs to work out before he’s a complete receiver.

2011 season outlook:

He’ll likely be a practice squad addition. The Vikings don’t often keep seventh-rounders on the roster, and Burton wouldn’t see the field anyway.

Although I’m intrigued with his potential, I doubt Burton will be seen that often in a purple and gold uniform.

Minnesota’s overall draft grade:

B+

The Vikings were able to get the signal-caller they wanted, the tight end they wanted and were blessed with several steals along the way.

I scratched my head with a couple picks, but it’s too early to tell just who will and won’t make an impact in the NFL.

Best value pick:

Christian Ballard, DL, Iowa

Worst value pick:

Mistral Raymond, DB, South Florida

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