FOX Sports North’s Brian Hall provides complete coverage of the Vikings and the 2014 NFL Draft in his 14-part preview. You can find the entire series here.
Personnel and scouting departments in the NFL, specifically Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, stick to their three-year period for evaluating a draft pick. Three years is a fair window to grade players and drafts, especially in the ever-changing, seemingly year-to-year business of the NFL.
Looking five years back can determine how a team built their organization for the long term.
Spielman — then the team’s vice president of player personnel — made three trades and acquired two quarterbacks.
Early in the 2009 offseason, the Vikings sent their fourth-round pick in 2009 to Houston for quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who wouldn’t end up playing in a game in his first go-round with Minnesota. A sixth-rounder was traded to Philadelphia two years earlier for Kelly Holcomb, who played three games for the Vikings and had a 73.1 quarterback rating.
Round 1, No. 22 overall:
Percy Harvin — Say what you will about Harvin, his run-ins with Minnesota’s staff and coaches and eventual departure, but Harvin was a well-executed gamble by Spielman and the Vikings. Harvin dropped in the draft because of attitude issues and reported drug concerns. Minnesota didn’t worry about it when he was still available with the 22nd pick.
Yes, Harvin proved to be troublesome but there’s never been any doubting his talent, or his production. He was the league’s offensive rookie of the year in 2009 and a Pro Bowl selection. He caught 60 passes, scored six touchdowns and was immediately one of the most dangerous kick returners in the league.
Percy Harvin played in this year’s Superbowl with the Seattle Seahawks.
His production escalated each of his first three seasons, culminating with an 87-catch, 967-receiving yard and eight-touchdown season in 2011. He was an early MVP candidate through nine games in 2012 before things turned sour. Harvin was seen arguing with coaches on the sideline during a loss at Seattle and suffered an ankle injury and would miss the rest of the season, even though he was expected back. The off-field issues became a bigger mess and he was traded last year to the Seahawks.
Minnesota received three highly-productive seasons for the mercurial, but game-breaking talent. And in a way, Harvin is still paying off for the Vikings. By not giving Harvin the big money extension he sought and trading him to Seattle, Minnesota had the money to pay Greg Jennings last year to replace Harvin and used the first-round pick acquired from the Seahawks to select cornerback Xavier Rhodes last year.
The Vikings also have an extra third-round selection this year from the trade.
There were other strong picks behind Harvin, including Green Bay’s Clay Matthews, St. Louis’ James Laurinaitis and safety Jarius Byrd, but Minnesota swung and hit in the first round in 2009.
Grade 5 years later: A-minus
Round 2, No. 54 overall:
Phil Loadholt — Loadholt has been a foundation of the Vikings’ offense ever since stepping in immediately as a starter in his rookie season. Over the past five seasons, he’s only missed two games and has started 78 games.
The hulking Loadholt (6-foot-8, 343 pounds) has anchored the right side of the offensive line and became a key component of Minnesota’s run-first offense in leading the way for running back Adrian Peterson.
Offensive tackle Phil Loadholt has been a Vikings starter since his rookie season.
The Vikings made him an important part of their future as well, signing Loadholt to a four-year, $25 million contract as free agency opened last year.
In the second round, teams are hoping to get a long-term starter and Loadholt has been every bit a success and put together a better NFL career than players selected behind him.
Grade 5 years later: A
Round 3, No. 86 overall:
Asher Allen — If there was a miss in the 2009 draft, it’s Allen. Still in the valuable territory at No. 86 overall, Minnesota picked Allen, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound cornerback. Allen never developed with the Vikings and ended up choosing to retire after the 2011 season as he dealt with concussions.
Allen would end up playing 37 games with Minnesota, starting 21 over his three seasons. He ended up with four interceptions. His best season was 2010 when he started 11 of the 14 games he played and had two interceptions. Allen looked to be a liability as a diminutive cornerback against the tall, elite receivers in the NFC North, but his career was really undone because of his health concerns.
Defensive back Asher Allen retired after the 2011 season.
The third round in the draft is a hit-or-miss proposition, but NFL contributors should be found for teams building through the draft the right way. In the few picks after Allen, cornerbacks Lardarius Webb (Baltimore), Chris Owens (Atlanta), Jerraud Powers (Indianapolis) and Keenan Lewis (Pittsburgh) were selected. Tennessee’s Jason McCourty was in the sixth round and Captain Munnerlyn, signed last month by Minnesota, was a seventh-round pick.
Grade 5 years later: D
Round 5, No. 150 overall:
Jasper Brinkley — Brinkley gets the chance to continue improving on his grade. A run-plugging middle linebacker from South Carolina, Brinkley eventually developed into a starter for the Vikings before leaving in free agency last year. Brinkley is back though and will compete to start in the middle for Minnesota’s revamped defense again this year.
Brinkley started four games as a rookie in place of the injured E.J. Henderson, but Brinkley became a full-time starter in his third season. He started 15 of his 16 games and had 99 tackles and three forced fumbles. Brinkley spent last season with Arizona, mainly as a backup, before being cut and returning to Minnesota.
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley has returned to play with the Vikings again after playing last season in Arizona.
Now he will have the chance to compete with Audie Cole and Michael Mauti for the starting middle linebacker in new coach Mike Zimmer’s defense and believes the system suits his strength as a run-stopper.
In the fifth round, Minnesota got a player who will be entering his sixth NFL season in which he’s been a part-time starter. Brinkley has put together an NFL career better than most of the players selected behind him, many of which are out of the league.
Grade 5 years later: C-plus
Round 7, No. 231 overall:
Safety Jamarca Sanford has been a perpetual standout in the Vikings’ defense.
Jamarca Sanford — When it comes to late-round picks paying off, the Vikings can look to Sanford in the seventh round. Whether it’s been out of necessity or not, Sanford has started at least 13 games each of the past three seasons for Minnesota and is a standout special teams player as well.
The Vikings have tried to replace Sanford as the starter, but he keeps making his way back into the starting lineup and is the likely starter alongside Harrison Smith as Minnesota heads into May’s draft.
He started 15 games in 2011 and had 75 tackles, five pass deflections, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He replaced Mistral Raymond as the starter midway through 2012 and had four forced fumbles. He started each of his 13 games last season and tied his career high with 75 tackles.
What Sanford lacks in range or height — he’s 5-foot-10 — he’s made up by being a strong run defender and one of the outspoken, emotional leaders for the Vikings’ defense.
The New England Patriots selected receiver Julian Edelman with the next pick and backup running backs LaRod Stephens-Howling and Rashad Jennings were picked later, but Minnesota isn’t looking past its selection of Sanford out of Mississippi.
The trades for the two quarterbacks brought minimal return. However, the five picks Minnesota did use ended up as four long-term productive NFL players, which can be considered a success. That the Vikings are still getting contributions from three of the players heading into their sixth NFL seasons speaks to a solid draft. Minnesota hit early (Harvin, Loadholt), middle (Brinkley) and late (Sanford) in the draft.
Spielman has dramatically changed the look of the Vikings over recent seasons, but 2009 was one of the foundational building blocks.