Eight weeks ago, the Vikings were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in DVOA. Now they're 6-6 and probably done. What went wrong?
03 May 2005
By Michael David Smith
Also check out the pre-draft edition of Four Downs: NFC North.
I don't want to spend too much time scrutinizing first-round pick Cedric Benson because I'm afraid he'll start crying and saying how unfair it all is. The Bears had only two picks on the first day of the draft and took Oklahoma wide receiver Mark Bradley in the second round. Bradley is something of a developmental project; he wasn't an integral part of the Sooners' offense, but he's expected to play immediately on special teams.
On the second day, Kyle Orton of Purdue is the most intriguing pick. New offensive coordinator Ron Turner coached against Orton when Turner was the head man in Illinois, and it would be hard for Turner not to think highly of Orton, seeing as Orton torched his defense for 35 completions on 50 attempts, 366 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a touchdown running. Of course, those numbers were pretty much par for the course for quarterbacks against Illinois during the Turner era. Although last year's second-day Big Ten quarterback, Craig Krenzel, was pressed into duty as a starter during the Bears' quarterback catastrophe of 2004, he's not expected to make the team this year, so Orton will likely hold the clipboard behind starter Rex Grossman and backup Chad Hutchinson.
Of the Bears' undrafted free agents, the two who deserve the most attention are kickers Tyler Jones (Boise State) and Nick Novak (Maryland). The Bears haven't been happy with Paul Edinger of late, so Jones and Novak will get every opportunity to earn a job. Memo to the Jets' front office: You should have followed the Bears' example. Finding a new kicker is like shopping at TJ Maxx. You don't just buy the first thing you see; you rummage around a little bit until you find a bargain.
The biggest surprise of the draft is that the Bears didn't take an offensive lineman. Although the free agent signings of Fred Miller and Roberto Garza make the Bears' line respectable, picking up some depth on the line would have been a wise investment of a mid- or late-round pick.
The basic criticism of the Lions' decision to draft receiver Mike Williams with the 10th selection seems to be that the Lions needed defense more than they needed offense. But according to our DVOA numbers (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, explained here), the Lions had a -3.3% DVOA on offense, and a 3.3% DVOA on defense. Remember that a positive defensive DVOA is bad, so that means the Lions' offense and defense were equally below average. Which means the Lions were a team uniquely suited drafting the best player available, regardless of which side of the ball he played on. If Williams was the best player available -- and he was on most draft boards -- he seems like a logical choice.
Second round pick Shaun Cody, who played with Williams at USC, should become an immediate member of the defensive line rotation and could start if the Lions choose to put him at end instead of tackle. Although some of their mid-round moves are questionable (trading away the fourth-round pick to move up for Cody and trading away next year's fourth-round pick to select quarterback Dan Orlovsky of Connecticut), the Lions probably had the best sixth round of any team. Oregon State defensive end Bill Swancutt shared the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year award with Cody, and Marshall defensive end/linebacker Jonathan Goddard led the NCAA in sacks last year.
The Lions signed a rather nondescript group of undrafted free agents. The team released safety Brock Marion after the draft even though they hadn't selected a safety, so the shallow pool at that position gives Chip Cox of Ohio and Andrew Guman of Penn State a real chance.
By the time the 24th pick in the draft rolled around, even many of Aaron Rodgers' critics acknowledged that he was a bargain for the team that finally selected him. But his selection by the Packers raises questions about what kind of team they plan to be. Does the franchise want to put together one final run in the Brett Favre era? If so, Rodgers wasn't the right pick, since he won't contribute until Favre is done. Does the franchise have one eye on the future? If so, why should Favre want to stick around?
Second round pick Nick Collins is another project. No one questions whether the defensive back has talent, but most people who saw him at Bethune-Cookman thinks he's going to need some time to develop before he can contribute in the NFL. I do like second-round receiver Terrence Murphy, and I love the way the Packers stockpiled picks on the second day. By acquiring two picks in every round from the fourth to the seventh, the Packers greatly increased their chances of picking up a late-round gem. The last player they picked, Michigan State guard William Whitticker, has a good chance to make a team desperate for depth at guard.
Aaron Rodgers owes his college career to Garrett Cross, and some day Cross might owe his pro career to Rodgers. Let me explain: Jeff Tedford first came across Rodgers when he was at Butte Junior College scouting Cross. Tedford liked what he saw in Cross, a big tight end, and he loved what he saw in Rodgers, so he convinced both of them to come to Cal. The Packers, after drafting Rodgers, decided to bring along one of his favorite targets and signed Cross as an undrafted free agent.
The Randy Moss trade will define the Vikings' off-season, but the most important question to the Vikings now is how well Troy Williamson can step in and replace Moss. The Vikings went with Williamson even though Mike Williams was still on the board because Williamson has Moss-like speed. In South Carolina's run-oriented offense, Williamson didn't have a lot of opportunities to use that speed and never approached the gaudy numbers Williams put up at Southern Cal. If Williams puts up better numbers than Williamson in the pros, fans will never stop second-guessing the Vikings' decision.
Defensive end Erasmus James was seen by some as the draft's best pure pass rusher, but the Vikings were more in need of a run-stopping defensive lineman, and they didn't acquire one. If you're a believer in running backs from the SEC, you'll like the Vikings' selection of Florida's Ciatrick Fason, who fills the important position of fifth-string running back on the Minnesota depth chart.
Williamson will get lots of balls thrown his way in the Vikings' off-season program because of problems with the Vikings' other receivers. Marcus Robinson and Nate Burleson, projected as the starters if Williamson doesn't crack the lineup, both have had minor injuries and missed all of the first minicamp. Another Vikings receiver, Kelly Campbell, has a court date this month on weapons and drugs charges.
Other injuries: The Vikings' best offensive lineman, Matt Birk, is still recovering from a hernia, and their best defensive lineman, Kevin Williams, is still recovering from knee surgery.
Next: AFC North by Ryan Wilson.