The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

April 22, 2013

Frederick: Aging defensive line an issue for Vikings

— Editor’s note: This is the second of three columns leading up to Thursday’s first round of the NFL Draft. Chad Courrier offered his opinion on Friday, and Jim Rueda will weigh in on Thursday.

NFL teams often get themselves into trouble when drafting for immediate need. Too often, when the draft is used to plug holes in their lineup, players become overvalued and hasty decisions are made.

Square pegs get forced into round holes, or, worse, you end up with Troy Williamson.

With the Vikings having the 23rd and 25th picks in Thursday’s first round, they need to draft the best players they believe will make them a better team not only in 2013, but over the next decade.

The term best player available means different things to different teams. It all depends on the work of their college scouting staff and of the final decider — in the Vikings’ case, general manager Rick Spielman. Teams have to trust the countless hours of preparation put in over the last year, put their lists together and not panic and go off the board once their pick comes around.

When it’s the Vikings’ turn at the podium, the pick should be easy for Spielman. With 22 names crossed off, he should go with the next guy on his trusty list.

Some of the most meaningless things you can read in the immediate aftermath of the first round or on Monday after the smoke from all seven rounds clears will be those articles that grade a team’s draft. Truly you cannot and should not judge a draft until at least the end of the season if not a few years down the road when you can see somewhat of a body of work from those picks.

It’s also why it was wise for the Vikings to put Spielman in charge of building the team, rather than have a committee like the Vikings’ so-called “Triangle of Authority.” Not that Leslie Frazier’s input shouldn’t be heard and considered, but a coach, whose job security depends on what happens in a given season, likely looks at the draft through a much more selfish lens.

And after the team inexplicably (in my view, anyway) traded away a talent like Percy Harvin, one could see even the defensive-minded Frazier demand a receiver to plug that hole.

If a player at that position is at the top of Spielman’s list, fine.

But it has to be hard for him to look at his team’s aging defensive line, as well as at some of the talent supposedly available in this year’s class, and not think he can renovate it for both the short- and long-term.

Defensive tackle Kevin Williams restructured his contract this offseason and likely is in his final season in Minnesota after an outstanding nine-year career. Superstar pass rusher Jared Allen is the final year of his contract and is coming off a season in which nagging injuries slowed him down.

The best players available just might be at that bumper-crop position — tackles like Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson, North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams and Alabama’s Jesse Williams or ends like UCLA’s Datone Jones and Florida State’s Bjoern Werner.

The defensive line has been the Vikings’ bread and butter for much of their history. Now they have a chance to keep that going for years to come.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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