You can't have an NFL draft without drama, and for weeks -- if not months -- there has been near certainty about the top two picks. We've also been pretty close for a while at No. 3, so it shouldn't be surprising that national discussion has swerved into whether the Minnesota Vikings might pick someone other than USC left tackle Matt Kalil with the third overall pick.
I think we all understand the Vikings have been working hard to create a trade market at No. 3, mostly in hopes that a quarterback-needy team would swap picks to ensure the acquisition of Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill. But general manager Rick Spielman said last week that the team has graded Kalil, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon as equal prospects and are trying to decide what position best fit their needs.
I find that awfully convenient and difficult to believe, frankly. I understand the Claiborne angle, mostly that he's the draft's best cornerback and the Vikings' pass defense was historically bad in 2011. But I can tell you from experience that Spielman is a meticulous draft grader. His system takes grades out to a half-dozen decimal points, guaranteeing that there are no ties. There is no doubt that as pure prospects, the Vikings have a vertical ranking for Kalil, Claiborne and Blackmon.
One explanation is that Spielman is making a final effort to generate a trade market for teams who really want Claiborne or Blackmon. If that were the case, however, you would think he would have included Alabama running back Trent Richardson in that group. Richardson is reportedly coveted by the Cleveland Browns at No. 4.
We could go around and around on what the Vikings need more: A left tackle or a cornerback. They need to put up a better fight against the NFC North's elite quarterbacks, which Claiborne would help with. But they also need to be in position to better match those quarterbacks with their own offense, something Kalil would presumably play a central role in.
But the Vikings also have the No. 3 pick of the second and third rounds. What position would they have a better chance at finding an elite player at the top of the second or third rounds: Left tackle or cornerback?
There has also been discussion about the difference between an elite left tackle and a functional one. Right now, however, the Vikings aren't guaranteed of either in 2012. What would you rather have: A team that has Kalil at left tackle, along with Chris Cook, Antoine Winfield and perhaps Montana's Trumaine Johnson at cornerback? Or Ohio State's Michael Adams at left tackle, along with Cook, Winfield and Claiborne at cornerback?
In the end, the Vikings need to draft the very best player on their board at No. 3. If that's Claiborne, then so be it. Some would argue that Kalil has gotten the benefit of the doubt because he plays left tackle, a position that is traditionally valued highly in the draft. If Kalil isn't the third-best player in this draft, I've written many times that I would be fine with the Vikings drafting the player they think is. Time will be the ultimate judge and jury on that decision.
But generally speaking, we haven't heard too many draft observers suggest Claiborne is a better prospect than Kalil. The Vikings would be setting themselves up for long-term failure by allowing positions -- and not talent -- to dictate draft decisions. Stay tuned.