The 2012 regular season is now underway, as the Dallas Cowboys and NY Giants kicked things off at MetLife Stadium on Wednesday night. The game provided a glance at a few important factors, such as the importance of depth in the secondary (injuries are hurting the Giants), continuity along the offensive line (Dallas committed a countless number of procedural penalties), and life with replacement officials (they fared quite well).
Digging down a bit deeper, though, a fun subplot to watch was the performance of each team’s 1st-round pick.
The Cowboys moved up in the 1st round from the 14th overall selection to the 6th spot in order to select CB Morris Claiborne out of LSU. Claiborne certainly looked the part against New York, as he teamed with free agent acquisition Brandon Carr to provide the Cowboys with great coverage on the edge of the defense. The Giants, holding the 32nd overall choice after winning the Super Bowl last year, selected RB David Wilson in the 1st round. Wilson had a less spectacular debut, but he did return kickoffs for the Giants and he displayed some ability as a runner, too (his fumble notwithstanding).
Sunday’s Vikings-Jaguars game at Mall of America Field could provide an even better look at 1st-round talent. Three 1st-round picks from last April’s draft will be on the field, with Matt Kalil and Harrison Smith slated to start for the Vikings and WR Justin Blackmon ready to go for the Jaguars.
The consensus top receiver in the draft, Blackmon appealed to the Jaguars so much that the team moved up to the #5 spot from #7 to ensure they could select him. Blackmon had a brief holdout before reporting to Jaguars training camp, but since joining the team he’s constantly impressed. Reports out of Jaguars training camp were overwhelmingly positive, and then Blackmon performed well on the field during the preseason, hauling in 10 receptions for 136 yards with 1 TD.
Blackmon is a player to watch for the Vikings defense on Sunday. He can win versus coverage down the field, but he might be most dangerous after the catch on short and intermediate routes. He’s hard to tackle and is a skilled runner with the ball.
In the proverbial poker game that is the NFL draft, Spielman and the Vikings strolled up to the table with a pretty big chip – the 3rd overall pick – and parlayed perfectly timed subterfuge with a tremendous working knowledge of other teams’ needs to turn that chip into a pair of immediate impact starters –Kalil at LT and Harrison Smith at safety. Coming away with Kalil and Smith in the first round was a win for the Vikings, a team coming off a 3-13 record and looking for players to plug into the starting lineup.
Kalil, who measures in at 6-7, 308 pounds, will be Christian Ponder’s blindside protector from the get-go and projects to be 10-year starter at one of the most important positions on the offensive side of the ball. In addition to providing pass protection, Kalil will also be a road-grading run blocker for the team’s talented RB duo of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Earlier this week, Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was asked if he and GM Rick Spielman considered selecting Blackmon instead of Kalil. The Vikings had a need at both positions, and obviously ended up taking the LT instead. But a sound case could be made for the Vikings to consider Blackmon, a playmaking receiver who could’ve been a great weapon for the team’s passing game.
“For us, Matt Kalil, from early on in the process, was extremely high on our list as a priority,” Frazier said. “With our left tackle position being what it was coming out of the season, we had targeted that area if the right guy was there, to try to solidify that position and knowing how important it is for our team, for every team, but in particular when you have a young quarterback like we have, to solidify that left tackle position. Very excited about what he has done thus far and looking forward to him being a cornerstone for us at that left tackle position for a long, long time to come.”
In addition to acquiring Kalil after moving back one spot to the 4th overall position, the Vikings also netted 4th-round (#118 overall), 5th-round (139 overall) and 7t-round (#211 overall) choices from Cleveland. With that additional draft ammunition in the fold, the Vikings felt compelled later in the 1st round to send 2nd-round and 4th-round picks to Baltimore in exchange for the Ravens 1st-round pick (#29 overall) in order to address the secondary and select Smith.
Billed as an intelligent and instinctive defender with sound coverage skills and exceptional tackling ability, Smith will also be a starter beginning in Week 1. He brings an aggressive style to the Vikings secondary and could develop into the kind of player who is stout in coming up to defend the run and is territorial in defending the middle of the field against the pass.
As we detailed in an earlier entry highlighting 10 storylines to chase this week, there are many interesting subplots in this week’s Vikings-Jaguars matchup. The debut of three talented 1st-round picks is certainly near the top of the list.
Tags: Harrison Smith, Leslie Frazier, Matt Kalil
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