Monday, May 18, 2009

Vikings Best Possible Draft, 1999

With regards to the NFL draft, hindsight is always 20/20. Knowing what we know now, there's no way Randy Moss would have lasted until the 21st pick of the first round in 1998 or that Joe Montana wouldn't have been selected until the third round.

As I've done for the past few years, I've gone back to the 1999 draft -- 10 years ago -- and, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, re-picked for the Vikings, when appropriate, to determine who they should have taken in that draft, based on what we now know about the incoming rookies of 1999. Any player still on the board (and usually taken before the Vikings take their next pick) is a possible selection.

It's a fun exercise, not to be taken too seriously, and would give you something to do if you had a time machine. And you could get a hold of Vikings management and convince them that not to take Dimitrius Underwood. Please convince them not to take Dimitrius Underwood.

Round 1, Pick 11
Actual: Daunte Culpepper, QB
BPD: Daunte Culpepper, QB (picked 1-11)

The Culpepper selection was seen as a bit of a head-scratcher by a team that had just enjoyed a monster season from Randall Cunningham and had picked up Jeff George. It turned out to be a rather wise selection, though, with Cunningham predictably coming back down to earth and George, while having a solid season, predictably wearing out his welcome and being jettisoned a year later. Despite some ups and downs, Culpepper was the most reliable quarterback the Vikings had had since the days of Tommy Kramer and is only one of two players in team history (along with Fran Tarkenton) to lead the Vikings in passing for five straight years.

This is actually a tougher pick than it seems. A lot of good players, notably Jevon Kearse, John Tait, and Antoine Winfield are still available before the Vikings' next pick, later in the first round. And Culpepper left the team with a bad taste following his horrid, injury-shortened 2005 season; the Vikings have yet to find a suitable replacement for him at QB. But I think I'm still going to stick with him in this slot. Kearse has been about as mercurial a talent as Culpepper, Tait was a tackle (the team had Korey Stringer and Todd Steussie), and, well, we already got Winfield :)

Round 1, Pick 29
Actual: Dimitrius Underwood, DE
BPD: Dre Bly, CB (picked 2-41)

As mentioned previously, Dimitrius Underwood was possibly the worst first-round pick in Vikings history. Carrie Underwood would have been a better selection (and might have increased our chances of later signing Tony Romo...). He attempted to commit suicide during his rookie season and never appeared in a game with the team, playing just 16 games with Dallas over the next few seasons.

With the bar set so low, just about anyone would be an improvement, but why not aim high and take Dre Bly? The 10-year veteran with 40 career interceptions would have been a significant upgrade over burn victim Jimmy Hitchcock, who somehow lucked his way into a seven-interception, three-TD year in 1998 but would only start seven more games, for Carolina and New England after 1999. Kenny Wright, who wound up starting as a rookie in 1999, wasn't much better in his three years as a Viking.

Round 2, Pick 44
Actual: Jim Kleinsasser, TE
BPD: Joey Porter, LB (picked 3-73)

I like Jim Kleinsasser. Really, I do. And while he's a phenomenal blocker, and not a bad receiver for such a big guy, he's hardly Hall of Fame material. Porter might not be either, but he's a heck of a lot closer. His 83 sacks are more than any other player drafted in 1999, and he's appeared in 154 of a possible 160 games since 1999, a testament to his durability.

Round 4, Pick 120
Actual: Kenny Wright, DB
BPD: Edwin Mulitalo, G (picked 4-129)

As previously mentioned, Wright was nothing special during his Vikings career. And the pickings are starting to get a little slim this far down in the draft, but we can still do better. With Randall McDaniel aging -- he was 35 in 1999, his final year with the team -- drafting Mulitalo as his eventual replacement would be a wise investment. Playing on a line alongside Johnathan Ogden in Baltimore, Mulitalo isn't very well known, but his contributions to Jamal Lewis's glory years can't be ignored.

Round 4, Pick 125
Actual: Jay Humphrey, T
BPD: Roderick Coleman, DT (picked 5-153)

Jay who? Humphrey never suited up in the NFL, making this an easier pick to replace than Underwood. I'll take "Rowdy" Roddy Coleman in his place, one of the league's unsung defensive tackle stalwarts for most of this decade. His 58.5 career sacks (with three double-digit seasons) are extremely impressive for an interior lineman. By comparison, Kevin Williams has 42.5 while appearing in just 15 fewer games.

Round 5, Pick 169
Actual: Chris Jones, LB
BPD: Desmond Clark, TE (picked 6-179)

Another "Where are they now?" pick (but only if we cared), Jones also never played a down in the NFL and was the last pick of the fifth round. His replacement, Desmond Clark, on the other hand, has appeared in 146 of a possible 160 games, with over 300 career catches. And drafting him takes some of the pain from not getting 'Sass earlier...

Round 6, Pick 185
Actual: Talance Sawyer, DE
BPD: Hunter Smith, P (picked 7-210)

Sawyer at least had a minor career, starting two seasons with the Vikings and appearing in a total of 39 games. Pickings are so slim, though, that we're forced to take a punter at this stage of the draft, but you could do a lot worse than lifetime Colt Hunter Smith, who's averaged 43.4 yards per boot over his 10-year career, even if Mitch Berger did still have a little gas left in the tank.

Round 6, Pick 199
Actual: Antico Dalton, LB
BPD: Donald Driver, WR (picked 7-213)

This one's easy, even if you hate the Packers. Sure, the Vikings had Randy Moss and Cris Carter, but Jake Reed was on the way out, so why not replace him with -- well, a slower version of Cris Carter. Hey, can't argue with results, right?

Round 7, Pick 236
Actual: Noel Scarlett, DT
BPD: Jim Finn, FB (picked 7-253)

"Noel Scarlett" sounds more like the hero of a romance novel than a 320-pound defensive tackle. His NFL career was almost as fictional as one, as he appeared in just one game, with Dallas in 2000. With only 17 players left to be picked, there's not much out there, so I'm going with Mr. Irrelevant himself, Jim Finn. Now the Vikings have replaced Kleinsasser as both a tight end and a fullback. Brilliant! Center Todd McClure would also be a good pick, but the Vikings still had Jeff Christy and Matt Birk was waiting in the wings, so center wouldn't seem to be much of a need for the team.

So, to recap, the Vikings "improved" draft nets them a quarterback, a ball-hawking corner, a talented (if mouthy) linebacker, a stalwart guard, a forceful defensive tackle, a quality tight end, a dependable punter, an overlooked (at the time) wide receiver, and a bruising fullback.

Admittedly, with the possible exception of Porter, none of these guys are probably destined for Canton, but there isn't much I can do about that with my revisionist history. Half the players drafted ahead of Culpepper -- notably Donovan McNabb, Edgerrin James, Torry Holt, and Champ Bailey -- have at least a shot at the Hall of Fame. Only three players -- Bly, Porter, Driver, and Al Wilson -- drafted after the first round have been to multiple Pro Bowls, making 1999 perhaps the most top-heavy draft in recent history.

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