Sunday, April 27, 2008

Welcome to Minnesota, Tyrell Johnson

As I write this, the fourth round of the draft is wrapping up, and the Vikings have had just one pick so far: Arkansas State safety Tyrell Johnson. I'm not entirely enamored with the pick, for reasons I'll get into below, but I'll reserve final judgment until I see the rest of the Vikings' picks, which won't happen for another 15 picks, the 150th in the draft.

As for Johnson, he appears to be a solid player. When he was picked Mel Kiper, Jr. said he thought he might be the best safety available in the draft, better even than Miami's Kenny Phillips, who went 12 picks earlier to the Giants. (Here's list of safety draft prospects.) ESPN calls Johnson "a strong, well built safety with excellent straight-line speed and an explosive lower-body," but "somewhat stiff in his hips, which limits him in certain coverage situations." He had 55 tackles and 6 interceptions (returning one for a touchdown) in 2007 on a defense that gave up 27.6 points per game against so-so competition, so it's likely that he was the best player on a mediocre defense.

(FLASH -- As I finished the last paragraph, the Vikings traded up to draft USC quarterback John David Booty with the 137th pick. Verrrrrrrrry interesting!)

When the Vikings traded up, skipping over three teams (Chicago, Detroit, and Cincinnati) to move up and take Johnson (and giving up a fourth-round pick in the process), I was excited to think they might draft Brian Brohm, who was a favorite choice of mine, though I'll admit that mid-first-round was probably too high for me to try and get him). When the Vikings passed on Brohm for a player I'd never heard of, I was disappointed, especially when Brohm went a few picks later to the Packers (who, at the time, seemed far less concerned about Aaron Rodgers' fragile psyche than the Vikings did about Tarvaris Jackson's). The Booty pick has assuaged some of those doubts, though I still have to wonder about the need to trade up, though perhaps the Vikings sensed that the Bengals would look for safety help after losing Madieu Williams to Minnesota.

Finally, we come to the question comes of need. You want your first two picks, at least, to be able to fill in immediately or within a year or two. Williams is entrenched at the one safety position, but Darren Sharper will turn 33 this December and is entering the final year of his four-year, $20 million contract he signed before the 2005 season. So, in a sense, this is the perfect situation for Johnson. He plays sparingly as a rookie, learns what he can from Sharper and Williams, and, in theory, steps into the safety position full-time in 2009. At the very least, he looks like a solid run-stopper who might need to grow into a coverage role.

With the Jared Allen deal wiping out most of the Vikings' high draft picks, the success or failure of Tyrell Johnson (and, now, John David Booty) will largely determine the success or failure of the entire 2008 draft for the Vikings. Johnson is well positioned to succeed and perhaps even star in a couple years, adding to what already looks to be a loaded defense.

Tyrell Johnson video highlights:

Clip #1
Clip #2

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