With all the attention swirling around the quarterbacks, the top player in the NFL Draft that doesn’t stand behind the center may well be USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil. The 6-foot-6, 306 pound Kalil may go as high as the number 3 overall pick, and he hopes to follow in the footsteps of the last two USC offensive linemen taken in the top 3 – 11-time Pro Bowl tackle Anthony Muñoz and 5-time Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli. Those are big shoes to fill, but Kalil does have some big feet.
Kalil gave up no sacks last year at USC, and he helped the Trojans offensive line give up an FBS-low 8 sacks for the entire year. He only improved his stock at the NFL combine, where he ran under 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash (at over 300 pounds) and he knocked out 30 reps in the bench press. Big, quick and with great technique, Kalil can be plugged into the critical left tackle spot from day one and protect the quarterback’s blind side for years to come.
The Vikings are holding the number three overall pick, and had a “very good” good visit with Kalil recently, but although most of the experts are predicting the Vikings will take Kalil, ESPN’s Adam Schefter announced last week that the Vikings are undecided and could well go in a different direction.
Kalil has that NFL pedigree as well, as his brother Ryan is the center for the Carolina Panthers. Ryan said last week that Minnesota would be a great spot for Matt to land, but isn’t counting his chickens yet, either.
“Knowing Matt, he’d rather know where he’s playing so he can get to work,” Ryan Kalil said. “But the draft can be so finicky that you really don’t know where you’re going to go. I know that he’s had a positive experience with Minnesota. (Vikings offensive line coach) Jeff Davidson, who was my offensive line coach in Carolina, is very good and would really help him. He’s just trying to handle this process professionally and remain patient.”
The Vikings have multiple needs, including wide receiver, so they could go with another player like WR Justin Blackmon, or they could look to trade down if the right offer is on the table. There are rumors swirling around which players Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Miami are interested in (who hold picks number 5, 6 and 8) and the possibility that one of them may want to leapfrog the others to go after their man.
If the Vikings do stand pat with the third pick, it’s hard to imagine a better move than locking down the left side of their line. Solidifying protection for last year’s first round draft pick, quarterback Christian Ponder, is the best way to improve their offense and Kalil is hands-down the best option to provide that protection. But if Kalil doesn’t go to the Vikings with the third pick, that will be the first big surprise of the 2012 NFL Draft, and could significantly re-shape the first round.