- Chris Sprow, ESPN Insider
Talk to someone on the scouting side of the NFL, and the conversation always turns to a great player they saw with great traits whom everybody else passed on and they snapped up late in the draft. Like a fly fisherman showing off a prize trout, they'll be able to point to the exact spot in the creek where they saw him. But you could go back to the same spot and catch nothing -- a lot. In the end, we all know the first round is still the best fishing hole, and it's not even close.
Over the past 10 years, first-round picks have produced 222 Pro Bowl appearances. Drop one round, and you have 64. You're almost four times as likely to find a great player with your first pick as you are with your second. Late steals happen because the league (and draft) demands it; close to 20 percent of the average Sunday roster is made up of players not even drafted, so you're bound to have some hits late (or after) the draft. But the big impact is at the top.
So let's take a look at some of the toughest decisions of Round 1 (and one in the early second round) as the board lines up with the draft just days away.
Minnesota Vikings at No. 3
Dilemma: How to best get a young QB going?
Unless the Vikings deal the No. 3 pick, they have their choice of the top offensive tackle (Matt Kalil), top wide receiver (Justin Blackmon) or top cornerback (Morris Claiborne). All three spots are huge needs. But the priority has to be finding out if Christian Ponder is really a franchise quarterback. If the Vikings draft Kalil, they have the one tackle in the draft who evaluators believe can be an immediate starter on the left side and, as colleague Matt Williamson notes, complete the transformation of an O-line that allowed a sack on nearly 9 percent of pass plays into a legit strength in one offseason. Good for Ponder, really good for Adrian Peterson. But, as Leslie Frazier admitted to us at the NFL combine, Vikings coaches are "always conscious with Percy Harvin of overusing him." After Harvin, the passing game is bereft of legit threats.
Our vote: Go with Kalil. Even if Ponder doesn't pan out, the line will be able to protect the next guy, and Peterson benefits all along.