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Makowsky: Three draft picks show promise

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As Saturday’s seventh round came to a close, the Cardinal’s three 2010 draftees found themselves not just in the National Football League, but also in good situations therein.

Let’s start, as always, with Toby Gerhart. Minnesota was a bit of a surprise, as most of the pre-draft talk centered on a few places – Denver, San Diego and Philadelphia – with the Vikings rarely being a part of the conversation.

But they should have been, because at first glance, they make quite a bit of sense. Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in the league, but has a violent running style that precludes him from carrying an entire load. His valued backup, Chester Taylor, left for the Chicago Bears this off-season, and the Vikings had to fill that role.

Enter Gerhart, who instantly gives Minnesota one of the most intimidating rushing attacks in football. Take out Peterson, and you have to deal with another bruiser; fortunately for Gerhart, Peterson is also enough of an all-around speed threat that the holes he will face will be just a tad bit wider. Plus, the Vikings offensive line, though at times maligned during the latter part of last season, still features one of the all-time best pulling guards in Steve Hutchinson, two tackle bookends in Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt and a young and developing center in John Sullivan. They also added Chris DeGeare, a well-regarded and versatile line prospect, in the fifth round of the draft. So imagine: Gerhart will get to face defenses broken down from taking on Peterson, with a line that can give him the room to operate.

Naysayers will point to Peterson’s status as indicative of a limited role for Gerhart. But the NFL has, over the past decade, evolved into a two-back league – few, if any teams feature just one runner. Complementary backs abound. Even the two running backs taken in the top 12 picks will not be asked to carry an individual load or, frankly, even start. C.J. Spiller has Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson in Buffalo; Ryan Mathews has Darren Sproles in San Diego. Gerhart, Spiller and Mathews all have tremendous importance as secondary players, and that’s perfectly all right.

Additionally, the fullback question, although nearly dead as is, can finally be put to rest. The Vikings traded both their second and third round picks in a deep draft in order to move up the 11 spots to pick Gerhart. That type of investment is not made in a lead blocker. Head coach Brad Childress’s press conference was almost humorous – he was bombarded with questions about whether or not Gerhart would be a fullback, which he continuously brushed off as narrow-minded and inaccurate. He even said that Gerhart could be lined up outside as a receiver, a statement indicative of the flexibility the Vikings see in him.

Then there’s Jim Dray, newly of the Arizona Cardinals. Although taken in the seventh round, Dray should get an opportunity early to challenge for serious playing time, as Arizona does not have a featured tight end, and the quality of its depth is precarious.

Outside of Dray, there are four TEs on the roster. Ben Patrick is a young talent who has flashed promise and is expected to be the starter. But Patrick has suffered from injuries recently and, even when healthy, has not entirely capitalized on his opportunities – his production has been limited, as seen in his career high of 12 receptions in a season. Stephen Spach is apparently well-liked by the staff, but he is a bit older and has bounced in and out of the league with less than 100 career receiving yards. Anthony Becht, a former first-round pick, is in the twilight of his career, and Dominique Byrd has failed, repeatedly, to become a legitimate NFL player.

So Dray, who possesses not just exemplary blocking abilities, but soft hands, too, finds himself in a place where little is certain. He can compete for playing time almost immediately. The Cardinals, in turn, have themselves a player who likely would have been taken quite a bit earlier had injuries not nagged him throughout his collegiate career. Provided that he stays healthy, he gives Arizona a talent boost at the tight end position.

Finally, there is Erik Lorig, who went to Tampa Bay as the draft wound down. Lorig is still recovering from an off-season surgery and is seen as more of a developmental project. But even then, the Buccaneers have an admitted, serious issue with their defensive end depth, and head coach Raheem Morris was quick to point Lorig out as a guy who could see action on both the right and left sides and earn playing time on defense as a hustling reserve. Outside of Stylez White starting at RDE, the Buccaneers line is still undecided.

And so Gerhart, Dray and Lorig will have their chances, even if the expectations range from immediate contributor to long-term prospect. Some draftees find themselves in situations where they’re buried on a depth chart, with little chance for playing time or even making a roster; for the three Cardinal players, this is not the case.

Wyndam Makowsky is going through an existential crisis now that he can no longer write about Toby Gerhart. Get him some help at [email protected]

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