Published April 24, 2010
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Nate Triplett has spent his entire life in Minnesota. That won't change as he begins his professional career in the NFL.
The Minnesota Vikings drafted the hard-nosed linebacker with the 167th overall pick in the fifth round on Saturday, the first time they've drafted a Gophers player since Tyrone Carter in 2000.
The Vikings also drafted Southern Cal defensive end Everson Griffin in the fourth round, Wake Forest guard Chris DeGeare in the fifth round, UAB quarterback Joe Webb in the sixth and Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler Jr. and Rutgers inside linebacker Ryan D'Imperio in the seventh.
On Friday, the Vikings spent second-round picks on Virginia cornerback Chris Cook and Stanford running back Toby Gerhart.
This year's draft was focused on taking good players with abilities to contribute on special teams rather than filling specific position needs. If Brett Favre returns to play quarterback, they'll have their entire starting lineup back from the NFC runner-up squad.
"I don't judge drafts until three years down the road, but I think we got some good football players," vice president for player personnel Rick Spielman said.
The Vikings went all three days in the draft without taking a potential quarterback of the future. They passed on Jimmy Clausen twice and Colt McCoy three times, perhaps the strongest indicator yet that they expect Favre to return this season.
The Vikings did take Webb in the sixth round, but he will play receiver in the NFL. In another position switch, D'Imperio will play fullback instead.
Neither Childress nor Spielman expressed any concern about the long-term or short-term situation at quarterback. Childress said he exchanged a couple of text messages with Favre during the draft.
So what did the old quarterback think about how the Vikings drafted?
"I'm not expecting a grade," Childress said.
Triplett starred at Delano High School, about 30 minutes west of Minneapolis, before working his way into a starting role with the University of Minnesota.
"Staying in Minnesota has been a dream of mine since I was a little guy," Triplett said. "You live in Minnesota your whole life, and I wanted to be a Gopher since I could walk and I've wanted to be a Viking ever since I knew what football was."
Triplett walked on at Minnesota and worked his way into a starting role as a senior with the Gophers, making 105 tackles with two interceptions and five pass breakups. The Vikings project him as an inside linebacker, though he will likely have to earn a roster spot on special teams, which is exactly how his college career began.
"I'm going to have to work my way up, definitely," Triplett said. "Starting with special teams, and work my way into a linebacker spot."
Griffen left USC a year early, fully convinced he was going to be a first-round draft pick. Plenty of mock drafts supported his theory, but then the real draft started. Round one came and went. So did rounds two and three.
"I watched some of the second round, then I just couldn't watch it no more," Griffen said. "Then I just waited for that phone call."
Concerns about his consistency caused Griffen to plummet down the draft board, and the Vikings didn't hesitate to grab him at the top of the fourth round even though they don't have an immediate need at defensive end.
With established — and vocal — veterans like Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Pat Williams and Ray Edwards already entrenched on the defensive line, Griffen can expect to be challenged early to shed that label of not giving effort on every down.
"I know that they have the best D-line in the NFL," Griffen said. "I'm just happy to be a part of them. I just want them to take me under their wing and show me the ropes around there."
Griffen's story bears a strong resemblance to Edwards, another player with all the physical tools to be a high pick that fell because of questions about attitude and motivation. After an up-and-down first three years in the league, Edwards had a breakout season in 2010 with 8½ sacks. He also had three sacks in a dominating performance against Dallas in the playoffs.
"There are a lot of similarities," director of college scouting Scott Studwell said. "There are different maturity levels in all of these players. Some of them get it right away and some of them take a little more time than others. That is not a flaw. It's just the way they are wired."
At 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds, Griffen had eight sacks in his junior season with the Trojans and was considered one of the top defensive ends in the country when he arrived at USC in 2007.
Griffen said a turf toe injury contributed to his inconsistency last season and never quite lived up to all the hype he received in the recruiting process.
"He's a college student that enjoyed the college life a little bit," Studwell said. "We are not going to kill him for that. ... We are not worried about his background. We are not worried about his character. He has to grow up a little bit like they all do."