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With the first month of free agency in the rearview mirror, the Minnesota Vikings now have a clear idea of their needs heading into the 2018 draft.
Let’s take a look at which position groups should be the greatest priorities, ranked from first to last.
#1 OFFENSIVE LINE The Vikings also lost swing man Jeremiah Sirles to the Carolina Panthers in free agency, but they signed Minnesota-native Tom Compton as his de facto replacement. Nonetheless, the Vikings will likely have to hold a training camp competition to solidify their starting five after losing a long-term starter in Berger. The team does benefit, however, from having positional flexibility with its current personnel. Nick Easton and Pat Elflein are able to play center or guard, while the common refrain around Mike Remmers is that the Vikings may move him from tackle to guard. As a result of this versatility, the Vikings could draft any offensive line position – center, guard or tackle – and adjust their existing pieces accordingly to accommodate the newcomer.
The Vikings also lost swing man Jeremiah Sirles to the Carolina Panthers in free agency, but they signed Minnesota-native Tom Compton as his de facto replacement.
Nonetheless, the Vikings will likely have to hold a training camp competition to solidify their starting five after losing a long-term starter in Berger.
The team does benefit, however, from having positional flexibility with its current personnel. Nick Easton and Pat Elflein are able to play center or guard, while the common refrain around Mike Remmers is that the Vikings may move him from tackle to guard.
As a result of this versatility, the Vikings could draft any offensive line position – center, guard or tackle – and adjust their existing pieces accordingly to accommodate the newcomer.
#2 DEFENSIVE LINE
The Vikings’ need at defensive end will largely be determined by how much trust they have in young pass rushers Stephen Weatherly (third year) and Tashawn Bower (second year). Those two took up a pair of roster spots last year while only playing 100 combined snaps, which may have put a strain on Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter by season’s end.
At defensive tackle, the need is more pressing. Sheldon Richardson signed on for one year to play next to Linval Joseph and try to rediscover his eight-sack form from 2014. But with Tom Johnson and Shamar Stephen switching teams with Richardson and heading to Seattle, the Vikings have little depth beyond the unproven-but-promising Jaleel Johnson and veteran DE Brian Robison, who can move inside on passing downs.
In theory, the Vikings may want to return to a balanced four-man interior rotation like they had in 2014 when Joseph, Stephen, Johnson and Sharrif Floyd all played 400 snaps or more.
Primarily, they’ll probably want to find another 3-technique in the draft since Richardson may depart after one season.
Even with the noticeable improvements of Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander in the 2017 season, the Vikings could use additional depth at corner. Terence Newman won’t be around forever, after all, and last year’s fifth corner, Tramaine Brock, left a lot to be desired.
It’s also possible the Vikings will have to plan for life without Alexander or Waynes, since both are likely to hit free agency at the same time (assuming Minnesota picks up Waynes’ fifth-year option), and the Vikings may not be able to afford both with numerous other extensions coming in the next year.
Either way, the Vikings will want to find somebody that has the capability to play in the nickel since Waynes and Xavier Rhodes – their two best corners for most of last season – play largely on the boundary.
#4 RUNNING BACK
Latavius Murray did the Vikings a favor by restructuring his contract, meaning Minnesota need only find one more body to play behind Murray and returning starter Dalvin Cook, who shapes up to be a three-down back.
In free agency, the Vikings lost Jerick McKinnon, whose shifty running style and electricity in the open field will be hard to replace. That being said, mid-to-late-round running backs have thrived in the league in recent years, and the Vikings are merely looking for somebody who can give Cook a short rest. Look no further than Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Tarik Cohen and Aaron Jones in 2017, who excelled in complementary roles in their respective offenses.
Three out of four seasons, the Vikings have lost their starting back for the bulk of the regular season due to injury or suspension, so re-establishing depth at this position will be critical.
#5 TIGHT END
The Vikings have seemingly tried over the past several years to complement Kyle Rudolph with an athletic, pass-catching tight end, but MyCole Pruitt (2015 draft) and Bucky Hodges (2017 draft) haven’t panned out.
Though the team had an adequate trio last year with David Morgan II and Blake Bell backing up Rudolph, it could stand an upgrade as the league continues to become more tight-end-centric; plus, their new quarterback enjoys tossing to tight ends. Minnesota hasn’t had a second tight end with more than 125 yards since Chase Ford gained 258 yards in 2014.
#6 WIDE RECEIVER
After the release of veteran slot receiver Jarius Wright, the Vikings were left with few certainties at wideout beyond Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, but the addition of Kendall Wright to play out of the slot will take some pressure off.
Beyond those three, there will be competition for the remaining spots.
Despite two subpar seasons, former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell will likely still be a preferred option, but Stacy Coley, Cayleb Jones and even Brandon Zylstra may push him for playing time. None of those challengers have great pedigrees, however.
With Treadwell being a notable exception, the Vikings have typically done a good job identifying talent at wide receiver, particularly in the middle-to-late rounds. If they can do so again, it would be a huge boost for new quarterback Kirk Cousins, who could use another red zone target.
Minnesota’s base defense consisting of Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Ben Gedeon will be returning next season, but with Emmanuel Lamur gone, the Vikings are an injury away from having Kentrell Brothers or Eric Wilson play big reps. Adding another face to this group should help solidify the crew of reserves.
While fans have long begged for the Vikings to draft another safety to pair with Harrison Smith, Andrew Sendejo has continued to string together progressively-better seasons and is under contract at fair cost for the next two years. Meanwhile, Anthony Harris has proven to be a reliable backup option with eight starts over the past three seasons.
The Vikings have never drafted a safety above the seventh round in the Mike Zimmer Era, and it seems unlikely they’d start now.
The Vikings have their $84 million man in Kirk Cousins, a competent backup in Trevor Siemian and a developmental prospect in Kyle Sloter. Expect the team to add an undrafted free agent passer (usually from the Big Ten) before training camp, but it doesn’t seem likely they’ll add anybody else in the draft.
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