After creating some hope that they’d make the playoffs after going 1-5 to start the season, the Minnesota Vikings have lost three straight and dropped to 6-9 on the season. They finish this miserable year off with a meaningless game in Detroit against the hapless Lions. For a team that could use a developmental quarterback, elite pass rushers, and top offensive line prospects, winning in Motown could set them back meaningfully in the draft.
Here’s what they might lose by winning their final game of the season.
A potential franchise quarterback
The Vikings currently are going to be picking 13th in the 2021 NFL Draft. While quarterback isn’t their top need, they do need to begin to prepare for life without Kirk Cousins and select his replacement if a top prospect drops to them. While they won’t be able to land Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, they could have an outside shot at Trey Lance or Zach Wilson if they begin to slide down the board a bit.
If the Vikings lose in Detroit, they could end up with a top-10 pick. This would increase the likelihood of them being able to land their quarterback of the future and allow him to develop as Cousins’ backup in their rookie year. If the Vikings end up winning, they could fall back into the late teens, all but eliminating their chances of getting that franchise-type signal-caller. Minnesota will want to end the season with a victory, but if they do that, they’ll have to hope a good developmental quarterback falls to them in the middle rounds.
An elite pass rusher
The Vikings definitely need some help rushing the passer, and they get a huge boost with Danielle Hunter returning from injury in 2021. His loss was deeply felt, and the team struggled all season long to generate any sort of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They also get D.J. Wonnum in his second season, and he should be much better with the experience gained in 2020 and a full offseason under his belt.
But the team still needs an elite edge rusher opposite Hunter. Ifeadi Odenigbo struggled in his role as a starter this season and should be moved back to the bench where he has proven to be a better option coming in for a handful of plays a game. The depth behind those three is completely up in the air, and there’s no doubt there will be some new faces on the roster whether they come from the draft or free agency.
If the Vikings end up winning on Sunday, their hopes of finding that edge rusher in Round 1 will all but come to an end. That victory would bump them down closer to the 20s, and players like Gregory Rousseau and Kwity Paye will be long gone. If the Vikings lose to the Lions, they could be picking closer to the top 10, and their chances of finding one of those two potentially game-changing edge rushers available increases exponentially.
Meaningful offensive line help
The Vikings will be looking to bolster their offensive line through the 2020 NFL Draft. This area really struggled during the team’s final six games as Cousins was under constant pressure every time he dropped back. Minnesota has a decision to make when it comes to the left tackle position. They first need to decide if they are going to keep Riley Reiff for another season. He is going into his final season with the team and is due to make over $11 million. While he played well this year after almost being cut, that price tag will be too heavy for a team that is going to be strapped for cash.
The other decision the Vikings will need to make is if they are going to keep Ezra Cleveland at guard or move him to left tackle. They drafted him to be their left tackle of the future but moved him inside to guard after Pat Elflein and Dru Samia struggled. Cleveland’s performance was a mixed bag, so where he ultimately ends up remains to be seen.
Whoever is available when Minnesota picks in the first round could also go a long way in deciding the future of their offensive line. If they lose to the Lions and end up picking in the early teens, they could see some nice tackle prospects on the board. Players like Christian Darrisaw and Samuel Cosmi could be on the board, and the team could see them as the long-term answer at left tackle and decide to keep Cleveland at guard. If they pick in that 12-14 range, they should also be almost guaranteed to see guard Wyatt Davis on the board. He’s a physical blocker who looks to be a player you can plug in at either guard spot for the next decade.
If the Vikings win this week, their options at these offensive line spots become murkier. The chances that Davis or one of those tackles is available toward the middle of the draft is greatly decreased, and the Vikings would have to settle for some second-tier options if they want to use their first pick to improve the interior of their offensive line.