Every single April, usually a couple of weeks before the NFL Draft, the same age-old question surfaces: Should teams draft for need or take the best player available?
There isn’t necessarily a universally accepted right answer to this question. Rather a lot of it depends on the individual situation. For teams undergoing a rebuild, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of taking the most talented player available. Conversely, for teams in contention, it’s usually better to focus on specific needs.
That working definition is great for helping people understand draft strategy. But for a team like the Vikings, it’s not necessarily so clear-cut. Although Rick Spielman has been aggressive in free agency, especially in patching up the defense, Minnesota is drafting at No. 14 for a reason. Now he has to decide which direction this team is going.
On the one hand, securing an offensive lineman or edge rusher would do wonders to improve the team immediately. But great franchises are always thinking about their future, and forward-thinking teams have longer-sustained success. Chris Schad wrote about how different this offensive line would look if the Vikings prioritized it in 2016.
We’re now living with the ramifications of not aptly attacking the line, which is exactly why the unit is considered a need in the draft. Funny how that all comes full circle.
In the context of this draft, the Vikings could be in the unique position to grab someone once projected to be a guaranteed top-10 pick at 14. This is mostly due to the recent trades at the top of the draft that have turned Mac Jones from being considered a mid-first-round pick to potentially the third-overall selection.
So, if the Vikings are confronted with the chance to take someone like Micah Parsons or Jaylen Waddle, what should they do? Continue to address their aforementioned needs, or draf the most talented guy on the board?
To this, I would answer: Why not both?
Come draft night, pick 14 will likely be much more attractive given how the board unfolds. The value pick could be within Minnesota’s needs (I’m looking at you, Penei Sewell), but if it’s not, that gives Spielman a lot of flexibility. Sure, they could take a Waddle, or they could trade down a couple of picks with a team like Washington at 19 that would be interested in that pick instead. The Vikings would still be likely to get whoever they want five picks later and could even get back their second-round pick in the process.
I don’t think it is entirely about drafting the most talented guy for Spielman as much as it is utilizing the value through trade.
This may seem like somewhat of a no-duh sentiment, but think about the Garrett Bradbury example. That pick was made in the middle of the first round, and even if the Vikings were bullish on him, there’s no reason that they couldn’t have grabbed him late in the first given the positional value of centers.
If the guy to fill your needs is there, and his value matches the pick, great. But don’t force a pick just because you need that position filled. For example, as much as Alijah Vera-Tucker looks like he could slot into the Vikings’ O-line right away, there’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t get him later in the first, so why take him at 14?
Instead, trade down and grab him later while selecting another talented offensive lineman in the process or edge rusher in the second. It’s a win-win for the Vikings.
It’s slight differences like this that take franchises to the next level because, let’s be honest, you could take Vera-Tucker at 14 and fans would be running through the streets just because the team FINALLY put a warm body on the line.
That doesn’t mean it’s the best move, though. Spielman instead has to prioritize value and either bring it back to Minnesota or utilize the value to trade down.
In short, there’s absolutely no need to reach at 14. If Spielman plays it smart, he’ll use the pick to fill the team’s needs, but not necessarily at the same position. Remember, it’s an extremely deep offensive line draft, so even if the Vikings don’t jump on one at 14, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it may actually be for the better.