The team-by-team look at draft needs continues with consideration of a franchise that matched its all-time 16-game low-water mark in 2011, with three wins and 13 losses.
Left tackle: The Vikings put up with a lot from Bryant McKinnie, because really good left tackles don’t fall out of the sky. (Except when cut by the Vikings after they can no longer put up with him.) With the team hoping 2011 first-rounder Christian Ponder can become a competent quarterback, the chances of Ponder maximizing his potential will be maximized if he isn’t running for his life. USC tackle Matt Kalil would give the Vikings a blind-side Ponder protector, who could man the position for a decade or longer. With the Vikings needing to win now, his ability to start right away is a significant bonus.
And while the Vikings would surely love to trade down and get more help, they need more help now — not in future drafts. Also, they need to not move down so far that they won’t get Kalil.
Cornerback: The Vikings need significant help when it comes to the men primarily assigned to covering receivers. Especially with quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler in the division. Antoine Winfield turns 35 in June, Cedric Griffin is gone, Chris Cook is on double-secret probation, Asher Allen has been underwhelming, recent arrival Chris Carr is rickety, and speedy newcomer Nicholas Taylor didn’t play college football. If they hadn’t cut McKinnie, the Vikings surely would be targeting a game-ready cornerback with their first-round pick. They may be planning to take the best guy left when they pick in round two; in fact, with coach Leslie Frazier and G.M. Rick Spielman on an apparent win-now mandate, don’t be surprised if next year’s first-round pick is dangled in order to move back into round one in 2012 and grab a possible difference maker.
Receiver: Percy Harvin has special skills when used the right way. But he’s not going to streak down the sideline or run fade routes or do the things that other receivers can do. And that’s what the Vikings need, even as they appear intent on becoming the latest team to extensively use two tight ends at the same time, either or both of whom can run routes.
The problem is that it’s hard to find receivers who can make a dramatic impact in their first seasons. The goal should be to take a flier on a mid-round guy who may have the ability to stretch the field and open up the underneath routes for Harvin and the tight ends, and perhaps to draw the strong safety out of the box if/when Adrian Peterson is bowling defenders over again.
Defensive tackle: With Remi Ayodele gone and several mid-level members of the rotation back and Kevin Williams getting no younger (then again, who is?), the Vikings need a young, talented, and very large man to take advantage of the attention that will go to defensive end Jared Allen during the remaining years of his prime. Weaknesses in the secondary often become less glaring when the defensive line is stopping the run and wreaking havoc. The Vikings need to get back to that, or it will be a long decade in the shadows of the Packers, Lions, and Bears.
Safety: The franchise that once had Paul Krause and Joey Browner and Robert Griffith and Darren Sharper now has, well, no one. With so many balls in the air, the Vikings need someone with the nose to go get it. Badly.
The Vikings have plenty of needs and, ideally, they’ll find a way to parlay the third overall pick into more chances to immediately infuse talent onto the team. Even if they do, it will be difficult to compete in a division that, not long ago, they ruled.