The Vikings are coming off a disappointing season in which a last-place finish in the NFC North cost coach Leslie Frazier his job. Now General Manager Rick Spielman needs to assemble a roster that new coach Mike Zimmer can build into a winner, or else Spielman himself could be gone at the end of the year.
The good news in Minnesota is that the Vikings have plenty of ammunition to improve in the draft: They have all of their own picks, meaning they have the eighth pick in all seven rounds, plus they acquired the Seahawks’ third-round pick, which is No. 96 overall, in last year’s Percy Harvin trade.
Here are the positions the Vikings need to improve in the draft:
Quarterback: The most important position in football was a disaster for the Vikings last year, as 2011 first-round pick Christian Ponder failed to develop and mid-season acquisition Josh Freeman turned out to be a waste of money. Veteran Matt Cassel is not the long-term answer, but he could be a decent choice as the Vikings transition to a young quarterback of the future.
A few weeks ago, the biggest question most people were asking about the Vikings was whether any of the top three quarterbacks — Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Central Florida’s Blake Bortles — would be available with the eighth overall pick. But the draft stock of those quarterbacks has appeared to decline in the last few weeks, and now it looks like there’s a good chance that all three of them will be available. Manziel doesn’t appear to be a great fit for what Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to do offensively, and Zimmer has expressed skepticism about Manziel. So Johnny Football probably won’t be heading to Minnesota.
But Bridgewater and Bortles both look like they could fit what Minnesota is trying to build. And if the Vikings don’t choose one of them in the first round, quarterbacks like Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Derek Carr of Fresno State, AJ McCarron of Alabama, Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois and Tom Savage of Pitt are all options on the second day of the draft. One way or another, expect the Vikings to draft a passer.
Guard: Minnesota could significantly upgrade its offensive line if it could find a guard who’s ready to start as a rookie and supplant the current starter at left guard, Charlie Johnson. The problem is that this year’s draft isn’t like last year’s draft: A year ago there was a bounty of supremely talented guard prospects in Jonathan Cooper, Chance Warmack, Kyle Long and Larry Warford. This year’s draft doesn’t have that kind of talent, and there’s not a guard whom the Vikings could justify selecting at No. 8 overall.
However, there are some interesting prospects for the Vikings for Day Two of the draft, including David Yankey of Stanford, Xavier Su’a-Filo of UCLA and Trai Turner of LSU. If the Vikings grab one of those guys in the second round, there’s a good chance that they’ll have an improved offensive line, bigger holes for Adrian Peterson and better protection for whoever their quarterback is.
Cornerback: At first glance, maybe this doesn’t look like a need for the Vikings: They used a first-round pick on a cornerback last year in Xavier Rhodes. Josh Robinson, a young cornerback who started the first 10 games of last season before suffering a fractured sternum, will be back. And slot cornerback Captain Munnerlyn has been signed. But the Vikings struggled mightily against opposing wide receivers this year, and they could use an infusion of talent in the secondary.
They’ll probably have their pick of the cornerback crop if they’re willing to use their first-round pick on one, as no cornerbacks are expected to go in the first seven picks. Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State and Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State could be options in the first round, and there are also fans of Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and TCU’s Jason Verrett.
Linebacker: Zimmer has a good track record of helping to develop young linebackers, and he’d love to add one or two this year. The best linebacker in the draft, Khalil Mack, won’t be there at No. 8, but there are some good options for the Vikings, including Alabama’s C.J. Mosley on the inside and Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier on the outside. A good young linebacker or two would go a long way toward building the kind of defense — and the kind of tough, physical team — that Zimmer wants in Minnesota.