With the free agency period coming to an end, it’s time to turn our attention to the draft. The Vikings took care of some of their positional needs in free agency, but also let quite a few players walk out the door, opening up additional holes on the roster. Although the Vikings have several positions that need to be upgraded in this year’s draft, I think that the most important positions to address are the ones that would improve on weaknesses in the roster that were exposed most frequently last season.
I think all Viking fans can agree that the team’s most debilitating flaw last season was the play of the offensive line. As a result of the poor line play, our running game ranked dead last in the league, Norv Turner’s vertical passing game was trashed, and quarterback Sam Bradford was hit 104 times and sacked 38 times. With a leaky offensive line, its nearly impossible to have consistent offensive production in the NFL. Since the Vikings signed two tackles in free agency and already have starters at left guard and center in Boone and Berger, the last piece of the puzzle is right guard. While TJ Clemmings may be a better guard than he was a tackle (couldn’t be worse, could he?), I’d like to see a young draft pick come in and take over the number one spot on the depth chart. This would be a good use of our #48 overall pick. Fortunately for us, there are decent options at the right guard position in this year’s draft. From what I’ve seen, the most popular options for the Vikings seem to be Indiana guard Dan Feeney and Western Kentucky guard Forrest Lamp. I’m not sure they will be available at that point in the draft, but either would be a definite upgrade and complete the offensive line renovations for this offseason.
The second biggest weakness I saw in the Vikings last season was the interior run defense. The defense was ranked 3rd against the pass, 20th against the run, and 3rd in overall defense. The run defense ranking wasn’t terrible, but there were several instances of teams breaking off long runs last season, which I can assure you cost the ol’ one-eyed football coach many a sleepless night. Although I think that the linebackers were a big part of this problem as well, it was clear that teams were attacking Shariff Floyd’s replacement in the run game. With the recent news that Floyd may not be available next season due to nerve damage in his knee, the defensive tackle position has suddenly become just as much of a need as any of the positions on the offensive line. The signing of defensive lineman Datone Jones will help the cause, but he’s not a long-term replacement for Floyd. The Vikings have two 3rd round picks and two 4th rounders this year, so I would expect one of those four picks to be used on a defensive tackle with upside, but i wouldn’t be surprised if they took one as high as the second round.
The next biggest flaw on last year’s roster was the weak side linebacker position. Chad Greenway had a great career for the Vikings, but Father Time remains undefeated, and it showed in Greenway’s game last season. Teams quickly took notice that our third linebacker had lost a step and took advantage of that weakness with schemes. By midseason, the Vikings were seeing a lot of teams use heavy, multiple tight end sets to keep them in their 4-3 personnel package, attacking Greenway in coverage and with outside running plays. With Greenway retiring and there being no replacements on the roster to get excited about, the Vikings will likely look to upgrade the linebacker position with a draft pick. I like the idea of moving Kendricks to the weak side linebacker spot and bringing in a thumper at the middle linebacker position, but Zimmer seems set on keeping Kendricks in the middle. Hopefully he already has his eye (the good one) on a linebacker prospect to fit into his system next season.
In addition to fortifying the weak spots that were exposed last season, there are also several other positions that need additional depth due to our exodus of free agents. These positions include RB, WR, TE, and CB, where we lost Adrian Peterson, Matt Asiata, Charles Johnson, Cordarelle Patterson, Rhett Ellison, and Captain Munnerlyn. With no first round pick and our first chance to get a player 48 picks deep into the draft, Rick Spielman and the Vikings’ front office have their work cut out for them this month.