The 2012 NFL draft is just about three months from now, and this year's draft is what could make or break the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings finished 3-13 in 2011, the first time they've done that since 1984. Highly plagued by inexperience at the quarterback position with rookie Christian Ponder, a depleted offensive line and a below-mediocre secondary, were the primary factors leading to the Vikings' inability to win games—oh, and the abomination that was the McNabb project.
I don't recall the last time the NFL draft was so important for the Vikings, and I say this because there is a lot of talent on this squad from Minneapolis, there are just missing pieces to the puzzle. If the Vikings can find those pieces in the draft and via free agency, they can return to relevance again in 2012.
Let's begin talking about the draft because the Vikings are in dire need of some young, fresh talent right out of college.
In the first round, the Vikings have the third pick behind the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. We already know who the Colts are drafting with the first pick, so Andrew Luck might as well be signed, sealed and delivered to Indianapolis.
Everyone always says that any football team starts with a quarterback. WRONG! A football team starts with an offensive line, because an offensive line is what allows offensive plays to even begin to take place.
The Vikings need a solid, big, young, fresh offensive lineman that can protect Ponder's blind side. Well, there just so happens to be one in the draft this year, and he's pretty darn good if I would say so myself.
Matt Kalil, an OT from USC, and brother of Carolina Panthers OT Ryan Kalil, is a beast. He comes in standing 6'7" and 295 pounds, and has the strength to match up with about any defensive tackle in the NFL. The Vikings have had serious discussion on the prospect of drafting Kalil because they are in very strong need of an upgrade in the offensive line.
The problem is, if the Rams take Kalil at No. 2, then the Vikings will still be left with a depleted offensive line because Kalil is the only OT in the draft that could step in and make an immediate impact for the Vikings.
If Matt Kalil falls off the board at No. 2, then the Vikings should certainly draft Morris Claiborne out of LSU. Claiborne is a stud corner with your prototypical size and speed, and many have compared him to former LSU corner Patrick Peterson.
Minnesota must make some changes to their secondary. Cedric Griffin is a solid corner, but is injury prone, and Antoine Winfield isn't getting any younger. If not Claiborne, the Vikings may want to look at safety Mark Barron out of Alabama.
The Vikings must also decide what they want to do with E.J. Henderson, he's getting older, and if they want to move on they need to look at linebackers like Luke Kuechly out of Boston College, Vontaze Burfict out of Arizona State and Courtney Upshaw out of Alabama.
Moving back to offense a bit here, Ponder doesn't exactly have a plethora of receivers.
Right now, Percy Harvin is playing an outside flanker role, when his build is built for a slot receiver. Michael Jenkins is a big athlete, but could improve. Since Ponder is so young and inexperienced, the Vikings may consider drafting Justin Blackmon out of Oklahoma State to give Ponder that deep threat on the outside.
At the running back spot, obviously Adrian Peterson is the man, but tore both his ACL and MCL late in the season. The Vikings are hopeful he can make a return for the beginning of next season. Toby Gerhart is a powerful, big, body that can bull you over, and if the Vikings were smart they would trade Gerhart and get some value out of him.
The center focus right now is the offensive line, and a receiver that can stretch the field. Defensively, maybe draft a young linebacker considering E.J. Henderson's age, draft a solid corner and maybe a safety.
Minnesota should try to do some work in free agency as well, there is plenty of talent there as well.
If the Vikings can nab a few of the right pieces this offseason, then they could very well be back to relevance in 2012.