Ranking the Importance of the Minnesota Vikings' Focus for the 2012 Draft

Tim Arcand@@TArcandCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2012

Ranking the Importance of the Minnesota Vikings' Focus for the 2012 Draft

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    Newly-appointed Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has an advantage heading into the 2012 NFL draft. With so many holes on both sides of the ball, no matter who the Vikings select in the first round, he can use the worn-out phrase that they selected the "best player available," and no doubt it will help to address a need.

    Unless, of course, he uses it to draft a defensive end, and then let the impending rumors about a Jared Allen trade begin. 

    With 10 selections in the upcoming draft, the Vikings should be able to find at least one starter, and hopefully two, add some depth to the roster and find some special team players that can make an immediate impact on the team.

    One option for the Vikings will be to trade down the third pick in the draft, swapping first-round picks and adding yet another draft pick either this year or next.

    With this many selections, the Vikings can address almost every need they have.

    Here's one look, prioritizing the Vikings' need by position.

No. 10: Tight End

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    With the retirement of Jim Kleinsasser and the unlikelihood of re-signing free agent Visanthe Shiancoe, the Vikings will need to add some depth to the tight end position.

    Second-round selection Kyle Rudolph will undoubtedly take on an expanded role next season. That leaves Allen Reiner, who caught one pass last season, as the only other tight end that saw action currently with the Vikings.

    Last November, the Vikings signed Mickey Shuler from the Miami Dolphins to the practice squad and added Dan Hardy, a seventh-round draft choice of Tampa Bay in 2011, in January.

    Look for Minnesota to use a late-round pick focusing on a tight end with the ability to be a blocking tight end in the NFL.

    Brandon Barden of Vanderbilt or Brian Linthicum from Michigan State are a couple of possible late-round tight ends that could be selected. 

No. 9: Running Back

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    Heading into the 2011 season, running back was a position of strength for the Minnesota Vikings.

    After both Adrian Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart suffered knee injuries in Week 16, it suddenly has become a position of weakness.

    The good news is that Peterson is on track with his rehab and is targeting to be ready by the start of the season, and Gerhart's injury did not require surgery.

    Still, the Vikings will want to add some depth to this position, just in case, look for them to use a late round draft, somewhere between a fifth and seventh-round pick, to select a running back.

    The Vikings got an up-close look at four running backs during their week coaching the Senior Bowl, so it wouldn't be a stretch if they chose Dan Herron from Ohio State, Doug Martin from Boise State or Chris Polk from Washington in one of the later rounds of the draft.

No. 8: Fullback

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    Right now, the Vikings roster contains two fullbacks—Ryan D'Imperio, a converted college linebacker taken by the Vikings in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, and Matt Asiata, an undrafted free agent that spent the season on the practice squad.

    Ideally, the Vikings would like to find another player like Jim Kleinsasser that could play either fullback or tight end.

No. 7: Defensive Tackle

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    The experiment of signing Remi Ayodele to play defensive tackle can officially be called a failure.

    According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Ayodele finished the season with 1.5 sacks and only four tackles.

    While fourth-round selection Christian Ballard will be given the opportunity to earn a larger role in 2012, the Vikings should look to at some depth to the interior of the defensive line.

    Some possible options the Vikings might have interest in drafting in the fourth round include Josh Chapman from Alabama or Delvin Johnson from Marshall.

No. 6: Linebacker

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    The Henderson brothers who made up two-thirds of the Vikings starting linebacker corps are currently free agents.

    As of right now, it appears that the Erin Henderson, the Vikings weak-side linebacker has the better chance of re-signing with the Vikings. Erin's agent plans to meet with the Vikings during the NFL combine to discuss a contract.

    That leaves Jasper Brinkley, who missed all of last season after having hip injury in August, as the leading candidate to replace E.J. Henderson at middle linebacker.

    The Vikings also recently signed Solomon Elimimian, who played the last two seasons with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League. In 2010, he was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Rookie, and in 2011, was named the CFL's hardest hitter.

    Still, the Vikings need to add some depth. Look for them to select a linebacker between the third and fifth rounds.

    Depending on where the Vikings are looking for depth, they might consider a couple of linebackers they had the opportunity to coach at the Senior Bowl.

    If they want outside linebacker, it could be Demario Davis from Arkansas State. If they want an inside presence, then it might be Audie Cole from North Carolina State.

No. 5: Safety

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    Last season, the Vikings finished the season with Mistral Raymond starting alongside third-year player Jamarca Sandford as the team's safety tandem. 

    It was a Vikings sixth-round selection playing next to a seventh-rounder. While the Vikings need to badly address the safety position, it is unlikely they will find a starter in the draft.

    Look for the Vikings to use their fourth-round pick or one of the compensatory picks to add some depth, and perhaps even some competition for safety.

    Depending on who might be available near the fourth round, look for the Vikings to draft Trenton Robinson of Michigan State, Blake Gideon of Texas or Harrison Smith from Notre Dame. Who knows? With the lack of talent in the Vikings defensive backfield, any one of these could wind up starting in 2012.  

No. 4: Offensive Guard

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    The Vikings guards, Steve Hutchinson and Anthony Herrera, have suffered injuries over the past couple of seasons, preventing both of them from playing all 16 games in the past two seasons.

    It's been 2008 since they both played the entire season together.

    There are reports that both could be released. Hutchinson more as a salary-cap casualty, and Herrera because of his injuries and drop-in performance.

    Look for the Vikings to draft an offensive guard between the fourth and sixth round, again depending on the compensatory picks the team receives. 

    Last season, the Vikings drafted two offensive linemen in the sixth round: Demarcus Love from Arkansas and Brandon Fusco from Slippery Rock.

No. 3: Cornerback

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    As of right now, the Vikings are counting on the health of 35-year-old Antoine Winfield and the pending outcome of Chris Cook's domestic abuse case in March to decide the fate of their top two cornerbacks.

    With Cedric Griffin a possible salary cap casualty because of his $5.22 million contract, and the ineffective play of Asher Allen and Benny Sapp, the Vikings have a huge need at cornerback.

    In seven of the past 10 years, the Vikings have used either their second or third-round selection on defensive backs.

    Three times, the Vikings used a second-round pick—Griffin in 2006, Tyrell Johnson in 2008 and Cook in 2010. Allen was the Vikings' third-round pick in 2009.

    Look for the trend to continue, with the Vikings using either their second or third-round selection on a cornerback.

    Potential candidates the Vikings might consider include Stephon Gilmore from South Carolina and Casey Hayward from Vanderbilt.

No. 2: Wide Receiver

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    Percy Harvin is the most explosive offensive weapon for the Minnesota Vikings, but he needs help.

    While the Vikings will have the opportunity to select the top wide receiver in the draft, Justin Blackmon from Oklahoma State, odds are they will opt to use their second pick instead. 

    Depending on what the Vikings do with the third pick in the draft and what they potentially could get in return for trading down, they could have the chance to add Michael Floyd from Notre Dame, Kendall Wright from Baylor or Mohamed Sanu from Rutgers to their receiving corp.

The Vikings' Highest Priority in the Draft: Offensive Tackle

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    I really cannot see the Vikings going in another direction with their first pick in the draft.

    The consensus pick for the Vikings with the third pick in the draft is USC tackle Matt Kalil.

    However, if the St. Louis Rams decide that Kalil would be the best choice to protect Sam Bradford, then the Vikings could wind up with plenty of offers for the third pick that they could not pass up.

    The Browns and Dolphins are all in need of a quarterback and may want a shot to draft Robert Griffin III. 

    In return, the Vikings would drop down in the first round and select Riley Reiff, the second highest-rated tackle in the draft behind Kalil.

    With the selection of Reiff, the Vikings would look to move Charlie Johnson to guard, addressing two needs with one pick.