It's never too early to start looking toward the future, and with the Vikings coming off of a 3-13 season, the prospects of this coming season rest more on potential than proven talent.
While I do believe the team has improved quite a bit, they are at the bottom in a very tough NFC North. Drastic improvement isn't impossible, but unlikely.
Knowing this, I expect the Vikings to finish around 6-10, which in this year's draft earned picks 8, 9, and 10. So that is where I think the team will pick in 2013.
Given that, here are some problem positions and players that could fix them in next year's draft.
I choose to start with this position because, even though I think they will be a much improved unit with the additions of Matt Kalil and Geoff Schwartz, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding it.
Neither of the guard spots can really be considered stable, with LG Charlie Johnson coming off his worst year as a pro and either Schwartz or 2011 sixth-round pick Brandon Fusco at RG.
Schwartz missed all of last season with his injury, and Fusco is completely unproven. Add in the fact that right tackle Phil Loadholt hasn't progressed as the team had hoped and you have an unstable situation.
Luckily, there are some players entering next years draft that can help spell that uncertainty.
Barrett Jones, Alabama
Jones lacks the extreme athletic ability of most NFL first-round picks, but makes up for it with a high football IQ and consistent play. He has seen time all across the line for Alabama, but will most likely be a guard in the NFL.
He has routinely gone against top talent and shown he is more than capable of handling them, which should provide NFL scouts with plenty of film to evaluate him.
He is the reigning Outland Trophy winner as the nation's top offensive lineman, and looks to have a repeat performance in 2012.
Jake Mathews, Texas A&M
Projected as a left tackle in the NFL, Mathews has the ability to play both sides. While not quite elite, he has been a reliable starter for the Aggies.
He would need to put on some weight to play tackle in the NFL, but has the ideal height to compete with top pass-rushers.
Very strong and capable, Mathews is only a junior, which allows him the option to stay an additional year to improve his play should he choose to do so.
DJ Fluker, Alabama
More physically gifted than his teammate Jones, he hasn't shown the natural intelligence that would make him a top pick.
He should be a very solid player for any NFL team, and Nick Saban has traditionally developed NFL-ready prospects. Playing alongside Jones for another year should afford him the opportunity to improve further in the mental aspects of the game.
Also only a junior, he may wish to forgo his senior season if his play improves as he is a borderline top pick.
Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Cooper is very athletic and has the natural footwork that should allow him to fit into most blocking schemes. He was penalized a lot last year, which could hurt his stock if he is unable to cut down in his senior year.
He doesn't have elite strength, but has an explosive first step which allows him to get into position against the more athletic defenders, and his agile footwork allows him to keep that advantageous position.
Despite being another position that the team addressed this offseason, wide receiver is still widely considered a weakness for the Vikings.
Outside of Percy Harvin there isn't a proven talent in the bunch. Jarius Wright and Greg Childs are rookies, Michael Jenkins and Devin Aromashodu have underperformed their whole careers, and Jerome Simpson had only played in 13 games recording 21 receptions in his first three years before his breakout last year.
There are many cases of one-year wonders in the receiving game, and even though I don't think Simpson will be one of those players, there is the risk he could be one.
So if the worst comes to worst and none of the other receivers pan out, the Vikings could use a high pick to try to remedy it.
Robert Woods, USC
Only a Junior, he is the consensus top receiver in this draft class. Although coming off ankle surgery, neither him nor coach Lane Kiffen are concerned.
He had 111 catches and 1,292 yards as a sophomore, and added 15 touchdowns. Another year playing with Matt Barkley should produce similar stats, which will make it hard for him to drop out of the top five picks.
If he does drop, it would only be because of concerns regarding his ankle, as no one doubts his talent. Standing at 6'1'', he could put on some muscle and still be as fast, which would allow him to further dominate his competition.
Marquess Wilson, Washington State
Also a junior, he didn't generate quite as much hype as Woods, but his numbers were very similar. He had 82 catches for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he didn't have Barkley throwing to him.
At 6'2'', he can leap higher than most defensive backs can reach, which makes him all the more difficult to cover. Adding the pass happy Mike Leach to his coaching staff should make his numbers even more impressive in the coming season.
Terrance Williams, Baylor
The senior has to prove that it was more than just Robert Griffin III that made Baylor's offense great last season. Williams had 59 catches for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
This year, without Kendall Wright taking receptions away from him, Williams should prove that he is an elite talent worthy of a top pick like his two teammates. A bulky 6'1'', he has the size to outplay most cornerbacks and uses his size effectively.
Keenan Allen, Cal
Another junior, Allen produced big numbers last season, hauling in 98 catches for 1,343 yards. He needs to improve his touchdown numbers this year if he hopes to be a top pick, as he only managed six last year.
He is the biggest receiver on this list at 6'3'' and 205 pounds and knows how to use it. His size makes him the prototypical No. 1 receiver that teams look for in college talent, and if he improves on last season, we could hear his name called before Woods.
The defensive backs were the weakest unit on the team in 2011. Injuries, suspensions, and youth all played a part in their struggles, but Vikings management tried to fix the issues this offseason.
The team added three rookies in Harrison Smith, Josh Robinson, and Robert Blanton. They also brought in veterans Zack Bowman and Chris Carr. Factor in that Antoine Winfield and Chris Cook are returning to the field and the unit should be much improved.
That doesn't mean the team is set there though. Winfield is 35 and has been plagued with injuries the last few seasons. Robinson is a boom or bust pick. There is no proven safety on a cover two defensive squad, which could spell disaster like it did last season.
While I believe Smith is the real deal, there still the matter of finding his patrolling partner, which is why the Vikings should consider drafting a defensive back again.
David Amerson, North Carolina State
Perhaps the top defensive back prospect, Amerson had 13 interceptions last season. A winner of all sorts of awards, he has big-play ability and the smarts to know when and when not to go for the big play.
Not known for helping in the running game, he shows he still has areas to improve. But with teams passing more and more nowadays, it would be amazing to see an elite corner prospect drop out of the top ten.
Jonathon Banks, Mississippi State
Banks was a semi-finalist for the Thorpe Award last season, he knows how to play the game. Having 71 tackles and five interceptions last season, he may be more complete than Amerson, if not as elite in the pass game.
Regardless, he has the size to play either corner or safety, and the smarts to lead a defense. He has the size to not be overpowered by larger receivers and could even line up against top-tier tight ends.
Look for Banks' name to be called early unless he completely collapses during his senior campaign.
Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
The "Honey Badger" played outstanding last season, and looks to improve upon that in his junior campaign. He tied for the team lead with 76 tackles, had two interceptions, and forced six fumbles, most of which were at crucial points in the game.
He plays well beyond his 5'9'' frame, and helps in the run game efficiently. Mathieu is also an elite punt returner, having two touchdowns last season. He should instantly become a fan favorite wherever he goes due to his high level of play and passion.
Eric Reid, LSU
He has quietly established himself as an elite safety prospect for the Tigers because of the hype surrounding the talent around him. Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, and Morris Claiborne have taken away some of the pressure over the years, but film shows Reid helped them more than they helped him.
If he can show that again in his junior year, NFL teams are sure to notice. He tied for the team lead with 76 tackles last season and added two interceptions.
Arguably the strongest unit on the Vikings' team, the reason they make the list is due to age, with Jared Allen and Kevin Williams 30 and 31 respectively.
While that isn't too old by some standards, the constant wear and tear of fighting in the trenches can slow down even the best of players. They are also at the age where play tends to start declining.
The other defensive end, Brian Robison, only has one year of starting experience, even if he was solid throughout the season. And the team still hasn't filled in the gap left by Pat Williams, which is a huge, if unappreciated, role.
There are some young players behind the starters, (Everson Griffen, Christian Ballard, and rookie Trevor Guyton) but I think if the right player were available the Vikings would do well to get him. There are a few in this class who should translate well to the NFL.
Star Lotulelei, Utah
Standing at 6'3'' and listed at 325 pounds, Lotulelei has drawn comparisons to current Baltimore Raven Haloti Ngata. He has routinely faced double teams throughout his time at Utah, giving his teammates chances in one-on-one situations.
Looking to be more of a nose tackle in either a 3-4 or 4-3, his skills should translate nicely to the NFL. He had 44 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year, and is primarily a block eater and run-stopper in the middle.
Jonathan Hankins, Ohio State
If Hankins chooses not to play his senior year, he will be considered by many to be the top prospect coming out of the Big-10 this season. He projects to play both the one and three technique in the NFL, which ups his value.
Primarily a run-stopper, he has the ability to get some pressure from the middle. He collected 67 tackles and three sacks as a Sophomore, and is part of a very strong defensive line for the Buckeyes.
At 6'3'' and 335 pounds, look for him to go early in the draft, possibly as a top five pick.
Kawann Short, Purdue
Choosing to stay for his senior season to improve his technique, Short projects to be possibly the first defensive lineman off the board.
At 6'3'' and 310 pounds, he has the size of a three technique, but uses his strength and leverage well enough to play nose tackle.
He has had back to back six-sack seasons, and last year collected 54 tackles. He should be a natural for the combine, being an athletic freak, which will only strengthen his case for top defensive lineman.
Alex Okafor, Texas
Okafor has bounced between the tackle and end positions during his time with the Longhorns, collecting a combined 10.5 sacks. Seven of those sacks came last year, earning him a spot on the first-team All-Big 12 list.
He has the ability to get to the quarterback, but is known as both a run-stopper and pass-rusher. He will start at defensive end for Texas this year, and looks to prove that last season was not a fluke.
His legal case after an "incident" at a local pizza shop was dropped and he will not be suspended any games for it.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Okafor's teammate and the more athletic of the two, Jeffcoat collected 71 tackles and eight sacks as a sophomore. Those numbers landed him on the All-Big 12 second team. He projects nicely for both the 4-3 end or 3-4 rush backer.
He isn't quite as strong as his teammate, but he has more burst and lateral quickness, making him a great pass-rusher. Should he choose to forgo his senior season at Texas, he could be a top pick in 2013.
The son of former NFL defensive end Jim Jeffcoat, he already would have a mentor in place.
Now onto the linebackers. This is in my opinion the biggest question mark on the team heading into 2012. The projected starters outside of Chad Greenway only have 15 combined starts.
Erin Henderson played very consistently last season and should improve, but he is only under contract for one year. If he plays well enough, he might garnish too much value in free agency for the team to keep him.
The middle linebacker spot is a liability, as Jasper Brinkley should be a backup and rookies Audie Cole and Solomon Elimimian need time to develop and adjust to the NFL before they should even be considered for starting time.
Luckily, there are some big-time players that should be able to help the team out hugely in the 2013 draft class.
Manti Te'o, Notre Dame
While he doesn't have the numbers that Luke Kuechly had coming out of Boston College, there is plenty to love about this Fighting Irish product.
Having 128 total tackles, as well as 5 sacks, he can play downhill as well as anyone.
If he uses his senior year to sure up his play in coverage, he can become the complete player. Rumored to run a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, he has all the athletic intangibles a coach dreams of, and projects to be the top inside 'backer taken next season.
Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Used primarily as a rush-linebacker, he collected 13.5 sacks for the Bulldogs in his first year as starter. He has the ability to play the run, collecting over 70 tackles last season.
Like most linebacker prospects, he needs to improve his game in coverage if he is to play in a 4-3 set at linebacker.
Extremely quick and agile, he is a nightmare to block if used as a 3-4 rush 'backer, which will cause him to likely be picked before a 4-3 team would be willing to draft him.
Barkavious Mingo, LSU
Mingo has the supreme pass-rushing ability that all teams covet in today's pass-happy league. His athletic ability should allow him to play in both a 3-4 or 4-3 set.
He needs to improve his play against the run, as he has been taken advantage of in the past for only playing the pass.
He has tremendous agility for a man his size and is surprisingly far stronger than he appears. He could be the first linebacker called in 2013, and should translate his skills immediately to the NFL.
Kevin Reddick, North Carolina
His senior year will be his fourth as the starting middle linebacker for the Tarheels. He has a high defensive intelligence and is a leader on the field. His biggest weakness is his lack of fluidity in the pass game, but he has shown he is smart enough to improve his game each year.
Collecting over 70 tackles in each of the last two seasons, he has the ability to play the run as well as any NFL starter. A solid final campaign for Reddick should push his draft stock into the first round in next year's draft.