As the NFL season winds down, the playoff picture is starting to take shape. With the loss to the Packers dropping Minnesota to 6-6, it's obvious that the Vikings players will once again be sitting at home watching the postseason like the rest of us.
The Vikings have improved this season, doubling their win total from 2011. They have also given the basement of the NFC North back to the Lions. So, while the season has not been as successful as fans would have liked, they certainly are not as terrible as last season.
The Vikings failed to find a wide receiver to complement Percy Harvin, and the defense is still struggling to come up with turnovers.
With no playoffs to look forward to, it's time to start thinking about next season and the next crop of draft picks that will help the Vikings continue on their road to improvement.
Here's a very early seven-round mock draft for the Vikings, including the additional picks they received from Detroit and Tennessee in trades made during this year's draft.
It's obvious that Jerome Simpson is not the answer at wide receiver. Averaging only 1.7 receptions per game, he's projected to finish with only 20 receptions—less than half the number he caught for Cincinnati last season.
The Vikings drafted two wide receivers in the draft this season in an attempt to add some depth to the position. The selections of Greg Childs and Jarius Wright has yielded a total of 11 receptions, all of them for Wright, who has been active for only three games this season in place of an injured Percy Harvin.
With the lack of talent at wide receiver, it should be the Vikings' top priority heading into next year. Projected to have a mid-round selection, Baylor receiver Terrence Williams would be a good pickup.
After catching 59 passes for 957 yards as junior with Robert Griffin III throwing to him, Williams improved his numbers as a senior this season. He leads the nation with 1,693 receiving yards on 89 catches. His 12 touchdown catches also led the Bears this season.
Early projections have Williams listed as the third-best wide receiver in the draft. If he is available when the Vikings turn on the clock comes up, there should be no hesitation.
In the six seasons that defensive tackle Kevin Williams played along side Pat Williams, he (Kevin Williams) made the Pro Bowl five times.
Without the other half of the "Williams Wall" in the middle of the defensive line, the Vikings run defense has plummeted from the top-ranked defense against the run from 2006 to 2008 to the 11th-ranked in 2011. They are currently 15th against the run this season.
The selection of Sylvester Williams from North Carolina could be the start of the next "Williams Wall."
At 6'3" and 320 pounds, Sylvester Williams is a little shorter with more bulk than Letroy Guion or Fred Evans to help clog the middle. This season for the Tar Heels, he has 42 tackles and six sacks.
The only starting linebacker under contract for next season is Chad Greenway. Along with Larry Dean and Audie Cole, they are three of the seven linebackers currently on the roster that are signed beyond this season.
It's not clear what the Vikings intend to do with second-year starter Erin Henderson or first-year starter Jasper Brinkley. No matter what they do, they will need to add depth to the position.
Look for the Vikings to take a linebacker a little earlier this draft than in 2012.
Shayne Skov, Stanford's starting inside linebacker, still has a fifth year of eligibility and has not decided if he will enter the draft. The fact that the Cardinal has earned a trip to the Rose Bowl this season might make it easier to decide, especially if they can defeat Wisconsin this New Year's Day.
After missing the first game of the season due to a suspension, Skov led Stanford with 64 tackles this season.
Cornerback Antoine Winfield is leading the Minnesota Vikings with three interceptions. He is also their oldest player at 35 years old. On the other end of the spectrum is rookie Josh Robinson, the Vikings' youngest player at 21 years old.
Then there's the enigma of Chris Cook. For the third straight season, Cook has not been able to play an entire season. This year, a broken arm suffered in Week 8 against the Buccaneers has limited him to eight games—the most in his career.
This still remains a position of need for Minnesota.
Looking at those players who will still be available in the fourth round, Sander Commings from Georgia would be a good pick. At 6'2" and 216 lbs, he has the size to take on the wide receivers in the division.
Over his four seasons with the Bulldogs, he has seven interceptions and has averaged 44 tackles per year over his last three seasons.
Projected by walterfootball.com to go anywhere from the third to fifth round, Commings could wind up being either a diamond in the rough, or work in progress.
The Vikings desperately need help at the wide receiver position. Again they will look for some of that help in the fourth round of the draft.
At 6'3" and 200 lbs, Aaron Dobson from Marshall has some size the Vikings could use.
While he didn't produce the same numbers as Greg Childs had at Georgia, there's less of a risk with Dobson over his health.
With sophomore receiver Tommy Shuler having a breakout season, Dobson has dropped to the Thundering Herd's third-leading receiver this season after leading Marshall with 12 touchdown catches as a junior last season.
This could cause the talented receiver to drop to the fourth round, making him available for the Vikings.
The Vikings, who have been relying on undrafted free agents and signing players off other team's practice squad to fill their third running back position, will take a more active role in the draft.
Look for the Vikings to select a running back for the first time since selecting Toby Gerhart in the second round of the 2010 draft. They will be looking to find a diamond in the rough and add some depth after losing Jordan Todman off their practice squad last month to the Jaguars.
Kenjon Barner led the high-powered Oregon offensive with 1,624 rushing yards and scored 21 touchdowns. His contributions to the Ducks has steady improved over each of his four seasons, and he leaves Oregon with 47 touchdowns, 41 of them rushing.
The Vikings offensive line, while improved with Matt Kalil anchoring the left tackle position, is still need of an upgrade. Second-year starter Brandon Fusco has slowly been working his way to the bench in favor of free agent Geoff Schwartz. Charlie Johnson, making the move to guard, is playing better, but as a whole, the line has struggled in protecting quarterback Christian Ponder.
The last time the Vikings used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman was in 2002, when they selected Bryant McKinnie.
Between McKinnie and Kalil, the Vikings have drafted a total of seven linemen—five of them coming in the fourth round or later. Look for that trend to continue.
According to nfldraftscout.com, Braden Hansen is the 10th-best offensive guard. At 6'5" and 300-plus pounds, he has the size to play at the next level. Along with playing guard, he has spent time at center for the Cougars.
Just as they did this year, the Vikings will use a late-round draft pick to hopefully add depth to the defensive end position. While still a position of strength with Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, Allen will be 31 next season, and Robison will be 30.
Projected to be anywhere from a fifth to seventh-round selection, Brad Madison could be someone the Vikings select. As a sophomore, he played alongside Aldon Smith, who currently leads the NFL in sacks.
That season, Madison led the Tigers with 7.5 sacks. In his four seasons at Missouri, he finished with 16 sacks, 76 tackles—26.5 for a loss—and an interception.
At 6"4" and 265 lbs, he's slightly bigger than the 6'2" Robison, who is playing at 258 pounds.
Because of the tenuous situation at linebacker, look for the Vikings to use a late-round pick in an attempt to find some depth and select another linebacker.
DeVonte Holloman finished with 54 tackles this season for the Gamecocks, leading the team with three interceptions. Over his four years, he's averaged 51 tackles and has seven interceptions. He would be the 2013 version of Audie Cole, who the Vikings selected in the seventh round this season.