The Minnesota Vikings can only hope that their 2013 draft yields the high amount of talent that their 2012 draft did. While they won't be picking nearly as high as they did in 2012, it's a draft that might lack the star power of many years, but it's thick with players at positions the Vikings need.
Obviously much of what the Vikings do in the draft will depend on decisions they've made in free agency and with the status of current personnel.
The NFL draft is always a crapshoot, the combine and all the film in the world can't accurately predict how a guy will play football against the best players in the world.
That would explain how the Seattle Seahawks drafted starting quarterback, Russell Wilson and their leading tackler, Bobby Wagner, in the 3rd and 2nd rounds in 2012. Or how Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals second leading tackler, or Leonard Johnson a rookie starter with three interceptions for the Buccaneers, both went undrafted.
The Vikings have taken great strides forward from their dismal 2011 season, but still have a ways to go to become a legitimate title contender. GM Rick Spielman had a fantastic draft in 2012, but as of now is still weighed down by the fact that he took Christian Ponder with the 12th overall pick in 2011.
We take a look at some players who should be on the Vikings radar for the 2013 draft, to fix some of the problem spots that remain on the roster.
Options: Keenan Allen, California, Cordarrelle Patterson, Tennessee
Outside the Box Option: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
It's no secret the Vikings are desperate for help at wide receiver. After Percy Harvin, the Vikings have a motley group of wideouts and landing a receiver who can start is priority number one for Minnesota in the 2013 draft.
The safe choice would be Keenan Allen out of California. At 6'3", 210 pounds, Allen has good size, but lacks elite speed or acceleration that you'd like from your number one receiver. He missed the last three games of the 2012 season with a left knee injury that isn't thought to be serious. He leaves Cal after three years where he had 205 catches for 2,570 yards and 17 touchdowns. Allen is a physical player who has great ball skills and can dominate most defensive backs.
Cordarrelle Patterson out of Tennessee might be the receiver with the most upside in the 2013 draft. Also at 6'3", and weighing around 205 pounds, Patterson does have elite speed to match his size. He's a physical freak who dominated in his only season in the SEC. Patterson led Tennessee with 10 touchdowns and he showed his versatility with how he got them: five receiving, three rushing and one each on a kick return and a punt return. He had 42 catches for 778 yards and rushed for 308 yards on 25 carries. He topped all of that off by setting a new SEC record for a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards. Patterson is raw, but he's a helluva football player.
The long shot pick here, mostly for fun, is Tyler Wilson, the quarterback out of Arkansas. If the Vikings brass makes the decision that Christian Ponder doesn't have the potential to be the quarterback of the future, Wilson is a guy who is set to storm up draft boards much like Ryan Tannehill did last year.
Options: Sylvester Williams, North Carolina, Kawann Short, Purdue
Outside the Box Options: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee, Robert Woods, WR, USC
The Vikings need to shore things up in the middle of their defensive line. Kevin Williams is a stud and a ring-of-honor guy, but he's getting old. Letroy Guion and Fred Evans are serviceable.
At 6'2", 320 pounds Sylvester Williams certainly has the last name pedigree to fill the bill for the Vikings. Williams will be prodded heavily during the draft run-up process and draft experts are all over the place on where they have him ranked, everywhere from a top 15 guy to a late second rounder. Williams spent two years at a junior college before starting every game for two years at North Carolina. He's big and active is still learning the game.
Kawann Short is 6'3", 325 pounds and a four-year starter and difference maker at Purdue. It's a very good sign that he was voted captain at Purdue, but he looked huge this past season and will have to show up at the combine in better shape. Short is tough and with motivation can be a great NFL player.
Receivers in the first two rounds? It sounds stupid unless you watched the Vikings play this year. Ask the Patriots how taking Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the same draft has worked out. Ask the Redskins if it was dumb to draft both RGIII and Kirk Cousins last year.
Justin Hunter has better size and more potential than Robert Woods, but right now, Woods is just a better football player. Hunter is 6'4", 205 pounds and looks an awful lot like A.J. Green on the field. He had 73 catches for just over 1,000 yards this year, but had some difficulty against some of the tougher SEC defenders. He could become elite, but he's nowhere near what Green was coming out of college.
Robert Woods didn't nearly have the production in 2012 that he had in 2011, much of that due to the breakout year of his teammate Marqise Lee. Woods is a tough kid who catches balls all over the field and can run with it after he makes catches.
Options: Brian Winters, Kent State, Larry Warford, Kentucky
Outside the Box Option: Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
The Vikings have had mediocre guard play at both spots in 2012. Whether or not they are satisfied with the progress of first-year starter Brandon Fusco, they need depth and perhaps a starter at guard.
At just a shade under 6'4", 305 pounds, Brian Winters would remind some of Matt Kalil, in that he would need to add some bulk to face the rigors of interior line play in the NFL. While nowhere near the athlete that Kalil is, Winters has very good feet and shows agility and a strong thrust on first contact. He has exceptional speed and quickness for an offensive guard.
Larry Warford is 6'3", 320 pounds and although not an elite prospect, he grades out very well across the board. He's very good at both run blocking and pass protection and he flashes a mean streak that scouts love.
Don't you just get the sense that someone is going to thank their lucky stars they took a chance and drafted Denard Robinson? Sure, he'll have a learning curve, but the kid is a sensational football player. He looks like a better version of Antwaan Randle El.
Options: Aaron Mellette, Elon, Da'rick Rogers, Tennessee Tech
Outside the Box Option: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
Chris Givens, Cecil Shorts, Denarius Moore, Jeremy Kerley, Mike Williams, Antonio Brown. Those are all wide receivers taken in the fourth round or later in just the last three years who would start for the Minnesota Vikings. The most galling being Brown, who was taken in the sixth round, 28 picks after the Vikings tabbed Gophers linebacker Nate Triplett. Ouch.
The point being there are always receivers to be had in the later rounds.
Aaron Mellette and Da'rick Rogers may both be gone by the fourth round, but if not the Vikings wouldn't hesitate to grab either one of them. And truth be told, you could flip this slide with the previous one and it would still make sense.
There are certainly questions to be answered for both Mellette and Rogers. At 6'3", 218 pounds, Mellette has ideal size and he was ridiculously dominant at Elon, catching 97 passes for 1,398 yards and 18 touchdowns. The caveat being that it was at Elon. Mellette will play in the Senior Bowl and every NFL team will have a close eye on him.
At 6'3", 215, Rogers also has great size and has proved to be a tough and resilient player, but he has a lot of character issues that he'll have to address in the draft run-up. Rogers will impress physically at the combine, but the interview process may be far more important for him.
Landry Jones has befuddled football experts for years now. At 6'4", 230 pounds with a strong arm, he certainly looks the part, but his play has been far too erratic at Oklahoma to be considered a top NFL prospect. He probably won't fall to the fourth round, but if he isn't grabbed in the initial run on quarterbacks he certainly might.
Options: Mike Mauti, Penn State, Jonathan Bostic, Florida
Mike Mauti won't be drafted where he should be, the only question is how far he'll drop. With two ACL surgeries and another knee injury that ended his 2012 season, he's unquestionably damaged goods.
If Mauti can bounce back like he's always done in the past, he'll make it in the NFL and be a steal of a pick for somebody. Mauti is a throwback type; at 6'2", 235 pounds, he doesn't have great speed or athletic ability. What he does have is football skill and a toughness you can't teach. A tackling machine at Penn State when healthy, Mauti brings all the intangibles you could ever want in a football player. There are a ton of questions surrounding him because of all the knee damage, but if he can play, he'll make it in the NFL.
At 6'1", 246 pounds, Jon Bostic doesn't have ideal size or speed to play in the middle for an NFL team, but he's a relentless tackler who made plays all over the field for Florida and earned second-team all SEC honors.
Options: Corey Fuller, Virginia Tech, Rodney Smith, Florida State
You're probably getting the hint by now, the Vikings need wide receivers.
Obviously there will be a lot of factors that go into how many receivers the Vikings pluck in the draft, depending on what they do in free-agency, and who they decide to keep from the current roster.
At 6'2", 196 pounds, Corey Fuller isn't quite a "big" receiver, but when you throw in his elite speed, he becomes a pretty tantalizing prospect. The caveat with Fuller is that he's only played two years of football after transferring from Kansas as a track athlete. Fuller walked on at Virginia Tech and worked his way on to the starting lineup and had a breakout game against the tough Florida State defense with seven grabs for 124 yards and a touchdown. His stock is rising fast.
With Rodney Smith you are absolutely getting elite size. At 6'5", 220 pounds, Smith has 35 catches for just under 500 yards for the streaky Seminole offense. Smith will get some looks at all-star games after the season where he'll have to prove that he can perform against top competition.
Options: Ray Graham, Pittsburgh, Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma
Anything goes by round seven and obviously the Vikings will be looking to draft someone they think has potential and can stick with the team, even if it's just to stash them on the practice squad for a season.
It's likely that 2013 will be the last in a Vikings uniform for Toby Gerhart and as good a special teams player as Matt Asiata has been, he's not a legitimate NFL running back, so the Vikings could use some depth at the position.
Ray Graham is an intriguing option out of Pittsburgh. At just 5'9", 192 pounds, he lacks size, but has enough speed and elusiveness to stick with an NFL team. He's very similar to Jordan Todman, who was on the Vikings practice squad this season until he was claimed by Jacksonville a couple of weeks ago. Graham has great football instincts and can make people miss and will be a nice threat catching balls out of the backfield. Think Jacquizz Rodgers.
Dom Whaley has had a very unique career at Oklahoma. A walk-on, he worked his way on the starting unit in 2011 and was having a very good season until breaking his ankle towards the end of the season. He lost his starting job in 2012 and has been sort of phased out of the offense, but he still has ran well when given the opportunity. He'll get a chance to show what he can do with an NFL team as he shows great instincts, work ethic and elusiveness.