Why Minnesota Vikings Cannot Afford to Pass on a Quarterback in 2014 NFL Draft

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Why Minnesota Vikings Cannot Afford to Pass on a Quarterback in 2014 NFL Draft
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The Minnesota Vikings need a quarterback, and the best way to get one is the quarterback-rich draft class of 2014.

That's not to say the Vikings shouldn't be flexible, either. Fans know all too well the risks of reaching in the draft for a quarterback.

Should a generational talent like Jadeveon Clowney remain on the board when Minnesota picks while the top-tier quarterback prospects are gone, it would be foolish for the Vikings to avoid taking him simply to fulfill need concerns elsewhere.

But they should sacrifice some value if it means establishing a franchise quarterback even if it doesn't mean they should tank the concept of "draft value" entirely. At worst, they could take an unfavorable trade down in a situation where the top quarterback prospects are gone but Clowney or offensive tackle Jake Matthews are on the board.

It might seem odd to advocate a change for a unit that by many accounts isn't at fault for the losses the Vikings have had—after all, the Vikings rank 16th in points scored per game but 30th in points allowed.

In their most recent game against the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings defense couldn't get off the field and give their offense a chance to score, partially responsible for losing the time of possession battle in an embarrassing fashion.

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The Vikings-Packers game made clear many of the issues facing Minnesota this season.

The question isn't about time of possession—the total number of opportunities to score (measured in drives) stays the same among the two teams.

Against Carolina, Minnesota was treated to watching a team grind down the clock and keep the Vikings off the field, but that doesn't tell the whole story: Carolina had as many opportunities to score as Minnesota did, they simply were more efficient.

The Vikings may have lost the time of possession battle against the Packers, but they actually had one more offensive drive.

That's why drive statistics are sometimes the best way to measure how well offenses can capitalize on their ability.

On a surface level, measuring offensive and defensive scoring opportunities is a simple way to determine whether or not a team is taking advantage of their drives.

Even when controlling for special teams scores and garbage time, the story doesn't change much. The offense is simply better than the defense by that measure.

But even that doesn't speak to the larger offensive problems, because the Vikings offense cannot create many of its own points—it needs more help from field position than other teams and by a significant amount.

The Vikings are the fourth-worst in the league at converting drives into scores from inside their own 20 and have the vast majority of their points come from favorable position.

They have needed more help than any other team except the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Dallas Cowboys in creating scoring opportunities and have the third-most favorable field position on touchdowns.

Simply put, they cannot put the ball in the end zone unless they have significant help in the field-position battle—a function of special teams and defense.

That's not to say that the offense is worse than the defense, simply that the two are closer in quality than many people would think after looking at the surface-level statistics.

No single metric captures this better than Football Outsider's "Drive Success Rate" statistic, a field-position independent statistic that measures how well a team can gain first downs and touchdowns as a percentage of its total first-down opportunities.

In that, the Vikings offense ranks 26th. Its defense ranks 32nd, so it's not off scot-free, but it's clear that it is not alone in its ineptitude.

Even though it seems like the Vikings defense is worse than the offense, the difference isn't large enough for that to matter when it comes to draft strategy.

Instead, the fact that Minnesota can instantly improve its talent level and performance with a quarterback more than any other player should drive its decision-making.

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Cam Newton has been a big part of turning the Panthers around.

The Panthers improved from 32nd in points per game to fifth with the acquisition of Cam Newton. The Colts and the Redskins moved from 29th and 26th, respectively, to 18th and fourth after their franchises selected Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

Moreover, the problem on the Vikings defense can only be partially attributed to talent. Much of it can be laid at the feet of play-calling, positional coaching or execution.

Indeed a defense that is expected to return Harrison Smith, Chad Greenway, Xavier Rhodes, Sharrif Floyd, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen cannot exactly be called deficient. Given that Chris Cook and Erin Henderson have shown above starter-quality talent in the past, there's even more untapped potential to be had.

On offense, there are significant issues with play-calling and offensive design, but nothing can paper over the lack of talent that the Vikings seem to have there.

The jury is out on Josh Freeman, but he's still honestly a bit of a longshot as a franchise's savior, even if he could be better than either Christian Ponder or Matt Cassel in the long run. Regardless, the three-headed monster at quarterback has thrown for the third-worst adjusted net yards per attempt in the league, a metric that gives bonuses for touchdowns and penalties for interceptions.

The rest of the offense is not nearly a concern.

Matt Kalil's issues are fixable and did not appear in the Packers game while the guards are serviceable. Phil Loadholt has been his inconsistent self, and it is unlikely after two solid years as one of the best centers in the league that John Sullivan's performances will continue to be this poor well into next year.

The receiving corps is much more talented than people believe, and Jerome Simpson started the year off fairly hot, while Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson can be a significant part of the Vikings' future there. In addition, Kyle Rudolph's contributions cannot be ignored.

The Vikings have a good chance of selecting in the top four of the draft, which means a crack at two incredible talents in Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota. If not, there is enough talent in this quarterback class to sustain a few more first-round worthy selections, although they obviously won't provide as high a likelihood of a good return.

The priority for the Vikings remains selecting a quarterback. From there, they can tweak whatever other problems they have and work around it.

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