Free Agents, Draft Picks That Could Solve Minnesota Vikings' Problems in 2014
The Minnesota Vikings' big 48-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles proved that they have plenty of talent to compete with playoff-caliber teams. It also showed that with so many starters on the injury list, the Vikings have some depth to their roster.
However, despite going 3-2-1 their past six games, the Vikings still have plenty of holes that will need to be addressed this offseason.
First among them is quarterback, followed closely by cornerback, linebacker, defensive end and wide receiver.
Here's a look at some potential players, free agents and draft picks, the Vikings could add to the team to fill some of those holes.
Drafting a Quarterback: Aaron Murray, Georgia
The Minnesota Vikings' win over the Philadelphia Eagles has dropped them to eighth in the draft.
That doesn't bode well, even in a quarterback-rich draft. There are five teams ahead of the Vikings that will most likely be looking to draft the next franchise quarterback—Houston, Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
If you believe the ranking of quarterbacks by Walter Football, the sixth-best quarterback prospect is Tajh Boyd from Clemson. That includes four underclassmen, including Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota, Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Brett Hundley.
Mariota has already stated he will return to Oregon next season, so that crosses at least one player off the list.
By the time you get that far down on the list, the prospects are projected to go in the second or third round—not a bad proposition when you consider Russell Wilson and Nick Foles were third-round picks in 2012, and Colin Kaepernick was a second-round pick in 2011.
According to Walter Football, Foles was projected as a second- or third-round pick, and Wilson was no better than a fourth-round pick.
One such quarterback the Vikings might be able to draft beyond the first round is Aaron Murray from Georgia. In each of his four seasons, Murray has passed for more than 3,000 yards. He has 121 touchdowns and 42 interceptions for the Bulldogs.
The downside, is that Murray tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a game against Kentucky this season. According to CBS Sports, Murray hopes to be ready for Georgia's pro day, in order to show NFL's teams what he is capable of. His body of work speaks for itself—the greater concern is how good is his knee?
Perhaps the injury will push Murray down to the third or fourth round, allowing the Vikings to draft a quarterback with a large upside, and little risk.
As pointed out last week, Jay Cutler is the top free-agent quarterback this coming offseason.
On Sunday, he made his return and led the Bears to a 38-31 win over the Browns in Cleveland. In true Cutler fashion, he threw three touchdowns and two interceptions. That's just slightly better than his 1.63-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio for his career. In eight seasons, Cutler has 152 touchdowns and 63 interceptions.
According to Pro Football Reference, his record is 56-46 as a starter. He has led the Bears to the postseason just once since joining the team in 2009.
There's no reason he would do any better for the Vikings.
Best bet is to stick with Matt Cassel and add someone through the draft.
Since then, he has missed two games and played in only 20 of 157 snaps against the Ravens and Eagles—a drop to only 12.7 percent. The Vikings are clearly sending him a message, and that may mean they have no intention of keeping him around next season.
With Audie Cole taking over at middle linebacker, the Vikings need to find someone to take over on the outside.
It has not been the Viking' tendency to make a big splash in free agency. Along those lines, a potential free agent they should consider signing is Bills linebacker Arthur Moats.
A sixth-round draft pick in 2010, Moats is three years younger than Henderson. This season, he has started 11 games for the Bills and has 27 tackles.
According to Over the Cap, Moats is the 13th-best free-agent outside linebacker available in 2014. At 25, he is the youngest of the group.
That means, the Vikings would not have to overpay, and they might find someone they can develop and will have quite a few years left in his career.
Drafting a Linebacker
If the Minnesota Vikings decide to wait to draft a quarterback to a later round, then they might consider adding a linebacker with their first pick of the draft.
The top outside linebacker in the draft, according to Walter Football, is Anthony Barr from UCLA. Projected as a top-10 pick, Barr started out on the other side of the ball for the Bruins, playing wide receiver then running back. The past two seasons, he finally found a position, starting at linebacker.
The past two seasons, Barr has 104 tackles and 23.5 sacks. At 6'4" and 248 pounds, he fits the mold of Audie Cole and Chad Greenway.
As a former wide receiver, he must have some ability to catch the football, which is something the Vikings defense desperately needs.
Filling a Hole at Cornerback
It appeared the Minnesota Vikings finally found a shutdown cornerback when first-round draft pick Xavier Rhodes got the chance to start in place of Josh Robinson in Week 12 against the Green Bay Packers.
In six starts this season, Rhodes leads the Vikings with 10 passes defensed.
Now all the Vikings need to do is find someone who can line up on the other side of the field at cornerback. With the regression of Robinson this season as a starter, he might do better as the Vikings nickelback.
In the past two drafts, the Vikings selected Robinson in the third round of the 2012 draft and Rhodes in the first round of the 2013 draft. It would not be surprising for the Vikings to take another dip into the cornerback pool.
One potential candidate is Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State. According to CBS Sports, Gilbert is the third-ranked cornerback in the draft. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, he fits right in between Robinson (5'10", 199 lbs) and Rhodes (6'2", 210 lbs).
In four seasons with the Cowboys, Gilbert had 149 tackles and 11 interceptions—six of them coming this year.
If the Minnesota Vikings want to make a bit of a splash in the free-agent market, they might consider pursuing New England cornerback Aqib Talib. According to NFL Trade Rumors, Talib is the seventh-best overall free agent and the second-best cornerback available in 2014.
A first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Talib has 23 interceptions in six seasons in the NFL. Compare that to 27 by the Vikings cornerbacks since 2008. This season, he leads the Patriots with four.
At 6'2" and 202 pounds, Talib fits nicely between Robinson and Rhodes. At 28, he would bring some experience to the defensive backfield.
Finding a Wide Receiver
The Minnesota Vikings finally got the breakout performance they have been waiting for from wide receiver Greg Jennings. Against the Eagles on Sunday, Jennings had a career-high 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.
With rookie Cordarrelle Patterson on the other side of the field, the Vikings appear set at wide receiver. They will most likely part ways with Jerome Simpson and Joe Webb, who will be free agents next season. That leaves some holes to be plugged for 2014.
With Jennings and Patterson, the Vikings don't need a game changer, just someone who gives them a good third or fourth option.
A potential mid-round option for the Vikings would be Cody Hoffman from BYU. In four seasons playing for BYU, Hoffman has 248 catches for 3,445 yards and 33 touchdowns. As a junior in 2012, he led the Cougars with 100 receptions for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.
At 6'4" and 210 pounds, he would offer another big target on offense.
Heading into the 2013 season, the Minnesota Vikings' top-three defensive ends were all playing on the last year of their contract. In October, they signed Brian Robison to a four-year contract extension. That leaves their top sack producer, Jared Allen, and their top backup, Everson Griffen, still set to bolt in 2014.
The Vikings will need to find a replacement, and a capable one at that. This year they drafted defensive tackle Kevin Williams' replacement in Sharrif Floyd—perhaps they will go the same route in 2014 for Allen.
If the Vikings decide to part ways with Allen, they will need someone who can potentially deliver 14 sacks per season—something he has done in his six seasons in Minnesota.
Both Walter Football and CBS Sports rank Jadeveon Clowney as the top defensive end in the upcoming draft. A junior from South Carolina, Clowney had 13 sacks as a sophomore with 54 tackles. Minor injuries have plagued Clowney this year, but he was still a first-team, All-Southeastern Conference selection.
Projected as a top-five pick, it's unlikely that Clowney will be available when the Vikings pick. Depending on the number of underclassmen quarterbacks who declare for the 2014 draft, there is an outside chance he could fall to the Vikings. If that happens, they would be fortunate to add him to the roster.
It would give the Vikings a young tandem, along with Floyd, to build their defensive line around.