Minnesota Vikings: Top Needs and Fits in the 2014 Draft
It's deja vu all over again for the Minnesota Vikings.
The team has plenty of holes to plug—almost all of them on the defensive side of the ball—but the position that is getting the most attention is quarterback. Rewind the tape to 2011—for you younger kids, that's a phrase that predates even the now-old technology of DVD players.
That's the year the Vikings also needed to find their next quarterback. Quarterback Brett Favre had followed up his 12-4 record in 2009 with a less-than-stellar performance that saw his consecutive streak of starting games end at 298. The Vikings finished 6-10 in 2010 and needed to find a quarterback.
Minnesota had the 12th pick in the draft, and seemingly under extreme pressure, they reached and selected Christian Ponder. Ponder was the fourth quarterback taken in the draft that year, after Cam Newton (first overall), Jake Locker (eighth) and Blaine Gabbert (10th).
At the time, the move seemed like a stretch. To Ponder's defense, he has been better than Locker and Gabbert, but at the same time, he hasn't been as good as the two quarterbacks taken in the second round—Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick.
This year, the Vikings have the eighth pick in the draft. According to most draft projections, like Walter Football and NFL Draft Scout, there are only three quarterbacks that are clear-cut first-round selections. With Houston, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Oakland all possibly looking to draft a quarterback ahead of the Vikings, the best fit in the first round might not be a quarterback.
That doesn't mean there won't be any impact players that the Vikings can use when their turn comes to draft.
The Vikings need to find replacements for defensive end Jared Allen and defensive tackle Kevin Williams. They also need to find a couple of linebackers to play next to Chad Greenway as well as an upgrade at cornerback.
Here's a look at several players that best fit the Vikings' needs heading into the 2014 season.
Quarterback Blake Bortles
Even though there are more holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball for the Minnesota Vikings, they cannot pass if there is a potential franchise quarterback available when they select.
A quick scan of nine mock drafts has three of them with the Vikings selecting Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. B/R featured columnist Jesse Reed, Matt Smith from NFL.com and Eric Galko from the Sporting News all predict that Bortles will be available at No. 8 in the first round.
Depending on which analysis you believe, Bortles is either the second- or third-best quarterback in the draft. And depending on those analyses, Bortles may be no better than a late first-round draft pick, and a stretch for the Vikings in the first round.
If the Vikings selected Bortles, he would be the second UCF quarterback to play for the Vikings. In 1999, the Vikings drafted Daunte Culpepper with the 11th pick in the first round. In 2000, he became the Vikings' starting quarterback, leading them to an 11-5 record.
This past season, Bortles led the Knights to a 12-1 record. He passed for 3,581 yards with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Against Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, he finished 20-of-31 passing for 301 yards and three touchdowns. At 6'4" and 240 pounds, he has the size to play in the NFL but lacks elite arm strength.
Outside Linebacker/Defensive End Khalil Mack
If the top quarterbacks are off the board when it's the Minnesota Vikings' turn to draft, they would be wise to look at the proverbial "best player available" in the draft. If you believe the rankings from CBS Sports, that player is Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack.
Mack potentially has the ability to fill one of two positional needs for the Vikings—defensive end or outside linebacker. According to Walter Football, Mack's best fit is as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Last season, Mack led the Bulls with 56 tackles, 19 of them for a loss, and 10.5 sacks. With the imminent departure of Jared Allen, the Vikings will need to find 11 to 14 sacks from somewhere.
At 6'3" and 248 pounds, Mack is closer to the size of the Vikings' linebackers than that of Allen (6'6", 265 lbs). Not only was he the leading tackler for Buffalo, but he also led the team with three interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns.
Outside Linebacker Anthony Barr
Another option for the Minnesota Vikings with the eighth pick in the draft, if there are no quarterbacks left worthy of a top-10 selection, is UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
Walter Football ranks Barr ahead of Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and projects Barr as a top-10 pick. He finished only sixth for the Bruins in tackles with 66, but he led the team with 20 tackles for a loss with a team-high 10 sacks.
According to CBS Sports, Barr is a raw talent that will require "a bit of polishing" to take the next step in the NFL. At 6'4" and 248 pounds, he brings an athletic frame the Vikings could use.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo
If the Minnesota Vikings decide to address the defense in the first round, a potential second-round selection could be quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from Eastern Illinois.
Ranked fifth among quarterbacks by CBS Sports, Garoppolo's stock has risen to the point where he is projected as a solid second-round pick. In 44 games over four seasons for the Panthers, Garoppolo passed for 12,835 yards with 116 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.
In 2013, he led EIU to a 12-2 record, passing for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. In the East-West Shrine game, he was the offensive MVP of the game. He finished 9-of-14 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown.
At 6'2" and 220 pounds, he has the size to play in the NFL, although his arm strength is considered less than elite.
Defensive End Trent Murphy
As pointed out earlier, the Minnesota Vikings will most likely need to find a replacement for defensive end Jared Allen and the 14 sacks he averaged for the Vikings over the past six seasons. Don't expect any player drafted this year by the Vikings to contribute that much as a rookie. Allen only had nine sacks in his rookie season for the Chiefs in 2004.
Depending on the direction the draft takes for the Vikings, a potential second-round pick to address the need at defensive end would be Trent Murphy from Stanford. This past season, he led the Cardinal with 15 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss.
At 6'6" and 261 pounds, he matches the size of Allen (6'6" 265 pounds), although he came to the Senior Bowl about 10 pounds lighter. At Stanford, he played standing up as an outside linebacker, and he might struggle to make the transition to defensive end. In an article from NFL.com, Murphy indicated that he would be happy to play on the line of scrimmage.
Again, with needs at both linebacker and defensive end, Murphy would give the Vikings some options.
Defensive Tackle Ra'Shede Hageman
Another position the Minnesota Vikings need to beef up is defensive tackle. Even though the Vikings selected Sharrif Floyd with their top pick in the 2013 NFL draft, they will be losing five-time, First-Team All-Pro Kevin Williams.
The Vikings need to find another wide body to occupy some space on the defensive line. One such body that would be an interesting selection is defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman from the University of Minnesota.
Although he only finished with two sacks this season for the Golden Gophers, Hageman in ranked second by Walter Football and fourth by CBS Sports. Both sites see him as a solid late first-round or second-round pick.
Cornerback Marcus Roberson
After finishing with the 31st-ranked passing defense, the Minnesota Vikings need to find an upgrade at cornerback. After four mostly disappointing seasons, it's time to part ways with cornerback Chris Cook.
The Vikings' second-round draft pick in 2010 has yet to play an entire 16-game schedule, and in 34 games, he did not intercept a pass.
The Vikings may have found a cornerback in Xavier Rhodes, one of their first-round draft picks in 2013, but they could use another big cornerback to help the defense. At 6'0" and 200 pounds, Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson brings some size to the position.
He would be the third cornerback drafted from a Florida school in consecutive years by the Vikings. In 2012 they drafted Josh Robinson from Central Florida in the third round, and last year Rhodes from Florida State. The addition of Roberson would give the Vikings three young cornerbacks around whom to build their defense.
Projected anywhere from a late first- to an early third-round pick, Roberson would be a great selection if he is still on the board in the third round.
According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, the junior is an aggressive and agile player who has the ability to play man-to-man in the NFL. One of his strengths is also a weakness, playing too physical in deeper coverages. That could lead to plenty of pass-interference penalties at the next level.
Offensive Guard Gabe Jackson
The Minnesota Vikings are going to need to find a replacement for offensive guard Charlie Johnson, who will be a free agent this year. With so many holes on defense, I don't expect the Vikings to address this position until the third round at the very highest.
CBS Sports has Mississippi State guard Gabe Jackson projected as a lower second- or high third-round pick in the draft. At 6'4" and 339 pounds, Jackson has the body to play in the NFL. According to Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Jackson is extremely nimble in pass protection.
Walter Football ranks him as the top guard in the draft and projects him as high as a late first-round pick. If he's available in the third round, he would be a steal for the Vikings to add some depth on the offensive line.
Cornerback Pierre Desir
Another cornerback the Minnesota Vikings should keep their eye on is Pierre Desir from Lindenwood University.
After playing in both the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl, Desir's stock is on the rise. While not even mentioned among the top 32 cornerbacks by Walter Football, CBS Sports ranks him ninth, with a potential second-round selection.
At 6'1" and 195 pounds, he brings size to the position that the Vikings desperately need in order to slow down the likes of Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Calvin Johnson in the NFC North. Last year, Desir led the Lions with four interceptions.
A tweet from B/R lead NFL writer Matt Miller indicated that quarterbacks at the Senior bowl were not throwing in the direction of Desir, whom Miller noted is "big."
This could be a great addition if he is available after the third round, although that does not seem likely. According to a tweet from Scott Carasik, Desir was targeted four times in the Senior Bowl, and only allowed one catch with an interception in the game. One tweet has Desir as a second-day selection, and possibly moving up to a first-day option.