The Minnesota Vikings aren't certain when during May's draft it will happen, but selecting a quarterback has become a consensus decision among the power brokers inside Winter Park.
A big step in that process begins this week, when the Vikings get an up-close look at the quarterback class during the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Minnesota is currently slotted in at No. 8 overall in the first round, which may present an opportunity to take one of the top-four quarterbacks expected to go within the top 10 picks. The Vikings are far from committed to taking a quarterback there, but new offensive coordinator Norv Turner believes general manager Rick Spielman will draft at least one.
"I think everyone is in agreement that we are trying to add a young quarterback to the organization," Turner said, via Ben Goessling of ESPN. "We just have to make sure it's a good one wherever we get him."
Spielman confirmed in Indianapolis that the quarterback position will be a focus. And he's banking on the reputation of Turner to help identify and then mold the right player at the position.
"We'll focus heavily on this draft to get another young quarterback in our system," Spielman said Thursday from the NFL combine. "Norv will have a big impact on that. He has a great history with quarterbacks."
The Vikings have just a single quarterback under contract for 2014—former first-round pick Christian Ponder—after Matt Cassel voided the final year of his contract and Josh Freeman's one-year deal expired.
The Vikings may still bring back Cassel, who started six games in 2013 and eventually finished as the offense's most effective quarterback. And the team doesn't appear to be giving up on Ponder, despite his maddening inconsistencies and the reality that he lost his starting job to Cassel last season.
Freeman, a colossal mistake, is likely headed for a new home.
Given the talent the Vikings already have on offense, a true franchise quarterback might represent the final piece of the puzzle.
Minnesota has the most dynamic running back of this generation in Adrian Peterson, a respected technician at the receiver position in Greg Jennings, a dynamic, developing weapon in Cordarrelle Patterson, two quality tight ends and a well-rounded offensive line. Far too often in recent years, a strong offensive core has been let down by below-average play under center.
Overall, the Vikings finished 2013 with a team passer rating of just 76.0, 24th best in the NFL. The offense's 18 touchdown passes ranked 27th.
With Turner on board and the freedom to add a player at the position this offseason, the Vikings hope to turn around those failing numbers.
The first step in that process is finding the right fit, in terms of skill set, future potential and draft value. What Spielman and the Vikings see this week at the NFL combine will go a long ways in identifying that quarterback.
NFL Network's Mike Mayock on this class of quarterbacks, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
None of these guys are Andrew Luck. None of these guys are Peyton Manning. None of these guys [make you say], ‘It’s a slam dunk. This is an easy one.’ … I can pick apart all three of them. I could not pick apart Andrew Luck.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller on Minnesota's draft position:
The Minnesota Vikings have the misfortune of drafting No. 8 overall in a year with four quarterbacks qualified for a top-10 pick...If the team does miss out on the top-tier quarterbacks, waiting would be wiser than reaching.
Spielman on the depth of the class:
There's a lot of different talent. And I really do believe this is a deep class. We'll identify who we think will fit for what we do on offense...Everyone is looking for that franchise quarterback.
NFL Combine Quarterbacks Big Board
|2.||Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||6'0"||205|
|3.||Blake Bortles||Central Florida||6'4"||230|
|4.||Derek Carr||Fresno State||6'3"||218|
|5.||Jimmy Garoppollo||Eastern Illinois||6'2"||225|
*Vikings pick at No. 8 overall
Prospects to Watch
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
There are comparisons to Brett Favre, Doug Flutie and Fran Tarkenton. Almost everyone takes in Manziel differently, but most are conforming to the opinion that the former Texas A&M quarterback will be a top pick in this draft. He's small but crafty, with all the competitiveness, flair and moxie you'd want in a top quarterback. Manziel won't throw at the combine, but his arm isn't the biggest question mark. Teams will be more interested in the interview sessions.
Blake Bortles, Central Florida
Bortles might not be ready to play right away, but he'll bring a big, athletic frame with plus quarterbacking attributes to the next level. The Vikings could embrace that potential, with a plan that does not force him into action on the first day. There's a hint of Andrew Luck to his game and potential. Like many quarterback-needy teams, the Vikings will want to see Bortles' arm in action at the combine.
Derek Carr, Fresno State
The little brother of David Carr, Derek has a big arm and surprising athleticism. There's a pretty good chance he'll be on the board when the Vikings come up at No. 8. He's a quarterback you can easily envision Turner molding into a big-time starter, given his ability to move the pocket and attack vertically. He was a little reckless at times at Fresno State. The combine should be a perfect environment for him to wow teams.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois
He'll rank outside the top-four, giving teams the chance to take him without investing a top pick. That's an enticing option, and Spielman consistently said Thursday the Vikings aren't locked in to taking a quarterback in the first round. Maybe that's just GM-speak at this point. The Vikings will like Garoppolo's quick delivery and strong physical tools. He could be a player who benefits greatly from sitting for a year behind a veteran.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
At this point, it would be a shock if Bridgewater fell to the Vikings at No. 8. He's the most polished of the top quarterbacks in this class, with an NFL arm and footwork, high football IQ and a bright future. While not the biggest of quarterbacks, size shouldn't be an issue. Maybe the Vikings will entertain the idea of moving up to get him. He could be a franchise-changer. The Louisville product should ace the interview portion of the combine.
AJ McCarron, Alabama
He enters the NFL as a highly decorated quarterback, with wins and national titles for a powerhouse program under his belt. But there are legitimate question marks, given the talent surrounding him at Alabama and his lack of overwhelming physical tools. Will he be anything more than a glorified game manager in the NFL? Or can a team develop him into a quarterback that elevates those around him? The answer to those questions will determine his stock. The Vikings could do worse in the middle rounds.