5 Biggest Needs the Minnesota Vikings Have Yet to Address This Offseason
It's time we all said it: congratulations are in order for Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.
Adding key free agents on both sides of the ball, Spielman was able to quickly improve this roster coming off a dismal 5-10-1 campaign in 2013.
Without grandiose visions of spending money to solve all of the team's needs, now's the time to look for bargain deals in free agency and the 2014 NFL draft for more help.
Because as promising as this roster looks so far, competing in a division packed with gunslinging quarterbacks and Andre the Giant-sized wide receivers means Spielman will have to finish his offseason on a high note.
Taking a look at the current depth chart and factoring in each player's past production is a great way to figure out the Vikings needs.
Ranking those needs from from lowest to highest priority, it's time to start the slideshow and check out the list.
5. Left Guard
Charlie Johnson may have signed a two-year deal worth $5 million—per Ben Goessling of ESPN.com—but that doesn't mean he's the long-term answer at left guard.
For all his efforts, Johnson hasn't been an effective option for the Vikings offensive line.
Despite starting 31 out of 32 regular season games over the last two years, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) found that Johnson's performance was subpar at best.
Finishing the last two seasons registering negative marks in both run and pass protection shows that at this point in his career, Johnson is nothing more than a backup option.
Although second-year guard Jeff Baca is still on the roster, the logical move for Spielman will be to address the position on draft weekend.
Speaking at the lectern during the NFL combine, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said (h/t Chase Goodbread of NFL.com) the 2014 draft is "as deep across the board as any draft I've seen in 30 years."
Looking at the guard position, that sentiment holds true.
Gabe Jackson from Mississippi State, Brandon Thomas out of Clemson and Alabama's Anthony Steen are all productive interior lineman on tape, who are projected to fall somewhere between the second and fifth rounds.
Right now, Johnson is just a stopgap option. But if the team's relegated to his lack of production for a sustained period of time, it will do more harm than good.
4. Running Back
There's no question Adrian Peterson is the dominate force in the team's backfield, but adding another productive tailback is still a necessity to take some pressure off of the former NFL MVP.
The open market bares a few names who would still have value if their contracts were low-volume structured deals.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Ronnie Brown and even Michael Bush have all proven through various stages of their careers to be durable runners.
One bigger name to consider would be former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno.
Fresh off a first-rate season with the Denver Broncos, Moreno racked up 1,038 yards rushing and 13 total touchdowns.
Because of his past production, a potential deal with Moreno may be out of Spielman's price range. Still, the point is, adding a guy who can give Peterson a rest will be an important factor toward keeping the Vikings rushing attack fresh.
ESPN.com's Goessling mentioned Spielman has said he will take a look at running backs in free agency and during the draft.
No matter who he brings in, the long and short of it is they need more depth in the backfield.
3. Strong Safety
The overhaul of the Vikings secondary has to continue by fixing the strong safety position.
A barren free-agent market shifts the burden of adding an effective player to the impending draft in May.
As noted earlier, the 2014 draft class has commonly been perceived as one of the deepest ones we've seen in years.
Reiterating that sentiment, NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock told reporters on a conference call (h/t ProFootballTalk.com), "From my perspective, this is the deepest and best draft class I’ve seen in probably ten years."
The importance of the safety position in today's pass happy NFL is key.
Going into further detail, Bleacher Report's own Matt Bowen shed some light on just how big of an impact these guys can have for a program:
I do believe safety is a premium position in today’s game. Yes, the money tells us that, too, as NFL teams continue to pay up for talent. However, looking at the tape—and seeing the impact Seattle had at the position during their Super Bowl run—the demand for middle-of-the-field defenders and physical, downhill players should only continue to rise.
The draft is going to be a great place to find a potential star.
On film, guys like Jimmie Ward, from Northern Illinois, and Washington State's Deone Bucannon look like the type of prospects who can come in and help change the complexion of this defense.
One of the biggest needs the Vikings have to address revolves around this team getting stronger at the linebacker position.
Without productive tacklers and coverage guys anchoring the second level of coach Mike Zimmer's attack, it's going to be a strenuous task to win football games.
Be that as it may, the Vikings do have a young group of linebackers who could prove to be resourceful. Whether it's Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges or Audie Cole, each guy will get his chance to make an impact.
Without a robust free-agent market to fall back on, the draft will be the best vehicle for adding talent.
If you glance across the board and look at some of the top prospects, Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State is an explosive young man who should remain high on this team's wish list.
After studying him on film, CBSSports.com NFL Insider Pat Kirwan had some pretty positive things to say about the Ohio State Buckeye:
I think he's a late first-round type who should play weakside linebacker on early downs for a 4-3 defense and move to the middle in nickel and dime. He has range to cover, plays with leverage as a pass rusher (watch the Cal game), sheds blockers better than an undersized linebacker should and has the long arms to make plays.
That type of versatility to play both weak-side and middle linebacker is a coveted trait that can't go overlooked.
The point is, whether it's Shazier or someone else, Spielman and Zimmer will have ample opportunity to shore up a major position of need.
Matt Cassel's decision to re-sign with the Vikings this offseason is a great insurance policy for this team.
Right now, it's important for fans to understand that bringing back the 31-year-old QB is a nothing more than a provisional solution.
Saddled with the eighth pick in the draft, odds are Spielman will have the chance to pursue a franchise quarterback if he wants to.
Ultimately, that decision is going come down to how the front office and coaching staff feels about each individual prospect.
Getting an inside look at what's been going on, according to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel, UCF's Blake Bortles met with the Vikings before his pro day.
Not to be outdone, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported the team met with Louisville signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater as well. NFL.com Senior Analyst Gil Brandt tweeted that Vikings offense coordinator Norv Turner thought Bridgewater's pro day was "pretty good."
The situation right now is fluid, and at this point, figuring out where players will land during the draft is a mystery.
Still, it's important for Spielman to continue to do the research and figure out if the team's next QB is in this draft.
If it gets determined that he is, the goal of course will be to solidify the most important position in the National Football League.
All 2014 draft projections provided by NFLDraftScout.com (h/t CBSSports.com) unless noted otherwise.
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