Minnesota Vikings: How Rick Spielman Can Win the 2014 Draft

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Minnesota Vikings: How Rick Spielman Can Win the 2014 Draft
Ann Heisenfelt

For Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and his staff, the 2014 NFL draft is almost a no-lose proposition. 

That's certainly not to say that the Vikings don't need to have an excellent draft. Of course they do. Any team that's lost 29 games over the last three seasons probably has a lot of holes on its roster. Minnesota is no exception, but Spielman is coming off of two really good drafts and has signed some key free agents who have plugged some holes on the depth chart.

Minnesota was hoping for flexibility heading toward the 2014 draft, and that's exactly what they have. Spielman's free-agent signings of Matt Casssel, Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph and Captain Munnerlyn, among others, put a lot of caulk in those roster holes.

The Vikings will hit draft day with plenty of needs, but at this point none of them are so glaring that they beg to be addressed before any others. That obviously helps in that Minnesota can now explore plenty of options when it comes to each of their picks during the draft.

Spielman told the Star Tribune's Master Tesfatsion in February that ideally he'd like to have 10 selections in every draft. As of now, the Vikings have eight picks in 2014, but could certainly add picks through trades come draft day.

If you've spent any time at all reading mock drafts you know that speculation varies wildly on what needs the Vikings will tackle in the first round.

At this point in time, nobody's right and nobody's wrong when guessing what the Vikings will do. Spielman and his staff probably have dozens of scenarios of how things will play out once names start actually coming off the board.

Come draft night the Vikings will be both proactive and reactive when assessing the draft board. At this point it's anybody's guess as to which quarterback will fall where. Minnesota will more than likely choose a quarterback in one of the first three rounds, but trying to pinpoint where that will be is probably a waste of time at this point.

With all of that in mind, let's take a look at how the Vikings fill as many needs as possible and "win" the 2014 draft.

 

The Vikings Biggest Needs

Minnesota signed Matt Cassel to a two-year, $5 million deal in March, after Cassel had opted out of the second year of his previous deal. It was a shrewd move for both sides. Cassel went from veteran backup money to starter money, which he earned in 2013 by outplaying incumbent starter Christian Ponder.

For the Vikings, signing Cassel eased the urgency on finding a starting quarterback. With Cassel in the fold, Minnesota doesn't need to draft a quarterback to start immediately. 

Jim Mone

Beyond finding their next quarterback after Cassel, Minnesota's draft needs skew toward the defense. It's a unit that surrendered more points than any other team in the NFL and ranked 31st in total defense, passing defense and third-down conversions against.

Minnesota's most pressing need on defense would seem to be at linebacker, where the only sure-thing on the roster is Chad Greenway at the strong-side position. Beyond that it's a collection of unproven youngsters and veterans who are there for depth.

In the secondary the Vikings have Xavier Rhodes and Munnerlyn starting at cornerbacks and Harrison Smith and Jamarca Sanford at safety. They could certainly use and upgrade at Sanford's strong-safety position and could add another high-end cornerback in coverage when Munnerlyn slides into the slot on passing downs.

On the defensive line, Minnesota probably has their four starters, but could certainly use some depth, especially at the tackle position.

Over on the offense, the Vikings, like every team in the league, are looking for depth on the line and possibly a guard who could challenge Charlie Johnson for his starting spot.

With the departure of Toby Gerhart to free agency, Minnesota needs a quality backup to Adrian Peterson. Matt Asiata filled in nicely for two games at the end of 2013, but Asiata is a pretty one-dimensional player and the team would like to have a more dynamic number two back.

As for pass-catchers, they are probably a low priority heading into the 2014 draft, but again, like every other team in the league, the Vikings will be on the lookout for receivers who might be good enough to fill a roster spot.

 

First-Round Options

Peruse the Internet for 10 minutes and you can find 20 different guesses as to what the Vikings will do with their first-round pick on May 8. Currently slotted to pick eighth, there are rumors that Minnesota would like to trade up to draft a quarterback, trade down to acquire more picks and those that have them staying at No. 8 overall and taking the best available player.

The good news is that any of these scenarios could work out to the Vikings' benefit. If the Vikings have fallen in love with a quarterback they deem worthy of moving up to get, so be it. If you find a franchise quarterback in the draft, it's certainly worth giving up a lot in order to move up.

If teams come calling for the No. 8 pick and the Vikings move down, so be it. In this scenario, Minnesota would almost certainly be targeting a defensive player, and this draft is full of quality defenders that will be picked between No. 8 and No. 30.

What about keeping the No. 8 pick? Anything could be in play by the time the pick rolls around. If the Vikings like a quarterback that's still available, so be it. If they like a defensive player so much that they don't want to risk moving down and taking the chance of losing out on that player, so be it.

 

Quarterback Options

Anyone trying to parse through anything said by an NFL team in the two months leading up to the draft is more than likely wasting their time. It's impossible to tell what's real and what's misinformation when teams are jockeying as the draft approaches.

Nobody wants to tip their hand and everybody wants that player they've deemed a "steal" to be there when they pick.

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There's a reason you'll hear nearly every team in the league say about their first-round pick "We had him in the top ten on our board." 

The 2014 draft quarterback class is intriguing to say the least. While none of the quarterbacks look like Andrew Luck-type sure things, there could be as many as five taken in the first round.

Or there might only be two taken.

Who knows among Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr? Does Carr even belong on the same level as the other three? Does Bridgewater? Can Manziel possibly be as good in the pros as he was in college? Is Bortles another Ben Roethlisberger?

None of these questions will be answered until this fall at the earliest.

There is a lot of speculation that has the Vikings waiting for the second tier of quarterbacks that includes the likes of Jimmy Garoppolo, AJ McCarron and Zach Mettenberger.

The truth is that all seven of those quarterbacks might be gone by the time the Vikings pick in the second round. Or they could have their pick from among four or five of them.

The Vikings have certainly done their due diligence, having met with nearly all of the top quarterbacks on the board. Whom they end up taking will almost certainly depend on how the board falls.

 

Early Defensive Options 

As we stated above, one would think that an impact linebacker would be the Vikings' first option when drafting for defense.

While it's widely assumed that rush linebacker Khalil Mack will be gone before the Vikings pick at No. 8, they could have their choice between the next two highest-ranked linebackers, Alabama's C.J. Mosley, an inside linebacker who can play in the nickel, and Anthony Barr, an athletic rush linebacker out of UCLA, who also has the ability to drop into coverage.

If Minnesota doesn't choose a linebacker with its first pick, it would almost certainly grab one with its second, and those options could be versatile outside linebackers Ryan Shazier (Ohio State) or BYU's Kyle Van Noy.

First-round defensive back options include cornerbacks Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard along with safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama and Calvin Pryor of Louisville.

Michael Conroy

 

After the First Two Picks

The best guess is that the Vikings in their first two picks will take two of the following three positions: quarterback, linebacker and defensive back.

After that they may jump around and fill roster holes with players they like.

Michael Conroy

According to CBSSports.com, there are several quality guards available projected to go between the second and fourth rounds (add North Dakota State's Billy Turner to this list, as he projects as a guard in the NFL. CBSSports.com ranks Turner as its 67th-best available player).

While the Vikings re-signed starting guard Charlie Johnson and could very well think highly of second-year man Jeff Baca, don't be surprised if they draft a guard in the first three rounds if they believe a potential starter is available. Minnesota hasn't taken a guard that early since 2005.

It would also be a shrewd move for Minnesota to tap a running back in the first half of the draft. Picking up somebody like Tre Mason to back up Adrian Peterson would add another sparkly player for new offensive coordinator Norv Turner to utilize.

General manager Rick Spielman has certainly set the team up well heading into the 2014 draft. Back-to-back excellent drafts have stocked the roster with a lot of good, young talent, and the hope is that this year's class will add to that.

In a perfect world, Minnesota could find a quarterback of the future along with at least two starters on the defensive side of the ball. A guard good enough to eventually start and a solid backup running back for Peterson would make it a home run draft for the Vikings.

 

 

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