Minnesota Vikings Day 1 Draft Primer

Darren PageFeatured ColumnistMay 7, 2014

Minnesota Vikings Day 1 Draft Primer

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Vikings will go back to the drawing board in their plan to build a winning team, this time with a fresh, new coaching staff. Not all things have changed though. The quarterback position still has more questions than answers. The defensive secondary needs revamping. Once more, the Vikings enter a draft weekend with a high pick.

    There are a number of permutations the Vikings could use to fill some of their biggest needs. Finding the quarterback of the future must be somewhere near the top of the list. With rumors swirling around the trade value of Sam Bradford, Mike Glennon and Ryan Mallett, the Vikings could be on the phones if no quarterback prospect meets their criteria.

    Adding defensive talent in whatever way possible comes after that. New coach Mike Zimmer will be looking for defensive prospects to infuse the defense he will run, so expect picks from that side of the ball to come early and often.

    Overall, this is an important draft for everyone in Vikings headquarters. Considering what he did with his last selection of a quarterback, general manager Rick Spielman is on his last leg. If he doesn't get it right this time, Minnesota will surely be back in the market for a quarterback with a new GM in three years.

Departures and Additions

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    Matt Marton/Associated Press

    The biggest storyline from the free-agency period was the departure of two tenured Vikings. Kevin Williams and Jared Allen were cogs in one of the NFL's best defensive lines over the last six years. Those two are on the wrong side of 30 for a rebuilding team, so letting them walk made sense. The Vikings did take a few steps toward replacing them while adding a couple other pieces as well.

     

    Departures

    Jared Allen, DE

    Seeing Jared Allen in anything but purple will be an odd experience. Letting him walk was the move to make for the Vikings. His name will go up in the Ring of Honor some day. For now, replacing his snaps and production is the main focus.

     

    Kevin Williams, DT

    Williams still being available on the open market is a statement about what he has left in the tank. He put in a commendable shift in 2013 between under tackle and nose tackle. Finding his replacement should not be a back-breaking process.

     

    Erin Henderson, ILB

    Once Henderson was arrested for suspicion of DUI in January, the writing was on the wall. He was an average linebacker during his time in the starting lineup. Cutting ties with him is not a big loss.

     

    Chris Cook, CB

    The more time he spent on the field, the more it became evident that Cook was a failed investment as a high draft choice. His issues off the field created a headache as well.

     

    John Carlson, TE

    The release of John Carlson was both predictable and a confirmation that giving him a big contract in 2012 was a mistake. The deal looked too rich from the outset.

     

    Letroy Guion, DT

    Guion jumping the border to the Packers only further increased the need for the Vikings to address depth on the interior defensive line.

     

    Josh Freeman, QB

    Paying Freeman a few million dollars to start a single game spoke to the desperation the Vikings had at the quarterback position. Until they find a quarterback of the future, that desperation still exists.

    Also departed: Desmond Bishop, LB; Joe Webb, QB/WR; J'Marcus Webb, OT; Marvin Mitchell, OLB

     

    Additions

    Linval Joseph, DT

    Effective tackles who can play the nose are hard to come by, so adding Joseph for an affordable price was a terrific move. Joseph should be able to contribute on all downs and is still a relatively young player.

     

    Captain Munnerlyn, CB

    Munnerlyn projects as a slot cornerback if the Vikings can help it, but hopefully he can provide the playmaking spark they missed after the departure of Antoine Winfield.

     

    Corey Wootton, DE

    Signing Wootton should not preclude the Vikings from drafting a defensive end. His skills are more run-oriented, though he could have some value bumping inside as a rusher.

     

    Derek Cox, CB

    Minnesota scooped up Derek Cox after a disastrous season in San Diego. He's more of a reclamation project for Mike Zimmer than someone that should be relied upon.

     

    Jasper Brinkley, ILB

    Brinkley returns to the Vikings after a pit stop in Arizona and could get the opportunity to battle for the starting inside linebacker position.

    Also added: Vladimir Ducasse, OT; Kurt Coleman, S; Tom Johnson, DT; Lestar Jean, WR; Allen Reisner, TE

Team Needs

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Free agency did little to overhaul the Vikings' shopping list. Some minor tweaks may have occurred in terms of depth needs, but big holes still exist. To round out their roster, expect the Vikings to target these positions.

     

    Quarterback

    After the failure of the Christian Ponder experiment, it's back to the drawing board for the Vikings. Matt Cassel is a holdover. The veteran could start the whole season, but a quarterback of the future will undoubtedly be the main focus of the Vikings front office. If by the end of Friday night there's still no obvious plan at quarterback beyond Cassel, the Vikings have failed.

     

    Cornerback

    Finding relief for Josh Robinson must be near the top of the list. Captain Munnerlyn will be more effective from the slot than outside. If a cornerback who projects as a viable starter on the outside falls into the Vikings' lap, expect them to pull the trigger.

     

    Linebacker

    Zimmer asks different things from his linebackers than Leslie Frazier did. That means more blitzing and less reliance on coverage ability. The specific position they target depends on whether they plan to move Chad Greenway to the middle.

     

    Defensive Line

    The four starting defensive linemen are a solid group as it stands. There's little else behind them, and Mike Zimmer loves to utilize rotations along the defensive line. The Vikings could eye a defensive end or defensive tackle, versatility being important.

     

    Safety

    The need for a safety comes down to competition. Harrison Smith is one of the Vikings' best defensive players when healthy, but the strong safety position is a bit more up in the air. Jamarca Sanford is penciled in as the starter and finding a safety to compete with him for that spot is probable.

Top Targets

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    The decision for Minnesota with the eighth pick comes down to defense or quarterback. If a quarterback prospect wowed the Vikings with his film, interviews and workouts, he jumps to the top of the board. It seems more likely that two defensive players will be more-sought after than a quarterback.

     

    1. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo

    Mack is one of the most complete packages of any prospect in this draft. He's a pass-rusher first and foremost, but has the athleticism to play from off the ball. More than anything, he brings a physical demeanor and explosive traits to back it up.

    As a Vikings, Mack would likely slide in as a strong-side linebacker and see plenty of snaps on the line of scrimmage flanking a defensive end. On passing downs he could slide down to a traditional end position and let Everson Griffen rush from the interior, where he's been effective in the past.

     

    2. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

    Donald stole the show at the Senior Bowl in January. He topped that at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He is one of the best athletes in this draft class and will be a priority for many teams.

    Minnesota would view him as tremendous fit. He's a classic 3-technique defensive tackle who can split gaps and disrupt the backfield as well as any interior defender. He also provides more pass-rush value than the incumbent defensive tackles on the roster.  

     

    3. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida

    Bortles seems the most likely to top Minnesota's board in terms of quarterback prospects. If the eighth pick is to be a signal-caller, Bortles' tools as a passer could be most appealing.

    The presence of Matt Cassel and a talented group of offensive playmakers could ease the transition for a quarterback with some deficiencies. That makes a guy like Bortles more valuable to Minnesota than to other teams who will need a QB selection to see the field more quickly.

     

    4. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

    Manziel is the biggest enigma when it comes to projecting the Vikings' targets. His overall persona could put Mike Zimmer, who is more along the lines of a strict disciplinarian, off.

    On the field, Manziel could be a fit for Norv Turner's offense. Manziel can attack defenses down the seam or down the sideline. His downfield ability could be quite effective in Turner's offense. The pass-catching talent on the roster is important as well because Manziel is somewhat reliant on his receivers.

     

    5. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech

    If no quarterback blew the Vikings away, this player could slide right up to the third spot. Kyle Fuller is the best cornerback prospect and will certainly be available when the Vikings come on the clock Thursday night.

    Fuller's footwork, technique, aggressiveness and ball skills are all exceptional. Creating turnovers is something he will do often as a pro. He also is one of the more physical cornerbacks around. Fuller will fly into the box and put a hefty tackle on any ball-carrier. His mentality should catch Mike Zimmer's eye.

     

    6. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

    If the rumors are to be true, Teddy Bridgewater won't be an option for the Vikings in the top 10. It only takes one team to decide he's the one though.

    Bridgewater is the most polished quarterback the Vikings could take. His footwork, eye level and anticipation separate him from other quarterback prospects. He's more of a distributor of the football than an unabashed playmaker, but that won't be a problem with the quality of receivers on Minnesota's roster.

What Are the Experts Saying?

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Todd McShay, ESPN: Blake Bortles

    The Vikings need a long-term answer at quarterback, but the presence of Matt Cassel (who did not play terribly last season) would allow for Bortles to sit for at least part of his rookie season, which is an ideal situation for him. He has prototypical size and good mobility, and I think that issues with his mechanics are fixable. I also wouldn't be surprised if GM Rick Spielman trades again. He made a shrewd deal in 2012 to move down and add picks while still getting Matt Kalil and then traded back into the first round to get Harrison Smith. He was active again in last year's first round.

    Everything McShay mentions is spot-on in regards to the Vikings' quarterback situation. If there's one landing spot where Bortles would be giving time to develop and talent around him to soften some of his early falls, it is Minnesota.

     

    Dane Brugler, CBS Sports: Aaron Donald

    Best player on the board or quarterback? The Vikings desperately need an identity at quarterback, something Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater could bring to Minnesota. But more of a "sure thing" might be the direction here and Aaron Donald would be Mike Zimmer's new Geno Atkins.

    Brugler compares Aaron Donald to Geno Atkins, and while that's hefty praise, it is not far off. Mike Zimmer's opinion of Sharrif Floyd as a creator of backfield disruption will be a big determinant of the Vikings' interest in Donald.

     

    Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network: C.J. Mosley

    Bridgewater is a legitimate option here, but Mosley is one of the cleaner prospects in the draft and will have an immediate impact.

    Mosley does not seem to be a realistic option because he just isn't a dynamic player worthy of a top-10 selection. His durability concerns may have him dropping out of the first round, much rather the top 10. A linebacker like Mosley who lacks pass-rushing value has to truly stand out to be drafted where the Vikings pick.

     

    Bucky Brooks, NFL.com: Khalil Mack

    The Vikings would love to give Mike Zimmer a dynamic linebacker to incorporate into his aggressive scheme.

    Aggressive is the right way to describe what Zimmer does with his front seven. Mack brings a different dimension as a linebacker who can rush from the edge or as a blitzer to devastating effect. Unfortunately, it seems increasingly less likely that Mack falls far enough for the Vikings to go get him.

     

    Click here to see what more experts are saying.

Latest Rumors, Reports & Analysis

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Vikings interested in trading for Sam Bradford?

    CBS NFL Insider Jason La Canfora hinted at a possible trade of the St. Louis signal-caller on CBS Sports 920's The Morning After Show.

    There are people in the league who believe there have been discussions with the Vikings. Rams people have denied any conversations whatsoever. The bottom line is if they don’t take a quarterback, they’re not trading Sam Bradford. There’s so much uncertainty in this draft that it’d be difficult to put the horse before the cart … all these things are tied together.

    Obviously this hinges on the Rams drafting a quarterback, meaning the trade would need to be agreed upon while the Rams are on the clock. If St. Louis drafted a QB and then called to shop Bradford, their leverage would disappear.

    That also makes it tricky because the Vikings may want to know who is available for them to draft with their eighth pick before doing the deal. Either way, it is believable that the Rams have an interest in moving on from Sam Bradford. Minnesota being interested in Bradford and his big contract is somewhat less believable.

     

    Vikings looking to wait on a quarterback?

    Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net shared information hinting at the Vikings sticking to defense in the first round.

    Word from several sources; Minnesota Vikings heavily leaning towards Zach Mettenberger/QB/LSU in 2nd, looking for LB (Khalil Mack/UB) in 1st

    — Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) April 1, 2014

    Drafting a quarterback with their first pick is no certainty. If Rick Spielman and his staff believe that a slide is in store for some top quarterbacks, they may look to address defense first and trade up for a quarterback if need be. They could even move back into the first round, as they did to draft Harrison Smith two years ago.

     

    Vikings making an unforeseen selection at No. 8?

    ESPN's Ben Goessling reports from Tuesday's press conference with general manager Rick Spielman.

    Spielman said during his presser that there are some names for #Vikings at 8 that mock drafts have completely missed. Mike Evans?

    — Ben Goessling (@GoesslingESPN) May 6, 2014

    Christian Ponder was widely considered a surprise selection in 2011, but a name that has been missed by mock drafts is not likely to be a quarterback. If Spielman isn't leading a wild goose chase, he could be talking about a wide receiver or a cornerback.

    Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins come to mind as the top pass-catchers in this draft class. Selecting one of the two would round the Vikings' corps of wide receivers into one of the league's best, but seems more of a luxury selection than a necessity.

    Making a surprise selection of a cornerback like Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard seems more likely. Pairing one of those two with Xavier Rhodes would give the Vikings two cornerbacks with tremendous man coverage ability, a big bonus for a defense.

7-Round Vikings Mock Draft

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Round 1, Pick No. 8: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh

    More than anything, the Vikings need the most talented player who fits their defense and has value in stopping offenses through the air.

    Aaron Donald would be Minnesota's most disruptive defensive tackle from day one, certainly its best pass-rusher from the interior. He would be very effective under Mike Zimmer.

     

    Round 2, Pick No. 40: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

    Bridgewater falling out of the first round looks increasingly likely. His pro-day performance and reportedly subpar interviewing are tough to overlook for teams.

    Minnesota could have its eye on Bridgewater if it opts for defense first. It could even trade back into the first round for another selection on Thursday night, as Rick Spielman is known to do.

     

    Round 3, Pick No. 72: Bashaud Breeland, CB, Clemson

    Adding talent to the current stock of cornerbacks is a must. Getting out of this draft with a viable starter who can play on the outside would be optimal.

    Adding Bashaud Breeland would mean having two physical cornerbacks, with him and Xavier Rhodes. Zimmer could be even more aggressive on the outside.

     

    Round 3, Pick No. 96: Christian Kirksey, OLB, Iowa

    The group of linebackers on the roster lack special coverage or pass-rushing traits. Christian Kirksey would solve the former.

    Kirksey would immediately be the most reliable coverage linebacker. His athleticism, instincts and awareness will put him on the field immediately.

     

    Round 4, Pick No. 108: Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State

    Early on in the third day is when Minnesota is most likely to pull the trigger on a running back. The draftee probably won't be a like-for-like switch with Toby Gerhart.

    Devonta Freeman is more of the scat-back type. He's valuable to Minnesota as a viable pass-blocker and receiver out of the backfield.

     

    Round 5, Pick No. 148: Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt

    The rest of the third day picks are about depth and competition. Adding a safety to push incumbent Jamarca Sanford makes sense.

    Ladler is a smart, instinctive safety who always ends up around the ball. Some athletic limitations will cause him to drop to Day 3.

     

    Round 6, Pick No. 184: Ethan Westbrooks, DE, West Texas A&M

    Depth at defensive end should be a target on the third day as Corey Wootton is signed only through the 2014 season.

    Ethan Westbrooks has a physical demeanor and a solid body type. He's relatively raw and inexperienced, needing quite a bit of coaching in terms of technique.

     

    Round 7, Pick No. 223: Austin Wentworth, OG, Fresno State

    Offensive line depth is never a bad idea and left guard Charlie Johnson is on the downslope of his career.

    Wentworth played left tackle in Fresno State's spread offense. He will slide down to the inside in the NFL and has just enough nastiness to him to cut it as a seventh-round pick.