After another devastating, this one in the NFC Championship Game, the Vikings are once again looking into the offseason. It'll be a fun offseason full of questions for all teams in the NFL. After all, there's not going to be a salary cap.
Over the last few weeks, I've been very critical of the Vikings' offensive line. Their poor play for nearly three-fourths of the season was not being acknowledged by anyone. I wrote an article on their ineffectiveness and got little response to it.
That led me to believe one of two things—either fans thought I was crazy or fans were delusional about one of the Vikings' biggest weaknesses.
Left tackle Bryant McKinnie was voted to the Pro Bowl for reasons unknown. There were several other tackles more deserving, like Green Bay tackle Chad Clifton or the fourth backup to Levi Brown of the Arizona Cardinals. Seriously, it's a joke that he was in this season; he couldn't pass block or pick up a blitz.
Left guard Steve Hutchinson had a down year in my opinion. Part of that could be due to an extremely ineffective sixth-round draft pick in 2008, John Sullivan, making his first career start at center.
Part of me thinks Hutch was hiding an injury most of the season. He didn't look like the old Hutch that we're used to. He was slowing down fast and seemed to run out of gas. Is he really just getting too old?
Center John Sullivan was AWFUL! He is undersized and was constantly pushed back right into Favre or Peterson. He stood no chance against any defensive tackle he faced. It was embarrassing to say the least. I hope he doesn't return next season unless he gains 30 pounds, grows two inches, and gets a brain.
Right guard Anthony Herrera is a decent run-blocker and would be a starter on many team in the NFC at right guard. However, that's not saying much. He's too slow and can't move his feet fast enough to beat the blitz or the faster defensive tackles and ends.
Finally there's right tackle and 2009 second-round draft pick Phil Loadholt. He was injured towards the beginning of the season and tried to play through it. He improved as the season progressed and I liked the way he handled the faster defensive ends. He did a fair job, but he was by no means great.
The Vikings need to address the center and right guard positions, with center needing to come first. There aren't any big-time centers available in free agency that I know of, so they need to pick one up in the second or third round of the draft.
A right guard could probably be found later in the draft at pretty good value. They could maybe get by a another year without it, but the sooner the better.
If Brett Favre ends up retiring, they need to grab a quarterback early. While it's possible that Tavaris Jackson learned quite a bit under Favre, it's unlikely, as Jackson wasn't a very accurate passer to begin with.
That being said, a quarterback is the first priority in the draft. This year's draft class could be pretty deep, so a first round pick may not be necessary. Although if a Colt McCoy were still available, I don't see the Vikings passing him up. Despite what Mel Kiper Jr. says, McCoy should go in the late first or early second round.
That's about it on the offensive side of the ball. Obviously the Vikings are set at running back and wide receiver. Tight end isn't really a need, but they may pursue one near the end of the draft. I'm thinking along the lines of the sixth round.
There are several needs on defense, which sounds weird as the Vikings were the sixth ranked defense this season.
The biggest need is going to be a cornerback. With Antoine Winfield getting up there in age and the status of Cedric Griffin uncertain heading into training camp, the Vikings should address the position early in the draft, probably in the first or second round. For those who don't know yet, Cedric Griffin tore his ACL late in the game on Sunday and he isn't expected to be ready for training camp.
The second position the Vikings need to address is safety. Tyrell Johnson wasn't successful at all this season, as he was often out of place in coverage and he wasn't the tackler that the Vikings had hoped for.
Opposite of Johnson was prized free-agent pickup Madieu Williams who signed with the team in 2008 for a good chunk of change. Williams turned out to be all hype and didn't provide the defense with a whole lot, but it's unlikely that they'll give up on Williams after just one full season (he was injured for much of 2008).
I see a safety being drafted in the third or fourth round. They're not going to mess with anymore "thumper" safeties. I think they'll finally wise up and draft a safety that's better in coverage than at tackling.
I know many fans think that drafting a defensive tackle is a high priority and you may be right, but I think Pat Williams still has one good year in him before he finally retires. But if he does decide to hang up the cleats, backup Jimmy Kennedy would likely take his place.Kennedy came into games on third and long situations as a pass rusher this season.
Williams was a run stuffer, but he never got into the backfield to put pressure on the quarterback. I think Kennedy would be a great fill in for a year or two before they fully address this position. He did an excellent job at getting pressure and proved to be a good run stuffer as well.
Linebacker needs to be addressed as well.
Ben Leber gives up too many big plays and for every great play he has, there are three that he struggles on. He isn't as reliable as he once was.
Meanwhile, middle linebacker E.J. Henderson will still be recovering from one of the more gruesome injuries I've seen on the Vikings. That broken femur doesn't heal fast you know.
Jasper Brinkley turned out to be a hard hitter, but he was terrible in coverage. He gave up a touchdown in every game he started this season but one, in the Divisional round against the Cowboys.
Linebackers are usually a pretty high priority on most draft boards, so the Vikings may surprise some people with a trade to pick one up earlier in the draft. I'm going to say they'll likely trade a 2011 draft pick, money, and/or a player for an early 2010 draft pick.
Of course there's always free agency, but the Vikings already have a fairly high pay role and probably won't be big spenders in free agency. They will likely address their needs via the draft. When free agency roles around, I just might throw out some possible names for the Vikings to steal.
While I don't like to put too many names out there before the combine, I'll give you this information to chew on:
2010 NFL Draft:
Compensation Pick (via Darren Sharper and Matt Birk's departure): Guard
Sixth-Round: Wide Receiver