Well, the first week of free agency is just about over, and the Vikings have been very busy. They’ve resigned a lot of players from last year, restructured some deals, released some aging veterans and brought in a couple of outside players. It’s pretty much what you’d expect any team to do during the offseason to improve the roster. After the big free agent signings of Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings, we don’t have much salary cap room left. So, it’s pretty safe to say that the Vikings won’t be making any more big moves during the rest of free agency. Sure, there’s always a chance that they continue to restructure some deals (Jared Allen and Kevin Williams come immediately to mind) or outright cut or trade some players (Joe Webb and Letroy Guion come to mind). But barring any of those unpredictable moves, my guess is that the team is going to focus on the upcoming draft and continue to solidify their big board to identify which players in the draft are blue chip prospects. And while Spielman and company are hard at work doing that, I thought I’d take a look at the current state of the roster to narrow down the team needs. And at the end, look for a new mock draft!
Quarterbacks: Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, Joe Webb, McLeod Bethel-Thompson
If Frazier is to be believed there will be an old-fashioned training camp QB battle…for the backup job between Matt Cassel and Joe Webb. Honestly, I would just try to trade Joe Webb at this point, but my guess is the best we could hope for is a 7th round pick. Barring that, I’d either transition him to WR or KR, or just outright cut him. Bottom line is this: we have four QBs on the roster right now, and only three of them are making the team. We might even bring in another one for training camp out of the draft, or an undrafted free agent. But I think Ponder and Cassel are locks for the starting and backup positions, and it’s anyone’s guess after that.
Running Backs: Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard
There has been some talk around the media about the Vikings needing a “3rd down back”, but you know what, everyone said the same thing last year too and the Vikings did not pursue one. I think we’re set this year at RB with Peterson, Gerhart and Asiata. But I wouldn’t count out a rookie joining the team before training camp either at the end of the draft or as an undrafted free agent. I think competition for the #3 spot is a given. I also think the smart thing would have been to try to trade Gerhart this offseason, but at the end of the day, he makes for some solid insurance and depth. We’ll have to see if we can retain his services after next year or not when he becomes a free agent, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see us draft a rookie in the 2014 draft when Gerhart inevitably leaves via free agency.
Wide Receivers: Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs, Chris Summers
What more can be said about trading Harvin and signing Greg Jennings? Regardless of the opinions about either player, we still have a need at WR. There is a lot of upside with the current WR corp as Simpson could surprise us if his issues last year really were injury-related. And Greg Childs always has the potential to return after his double-knee injury, however unlikely it may be. I don’t have a lot of hope for Stephen Burton or Chris Summers, but Jennings and Wright give us something to work with. We will need to add some top talent via the draft to continue to upgrade this position as I don’t think we can rely on Jerome Simpson to be the #2 guy opposite Greg Jennings. We need another starter.
Tight Ends: Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Rhett Ellison, LaMark Brown, Chase Ford
This unit hinges on John Carlson. While he did restructure his deal, the fact is that he will need to contribute if he expects to remain a Viking after 2013. Rudolph had something of a break-out year last year and I expect him to continue to get better. Ellison showed he has value as a blocker. We’ve already added two tight ends this off-season, so that tells me the Vikings might look to add another one at some point in the draft. I think it would be too risky to rely solely on Rudolph and Carlson as the #1 and #2 TE on the roster.
Offensive Line: Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan, Brandon Fusco, Phil Loadholt, Joe Berger, DeMarcus Love, Troy Kropog, Kevin Murphy, Tyler Holmes
It’s no mystery that the weak spot on the line is the guard position. Charlie Johnson restructured his deal to stay on the team, and Fusco looked pretty rough in his first season as the starter. Kalil, Sullivan and Loadholt represent the core strength of the line and should remain on the team for years to come. I think the Vikings will need to address the depth of the line at some point in the draft, but if Fusco can’t make the jump in his development this year, they will likely think about moving on. Johnson may only have 1 year left too as he is a free agent after the 2013 season, so we’ll need to think about the future of both guard positions regardless. It’s too bad the Vikings weren’t able to retain Geoff Schwartz.
Defensive End: Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Everson Griffen, D’Aundre Reed, George Johnson
Our defensive ends are the strength of our defense, but unfortunately all of our Top 3 ends will be free agents after 2013. I would expect the team to extend 1 or all of them. Allen, Robison and Griffen make for a great trio, but it will be difficult for the team to keep all 3 after 2013. If Allen can rebound in 2013, look for the Vikings to offer an extension with a much lower cap hit. Robison could be the odd man out after next season. Some would argue that the smart thing to do here would be to trade either Allen or Robison to ensure we get some compensation, but I’m not sure that’s the smartest move either. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Vikings draft a DE in the mid rounds of the draft as they think about transitioning to the future at this position.
Defensive Tackle: Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Christian Ballard, Chase Baker
If we learned one thing from 2012 it’s this: Letroy Guion is not a starting caliber, every-down DT. Sure, he dealt with some injuries, but when you’re outplayed by Fred Evans for the most part, things aren’t looking good. Kevin Williams is fast approaching the end of his career, and it’s likely he’s already hit his downward slope. While this is a position of need, and the team will need to think about the future of this position sooner rather than later, they may be content to roll with the same rotation in 2013. We could certainly stand to upgrade the starting NT position.
Linebacker: Chad Greenway, Erin Henderson, Tyrone McKenzie, Audie Cole, Larry Dean
Our OLB position is pretty well set with Greenway and Henderson, but we lack a true MLB after we let Jasper Brinkley go to free agency. Tyrone McKenzie filled in at MLB during OTA’s last year while Brinkley was still rehabbing, but he’s officially listed as an OLB, as is Larry Dean. Audie Cole has some experience at MLB, but as a 6th round pick who never saw the field last year, he likely isn’t in serious consideration to take over the middle of the defense (blasphemy I know!). The bottom line is we will need to spend a draft pick to acquire a potential blue chip starter at MLB. The good news is that there are several options available, and we have the draft picks to make it happen.
Cornerback: Chris Cook, Josh Robinson, AJ Jefferson, Marcus Sherels, Brandon Burton, Bobby Felder, Greg McCoy, Nicholas Taylor, Roderick Williams
While the release of Antoine Winfield surely hurts, the fact is that he would have been overpaid at $7.5 Million/year. There is still a chance he comes back for a cheaper contract, but I wouldn’t bet on it. It appears the team is set to roll with Cook, Robinson and Jefferson. Cook has the talent to be our #1 guy on the outside, but he hasn’t made it through a 16-game season yet…hopefully 2013 will be his first. Robinson looked very promising during his rookie year and should make the jump in development to be a reliable slot/nickel CB. AJ Jefferson looked ok as a backup option, but I can’t imagine trying to rely on him as the other starter on the outside. Sherels and Burton may not even make the team, unless it’s for their special teams/returner abilities. We’ve got a bunch of practice squad/camp bodies after that already lined up. I can’t help but think we need to address the starting position opposite Chris Cook. Hopefully the Vikings aren’t expecting Robinson to take over for Winfield.
Safety: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond, Robert Blanton, Andrew Sendejo
It’s hard to imagine that 1 year ago today, many fans were talking about how the safety position was in shambles. We had moved on from Tyrell Johnson and Madieu Williams, and Husain Abdullah left the team to go on a pilgrimage. All we had on the roster was Jamarca Sanford and Mistral Raymond: a special teams ace with upside and an inexperienced rookie. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes, as Sanford made a huge jump in his development and earned himself a new deal along with a starter’s role. Harrison Smith was as advertised and even Mistral Raymond looked decent at the beginning of the year. We’re pretty well set at safety in the short term with two solid starters and a decent backup. If Blanton and Sendejo can continue to make progress as well, the safety position could become a strength of the team.
Special Teams: Blair Walsh, Chris Kluwe, TJ Conley, Cullen Loeffler
What a rookie year Walsh had, eh? I think we’ve found our long-term answer at kicker, barring some unusual sophomore slump. Kluwe is on the hotseat this year, and it will be interesting to see if Conley can unseat him in training camp. With Cullen Loeffler 32 years of age, it makes me wonder how many years he has left too. I doubt we do much to address any of these positions, unless Kluwe regresses this year.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to determine which positions I think are the weakest based on everything above. But for me, the biggest needs are those for which we don’t currently have a starting caliber player. I have the needs ranked into four Tiers:
Tier 1: Lacks a starting caliber player, or any player at all.
Tier 2: A position for which the current starter’s talent level is deemed too weak. A position in need of an upgrade.
Tier 3: A position that may not need a player now, but will in the next year or two. A position that needs a plan for the future.
Tier 4: The position is a team strength and there is no real need to address it.
One could make the argument that team philosophy or scheme should also factor in. For example, maybe a team has no fullback, putting that position in Tier 1, while at the same time also needing an upgrade at defensive tackle, which would put that in Tier 2. However, since we run a Tampa 2 style defense that is predicated on the front four being able to apply pressure without blitzing, maybe that Tier 2 upgrade for DT is actually more valuable than say, finding a starting caliber fullback. So, with that, here is how I would rank the Vikings needs by Tier, and then a ranking, in order of most pressing need overall.
Tier 1 Needs: LB, WR, CB
Tier 2 Needs: DT, OG, TE
Tier 3 Needs: DE, QB
Tier 4 Needs: RB, FB, OT, C, S
So, with 7 draft picks in the first 150 picks of the draft, we should be able to fill most of our team needs this draft. That will set us up to draft primarily in a “Best Player Available” mode for 2014 and beyond and ideally set us up to have something of a dynasty franchise (ideally). Here is a potential mock draft following the team needs identified above, and following the player grades on NFL.com and the overall rankings from CBSSports. It’s certainly possible that we try to trade one of our two 1st round selections, and I could see us going in either direction actually (up or down). But rather than speculate on trades (which would be more fun!), this will be a no-trades mock.
Vikings Mock Draft
Round 1, Pick #23: CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
One might have expected me to draft a MLB or WR with the first pick, but first round LB are a rarity, and while there are plenty of MLB options with starter potential, getting a blue chip CB prospect to replace Antoine Winfield was first on my mind. If Xavier Rhodes or Dee Milliner fall to #23, I’d pick them first, but assuming they’re both gone, Desmond Trufant makes for a good consolation prize. He comes from an NFL family, and has experience playing man and zone schemes. As a four-year starter, he comes with excellent experience and had an excellent combine and pro day. At 6’ 0” and 190lbs, he could bulk up a bit to add some strength, but he’s got elite cover speed, having run a 4.38 40 yard dash.
Round 1, Pick #25: LB Arthur Brown, Kansas State
This would be a prime spot to trade down and draft a LB at the top of the 2nd round. However, with Baltimore also looking for a MLB, we may just want to stay put and draft our top LB on the board here regardless rather than risk Baltimore taking our guy. The knocks on Brown are that he is a bit undersized at only 6’0”, and that he may lack maturity after transferring from a junior college and only having 1 year of starting experience. But he grades out athletically as the top ILB prospect, and CBS has him ranked #46 overall. We could also look at Kevin Minter, Manti Te’o, or even Alec Ogletree here as all of them will likely be on the board at #25.
Round 2, Pick #53: WR Terrance Williams, Baylor
I would take either Quinton Patton or Terrance Williams here, whichever is available. If pressed, I’d draft Williams and here’s why. Williams is taller, faster, stronger and had better college production. I think both guys grade out similarly, but I give the edge to Williams. Oh, and he led the NCAA with receiving yardage in a pass happy offense last year, so what’s not to like? He’s ranked #51 overall by CBS Sports so there is a very good chance he’ll be there for us in the 2nd round.
Round 3, Pick #85: DT Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
We’ve got to draft a DT named Williams, right? Sylvester Williams should be available for us in the 3rd round, and he’s got the size to take over at NT measuring 6’3” and 313 lbs. He’s a bit older, having spent time at a junior college before transferring to North Carolina, but he has experience playing both the 1 and 3 technique spots along the D-Line. That versatility would make him a valuable addition to our defensive tackle rotation.
Round 4, Pick #101: OG Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
Bailey is massive at 6’3” and 314 lbs, but he declared for the draft early, and has the unique ability to play at either right or left guard, making him a valuable depth addition. He could also provide competition to either guard position to possibly slot in as a starter.
Round 4, Pick #119: WR Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
He’s got prototypical size and speed for a WR in the NFL at 6’2” and 212 lbs, and he ran a 4.56 40 yard dash. He doesn’t have burner speed, but could be an excellent #2 option on the outside. After drafting Terrance Williams above, Hamilton would provide further depth and insurance. The knock against Hamilton is that he doesn’t win the battle at the line of scrimmage against press coverage consistently, and his catch radius is small. He lacks solid hands, but despite that had a very productive senior year catching 90 balls for 1,335 yards and 5 TDs.
Round 5, Pick #150: DE Cornelius Washington, Georgia
The Vikings have had some success drafting mid-round ends with both Robison and Griffen coming out of the 4th and 5th rounds. It’s possible they could draft Washington here and get lucky a 3rd time. Washington has prototypical size for the DE position, and has natural instincts as a pass rusher. However, he needs work on technique. If he learns to improve his technique after riding the pine behind the likes of Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen, he could eventually develop into a starter or decent backup option in a few years.
Round 6, Pick #181: TE Ryan Otten, San Jose State
Otten is a tall, pass catching TE that will need to bulk up his 230 lb frame at the next level. But he has decent run blocking skills and could provide some value as a backup/insurance option for John Carlson should he fail to produce in 2013.
Round 7, Pick #197 (from Arizona): QB Sean Renfree, Duke
A 5th year senior and 3-year starter at Duke, he has prototypical size as a traditional drop back passer in the NFL. He also had the same offensive mentor that coached the Manning brothers. An unfortunate injury to his throwing shoulder drops him to the top of the 7th round, and depending on what he does during his pro day next week will go a long way to determining his value. But as a 7th round flier, the Vikings could do a lot worse to shore up the #3 QB spot on the depth chart.
Round 7, Pick #215: WR Alec Lemon, Syracuse
I think it’s likely that the Vikings use one or two of these 7th round picks as fuel to trade up in an earlier round. But in case they don’t, loading up on another WR makes sense. Lemon has the size and production you look for in a prospect, but only ran a 4.59 40 yard dash. He lacks speed and agility, but broke school records in both high school and at Syracuse. He makes for a good late-round flier.
Round 7, Pick ?? (from Seattle): TRADED FOR FUTURE 6th
Since we don’t know exactly what pick this is going to be, I’m going to just trade it away for a 2014 6th rounder. Spielman did something similar last year, and we know he likes to have about 10 draft picks each year. Doing this would retain 10 picks this year and give us 9 next year with potentially more.