Just one year after going 10-6 and making the playoffs, Minnesota Vikings finished last in the NFC North with a record of 5-10-1. The failure to build on 2012’s success ended up costing head coach Leslie Frazier his job. That could end up being a blessing, as the Vikings were able to land one of the most respected assistants in Mike Zimmer, who has been a defensive coordinator in the NFL since 2000 (Cowboys, Falcons, Bengals).
Minnesota has had had a pretty eventful offseason to this point. The Vikings have parted ways with Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, corner Chris Cook, linebackers Erin Henderson and Desmond Bishop, defensive tackle Letroy Guion, tight end John Carlson, and running back Tony Gerhart. No question the biggest loss was Allen, who led the team with 11.5 sacks.
The Vikings were able to bring in some key pieces in free agency, though most of those came on the defensive side of the ball. The two biggest names being corner Captain Munnerlyn (Panthers) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (Giants). They also added defensive end Corey Wooten (Bears), corner Derek Cox (Chargers), linebacker Jasper Brinkley (Cardinals), safety Kurt Coleman (Eagles), wide receiver Lester Jean (Texans), guard Vladimir Ducasse (Jets) and tight end Allen Reisner (Jaguars).
For Minnesota to get back in the hunt for the division title, they will need to have a strong draft. The Vikings will have an opportunity to add several key players, as they have four picks inside the first 100, including the No. 8 overall selection in the first round. The Vikings have 8 picks in total with multiple selections coming in the 3rd round. Here’s a look at the 5 positions I think Minnesota needs to target when they are on the clock.
Adding in a new coaching staff should help the Vikings part ways with Christian Ponder, who has been a complete bust in his three seasons since Minnesota selected him No. 12 overall. I’m also not sold on veteran backup Matt Cassel being the solution. If Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles falls to No. 8, the Vikings need to pull the trigger. If both are off the board, Minnesota could wait and hope to land a new signal caller with their 2nd round pick or package their 2nd and one of their 3rd round selections to move back into the 1st to make sure they get the guy they want. Either way, Minnesota needs a fresh start at the most important position on the field.
While Allen started to show signs of decline, he was still one of the more effective pass rushers in the game. They do get back Brian Robison, but I’m not convinced he will be as effective without the offensive line focusing their attention on Allen. The problem for Minnesota is that there’s not a player that’s going to be available at No. 8 even if they don’t elect to take a quarterback. Maybe someone like Missouri’s Kon Ealy will slide to them in the 2nd, but the most likely scenario will have the Vikings addressing this need in the middle rounds.
The Vikings have one of the top linebackers in Chad Greenway, but not much else in terms of talent alongside him. If Minnesota passes on a quarterback at No. 8, it would make a lot of sense for them to fill this void by taking Alabama’s C.J. Mosely, whose ability to play the run and drop back in coverage would be an ideal fit for the Vikings 4-3 scheme.
Starting free safety, Harrison Smith, only played in 8 games last year and as a result the Vikings finished 31st in the league against the pass. Smith should be ready to go for 2014, but the Vikings still need to find someone to team up with him at strong safety. This is another direction that Minnesota could turn to in the first round. Adding an elite safety would give Minnesota a pretty talented secondary on paper when factor in what looks like a dynamic cornerback duo with Munnerlyn and Xavier Rhodes.
Wide Receiver/Running Back:
One of the reasons Ponder couldn’t get the grasp of things, was the Vikings lack of skill players outside of All Pro running back Adrian Peterson. I like the potential of second-year wide out Cordarrelle Patterson and they have a couple of talented veterans in Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson, but more playmakers need to be added. It would make a lot of sense to take advantage of this deep receiver class, plus they need a new backup for Peterson with Gerhart no longer in town.
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