With the Adrian Peterson situation looking as unsettled as ever, it’s going to be difficult to accurately determine where our team needs the most help. However, as draft day continues to inch closer, those of us who live for football can’t help but speculate on who the team will target throughout the draft. Those decisions will depend in no small part, on positions where the team is weak and wants to improve.
The old mantra of drafting the best player available should still be used in this draft to some degree. But if the BPA is for a position that team clearly already has an overloaded abundance of talent, they would be better served to try to fill other vacancies on the roster instead. So I’m going to break down the roster and attempt to determine what positions should get the highest priority in the draft, once the team decides to start using team need to determine what player they should draft.
Offensive Line: Having 4 out of 5 starters returning to this group is encouraging, even moreso when the ones who were injured appear to be healthier than ever, and the high draft pick who has been under-performing is receiving high praise from the head coach. But there’s still a large hole at left guard. The starter, who arguably was the group’s largest weakness over the past few years was cut, and the team has made no moves to replace him. 2014 draft pick David Yankey may be ready to take over. He was projected to be drafted much higher than the 5th round where the Vikings were able to nab him, but even with the litany of injuries to the starters, he never took the field. Still, right guard Brandon Fusco didn’t play in his rookie season, but has been a reliable starter since. Unless Yankey is cleared as a definitive starter though, Left Guard should be among the top priorities for the team once the draft rolls around.
Receivers: This group includes WRs and TEs whose primary responsibilities are in the passing game. That includes Kyle Rudolph, Chase Ford, Jarius Wright, Cordarrelle Patterson, Charles Johnson, Adam Theilen, and newly acquired veteran Mike Wallace. Wallace comes over from Miami with a Diva reputation, but also with some big play potential to back it up. The loss of Jennings may be minimized by the performance of Jarius Wright who has been underutilized by the team so far, compared to his abilities. The team is only slightly lacking in support for Wallace from a gunner on the other side of the field, but Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has expressed a lot of support for Johnson, and the team still has high hopes that Patterson can still learn to fill that role. This appears to be a small need for the team, and they should only address it if a great player slips much farther in the draft than he should, regardless of how tempting it may be to reunite Teddy with his former College or High School targets.
Running Backs: To keep things a little shorter, this group also includes TEs who are utilized more in the blocking scheme, and may transition to FB from time to time. They include Adrian Peterson, Jerrick McKinnon, Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard, Zach Line and Rhett Ellison. This group is the big wild card. If Adrian Peterson plays for the team this year, and plays to his potential, then they are set to amaze us all in 2015. If, on the other hand, Adrian continues his tantrum into the season, they’re in need of some help. Unless things change in a hurry, the team may be better off trading Peterson for a high draft pick, and using that on one of the many promising rookies entering the draft this year. But that’s one big ‘if’ that can only be answered by Spielman at this point in time.
Quarterbacks: Teddy Bridgewater is joined by new free agent acquisition Shaun Hill, (who spent his first 4-years with the Vikings, but only played in one game), and all-around nobody Pat Devlin. The team would be wise to add one more depth player very late in the draft, but shouldn’t be worried at all about the position so long as they can keep Teddy healthy.
Defensive Tackles: The team has two good starters in Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd, who are supported by possibly the best backup DT in the league, Tom Johnson. Shamar Stephen also saw time, rotating in during his rookie year and got some good experience. This is another position in which the team shouldn’t pull the trigger unless a DT is far and away the BPA when one of their picks comes around in the draft.
Defensive Ends: Two more starters return to this group in Everson Griffen and Brian Robison. Although he’s under-performed a bit, Robison has still been a respectable starter ever since he stepped into the role, but his play has diminished recently with age. Add to that his relatively high annual salary, and it’s starting to look like a good time to start searching for his replacement. Scott Chrichton was drafted in the third round last year to potentially take on that role, but didn’t see the field at all in his rookie season, leaving his ability in question. With both starters returning, this still isn’t a huge need, but the team would be wise to start looking for someone in the early-mid rounds to develop and start pushing Robison out the door.
Linebackers: Anthony Barr, Chad Greenway, Audie Cole, Gerold Hodges and Michael Mauti all return to the team this year, along with rookie Brandon Watts who has yet to play in a game. Casey Matthews was added as a free agent, but hasn’t impressed many in his career so far in the NFL. The starting middle line backer was allowed to walk in free agency, leaving many people to speculate that the team should target his replacement early in the draft. However, with Greenway’s effectiveness on the outside starting to dwindle, I have been arguing that the team would be better suited to move him to the middle for the final couple years of his career while the team works on developing Cole and Hodges on the outside. This will help to minimize any losses if the team can’t find a starter in the draft, but will still allow them flexibility to draft one of the many higher quality OLBs in the early rounds of the draft once a better player slips through the cracks.
Cornerbacks: The team boasts one of the NFL’s best and most underrated corners in Xavier Rhodes, and they have just added a respected starter who seems to follow Zimmer around the NFL like a faithful puppy. While older, Terrance Newman provides the team with a man that the coaching staff trusts to man the outside and help the young players along for a year while the coaches develop his eventual replacement. This also allows Munnerlyn to settle into his natural position in the slot, and keeps the less-than-stellar Robinson on the sideline unless an emergency arises. This also gives youngsters Shaun Prater and Jabari price a little more leeway to develop their skills. While the position appears to be reliably covered for this season, the team should have no qualms in drafting a stud early on if they see a guy who has the potential to shine in Zimmer’s system.
Safeties: Harrison Smith was a pro-bowl snub, and will be preparing a big year to help him solidify a new deal before his rookie contract expires. Assisting him will be Robert Blanton, who probably unjustly has been the recipient of heavy criticism from fans. Backing them up are 2014 rookies Ahmad Dixon and Antone Exum Jr., along with Andrew Sendejo and FA acquisition Taylor Mays. This group is pretty deep with young potential, but it’s also a lot of unproven potential. The first two rounds of the draft would definitely be better suited to address different positions, but BPA can easily come into play for Safety after that.
Special Teams: Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but long snapper Cullen Loeffler is starting to show his age. The team should definitely try to target an offensive lineman who can specialize in the long snapping duties in the later rounds of the draft so that they don’t have to keep the withering Loeffler around much longer. As a kick returner, Patterson had disappeared a lot in his second year, but hopes are that he will return to form soon. Punt returner Marcus Sherels still remains one of the better at the job in the NFL, so competition for him shouldn’t be much of a factor in the deciding process for the draft.