Leading into the NFL Draft starting Thursday, April 25th, the Star Tribune will assess the Vikings roster, draft history and college prospects during this eight-part series.

No. 8 need: Quarterbacks
No. 7: Running backs
No. 6: Receivers
No. 5: Linebackers
No. 4: Defensive backs
No. 3: Tightends
No. 2: Defensive line
No. 1: Offensive line

Only Deshaun Watson in Houston was pressured more than Kirk Cousins last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Vikings need to better protect the investment and open running lanes, which could start with the 18th-overall pick. While they could move left tackle Riley Reiff to guard, let’s be mindful of this draft’s depth. It’s supposed to be deeper at tackle, where the Vikings could wait to add on Day 2 while selecting a center or guard in the first round. Should they draft a center, Pat Elflein could also move to guard. Or the Vikings could draft a left guard, such as Alabama’s Jonah Williams or Oklahoma’s Cody Ford, to pair with free-agent signing Josh Kline.

General manager Rick Spielman hasn’t selected a first-round offensive lineman since Matt Kalil in 2012, but that may change Thursday night.

Level of need
No. 1. There’s no questioning the Vikings’ priority heading into the NFL Draft. Soaring costs of free agents kept them out of most bidding wars, leading to just Kline’s signing. This week, Spielman lauded depth of this offensive line class, which could bode well even if they start flying off the board before the 18th pick.

Contract years
Tackles
OT Riley Reiff (2021)
OT Brian O’Neill (2021)
OT Rashod Hill (2019)
OT Storm Norton (2020)
OT Adam Bisnowaty (2019)

Interior
C/G Pat Elflein (2020)
G Josh Kline (2021)
G Danny Isidora (2020)
C/G Brett Jones (2019)
G Aviante Collins (2019)
G Dakota Dozier (2019)
C Cornelius Edison (2020)

Draft history
OT Brian O’Neill (2018, 62nd overall)
G Colby Gossett (2018, 213th overall)
C/G Pat Elflein (2017, 70th overall)
G Danny Isidora (2017, 180th overall)
OT Willie Beavers (2016, 121st overall)
OT T.J. Clemmings (2015, 110th overall)
OT Tyrus Thompson (2015, 185th overall)
OT Austin Shepherd (2015, 228th overall)

Don’t forget about
Aviante Collins. The former TCU tackle played every position but center last summer during training camp, even starting a preseason game against the Jaguars over a struggling Brian O’Neill. Then a September elbow injury suffered in practice ended his season. Collins has the demeanor and athleticism to make the roster again this season as a primary backup at guard and tackle.

Five names to know
G/T Jonah Williams, Alabama: A former five-star recruit and three-year starter for the Crimson Tide, Williams (6-4, 302 pounds) has a case for being the top guard or tackle prospect in this draft class. There are questions about his arm length and whether he’s best suited to play as an NFL guard, but there’s little doubt from draft analysts about Williams’ ability to make an impact immediately.

C Garrett Bradbury, North Carolina St.: Bradbury (6-3, 306 pounds) is praised for his intelligence and game tape versus Clemson’s defensive line. He could become the Vikings’ long-term answer at center should they decide to move Elflein to guard, where he played for three years at Ohio State. Quarterback Kirk Cousins took snaps from four different centers last year before getting out of September.

OT Andre Dillard, Washington St.: Dillard (6-5, 315 pounds) is regarded as one of the most refined pass-blocking tackles in this class. He’s reportedly received high marks for character, intelligence and athleticism, making him a likely coveted prospect. If he can become an impact run blocker, Dillard could star in the NFL.

G/T Cody Ford, Oklahoma: If the Vikings seek the rarest combination of size and athleticism, Ford (6-4, 329 pounds) might be their guy. He moved from guard to right tackle, where Ford earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a redshirt junior last season. He’s got plenty of refinement to do, but Ford would be another worthwhile project.

G/T Dalton Risner (Kansas St.): Risner (6-5, 312 pounds) started at right tackle and center for Kansas State, drawing comparisons to former K-State standout Cody Whitehair, who has started every game for the Bears since he was drafted three years ago. Risner may also project as an NFL guard depending on how he can handle speed rushes.

How it’ll happen
Our best guess is the Vikings will take the top interior offensive lineman available at No. 18, whether it’s a projected guard like Williams or Ford or a center in Bradbury. Spielman may not wait long to address the line again, maybe with another Day 2 or early Day 3 pick.

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Will Vikings draft from an 'outstanding' defensive line class?

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Need vs. best player available: Could Vikings get both in Oklahoma's Ford?