The Vikings have more pressing needs at middle linebacker, receiver and cornerback, but don’t be surprised if they draft a defensive tackle in the first round for the first time since taking Kevin Williams ninth overall 10 years ago.
Yes, it has been 10 years since the Vikings stocked the inner core of their defensive line with a blue-chip first-rounder. In fact, over the past nine drafts, the team has selected only four defensive tackles, none of them higher than the fourth round.
Asked if any of his “8,000 different scenarios” for Thursday’s first round includes an irresistible defensive tackle coming to Minnesota with the 23rd or 25th picks, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman just smiled.
“Potentially,” he said.
Spielman, of course, would have said the same thing regardless of the position in question. April isn’t a wise month for NFL general managers to share their innermost thoughts and dreams.
But look at this draft and you’ll see what Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman calls “the meat-and-potatoes draft.” Light on skill-position players, but heavy on, well, heavy guys.
“It may not be the flashiest thing, but it’s exciting,” Roseman said. “It’s hard to find big guys who can move, play with power.”
The first four picks could be offensive tackles or defensive ends/outside linebackers. Three left tackles could be taken in the first seven selections. Even a guard or two could go in the top half of the first round.
The Vikings won’t be taking an offensive tackle and probably wouldn’t take a guard. But defensive line, where age and expiring contracts are a concern, is another story.
Williams and the team’s top three defensive ends — Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen — are in the final year of their contracts. Williams recently accepted a pay cut from $7.5 million to a guaranteed $4.9 million for this season. He’ll most likely play for the Vikings this season, at age 33, but he’s no longer under contract for 2014.
“One thing I’m looking at very hard is where our depth is in 2014 as well,” Spielman said. “If there’s a significant player there that may not have as big a significant role in 2013 but can have a tremendous impact for our team in 2014, that is definitely going to come into consideration as well.”
There are four or more defensive tackles who could go in the first round Thursday night. Typical of first-rounders at that position, these are players who have the rare combination of tremendous size, power, quickness and foot speed. Just like Williams had back in 2003 when the Vikings were lucky enough to miss their draft turn twice and still end up with one of the best defensive tackles in team history.
Utah’s Star Lotulelei, a 6-3, 325-pounder, is a potential top-10 pick now that it appears his heart issue, which was discovered at the scouting combine in February, isn’t a concern. Florida’s Sharrif Floyd, who is smaller but still strong at 6-3, 295, also is up there.
Missouri’s Sheldon Richardson (6-4, 295) could fall to the Vikings, but the defensive tackle whose name has been linked to the Vikings the most through various mock drafts is North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams (6-3, 305). Ohio State defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins also is a possibility in the second round.
The Vikings have had a lot of success at defensive tackle despite little investment through the draft the past decade. Part of that is the longevity of Williams, a five-time All-Pro who remains an effective player. Part of it was getting six strong seasons (2005-10) out of free-agent nose tackle Pat Williams.
As for the draft, the only players the Vikings selected from 2004 to 2012 were C.J. Mosley in the sixth round in 2005, Letroy Guion in the fifth round in 2008, Christian Ballard in the fourth round in 2011 and Trevor Guyton in the seventh round last season.
Mosley was traded after his rookie year and Guyton never made it out of his first training camp. Guion starts at nose tackle while Ballard remains a promising backup.
“There are a lot of good defensive tackles [in this draft],” Spielman said. “I don’t want to compare any of these players to Kevin Williams because I think Kevin Williams is one of the greatest defensive tackles to play that under [tackle] position. I wish I could predict that [about another player], but I don’t know that. But I know we feel very strongly about a lot of these defensive tackles in this draft.”