Note: For the next five days, we’ll take an exclusive look at the Vikings’ draft. We’ll combine positions on some days in order to address as many areas as possible. Check for a new post by mid-morning through Thursday.
The issues: The Vikings continue to wait for Brett Favre to tell them if he will return for a 20th season and remain confident he will do so. The Vikings still have one of the NFL’s premier running backs in Adrian Peterson, but the loss of free-agent Chester Taylor to division rival Chicago cost them an extremely valuable backup.
What they have: Favre led the Vikings to a 12-4 regular-season record and a berth in the NFC Championship Game at New Orleans. Favre, who turned 40 on Oct. 10 and had surgery on his throwing shoulder last spring, had 33 touchdown passes (his most since 1997) and a career-low seven interceptions.
The Vikings would welcome back Favre – he has another year left on his contract at $13 million but there is a possibility the Vikings could end up with a replay of last summer when training camp opened with Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels battling for the job.
Jackson, a restricted free agent this offseason whose rights now belong exclusively to Minnesota, was the primary backup to Favre. Jackson appeared in eight games in relief of Favre, who often came out when the Vikings had substantial leads, and completed 14 of 21 passes for 201 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Jackson is 10-10 as a starter, including a playoff loss to Philadelphia in the 2008 season, and has proven to be inconsistent when given the main role. Rosenfels has only 12 starts (6-6) in 10 years.
The Vikings have one of the NFL’s best running backs in Peterson but is an outstanding third-down back with his ability to block and catch passes. Peterson will assume some of the role Taylor held, meaning he is going to have to improve as a blocker. According to the Vikings coaching staff, he has made strides in that area and also has improved as a receiver. He had a career-high 43 receptions in 2009.
Peterson’s biggest issue is holding on to the ball. He has rushed for 4,484 yards in three regular seasons but has fumbled 20 times and lost 13.
Peterson’s top backup is Albert Young, who had 12 regular-season carries in 2009 after spending the previous year on the practice squad. The Vikings like Young’s ability as a blocker and receiver. Minnesota added to its depth chart by moving wide receiver Darius Reynaud to running back. Reynaud played running back in high school and also was used at the position at times in college at West Virginia.
Ian Johnson, who spent last year on the practice squad, and James Johnson, signed to a futures contract in January after being on Cincinnati’s practice squad, also will compete for roster spots.
What they need: A quarterback of the future would be a good start. The Vikings brass doesn’t appear to be all that high on this quarterback class and having the 30th pick in the first round means that at least two QBs figure to be gone by the time Minnesota is on the clock. Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford figures to go No. 1 overall to St. Louis and despite speculation that Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen could free-fall it’s hard to believe he would be available with only three picks left in the opening round.
The X factor is Florida’s Tim Tebow. Vikings coach Brad Childress falls into the group of NFL executives who are enamored by the fact that Tebow is a winner. Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman saw Tebow display his re-tooled throwing mechanics (not such a looping motion) at his Pro Day last month, and Childress and Spielman recently put Tebow and several of his teammates through a private workout in Gainesville.
Tebow’s best opportunity to succeed in the NFL will be to go to a team where he can learn behind a veteran quarterback – New England and Tom Brady come to mind – and spending time as Favre’s backup could be a big benefit.
As for the running back position, California’s Jahvid Best has been mentioned as a possibility, but as a top-50 pick he might go too high for the Vikings’ tastes. Running back is a position that teams often can find a player in the middle rounds who turns out to be productive. Possible mid-round picks include Mississippi State’s Anthony Dixon, Tennessee’s Montario Hardesty and LSU’s Charles Scott.
Young, signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2008, figures to enter camp with the upper-hand on any competition.
Conclusion: The Vikings could surprise and try to grab Tebow if he’s there at 30, but odds seem better they will address some issues on defense. A later-round pick used on a running back would not surprise anyone.