The Vikings head into this week’s NFL draft with plenty of currency. They have two picks — Nos. 23 and 25 — on Thursday and 11 selections overall, offering General Manager Rick Spielman ample opportunity to upgrade the roster.
So just how will the organization choose to use its picks? Here’s how we see the Vikings’ priorities by position:
Level of draft need: High. Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson bring continuity. But the Vikings are without a starting middle linebacker and need to find a guy who not only has athleticism, toughness and coverage ability but offers intangibles as an on-field leader and can be relied on as a three-down force.
Level of draft need: High. Antoine Winfield’s exit — released March 12, signed by Seattle on April 12 — might have made cornerback the position of highest priority for the Vikings. At present, the team’s top three corners are Chris Cook, Josh Robinson and A.J. Jefferson. And there’s little quality depth beyond that.
Level of draft need: High. Even with Greg Jennings aboard, the Vikings owe it to themselves to surround quarterback Christian Ponder with as many weapons as possible if they want to complete his three-year evaluation fairly. Ponder and the offense badly need an outside speed threat. More reliable depth at the position is necessary, too. Nabbing at least two receivers in the draft seems likely.
Level of draft need: Moderate. The Vikings are content with the way the Letroy Guion-Fred Evans tandem worked at nose tackle in 2012, so the priorities at defensive tackle will revolve around finding additional three-technique options in the search for Kevin Williams’ successor. The defensive end position seems more solidified. But it is worth noting that Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen are all entering the final year of their contracts.
Level of draft need: Moderate. The Vikings started the same five players for all 16 games last season. And that quintet returns intact with growing confidence and chemistry. But more quality depth is needed. Day 3 could be the place to find some.
Level of draft need: Moderate. While there again might be a startling lack of depth at cornerback, the Vikings feel they have a full stable of potential playmakers at safety. Harrison Smith is the headliner while Jamarca Sanford, Mistral Raymond and Robert Blanton all have promise in their own ways. Coach Leslie Frazier is thrilled with the level of competition that exists.
Level of draft need: Low. After a ridiculously good rookie campaign, Blair Walsh’s job is safe. But is punter Chris Kluwe’s? Kluwe had left knee meniscus surgery in the offseason, and Spielman hasn’t exactly stamped his eccentric punter as “untouchable.” The GM signed punter T.J. Conley in January and could eye the draft for options. With Percy Harvin gone, the Vikings also might look for an explosive returner.
Level of draft need: Low. The league’s MVP (Adrian Peterson) has a Pro Bowl lead blocker (Jerome Felton). The depth chart seems solid for 2013. But Toby Gerhart also is entering the final year of his rookie contract. And if he seeks to hit free agency to find greater opportunity in 2014, the Vikings might want to start shopping for potential backfield backups.
Level of draft need: None. Kyle Rudolph still is ascending, a dangerous red zone weapon who made great strides with his blocking a year ago. In Frazier’s words, Rhett Ellison still sets the standard as the team’s best blocking tight end, which has earned him a chance to be on the field more in 2013.
Level of draft need: None. Heading into the season, Ponder is the undisputed starter. Matt Cassel owns the backup role. With so many other needs, using a pick on a quarterback seems impractical.