There has been a lot of change at Winter Park over the past few months and more to come. New coaching staff. New weight program. New meeting room. New players. New quarterback?
One of the spots with the most change has been the defensive line, where the Vikings could have at least three new starters. Defensive cornerstones Jared Allen and Kevin Williams are gone, and youngsters Sharrif Floyd and Everson Griffen are expected to step up and replace the two of them. They also gave Linval Joseph a big contract to be their new man mountain in the middle.
Those moves, along with the signing of Corey Wooten and the re-signing of Fred Evans, gives new coach Mike Zimmer a capable rotation to work with. But that doesn’t mean the Vikings won’t address the defensive tackle and end positions in the draft, maybe as early as Round 1.
Zimmer liked to roll through his defensive linemen during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, sometimes so frequent it looked like he was running hockey line changes. Of course, having a lot of talented big men on the roster allows you do to that. The Vikings aren’t quite there yet.
This draft class is loaded at many spots, and both defensive line positions are no exceptions.
South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney is widely considered to be the top player in the draft and one of the top pass-rushing prospects of this generation. Aaron Donald of Pittsburgh and Ra’Shede Hageman of Minnesota are one of a bunch of tackles who could go in the first round.
There are also intriguing options in the later rounds who have both have talent and question marks, so count on the Vikings picking at least one defensive lineman with their eight picks.
PROJECTED STARTERS: From left to right on the line, Brian Robison, Joseph, Floyd and Griffen.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT: Chase Baker may never become a starter, but the 300-pound nose tackle who was signed as a rookie free agent in 2012 could develop into a player that is trusted to play a dozen or so snaps a game. He showed that against the Seattle Seahawks last season.
LEVEL OF NEED: Moderate. The Vikings have a starting four in place and serviceable backups in Wooten and Evans, so taking one early may be a luxury pick, albeit one at a premium position.
FIVE PROSPECTS TO REMEMBER: Donald, Hageman, Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin and Concordia defensive end Zach Moore.
OUR BEST GUESS: Unless Zimmer bangs the table for Donald, who is drawing comparisons to Bengals All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Vikings will address one of their needs at No. 8 overall. But they could be on the lookout for an end, a tackle or both later in the draft weekend.