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Vikings draft preview: Uncertainty at quarterback returns for Vikings

Note: Until the 2017 NFL draft starts April 27, we’ll take a look at where things stand at each Vikings position group. We’ll combine some in order to address as many as possible. Check for a new post each weekday.

For the Vikings, no position has experienced more upheaval since the time we did these positional draft previews than quarterback.

This time a year ago, Teddy Bridgewater was heading into his third season after a steady start to his career. The 2014 first-round pick would go on to have a strong training camp and preseason before a fluke non-contact injury in an August practice ended his season, jeopardized his career and put the quarterback position back in flux for the Vikings.

A few days after Bridgewater was lost, the Vikings made a bold move to acquire Sam Bradford from the Eagles, giving up their first-round pick to get him. Given the team’s Super aspirations, it was an understandable move. And even though the Vikings came up well short of winning it all, their 8-8 record was not the fault of Bradford, who played pretty well behind one of the league’s leakiest offensive lines.

Days after the season, during which Bradford set the NFL’s single-season record for completion percentage, Mike Zimmer declared that Bradford would be the starter in 2017. The head coach also said he wanted Bridgewater to worry only about getting healthy. Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman continue to publicly say there’s no timetable for his return.

While Bradford is under contract for 2017, there are major questions the Vikings must answer in the coming weeks. Will they pick up Bridgewater’s fifth-year option by early next month? Should Bradford get an extension? And do they need to consider drafting a young QB this weekend?

And to think, this position seemed stabilized less than a year ago, when Bridgewater looked to be on the verge of a breakout third season.

Projected starter: Bradford, barring a Bridgewater miracle.

Don’t forget about: Taylor Heinicke. Last summer, the Vikings were eager to see if Heinicke could overtake veteran Shaun Hill to become Teddy’s top backup. But then Heinicke kicked through a glass door and missed all of camp and the preseason with an injury, costing him valuable reps. He will need a strong spring and summer to beat out free-agent addition Case Keenum and maybe a 2017 draft pick to be QB2 this season.

Level of need: Low in the short term. Beyond this season? [shrugs]

Five prospects to remember: C.J. Beathard, Iowa; Josh Dobbs, Tennessee; Jerod Evans, VT; Brad Kaaya, Miami; Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech.

Our best guess: Despite all the uncertainty at the position, the Vikings should be in good shape this season with Bradford, assuming he can stay healthy. Keenum is a capable backup and Heinicke intrigues. And they might add another developmental passer to this group in the later rounds if there is one they feel has promise. But the future of this position hinges on Bridgewater’s health. If he is unable to ever return, the Vikings in the 2018 draft might have to use an early pick on a quarterback again.

Favorite schools, most-picked positions and other Vikings draft trends

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When the Vikings drafted running back Adrian Peterson seventh overall in 2007, not only did they get a Hall-of-Fame talent, they also got rare stability at a position that other NFL teams have churned through.

Since the Vikings picked Peterson, 230 running backs have been drafted by NFL teams. But other than Peterson, the Vikings have only picked two.

Of those 230 other backs, 136 of them started fewer than eight games.

Now with the leading rusher in franchise history no longer on the squad, the Vikings are in unfamiliar territory. Despite signing Latavius Murray in free agency, they are expected to draft one at some point this weekend for the first time since selecting Jerick McKinnon in the 2014 third round.

They are also expected to add at least offensive linemen — the position they have picked the most since 2007 — to help that running back out.

So which other positions have the Vikings frequented in the draft? What schools and conferences do they prefer? When have they made most of their picks? And which one was their best? We will answer all of those questions and others in our annual look at Vikings draft trends.

These numbers, gleaned from Pro Football Reference's draft database, are based on a decade of drafting. That cut-off also happens to coincide with GM Rick Spielman's tenure with the team. He joined the front office after the 2006 draft and earned final say in the draft room six years later.

— The Vikings have drafted 83 players since 2007, an average of 8.3 per year. Of those picks, 41 were defenders, 40 were offensive players and two were kicking specialists. Spielman and the Vikings selected eight players last year, their lowest total since 2010. They drafted 10 players apiece in the 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015 drafts and nine in 2013.

— The Vikings have drafted 13 offensive linemen since 2007, tied with linebacker and defensive line as their most frequently-picked position group. Only two of those linemen were picked outside the first three rounds of the draft, though. They have instead picked up a bunch of blockers in the later rounds. Their nine selected on the final day of the draft since 2011 are tied with the 49ers for the most in the league.

— The Vikings have drafted a linebacker in the seventh round of each of the past five drafts, though 2016 seventh-rounder Stephen Weatherly, a 3-4 edge rusher in college, was picked to play defensive end.

— Despite having a seemingly-always-uncertain quarterback situation, the Vikings have only picked five passers in the past decade, one of whom (Joe Webb) who moonlighted as a wide receiver.

— Spielman doesn't figure to lose his "Trader Rick" nickname any time soon. He made another three draft-weekend trades last year and in the past five years Spielman has made 16 total deals during the draft, including three to trade from the second round back into the first (keep that in mind Thursday night). He has made at least two trades each of the past five years and twice made four during a draft (2012 and 2014).

— The Vikings have drafted players from 55 different schools in the past decade. Last year, they got six of their picks from schools they hadn't drafted from since 2007, including Western Michigan and Vanderbilt.

— Spielman has a reputation for picking Notre Dame players, but he hasn’t selected a Golden Domer since adding safeties Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton back in 2012. Meanwhile, he has taken four players from UCLA since 2013, including starting linebackers Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks. In the past decade, the Vikings have drafted four players apiece from UCLA, Notre Dame, USC, Oklahoma and Florida State.

— They have drafted as many players from Germany — that, of course, was wide receiver Moritz Bohringer in the sixth round last spring — as they have from the University of Minnesota. The last Gophers player they picked was linebacker Nate Triplett in the fifth round of the 2010 draft.

— Since 2007, Spielman and the Vikings have used more than half of their draft picks on players from three conferences — the ACC, the SEC and the Pac 12. They have picked 16 players from both the ACC (two last year) and SEC (three last year) and 13 from the Pac 12 (none last year, the first time they have not picked a player from that conference since 2009, when it was still the Pac 10). They have only picked eight players from the Big Ten and six from the Big 12 over the past decade.

— The Vikings have selected a dozen players in the first round since 2007, including wide receiver Laquon Treadwell last year. But barring a late-night trade Thursday, this will be their first draft without picking a player in the first round since 2010, when they traded out of the first round and picked cornerback Chris Cook early in the second.

— Speaking of second-rounders, Spielman has only picked two players in the second round since getting final say in 2012. And the Vikings as a team have drafted only eight players in that round over the past decade. They have picked even fewer players in the third since then, with six. They have drafted nine in the fourth, 13 in the fifth, 16 in the sixth and 19 in the seventh, including two more in the final round last year.

— The earliest selection they have made in the past decade was offensive tackle Matt Kalil at No. 4 overall in 2012. Their latest in a draft was the 244th pick last year, which they used on safety Jayron Kearse.

— Their most valuable five draft picks of the past decade, based on Pro Football Reference's weighted career approximate value, were in order Peterson, wide receiver Percy Harvin, center John Sullivan, defensive end Brian Robison and offensive tackle Phil Loadholt. Peterson, with an AV of 88, was by far the best of the bunch, with his approximate value doubling up Harvin, Sullivan and Robison, who are all tied for second at 43.

— With Peterson and the retired Chad Greenway no longer in purple, the team's longest-tenured draft pick is now Robison, who was selected in the fourth round in 2007. Robison, defensive end Everson Griffen and tight end Kyle Rudolph are the only current Vikings drafted before 2012. In all, 29 of the players on their 90-man offseason roster were Vikings draft picks.

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