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Vikings draft primer: D could be even better with the right defensive tackle

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.

The defensive line was again Minnesota's strongest position group last season, with defensive end Everson Griffen and nose tackle Linval Joseph both getting Pro Bowl invitations. Veteran end Brian Robison had 7.5 sacks, his highest total since Mike Zimmer was hired in 2014. And Danielle Hunter, with 12.5 sacks, looked like a stud in his second year.

But while the front four was collectively pretty good, it was not great due to the gaping hole at defensive tackle left by Sharrif Floyd.

The oft-injured former first-round pick appeared in only one game before undergoing what was supposed to be a minor surgery on his right knee. Three months later, the Vikings put Floyd, still not healed, on IR. It was revealed last month that Floyd had suffered nerve damage during that September surgery, putting his career is in jeopardy.

Trying to fill the void, the Vikings signed former Packers defender Datone Jones in free agency in the hopes he can play that three-technique spot. They also return pass-rushing specialist Tom Johnson and run stuffer Shamar Stephen, who split time next to Joseph with Floyd sidelined.

But this is a position the Vikings are expected to address in the draft.

The Vikings are pretty set at defensive end, with Griffen, Hunter and Robison all returning in 2017. The big offseason question there is whether Hunter will start at left end this season or will still be behind Robison, who accepted a pay cut to stick around, on the depth chart.

Projected starters: Griffen and Hunter at defensive end, Joseph at nose tackle and Jones (or perhaps a high draft pick) at defensive tackle.

Don't forget about: Johnson. While Johnson was exposed a little bit last season because he was asked to play too many snaps with Floyd out, he has shown he can be an effective role player when used predominantly as a pass rusher. Johnson is 32 and coming off a hamstring injury, but he probably still has enough juice left to again be a disruptive reserve.

Level of need: High at defensive tackle, low at end and nose tackle.

Five prospects to remember: Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida; Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU; Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn; Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State; Tanzel Smart, DT, Tulane.

Our best guess: The Vikings will strongly consider taking a long-term replacement for Floyd on the second day of the draft, when they have one selection in the second round and two in the third. They could look to add another edge rusher in the late rounds if there is one they like. And with Stephen in a contract year and Joseph turning 29 during the season, don't rule out them drafting a nose tackle, too. One presumes Zimmer and the Vikings want to make sure this group remains strong.

Vikings draft preview: Kicker, punter competitions could reshape specialists

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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.

After sticking by Blair Walsh through inconsistency, the Vikings won’t be relying on just one kicker or punter heading into this season.

Kai Forbath, who replaced Walsh in the middle of last season, hasn’t yet locked down the job after converting all 15 field goal attempts in seven games for the Vikings. Forbath did miss three extra points, including one blocked, while following up Walsh’s four one-point misses last season.

He’ll compete with kicker Marshall Koehn, whom the Vikings signed this offseason after a tryout last fall. He made 16 of 20 field goal attempts during his 2015 senior season at Iowa. Koehn’s longest make came from 57 yards away.

After losing punter Jeff Locke to the Colts, the Vikings brought in veteran Ryan Quigley to compete with Taylor Symmank. Quigley, 27, is a reclamation project having posted a career-low average (41.6 yards) in six games for the Cardinals last season. The Vikings are Quigley’s seventh team in six NFL seasons.

Long snapper Kevin McDermott will be unchallenged after signing a four-year contract extension last summer.

Projected starters: Kicker Kai Forbath, punter Ryan Quigley and long snapper Kevin McDermott

Don’t forget about: The need at kick returner. The Vikings have two untested specialists, Symmank and Koehn, to stir competition at both punter and kicker. You’d have to look harder to find candidates to replace All-Pro kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. Punt returner Marcus Sherels hasn’t held the job since 2012, so the Vikings should be seeking that skill from a player in next week’s draft. 

Level of need: Moderate at punter. Low at kicker.

Five prospects to remember: Worth Gregory, P, East Carolina; Justin Vogel, P, Miami; Cameron Johnston, P, Ohio State; Zane Gonzalez, K, Arizona State; Jake Elliott, K, Memphis

Our best guess: The Vikings may add a late-round pick or undrafted free agent at kicker or punter, but both positions already have competitions established. Drafting a receiver or running back with college experience as a kick returner is a likely possibility.

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