With the 18th pick in the NFL draft, the Minnesota Vikings will select …

The draft is still two months away, but with the scouting combine starting next week now is as good a time as any to examine the question.

First take: Michael Rand

An offensive tackle. Please.

One of my most used (and most outrageous) stats is this one: Between 2003 and 2018, the Vikings used exactly one of their 18 first-round picks on an offensive lineman.

While you can’t blame all that neglect on the team’s No. 29-ranked offensive line in 2018 (according to Pro Football Focus), the larger point stands: Minnesota hasn’t consistently invested in offensive line talent, and that has consistently hurt the franchise.

Vikings writer Andrew Krammer: I’ll take you a step further. Only three teams — the Jets, Eagles and Packers — have drafted fewer offensive linemen in the first three rounds than the Vikings (four) since 2007.

Even with the standout play of rookie cornerback Mike Hughes before his knee injury, the Vikings would’ve benefited more from taking a prospect like UTEP guard Will Hernandez at 30th overall a year ago. Instead, Hernandez went four picks later to Pat Shurmur’s Giants and was named to the Professional Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team.

So here we are again. This time with two guards — Nick Easton and Tom Compton — set for free agency and another, Mike Remmers, on an expendable contract. They’ve discussed moving left tackle Riley Reiff to guard, a source told the Star Tribune this month, so that could open a window to draft a tackle. But they could use help at guard or tackle.

 

Rand: Then again, the Vikings could decide to address their offensive line woes through other routes like free agency or even a trade from a position of strength like cornerback.

If they felt like the value was better spent at another position with the No. 18 pick, they might be better off going that route instead of reaching. Because for as much as they’ve hurt themselves by not stockpiling high-end offensive line talent in the draft, they’ve also hurt themselves when drafting for need (hello, Christian Ponder and Laquon Treadwell).

How about a defensive tackle and a linebacker in the first two rounds, then let both Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson walk in free agency and spend all the money on O-line?

Krammer: You hear that? It’s Mike Zimmer yelling against this scenario. But if the Vikings front office finds money to spend, there could be a free-agency splurge like 2017.

Therein lies the problem with banking on free agency. The best don’t hit the open market, and maybe the top available don’t want to be cold. Two years ago, they heavily pursued tackles Andrew Whitworth and Russell Okung (both chose L.A. teams over Minnesota’s competitive offers), tried to re-sign Matt Kalil and settled on Reiff, who has underwhelmed.

But if proven veteran guards like the Rams’ Rodger Saffold or the Steelers’ Ramon Foster are attainable next month, why not try? Even then, the O-line could still use a tackle at pick No. 18. This defensive coaching staff can mold unheralded players. It’s time to make Kevin Stefanski’s job easier.

Rand: I’m giving Zimmer the top two picks to use on defense! Again! He can even take a corner if he wants.

 

Final word: Krammer

Can you stitch together three cornerbacks to make an offensive tackle? Jokes aside, I do think we’ll see the Vikings put an increased emphasis on the line during free agency and the NFL draft. Many jobs depend on it.

 

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