General Manager Rick Spielman is likely looking at the Vikings’ draft board Friday and seeing plenty of intriguing options for the second and third rounds.
The Vikings’ top need — offensive line — was addressed Thursday night with the 18th overall selection of center Garrett Bradbury out of North Carolina State. Spielman can now turn to the rest of the needs, defensive line and tight end, or maybe back to the offensive line.
The Vikings enter Friday with picks No. 50 (second round) and No. 81 (third round).
“We’re pretty true to following our board,” Spielman said of the Vikings’ remaining draft. “I know there are some other needs that we need to fill, but I’ll just say we’ll stay true to [our draft board] and what we see come off over the next two days.”
It wasn’t a shock to see NFL teams lurch at this draft’s defensive linemen, considered a deep group that saw nine picked within the first 20 selections on Thursday night. Expect Spielman to jump on that train eventually, especially after losing defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to Cleveland in free agency.
One of the most compelling fits left on the board is Ohio State defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, an athletic freak for his size (6-3, 281 pounds) who had 13.5 tackles for a loss and 8½ sacks last fall. Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer got an up-close look at him during the Buckeyes’ pro day in March. Defensive end, where Texas’ Charles Omenihu and Texas A&M’s Kingsley Keke could be fits, is also a potential need for the Vikings. Everson Griffen’s contract can void after this season and Stephen Weatherly enters his contract year.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of good defensive linemen in this draft,” Zimmer said.
At tight end, keep an eye on Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama) and Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M), both of whom could be immediate impact players for the Vikings behind Kyle Rudolph. Adding intrigue to Friday’s rounds are reports out of Boston the Patriots could be interested in trading for Rudolph, the 29-year-old tight end with one season left under contract.
The Vikings entered the draft with less than $2 million in salary cap space, according to NFL Players Association records, and could benefit from moving Rudolph’s $7.625 million salary.
A move to clear space will need to be made just to sign the draft class, which Spielman acknowledged this week by saying the Vikings decisionmakers “have a plan.”
Smith, the son of the former Saints’ 1993 first-round pick Irv Smith, left the Crimson Tide after one breakout season in which he set the school single-season record for tight ends with seven touchdowns. Smith (6-2, 242 pounds) is also the kind of versatile blocker the Vikings would welcome at his position.
Or the Vikings could turn attention back to the offensive line, where among the remaining prospects are tackles Jawaan Taylor (Florida), Dalton Risner (Kansas State) and Greg Little (Mississippi). The pick of Bradbury likely signals Riley Reiff remaining at left tackle, but a long-term option to protect quarterback Kirk Cousins’ blindside wouldn’t hurt.
Vikings officials made no promises Thursday night, knowing another 17 picks — barring a trade up — stand in the Vikings’ way before another selection.
Zimmer was asked if the Bradbury pick means the Vikings will now turn to improving his stingy defense.
“It’s really hard to say because you don’t know who’s going to be there,” Zimmer said. “There might be somebody we’re in love with on offense and we end up taking him, or like I say, you can never have enough corners. I know you guys love that.”