The last time the Vikings won the division prior to 2015 was 2009. In the draft following that season, in late April 2010, the Vikings acted like a team that already had plenty of good players on their roster and didn’t need much immediate help.
They traded out of the first round, chose cornerback Chris Cook with the second-round pick acquired in the deal, and later traded back into the second round to take running back Toby Gerhart — even though they already had an in-his-absolute-prime Adrian Peterson. The most productive player ended up being fourth-round pick Everson Griffen, who really didn’t do much until 2012 and didn’t become a major impact player until 2014.
The Vikings cannot afford to hold a similar opinion or strategy about this year’s draft. Because while the 2009 and 2015 Vikings are quite different — the first being a veteran bunch built to win now, the second being a team with a longer shelf life — the current Vikings 1) have plenty of holes to fill and 2) will soon start to feel the intensified burden of expectations in ways this franchise hasn’t felt since 2010.
If you don’t believe that second part or recognize what that burden can do — particularly with an imperfect roster plan — look at the slow start from the 7-15 Twins or the disappointing drop-off from this year’s Wild … or look at the 2009 to 2010 Vikings, who went from the cusp of the Super Bowl to a six-win mess with almost all the same players.
So yes, this is a Vikings team loaded with young talent and promise already. But the work cannot be finished. This organization cannot even hit the pause button. This is a very important draft leading into a critical season.
This is the year the Vikings find out, once and for all, which offensive linemen they want to keep and which they plan to move on from. The vast majority of the important linemen are either easily cuttable, in the final year of their deals, or both. New line coach Tony Sparano will be tasked with getting more out of them, while free agency at least added some talent and depth. But more needs to come from this draft. Not necessarily from the first round, but certainly by the third round.
If they are able to at least turn their offensive line into an adequate unit, this will be the year the Vikings find out a whole lot, too, about third-year QB Teddy Bridgewater. It feels like analysts and fans have graded his first two years all over the curve, but his true grade is incomplete. He hasn’t been given many of the tools to succeed. He’s succeeded in some ways in spite of that and failed on his own in others. But he needs, and will get, more help.
Part of that will most certainly come in the form of a wide receiver. I would be flabbergasted if the Vikings don’t take a big wideout with their No. 23 pick, unless Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Michael Thomas are all gone when they choose. Particularly if either of the first two are there, this seems like a no-brainer — and a need so strong that a trade up a few spots, with a coveted wideout in their sights, would not be out of line.
This is the year the Vikings will likely begin the transition from an Adrian Peterson-focused offense to a Bridgewater-focused offense. This transition seemed set to begin in 2015, and it really didn’t . It will be incumbent on Peterson and a slew of offensive coaches to figure out how to use everyone’s talents.
As Matt Vensel laid out today, you could make a case for the Vikings choosing a player from any number of positions in the first round. That underscores the vulnerabilities that still exist on the roster and the importance of rounds 2-7 Friday and Saturday.
In the NFL, if you think you’re good you’re quite possibly going to be proven wrong. And if you aren’t moving forward fast enough, you’re going to get passed. The Vikings are built for the long haul, but that’s still within the context of a brutally small window of opportunity in this league.
If the Vikings botch this draft, like they did in large part in 2010, the results will be felt both immediately and in the long-term.
If they nail it, everyone has permission to think big.