Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman's itinerary this spring just happened to include the pro days at college campuses widely expected to have the best offensive linemen in this week's NFL draft.
Spielman got personal looks with trips to Oregon to see tackle Penei Sewell, the 6-foot-5-inch, 331-pound bodyguard, to Northwestern where tackle Rashawn Slater furthered his case as the most complete prospect, and to Southern California where guard/tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker had an impressive pro day. All three are talented enough to immediately fill one of a couple holes in the Vikings offensive line, including at left tackle where Riley Reiff was cut this offseason.
But this year's class is also deep, with starting-caliber players expected to be available in the second and third rounds. So will the Vikings stay at No. 14, their first pick on Thursday night? Or will Spielman try to trade back, since he's without a second-round pick? What about trading up if the top blockers, Sewell or Slater, slip? Analysts' opinions vary on how the Vikings should address arguably the roster's biggest need. Minnesota has a first (No. 14) and two third-round picks (No. 78, 90) within the top 100.
"Rick with the extra third might want to be aggressive," said SiriusXM analyst Mark Dominik, a former NFL general manager. "I don't think you can wait until the third round. I think [offensive line] is too big of a need."
"Tackle is glaring at you," Dominik added. "You might have to use one of those threes to go get a guy. I think Minnesota is one of those sneaky teams that might be on the move."
There's an argument the Vikings are fine staying at No. 14, where former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, an NFL Media analyst, said who he considers the draft's top offensive guard, Southern California's Vera-Tucker, or a top defensive end could be available.
"The Vikings could have the pick of the litter at some of these positions," Jeremiah said. "They're in a really good spot."
A trade up is likely needed for Sewell or Slater, but Jeremiah is bullish on two others in Virginia Tech's Christian Darrisaw, a nimble mauler at tackle, or Vera-Tucker, who started at guard and tackle for the Trojans.
"Vera-Tucker is one of my favorite players," Jeremiah said. "He's going to be an All-Pro guard. I think he can hold up at tackle if you wanted him to. If you want to get better along that offensive line, I think he's one of the cleanest, safest picks."
Spielman could also leverage the Vikings' spot at No. 14 by trading back to another NFL team desperate for a sliding quarterback or defender. This year's class boasts many tall and athletic offensive tackles, including Oklahoma State's Teven Jenkins, North Dakota State's Dillon Radunz and Michigan's Jalen Mayfield, adding to Spielman's options.
Don't mess around by waiting, said Hall of Famer Gil Brandt, the former longtime Cowboys executive and current SiriusXM analyst.
"There are three linemen who I think are going to be pretty good," Brandt said of Sewell, Slater, and Vera-Tucker. "Wherever you can get a good offensive lineman, you got to take him. It's not as flashy, but when the Cowboys were doing so good, it was because of their offensive line more than anything."
It's almost certain that Spielman will make it five consecutive drafts in which he has selected an offensive lineman within the first three rounds. Three of the four recent picks — center Garrett Bradbury, guard Ezra Cleveland, and tackle Brian O'Neill — are starters, while 2017 third-round center/guard Pat Elflein was released last year. But a hole remains at left tackle, while an upgrade has long been needed at guard.
There shouldn't be hesitation in filling either spot with an early pick, according to Dominik, who pointed to Chiefs guard Joe Thuney's $16 million-per-year contract and successful early picks such as Washington's Brandon Scherff and Indianapolis' Quenton Nelson as reasons why you don't have to lock onto tackle as an offensive line's top pick.
"You can take a guard in the top 10," Dominik said. "It's just a matter of the talent. I think you'll see offensive linemen pushed up the board, because clubs are paying that position premium numbers [in free agency]."