Two of my all-time favorite Viking draft picks were receivers: Randy Moss and Percy Harvin. I love the passing game for its acrobatic nature (especially with Moss), game-breaking ability and sheer thrill of playmaking. But I can’t suggest the Vikings take wideout in the 1st-round this year. They need to go after the pulse-pounding pick of an offensive lineman.
That’s right—offensive line--that “more-boring-the-better,” solid, work ethic, no nonsense, get-the-job-done, lunch-pail carrying offensive lineman pick. Doesn’t that get you fired up for OTA’s?
The Vikings have needs at multiple positions (something we have said for years about this team), as they seem to have been in rebuilding mode since Brett Favre left town in 2010. They could use a cornerback, a linebacker, a safety, and yes, a wide receiver. But the biggest need, in my opinion, is the offensive line.
In his first Mock Draft for Vikings Journal, Bo Mitchell outlined how the best pick available for the Vikings at No. 11 just might be a wide receiver. In fact, not just any receiver, but Devante Parker from Louisville--quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s old college teammate. It’s hard to imagine Teddy not hoping to get him if he is still available at 11 on draft night.
It’s also hard to ignore just what kind of impact that rookie wide receivers had on the NFL this past season. Odell Beckham, Jr., in New York, Mike Evans in Tampa Bay, Sammy Watkins in Buffalo, Kelvin Benjamin in Carolina—all in the top 25 in receiving yardage in their rookie year. Even Davante Adams in Green Bay showed on Sunday how valuable he is to the Packers (seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown against Dallas) and will be going forward. All these players had better seasons than the Vikings got out its second year wideout Cordarrelle Patterson.
Which is exactly why the Vikings need another young, fast, athletic target for Bridgewater to throw to, right? Perhaps.
The Vikings wide receiving corps, which had a rookie quarterback throwing to it most of the season, did not have a great year. The unit includes aging veteran Greg Jennings, the slight but speedy Jarius Wright (who is looking for a contract extension), the underachieving Patterson and the newcomer Charles Johnson. The crew is not exactly “Three Deep,” that triumvirate of Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Reed from long ago.
But speaking of Carter, his son Duron Carter worked out for the Vikings and several other teams last week and he has the Vikings on the top of his wish list. After a previous failed tryout with Minnesota, Duron had a great season in the CFL and returned for another workout. If the Vikings sign Carter, at the very least he would add depth to the team’s receivers and could turn out to be another rose just waiting to bloom—as Johnson started to this year for the Vikings. A signing of Carter might indicate the Vikings are not looking to the first round of the draft for wideout help.
Aside from Jennings, the Vikings have a very young receiving corps with plenty of potential. If Johnson continues to progress, Patterson takes his Mike Zimmer-appointed mentor lessons to heart and figures things out and Carter (if signed) is the real deal, the receiving crew suddenly doesn’t look so bad. With a quarterback such as Bridgewater, who can already find all of his receivers, the emphasis on a new No. 1 pass catcher is lessened just a bit.
And who can help Bridgewater find those receivers? A very good pass-protecting offensive line. Bridgewater didn’t have that in 2014, and Zimmer knows it. In a very telling statement that was meant as a compliment to his rookie quarterback, Zimmer made the implication that Bridgewater improved despite the blocking he received.
“He improved so much throughout the course of the year. He ended up being a 6-6 starter,” Zimmer told ProFootballTalk.com. “But you know the thing that really impressed me as the season went on was his ability to move in the pocket to avoid the rush. I wouldn’t call Teddy a scrambler, but when he decides to run, he’s quick with his decisions, he’s quick with his decisions about getting rid of the football.”
That’s because Bridgewater was often running for his life. Like Christian Ponder did before him, Bridgewater will need to hit the weights this offseason to bulk up his own personal protective armor. But the Vikings could help him out by drafting another lineman with their first-round pick. Improve the protection for Bridgewater and the entire offense improves. Improve the offense and maybe those close losses from last season turn into wins in the future.
Take the Dallas Cowboys as evidence. They drafted guard Zack Martin in 2014 and he immediately made great contributions. In fact, three of the Cowboys’ last four first-rounders have been offensive linemen, and they finished as a top-5 offense in the regular season and were a play away from potentially getting into the NFC title game.
The Vikings took Matt Kalil with the fourth overall pick in 2012 NFL Draft, and he made the Pro Bowl that season. He has struggled the past two seasons, but perhaps another young tackle will push him to get better. In fact, a top-tier guard to play alongside him (to replace Charlie Johnson, who will be 31 in May) could strengthen the left side of the line. With all the injuries to the line this season, depth, at the very least, is needed to strengthen this unit.
In his mock draft, Mitchell identified the need on the offensive line (and later hinted that if the Vikings sign Carter, and he is as good as advertised, his next mock draft won’t have Minnesota grabbing a wideout at No.1), unfortunately, he said that the pickin’s are slim in first round linemen:
“There are no interior linemen worthy of selecting [at No. 11], according to most observers. There are plenty of tackles that would make sense here, however – guys like Cedric Ogbuehi, La’El Collins, T.J. Clemmings, Ereck Flowers and Andrus Peat.”
So, perhaps Rick “Wheel and Deal” Spielman might want to trade out of the pick for a later first rounder and perhaps an early second round pick and fill two needs. Or he could move up and select Brandon Scherff, offensive tackle from Iowa that some say has enough flexibility to play guard in the pros. Between him and Kalil, Teddy’s blindside would be covered. Furthermore, with three of five offensive lineman suffering injuries this season (two of them season-ending), a lineman with position flexibility might be just who the Vikings need.
Let me state that I usually all about getting the flashy skill players who can step on the field and upgrade your team right out of the gate (Adrian Peterson was a pretty dynamic pick in 2007). And offensive lineman is not sexy. In fact, in this draft it doesn’t appear to be “best player available,” which so many general managers use as their rationale when the guy they wanted is already gone.
I just figure that Zimmer will fix a few defensive deficiencies during free agency—and besides, the defense got the team’s top first round pick last year with Anthony Barr—and go offense this year. And if the Vikings can get someone who can contribute on the line right away and can grow with the young quarterback of the future, it would be the best way to move the offense—and the team--forward in 2015.
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Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.