The best draft advice is repeated so frequently that it has entered the realm of cliché. And like many cliches, it is true.
Need is a terrible evaluator.
NFL teams drafting to fill obvious needs are prone to mistakes.
For example, if the Vikings in 1998 had drafted for need, they would not have taken Randy Moss. Three defensive backs went in the four picks following the Vikings' selection of Moss with the 21st pick in the first round. The Vikings could have used help in the defensive backfield, but who would you rather have on your team: Moss, or Tebucky Jones?
To offer a negative example of drafting for need, when the Vikings traded Moss to the Oakland Raiders for the seventh pick in the draft, they used the seventh pick on a receiver to replace Moss. They drafted Troy Williamson No. 7. He was fast. He did not replace Moss.
The Vikings drafted for need yet didn't fill it — a form of drafting double jeopardy.
There is a possibility that in the 2021 draft, the Vikings could find themselves in a position to take the best player available at a position of need. This could be the magic draft that allows the Vikings to get value with the 14th pick, and have that value fix their biggest problem.
They have been trying to build or rebuild their offensive line since the middle of the last decade. They currently have one outstanding young offensive lineman, in Brian O'Neill, and a couple of promising youngsters in Garrett Bradbury and Ezra Cleveland.
Add one outstanding young tackle to that group, and offensive line could cease to be the Vikings' most nagging problem.
The best thing that could happen to the Vikings on Thursday night would be either Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater or Oregon tackle Penei Sewell falling to the 14th pick.
If that happens, the Vikings' decisionmakers should take whichever is available and immediately begin spraying champagne.
If neither is available, or if the Vikings realize that neither will be available, their decisionmaking process becomes unfortunately intriguing.
• Trade up to get Sewell or Slater. Sounds logical, but the Vikings don't have a second-round pick. Can Rick Spielman stomach giving up what it would take to trade up in the first round, and will such a deal be available at a reasonable price?
• Trade down, hoping to land a lesser offensive line prospect who could still start for this team, while picking up extra picks. If Sewell and Slater are gone and the Vikings don't see much difference in Christian Darrisaw, Alijah Vera-Tucker and other second-tier offensive line prospects, they could trade down and use extra picks to address their needs at cornerback and edge rusher.
• Take the best player available at No. 14 even if that player doesn't help the offensive line. This is where the influence of coach Mike Zimmer could become dangerous, and the Vikings could take a quality cornerback or defensive end and enter another season with a problematic offensive line.
This is also where the cliché about avoiding drafting for need comes into play.
Yes, the Vikings taking a defensive player when they have an offensive need would be annoyingly familiar, but what if a superior defender falls to them?
Consider the 2014 draft. The Los Angeles Rams were picking 13th, and wound up with perennial Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.
The players who went before Donald: Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Blake Bortles, Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack, Jake Matthews, Mike Evans, Justin Gilbert, Anthony Barr, Eric Ebron, Taylor Lewan and Odell Beckham Jr.
There are a handful of quality players on that list. None are as good as Donald, and no team should have let immediate needs keep them from taking Donald.
So, good luck, Vikings. All you need to do is fix your problems and address your needs without letting your problems and needs keep you from taking a great player at another position.
What could go wrong?