Best player available or draft for need? Either way, the Vikings hope to add talent in the NFL draft to improve on an 8-7-1 record that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs. Here’s a position-by-position look at the team’s needs, from highest to lowest:
Level of need: Very high
Names to know: OT/G Jonah Williams (Alabama), C Garrett Bradbury (North Carolina State), OT Andre Dillard (Washington State), OT/G Cody Ford (Oklahoma) and OT Dalton Risner (Kansas State)
• Only Deshaun Watson in Houston was pressured more than Kirk Cousins last season, according to Pro Football Focus. The Vikings need to better protect the investment and open running lanes, which could start with the 18th overall pick. Instead of “best player available,” the Vikings could be positioned to take the best offensive lineman available. Depending on draft additions, left tackle Riley Reiff may be moved to guard, as could center Pat Elflein, who struggled last season. Or the Vikings could draft a left guard, such as Williams or Ford, to pair with free agent signing Josh Kline. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman hasn’t selected a first-round offensive lineman since Matt Kalil in 2012, but that may change Thursday night.
Level of need: High
Names to know: DT Ed Oliver (Houston), DE Brian Burns (Florida State), DT Dre’Mont Jones (Ohio State), DL Kinglsey Keke (Texas A&M) and DL Charles Omenihu (Texas)
• The Vikings lost defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in free agency and have an underrated need for another defensive end. Re-signing Shamar Stephen will help, but don’t be surprised to see the Vikings draft another tackle or end who can slide inside. The Vikings’ two reserve ends, Stephen Weatherly and Tashawn Bower, enter their contract seasons. Weatherly, 25, may have earned a starting job, but he’ll at least have a sizable role with Everson Griffen returning. Griffen’s restructured contract allows it to void after this season if he meets certain on-field parameters. Long-term depth at multiple spots remains a question mark, and this is just the draft class to find a gem or two after the first round.
Level of need: Moderate
Names to know: TE T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), TE Noah Fant (Iowa), TE Irv Smith Jr. (Alabama), TE Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M) and TE Kahale Warring (San Diego State)
• With both Kyle Rudolph and David Morgan entering the final seasons under contract, and assistant head coach Gary Kubiak influencing the offense, drafting another tight end seems likely for the Vikings. Kubiak’s system has been known to lean on two-tight end packages, so adding another vertical threat to the mix makes sense. It would mark the fifth consecutive draft taking a tight end, however Rudolph, a 2011 second-round pick, was the last selected before the fifth round. Top-end talent in this class is supplemented by possible mid-round picks like Sternberger, coming off a 10-touchdown season, or Warring, an inexperienced but rare athlete who could create mismatches in the NFL.
Level of need: Moderate
Names to know: CB Isaiah Johnson (Houston), S Amani Hooker (Iowa), CB Lonnie Johnson (Kentucky), S Marquise Blair (Utah) and CB Jordan Brown (South Dakota State)
• There are short-term and long-term questions in the Vikings’ stingy secondary. More is expected from top cornerback Xavier Rhodes after a down season. Four of the most experienced defensive backs enter contract years, including safety Anthony Harris and cornerbacks Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. Another corner, Mike Hughes, is six months into recovery from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. And corner Holton Hill is suspended the first four games of this season for PEDs. The Vikings have a well-established history of selecting cornerbacks in early rounds, so you can’t rule it out from happening again. At safety, depth could be addressed with a late-round pick or undrafted signing after Andrew Sendejo and George Iloka left in free agency.
Level of need: Moderate
Names to know: Germaine Pratt (North Carolina State), Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii), Drew Lewis (Colorado), Blake Cashman (Minnesota), Ryan Connelly (Wisconsin)
• Eight linebackers in five drafts have answered calls from the Vikings under coach Mike Zimmer. It’s a safe bet another will be selected during this NFL draft. Anthony Barr’s five-year extension keeps him and Eric Kendricks together through the 2023 season, at most. But depth could use reinforcements. Two of the Vikings’ three experienced backups, Eric Wilson and Kentrell Brothers, enter contract seasons. This draft class is not considered strong at linebacker, so the Vikings might, at best, just create competition for backup jobs behind Wilson and Ben Gedeon, who is signed through 2020. Zimmer questioned his linebacker depth during training camp last season. The Vikings have since spent time scouting late-round options, hosting Cashman, Connelly and Luke Gifford (Nebraska), among others, this month.
Level of need: Moderate
Names to know: WR Hakeem Butler (Iowa State), WR Andy Isabella (Massachusetts), WR Hunter Renfrow (Clemson), WR Jazz Ferguson (Northwestern State) and WR Miles Boykin (Notre Dame)
• Questions remain behind the Vikings’ star receiver duo, now under contract through the next five seasons after Adam Thielen’s extension, worth up to $73 million, signed this month. This could be the final season of Laquon Treadwell’s run in Minnesota, but intriguing depth behind two stars make a high-level investment unlikely in the draft. Two of last year’s rookies, Chad Beebe and Brandon Zylstra, are second-year projects with varying skill sets. Jordan Taylor (6-5, 210 pounds) is a depth signing and former Bronco under Kubiak. Other needs may be more pressing than taking a possible second-round pick like Butler, however intriguing he’d be in an offense with Thielen and Stefon Diggs. A late-round receiver, like Renfrow or Ferguson, seems more likely for the Vikings.
Level of need: Moderately low
Names to know: Alexander Mattison (Boise State), Jordan Scarlett (Florida), Tony Pollard (Memphis), Aeris Williams (Mississippi State) and Alec Ingold (Wisconsin)
• The No. 2 job was not addressed after Latavius Murray left in free agency to sign with the Saints. However, the value of drafting running backs — especially reserves — is debated because of the position’s short-lived careers and examples of late-round and undrafted stars. So the draft need is relatively low, even if the position could be prioritized in undrafted free agency like a year ago when Roc Thomas and Mike Boone were signed. Both remain options to spell Dalvin Cook, who has played in just 15 games during two injury-plagued seasons. The Vikings re-signed Ameer Abdullah, giving the former Lions’ second-round pick a chance to earn a role with a full offseason in the system. Expect the Vikings to add another running back after the draft.
Level of need: Low
Names to know: Kyle Kempt (Iowa State), Brett Rypien (Boise State), Easton Stick (North Dakota State), Manny Wilkins (Arizona State) and Taylor Cornelius (Oklahoma State)
• Spielman and the Vikings are the NFL’s only front office to not select a quarterback outside the first round in the past 10 drafts. The picks in that span include just two franchise-altering decisions in quarterbacks Christian Ponder (2011, 11th overall) and Teddy Bridgewater (2014, 32nd overall). So after the Vikings signed former Rams quarterback Sean Mannion to a one-year deal this month, joining the depth chart with Kirk Cousins and Kyle Sloter, it seems unlikely once again the Vikings will draft a quarterback. The best bet is a camp arm gets signed through undrafted free agency or after a tryout.