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By Alex Rotenberger
There is no doubt that the face of this year’s NFL draft is the Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from Texas A & M, Johnny Manziel. He is the most talked about and polarizing players by far in this deep, talented pool of prospects. In this era of the NFL, we all know that in order to compete for consistent championships, you need stability at the quarterback position. For the Minnesota Vikings, this seems to have been the missing piece for years.
Conventional logic says to grab your quarterback with the 8th selection of this year’s draft, possibly Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, or even Derek Carr. The other school of thought is to continue building a stout defense while Norv Turner develops a quarterback from the later rounds.
Looking at successful teams over the last couple of years such as the Seahawks and 49ers, this has been their formula for success. If the Vikings want to follow suit with defensive guru Mike Zimmer as head coach, they would be well suited to continue the defensive minded offseason.
The Vikings have done a great job so far adding defensive line help by adding players such as Linval Joseph, Corey Wootton, and Tom Johnson. Also the secondary has been a focus, adding Captain Munneryln and Mike Zimmer’s project Derek Cox. Still, there is an opportunity through the draft to add to the young core already in place.
One of the more appealing options for the Vikings in the first round is to trade down from the 8th selection to the mid-teens. From here, the Vikings can acquire some extra picks, probably in the middle rounds, to add depth to the roster. We all know Rick Spielman likes to move around in the draft, and this year shouldn’t be an exception. With a trade down, the Vikings would be in prime territory to address their glaring need at linebacker, by taking the top middle linebacker prospect, CJ Mosley out of Alabama. He would bring much needed stability and versatility to the linebacker corps, while also contributing in nickel situations with Chad Greenway.
NFL defenses are spending most of their time in nickel and dime packages, so the need for multiple linebackers is not as great as it once was. This gives the Vikings the flexibility to take a player like Mosley who can be a three down linebacker alongside Chad Greenway. Suddenly, a glaring weakness turns into a position of strength.
While the Vikings certainly need help at the outside linebacker position, the top prospect Khalil Mack will be long gone by the 8th selection. Anthony Barr out of UCLA could be another option, but is more of a 3-4 rush outside linebacker and wouldn’t necessarily fit the Vikings hybrid 4-3 scheme. Another option is the athletic Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State, who could be an option in the late first/early second round.
Another way the Vikings could turn with a trade back to the mid teens is in the secondary. At this juncture of the draft, the Vikings would more than likely have their choice of the top cornerbacks and safeties. Some of the top options that could still be on the board are safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama, Calvin Pryor out of Louisville and cornerbacks Justin Gilbert out of Oklahoma State, and Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State. Any of these four prospects would be a welcome addition to the Vikings secondary, which struggled mightily last season.
However, with the additions of Captain Munnerlyn and maturation of Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes, an addition to this group could really solidify the position. Facing prolific offenses such as Green Bay, Chicago, and Detroit twice a year, the best approach to the draft may be to build a rock solid defense, so our offense has a chance to compete.
As far as the offense, the Vikings are actually in decent shape. With a plethora of playmakers on the outside, led by Cordarelle Patterson, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, and of course Adrian Peterson, whichever quarterback is under center week one will be walking into a favorable situation.
The Vikings really did themselves a favor by bringing back Matt Cassel to be a bridge to the future franchise quarterback. In the meantime, Matt Cassel can manage the offense and allow the Vikings to be competitive in 2014. He is by no means a game changing quarterback, but he is also no slouch. In the games he started in 2013, the Vikings put up over 24 points a game and had a record of 4-3.
Matt Cassel is more than capable of handling this talented offense and thriving under the Norv Turner system, which yielded decent play from Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden, and Brian Hoyer last season.
This is not to say the Vikings shouldn’t address their quarterback needs in the draft, they absolutely should. But there is no need to reach for one at the top of the first round. The Vikings are fortunate, this year’s crop of signal callers is incredibly deep, and they will have their choice unlike in 2011 when they were forced into reaching for Christian Ponder at 12.
Some intriguing prospects later in the draft that could fit the mold of what Turner is looking for are: Zach Mettenberger, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, and Tom Savage. All of these prospects could benefit from sitting for a couple of years and learning from Turner and Cassel. They also would not experience the immense pressure that Christian Ponder faced a couple of years ago. Also from a front office standpoint, Mike Zimmer (first time head coach) and Rick Spielman (Fresh off the Ponder disaster) probably are not confident handing the keys to the franchise over to any of the top quarterbacks in this years draft for different reasons.
This aspect combined with the fact that Matt Cassel is coming back, point towards a defensive draft in the first couple of round, to build a rock solid foundation and use the Seahawks as a template for how to win. Defense does win championships Vikings fans, that’s what Mike Zimmer is here to do.