Analysis

Vikings’ Roster Needs: OL, DL, CB, LB, TE

There's plenty of positions that could be addressed in the draft.

By signing free agents Kirk Cousins and Sheldon Richardson and trading for Trevor Siemian, the Minnesota Vikings have shored up the quarterback position and strengthened an already-stout defensive line. The team also addressed the offensive line by signing former Bears guard/tackle Tom Compton.

Still, Minnesota lost key role players like OL Joe Berger, OL Jeremiah Sirles, RB Jerick McKinnon, WR Jarius Wright,  DT Tom Johnson, DT Shamar Stephen, and LB Emmanuel Lamur. Not to mention three unnamed quarterbacks. (For a complete look at all the offseason transactions, head to VT’s Free Agency Tracker).

With depth at number of positions still needing to be addressed, particularly on the offensive line, the Vikings will look to the draft for help. With the seven-round event now less than a month away, here’s how the team’s positional needs are broken down in the draft, per Pro Football Focus.

Offensive line

  • Top-end = Average
  • Depth = Strong

The Vikings have four returning starters from last season; Riley Reiff (Age 29), Nick Easton (25), Pat Elflein (23), and Mike Remmers (28). The fifth spot remains up for grabs. Newly acquired Tom Compton (28) could be asked to start or compete with Danny Isidora (23) at right guard following Joe Berger’s retirement.

The team also signed Josh Andrews (26) off the Eagles’ practice squad following the season. He’ll compete with linemen Rashod Hill (26), Dieugot Joseph (24), Cornelius Edison (24), Aviante Collins (24)Cedrick Lang (25) and Storm Norton (23) for a spot on the Vikings’ roster.

This year’s draft features a deep class of offensive lineman. While the expectation is the team will select one in the early rounds, the top-end talent is only considered average by PFF standards. It’s possible the Vikings could choose to address another position first before devoting one or multiple mid-round picks to shoring up the o-line. After all, the franchise should be looking to protect its $84-million investment.

How the draft plays out will basically determine where the Vikings play Mike Remmers. He’s capable of starting at either guard or tackle.

Cornerback

  • Top-end = Strong
  • Depth = Average

Outside of starters Xavier Rhodes (27) and Trae Waynes (25), the Vikings only have Mackensie Alexander (24) and Horace Richardson (24) under contract at cornerback. It remains to be seen if Minnesota will make room for veterans Terence Newman (39) and Marcus Sherels (30) on the roster.

Depending on what occurs with Newman and Sherels, cornerback appears to be another position the Vikings will likely address at some point in the draft.

Linebacker

  • Top-end = Strong
  • Depth = Strong

Alongside starters Anthony Barr (26) and Eric Kendricks (26), rookie Ben Gedeon (23) had an impressive season. Outside of those three players, the Vikings don’t need much help at linebacker. The team lost Emmanuel Lamur this offseason but Eric Wilson (23), Kentrell Brothers (25) and Antwione Williams (24) remain on the roster.

Still, it would be nice for Minnesota to acquire some depth and young talent at the position. The contracts of Barr and Kendricks are up after the season and all three divisional opponents acquired tight ends in free agency. The Packers signed Jimmy Graham, the Bears acquired Trey Burton and the Lions picked up Luke Willson. Finding another athletic linebacker capable of covering those guys one-on-one could provide Barr and Kendricks with more opportunities to rush and rest, making the Vikings No. 1 defense even more difficult to defend.

Tight end

  • Top-end = Strong
  • Depth = Strong

Speaking of tight ends, the Vikings have two good ones in Kyle Rudolph (28) and David Morgan (24). Filling out the position are Blake Bell (26) and Josiah Price (24). Bell has some NFL experience but he only had three catches last season before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 14. The Vikings have been searching for another athletic receiving threat to pair with Rudolph for years. Considering the draft is strong in both top-end talent and depth at the position, look for the Vikings to add a young, field-stretching tight end with one of their eight selections.

Interior defender depth

  • Top-end = Weak
  • Depth = Average

The Vikings signed 3-technique Sheldon Richardson (27) to a one-year, $8 million deal this offseason. He will pair with nose tackle Linval Joseph (29) to form one of the most formidable interior defensive line duos in the NFL. The starters are not the issue here, depth is. The only other defensive tackles on the roster at the moment are Jaleel Johnson (23) and Dylan Bradley (23). Bradley was on the team’s practice squad last season. Look for Minnesota to add depth here in free agency or the draft.

Edge defender depth

  • Top-end = Average
  • Depth = Weak

Considering the Vikings already have options on the roster outside of starters Danielle Hunter (23) and Everson Griffen (30), there’s not much need for defensive ends in the draft. Tashawn Bower (23), Stephen Weatherly (24), Brian Robison (34), and Ifeadi Odenigbo (23) highlight the team’s depth at edge defender. However, head coach Mike Zimmer has recently shown an interest in rotating his defenders more often, so it’s possible Minnesota targets a young pass-rusher at some point in the draft.

Wide receiver depth

  • Top-end = Weak
  • Depth = Strong

Having both Adam Thielen (27) and Stefon Diggs (24) on the roster gives the Vikings one of the best receiving duos in the NFL. After that, it’s a question mark. Filling out the WR depth chart are former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell (22), second-year man Stacy Coley (23), practice squad standout Cayleb Jones (25) and former CFL star Brandon Zylstra (25). Since the draft is deep at the position and the Vikings have had success with late-round receiver selections, odds are the team will address WR depth on draft day. Targeting a player with kick return experience makes sense for Minnesota.

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Sean Borman

Sean Borman is a writer with Minnesota roots that's still somehow an optimist. He was an intern with the Vikings during college and previously wrote for Rant Sports. You can find Sean on the golf course and on Twitter @SeanBoarMan.

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20 Comments

  1. “the top-end talent is only considered average by PFF standards.”

    I think PFF errs in not breaking out the offensive tackles from the centers and guards in this assessment. The top-end OT talent may be lacking a clear Top 10 talent and may be rather average overall, but the interior linemen have not only a Top 10 or even Top 5 guy, but another two or three who could go in the first round and at least a half-a-dozen who are likely to be off the board by the end of Round 2. From what I’ve read, this class of interior offensive linemen is the best in years, maybe even decades.

    For a Super Bowl contender, this off-season has seen a surprising number of slots open up that need to be filled, including at least two starters (right guard and slot corner) and depth across more units and in greater numbers than I think a lot of us expected to see. so here’s my take on what the Vikings need:

    Offensive Line: The fact is, the OL is in worse shape right now then it was last year because the team’s best lineman has retired and is due to be replaced by either (a) a rookie, (b) a career OT, (c) a journeyman back-up (Compton or Sirles makes little difference) or (d) a second-year fifth-rounder. The bench is in okay shape with Compton’s signing, but would it have killed Spielman and Co. to have signed a veteran starter to compete for the RG job? Hell, they gave Andre Smith a chance two years ago at RT. And let’s not forget that starting LG Nick Easton has still not signed his RFA tender. If he gets an offer from some other team, it needs to be matched unless it is certifiably insane, which it won’t be.

    Cornerback: We now have a single practice squader available to replace the three veteran corners we had last season, and it’s still unclear whether Mackenzie Alexander can handle the slot or should remain an outside corner. Finding three defensive backs in the same draft class who can contribute right away is the stuff of legends (or the 1981 49ers), let alone three cornerbacks. There are at least two young veterans, Bryce Callahan and Eric Reid, with experience in the slot who are still available in free agency. Callahan is pretty much a specialist while Reid would give Zimmer another Smith-like piece to play with in the secondary. If Newman needs to take his time to think about returning, fine, he’s more than earned that consideration, but signing some combination of Sherels, Callahan, Reid (whose signing might allow us to trade Harris or Kearse or, less likely, cut or trade Sendejo) ) or some other veteran CB would relieve the pressure of having to reach in the draft or draft purely out of need.

    Linebacker: I couldn’t agree more.

    Defensive Tackle: Although Jaleel Johnson has the size the Vikings look for in a one-technique nose tackle, he apparently has more of the skills of a three-technique under tackle, which is also Bradley’s position. I wouldn’t be surprised by a Will Sutton-like free agent signing to compete for the job to back-up and maybe relieve Linval Joseph of some of his snaps.

    Defensive End: The problem here is that while Griffen and Hunter are both very good run defenders, Robison isn’t any longer and Bower, Weatherly and Odenigbo all weigh between 250 and 260 pounds. Has there been any serious effort to move one of the three amigos to linebacker, or has one of them impressed in stuffing the run?

    Tight End: Kirk Cousins has been most successful in two-TE sets, so the question is, is David Morgan a good enough receiver to run out there on not just running downs but passing downs, too? The team probably doesn’t want to spend the $2 to $4 million it might take to get a veteran like Antonio Gates for a year or Marcedes Lewis – a blocking TE who nonetheless scored two more TD’s than Gates on six fewer catches in 2017 – for one or two, but if the free agent pickings at WR are slim and TE can’t be addressed until Day 3 of the draft, signing one of these guys might not be such a bad idea.

    Wide Receiver: A lot of veteran experience is gone from the bench, faith in Treadwell is sorely lacking, and throwing more kids at the wall seems pretty risky. Still, if Gates or Lewis were signed at TE, you might be able to justify going into the season with Treadwell as your most experienced back up wideout, but assuming a veteran TE is not on the menu, a veteran wide receiver really should be.

    Running Back: No movement on the replacing Jerrick McKinnon front, so unless someone like Charles Sims is signed before the draft, that looks like where the Vikes will be looking to replace him.

    The Draft:

    Day 1, Round 1: Right guard, or a tackle or center to push Remmers of Elflein to RG.

    Day 2, Rounds 2 and 3: TE, WR, RB or CB. Earlier in the off-season, I was looking for a CB in the second and a pass-catching RB in the third, but now I’m wondering if tight end or wide receiver might be chosen in one or even both rounds. We could actually see the first two days of the draft spent solely on offensive players for the first time in the Mike Zimmer era or since Christian Ponder and Kyle Rudolph were taken in 2011.

    Day 3, Rounds 5-7: TE, WR, RB, CB, NT, LB, DE, C and OT. Depending on how the rest of free agency and Day 2 go, I wouldn’t be shocked to see two corners and/or two wideouts and/or two offensive linemen taken on Day 3, but as I said at the top, this is not an insignificant number of spots to be filled on a Super Bowl contender.

    1. You were very thorough cka2nd, and seem to know the team well. I have the same concerns as you do, however I do have faith in Spielman, Zim, and our entire personnel department to fill the holes. I’m certain they have a plan for every scenario, and an answer for every concern. They have shown to be very resourceful in finding adequate replacements, and even surprise upgrades, after losing players. My guess is, we will have some under the radar signings later in free agency, that will fill in some of our holes well. And I trust Spielman and Co. will kill the draft again (2016 excluded). Should be fun to follow, and 2018 should be a great year. SKOL

      1. cka2nd knows his stuff most of the time ~ Most of the time ~ LOL couldn’t help myself cka2nd ~ I know from the past dealings with him he he is right more times than not when it comes to stats and has been very kind in correcting me when I have went off memory in the past ~ We might did agree on players at times but when it comes to stats I just trust him these days ~ I dont keep up with stats as often as I should when posting on fan sites ~ Got to put in more effort this year ~

      2. Couldn’t agree more. I believe the Vikings staff has been incredibly efficient when it comes to building and upgrading the roster. There’s no reason to believe that won’t continue to happen.

    2. I’m like Spielman and Zimmer ~ I don’t use PFF for anything other than stats ~ As for player breakdowns not at all ~ Like Spielman and Zimmer have been saying there is no way to know what said person was doing on any given play ~

      Also I’m older and lazier these days so I dont put in the effort to keep up with these kind of things anymore ~ I just watch them line up and play and then I watch the game a couple of time while waiting on the next game to see what my eyes team me ~ Oh and come on here and reply ~ LOL

    3. Hey CKA,

      OL: Still think the Vikings could draft another position before o-line because of the strong OL depth. All depends on how the draft plays out.

      CB: I like the CB’s you mention and I’d be pleased if the Vikings took a run at Callahan. Having Sherels back to return punts is great.

      DE: I’d imagine the team is looking to bulk up the young guys. I’ll get a closer look at them at training camp. “Big O” (Odenigbo) impressed at camp last year.

      TE: Love it.

      WR: At this point you probably know I’m a Treadwell guy. I think his production will take a step up with Cousins under center.

      RB: I don’t see a huge need to replace McKinnon. The team appears to like Mack Brown. If a guy falls in the draft or RS collects more picks, great, scoop one up. But I could just as easily see an undrafted free agent competing with Brown. Again, depends on how the draft plays out.

      1. Good point on the OL, Sean, but I would hate for us to be in the same position we were with wide receivers in 2016 when a run on them forced us to choose Treadwell, while leaving Michael Thomas on the board, more’s the pity. Also, what position is a higher priority than OL? TE or WR or CB are the only ones I can think of, unless they’re writing off Jaleel Johnson completely.

        Finally! Someone in the front office was obviously monitoring this website today and saw me get a bit snippy about Sherels and, just as obviously, informed Spielman of my concern. I take full credit for the timing of this re-signing. I got something else right a few days ago but now I can’t remember what it was…

        I did NOT know you were a Treadwell guy. I hope you’re right (he says in a sing-songy voice).

        I just saw some highlights of NC State’s Jaylen Samuels today and boy, did he look like a fun piece to have on the board. He has literally lined up at every single skill position on offense for the Wolfpack, it’s like he’s the offensive version of Hitman Harry. Besides being an excellent receiver, he runs with power too, so he could replace McKinnon this year and Murray next.

        1. “saw me get a bit snippy about Sherels and, just as obviously, informed Spielman of my concern”

          Oddly enough, they chose to completely ignore your entreaties to retain Bridgewater.

          2016: Peterson, gone
          2017: Bridgewater, gone
          2018:?, gone

          I’d say the early favorite would be Treadwell, but his rookie contract for 2019 is guaranteed. Don’t worry, I will eventually find a name. Looking for the threepeat…

          1. Mike, Mike, Mike, I’m surprised that you forgot my greatest hits, Antoine Winfield and Chris Kluwe in 2012 and Kevin Williams in 2014. And actually, while I’ve defended Peterson as both a person and a player (a debate I don’t think we need to reprise here), I don’t think I ever objected to moving on from him in 2016, and I corrected folks who thought it was still 2010 and that we could get multiple first rounders for him; that ship had sailed long ago (we should have traded both Allen and Peterson in or after 2010 once it was clear we were going into rebuilding mode, as I wrote at the time).

            I did express a mild preference for Bridgewater, preferably in combination with Bradford, going into 2018 – no one expected him back at the start of 2017, and he obviously should have sat for the whole year – but I said more than once that I had qualms about his 2015 performance, especially his consistent overthrowing of Mike Wallace. I know you wanted the team to be rid of Teddy, but in retrospect, he should have stayed on the PUP list for all of 2017 and had his contract tolled for 2018. If nothing else, it would have irritated you to have him around for another year. 🙂

            I’ve never been a fanatic for Teddy, Case, Sam or Kirk, but I hope for the best for each of them moving forward.

            Sean is the Treadwell guy. I want to bring back Newman to the CB bench, and I still think Michael Floyd could be a relatively cheap option at WR3.

            Oh, and I remember the one prediction I did get right this off-season. Tramaine Brock did find a job elsewhere for a lot more money than the Vikes were willing to pay him: $3 million guaranteed and $1 million in playing time incentives for the Broncos, who are obviously banking on him returning to his 2015-2016 level of play.

    4. I think a lot is riding on a starting offensive lineman being drafted this year, and we should be able to accomplish that with our first round pick. Might even do it again in the second. I still think if McGlinchey is there, Spielman will take him and I would be fine with that. I’d rather have Connor Williams but he won’t drop that far (and I douby McGlinchey will either, honestly). If Wynn or Hernandez are there and a good OT isn’t, then go for it. Might even be able to work out a OG in 1 and a Brian O’Neill or Kolton Miller in the 2nd (might take a trade up).

      There’s a lot of good corners and safeties in this draft. I really like Isaiah Oliver from Colorado. I think he and Rhodes together would be almost impossible to exploit. But I also think a guy with a lot of nickel experience in college could make an instant impact. A lot of times, you’re drafting a CB that played outside exclusively and trying to teach him a different game in the NFL. Alexander is an alpha male and he’s in the slot a lot. I don’t think that’s ideal. Tony Brown from Alabama lined up inside a lot and he can likely be had in the 3rd round.

      1. I’m with you, I like McGlinchey and Williams. And yes, going defense early, although likely unpopular, could help put the Vikings defense over the top and make the head coach very happy.

        The depth of interior linemen in the draft really works in the Vikings favor.

  2. I actually think LB is this teams 2nd biggest need after the Oline. I’m not really too keen on giving both Barr and Kendricks the money it will likely take to keep them both here, and if they still have issues with keeping Barr motivated behind the scenes than giving him a giant contract may not be a great idea. They need to have another athletic backer in training this year so they have a replacement ready to go next season. The roster is going to turn over by 5-10 players every year, that just happens. The key is drafting well to have guys in the pipeline and doing it before you need them, not after.
    Part of the lack of movement on depth type players might have something to do with a desire to not mess up some potentially good looking compensation picks next year. Sometime in May, the additions you make no longer count against the formula, so if there isn’t much difference in what’s available now vs then, it makes a lot of sense to wait. This doesn’t explain why they haven’t been more active in checking out players that have been released that don’t count in the equation.
    Overall though, there is no reason to be concerned at this point. When your a good football team your going to start losing free agents. You stay a good team by drafting well and making solid under the radar free agent signings (like Keenum last year). They will add some depth players as the off-season goes on, but it makes sense to let the draft play out and take advantage of the compensation pick system.

    1. I wonder if Brothers and Bower could ably replace Kendricks and Barr if they had to. Kendricks has thankfully been healthy but that also takes some reps away from his backups unfortunately. In the draft, I’m sure we’ll take a LB but I doubt it will be very high unless a gem falls to us.

      1. You make a good point about not seeing much of the backups. While that’s typically a good thing, I wonder if Zimmer will give Barr and Kendricks a little more rest this season. In that case we’d have a better understanding of what Brothers, Bower and others can bring to the table.

    2. Very good point about the compensatory picks, Dan. Agree about the LB situation as well.

      You, my friend, have an elite Vikings’ mind.

  3. “The fact is, the OL is in worse shape right now then it was last year.” – maybe, maybe not, but it’s worth noting that Elflein has a crucial year of experience under his belt and is likely to be at least 20 percent better this year than last (assuming the injury doesn’t have lingering effects, which of course we don’t know).

    1. I think he was pointing out the fact that the team’s highest-graded lineman (Berger) retired and it’s primary depth player (Sirles) left in FA.

      You make a good point that having a year under Elflein’s belt could be key to his development. Does that make the entire line better? It might. I’ll revisit the o-line after the draft.

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